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green unionism

Unions + Environmentalists = A Movement

By Vanessa Warheit - Medium, March 13, 2017

Last week I had the enormous privilege of participating in a two-day pilot workshop designed to help organized labor and environmental groups build a movement together. The free workshop was co-sponsored by The Sierra Club, Blue-Green Alliance, Communication Workers of America, and the United Steel Workers, and hosted by USW Local 5 in the quaint oil-refinery town of Martinez, CA. I attended as the Science/Environment partnerships liaison for Indivisible Berkeley.

One thing that immediately struck me was the genuine goodwill in the room, and the sense that all of us — from refinery workers to climate activists to union managers to cable repair guys — just want a more equitable, safe planet for our families and our communities. I also confess to being somewhat surprised that the union folks were so open, and so friendly. (I think they were equally surprised to find us so open and friendly!) It was exciting, too, to see how well organized and committed they were (yes, I know, it’s called “organized labor” for a reason), as these are essential requirements for building our nascent resistance movement. I’m really looking forward to working more with them in the future, and I feel lucky to have these guys on our side.

But OK —friendly or not, how do you get oil workers and climate activists on the same page? Easy: show them their common enemy.

The Revolution in Work Calls for an Evolution in Living

By Graham Peebles - CounterPunch, March 17, 2017

Poverty blights the lives of billions of people throughout the world: in developing countries, where it is acute, and industrialised nations, where it’s hidden but growing. It rises out of social injustice, makes exploitation and abuse inevitable, brings death and disease, robs people of opportunity and dignity, feeds anger and resentment.

Much like the rubbish that litters the streets of our cities, the poor, destitute and hungry are swept out of sight. Their existence is an embarrassment to politicians and sits uncomfortably within the shiny materialistic image promoted by cities and countries eager to attract ‘inward investment’.

As more jobs become obsolete due to new technology and the closure of traditional industries, unemployment is set to rise, incomes disappear, and, unless there is a radical reappraisal of the economic environment, poverty levels will rise, perhaps exponentially. In fact, with wages stagnant many of those now living in poverty are actually in work – the ‘working poor’ – trying to survive on a pittance, many of whom cannot feed themselves without the support of food banks.

Manifest: Rights of peasants – a step ahead for the future of humanity

By staff - La Via Campesina, March 17, 2017

The International Congress on Peasants’ Rights, which took place from 7 to 10 March in Schwäbisch Hall, Germany, brought together close to one hundred peasants and representatives of food producers from all over the world,  along with the same diversity of human rights defenders and activists. The Congress concluded with the presentation of a Manifesto on the need for a Declaration on the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas, a text that was finalized with the contribution of the participants to the event. Below you can find the full text.

Almost 500 years ago, growing encroachments on peasants’ common lands by princes and churches led to rural uprisings in Southern Germany and to the drafting of the peasants’ “Twelve Articles”. This document represents the first record of demands for human rights and liberties in Europe, and included the right to equal access to lands, forests and fishing grounds. Although the feudal lords brutally crushed this revolt, peasants kept resisting and showing that the feudal nobility hadn’t defeated them. History shows that when peasants are rolled back in one place they reappear in another one. Peasant revolts are still on-going!

The Global Peasants’ Rights Congress, taking place from the 8th to the 10th of March 2017, shows this. More than 400 peasants, fishers, pastoralists, beekeepers, indigenous people, migrant and seasonal workers, rural women, youth, food consumers, NGOs’ representatives, academics, lawyers, activists and government representatives from more than 50 countries gathered together in the city of Schwäbisch Hall, a hotspot of the 16th-century “Great Peasants’ War”, to exchange views, to learn and to increase awareness about the current process of drafting a United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas. This Declaration has roots in an initiative of La Vía Campesina launched more than 15 years ago. With the sponsorship of the Bolivian Government, the process has been rapidly advancing in the UN Human Rights Council and will now go to a fourth round of negotiations in May 2017. This week’s Global Peasants’ Rights Congress showed that while we come from highly diverse backgrounds, we are nonetheless able to join hands in defense of human dignity and nature. This process resembles a river, with an increasing number of tributaries, crossing different landscapes and flowing together in a mighty stream of life.

Faced with the rise of nationalism and xenophobia, Food Sovereignty is more necessary than ever

By Michel Buisson, et. al. - La Via Campesina, March 17, 2017

With the Brexit, the election of Donald Trump, the rise of the extreme right in Europe and the increase in migration, there is an urgent need to intensify the cooperation between countries and their populations. Wars, climate change, the depletion of natural resources, poverty, hunger and malnutrition, but also the increase in inequalities, are all fundamental problems that humanity must seek to resolve together.  This cannot be done without questioning both the current neoliberal globalization, and the xenophobic and nationalist orientations that are opposed to economic globalization while protecting and defending their own interests. 

The false answers to neoliberalism are in the spotlight, notably that of Donald Trump  who, in his presidential project,  on the one hand develops protections against imports and brings the Transpacific Treaty to a standstill, and on the other promotes financial capitalism, US transnational corporations, fossil fuels, and green capitalism,… while denying climate change and repressing social struggles. The European Union is no exception, which imposes on Africa very unequal economic partnership agreements (EPAs), and maintains, in its Common Agriculture Policy (CAP), masked tools enabling protection and dumping . Official criticism, including that of the IMF, of the defects or excesses of globalization, the postponement of the transatlantic treaty project (while the CETA  is in the process of adoption), and the current reduction in international trade, show us that the neoliberal framework is out of breath. But these developments do not prevent transnational corporations from pursuing their offensives, protecting themselves with patents, and seeking to impose private arbitration tribunals in trade agreements. 

Social movements are struggling against the negotiation of “free” trade agreements, and demanding climate justice, international solidarity, and that the human rights of all be respected, everywhere.  These various struggles aim to meet the expectations of the populations affected by the impacts of neoliberal globalization, in the areas of food, the environment, income and employment. At the heart of these struggles is the food sovereignty movement, which claims the right of peoples to democratically decide their food and agricultural policies, and aims at radically changing our food systems. 

Our response to the rise of nationalism and xenophobia lies in strengthening mobilizations at four levels (local, national, regional, international) to achieve food sovereignty, a demand made by the global peasant movement La Via Campesina and many other organizations since 1996.

Food sovereignty is “the right of people, their countries or unions, to define their agriculture and food policy, without dumping vis-à-vis third countries", (La Via campesina, 2003). It « puts those who produce, process and consume healthy and local food at the heart of our agriculture and food systems […] instead of the demands of market and transnational companies …"(Nyéléni Forum, 2007). Food sovereignty is a democratic requirement, which goes contrary to the capturing of power by the corporate agenda. And this is not an agenda of withdrawal: the social movements who claim food sovereignty express international solidarity, and they do not question the role of international trade – although they call for its regulation and for a rebalancing between international trade and reinforcing local food systems.

Food sovereignty must be translated at the UN into new international trade rules, favouring the adoption, at national and regional levels, of agricultural policies that are adapted to the needs of countries in terms of market organization, and are conducive of sustainable agriculture and alternative production and exchange practices. It aims to provide food security in good conditions.

Food sovereignty is not autarky. It wants to put international trade in its proper place by giving priority to agriculture and food for the people, not to markets. It provides a new framework, favorable to policies of relocalization of production, agro-ecology, and sustainable access to/protection of natural resources. It makes it possible to develop culturally adapted food systems that prioritize nutrition, health, and the environment. 

At the international level, food sovereignty provides the basis for moving from currently hegemonic trade - favoured by WTO rules and benefiting powerful states and transnational companies -, to cooperative exchanges, which set limits on the advantages of countries that could abuse their competitive position.  To the duty of countries not to harm the agricultural economies of third countries, must correspond the right to put in place real protections – tariffs and import quotas in particular -, that are justified on economical, social and environmental grounds. 

Faced with the global concentration of agrifood power, consumers and citizens have developed both an increased understanding of the stakes and their capacity for action. Initiatives to relocalize food systems are multiplying but remain fragile under current policies. In this battle for food sovereignty, let us not leave peasants alone. Food is everyone’s business. Together,  peasant and civil society organizations, institutions, researchers, must propose new rules, new frameworks for international trade in agriculture and food and agriculture policies, building on successful local « transition » alternatives. It’s urgent. The forthcoming adoption at the UN of a Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and other people working in rural areas, and advances at the Committee for World Food Security (CFS), including on the importance of access to territorial markets for small food producers, should constitute a base towards food sovereignty.

Through the large and plural mobilizations it implies, and its many contributions, food sovereignty is an essential battle in this current period of high risk: to curb nationalism, injustices, xenophobia, and to safeguard and develop peasant agriculture, the production of affordable, nutritive and healthy food, and the protection of our planet.

Council Nurses Urge San Francisco To Divest from DAPL

By staff - California Nurses Association, March 15, 2017

Nurses from the San Francisco (SF) Metro Council attended an SF Board of Supervisors meeting to urge the city to divest from any banks and financial institutions who have investments in the Dakota Access Pipeline. The SF Metro Council nurses joined other activists present from the SF NoDAPL Coalition.

After 5 1/2 hours of other agenda items and public comment, The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to pass the resolution to direct the treasurer/tax collector to update the social responsibility investment matrix to include a screen for all DAPL related investments.  This is a significant victory for our ongoing fight to get San Francisco to fully divest from DAPL and pull out their $10 billion from Bank of America.

Kaiser SF RN, Julilynn Carter spoke during public comment about her role as a nurse and how nurses care about public health and the impact climate change has had on public welfare. She also spoke about our collective need to recognize indigenous rights.

No plan for the Valley; No plan for the workers; No plan for the climate

By IWW Melbourne - Australia IWW, March 15, 2017

As the closure of the Hazelwood power plant looms closer, it is becoming increasingly clear that the government has no transition plan for the LaTrobe Valley. It's imperative that the workers in the valley develop a program of their own to transition away from coal.

The behemoth is shutting down. Completed in 1971, Hazelwood - the Soviet-era beast of a power plant that produces up to a quarter of the state's energy - is scheduled to shut in the next few weeks.

Following the privatisation of the energy industry and years of official neglect, this is just "Another kick in the guts for the Latrobe Valley," as the CFMEU's mining and energy president puts it. The Andrews State Government has, at the last minute, shown some interest in the almost 1000 workers set to lose employment, offering grants and funding amounting to $226 million. The federal government is still scrambling to respond. 

The remaining three plants in the valley remain in a precarious position. Brown coal is plentiful in the valley, but so dirty and so low in value that there's virtually no export market for the product. It's burnt there or it's not burnt at all. But the plants haven't been updated for years, and even basic maintenance is lax, allegedly contributing to the horrific fires that burnt through the Valley two years ago. In the face of climate change, coal - and brown coal especially - is rapidly becoming a "stranded investment" that can't turn a profit and which no one will buy.

This is a good thing for the planet's climate and - in the long run - for our communities. It's also been predicted for years. So why isn't there a transition plan for the LaTrobe Valley?

Successive governments have been in denial about the realities of a shifting energy market, pinning hopes on pipedreams like clean coal and carbon sequestration.

Investment that could have been directed at rebuilding grid infrastructure to better suit renewables has instead been sunk into the pockets of multinational companies without ties to the local communities, and who answer to no one but their shareholders. Even the comparitively progressive Andrews government has, until very recently, shown no interest in the Valley - but their response has been a piecemeal kneejerk reaction to pressure bought to bear by workers. There remains no plan for the Valley.

There is no escaping the realities of climate change. Coal is going out of business - and not before time! Nevertheless, unless a thoughtfully planned and executed transition to a coal-free economy is rapidly developed, the region which has underpinned Victoria's economic development throughout the 20th and 21st centuries will once again be burnt. This plan could take many forms, but the decision must be made by those wo work and live in the Valley. Groups like voices of the valley and the earthworker cooperative are the only hope for a democratic, truly just transition out of coal for the LaTrobe Valley. Workers can't rely on the government - state or federal - to do the job for them.

How we can turn railroads into a climate solution

By Patrick Mazza - Grist, March 7, 2017

Railroads have become a nexus of controversy in recent years due to their role in transporting climate-twisting fossil fuels. But they could become a locomotive driving the growth of clean energy. That is the aim of a new proposal to electrify railroads, run them on renewable energy, and use rail corridors as electricity superhighways to carry power from remote solar and wind installations to population centers.

The proposal, called Solutionary Rail, has been developed by a team of rail experts, economists, and public interest advocates assembled by the Washington state–based Backbone Campaign. Bill McKibben writes in the foreword to the recently released Solutionary Rail book that he has “been following the debate over energy, transportation, and climate change since the late 1980s … So it’s hard to come up with an idea I haven’t come across before. Rail electrification, as proposed in this remarkable book, is that rarest of things: a genuinely new idea, and one that makes immediate gut sense.”

An activist movement, sometimes known as the “thin green line,” has grown up in the Northwest in recent years to resist coal and oil shipments through the region, between the rich fossil resources east of the Rockies and the growing markets of Asia. The Backbone Campaign, a group that develops innovative strategies and tactics to build grassroots democratic movements, has been enmeshed in this movement.

The movement has been successful in stopping many fossil fuel export facilities from being built along the Pacific Coast. But it’s largely been a defensive campaign rather than a proactive one. In 2013, a rail labor leader challenged Backbone Executive Director Bill Moyer to green a labor concept for modernizing rail lines in the northern states, a “yes” to accompany the “no.” Moyer took up the challenge, and the result is Solutionary Rail.

Rail electrification is common in other parts of the world. Around the globe, electricity serves nearly a quarter of railroad track miles and supplies over one-third of the energy that powers trains. But in the U.S., under 1 percent of tracks are electrified. That’s due to high upfront capitalization costs, an obstacle that publicly owned railroads in other nations do not face. Railroads in other countries also do not have to pay property taxes on electrification infrastructure, which U.S. railroads do.

Few industries are as well positioned as railroads to lead a transition to a clean economy. Unlike other heavy, long-haul transportation vehicles such as ships, planes, and semitrucks, trains can be easily electrified, and electricity is increasingly coming from clean sources such as sun and wind. Rail is already the most efficient form of ground transportation, and it has an unparalleled capacity to provide clean freight and passenger mobility.

Under the Solutionary Rail plan, electrification would be accomplished in conjunction with track modernization. Together, these would allow express freight service running above 80 miles per hour and high-speed passenger service up to 125 mph. Very high-speed passenger rail operates above 180 mph in Europe and Asia, and is being developed in California and the U.S. Northeast, but it generally requires dedicated tracks. Solutionary Rail’s more modest increase in speed is the economically practical option for most U.S. lines. Existing tracks can be upgraded, and freight and passenger trains can be accommodated on the same lines.

The proposal also includes running power transmission lines through the rail corridors. It’s currently difficult to get the rights-of-way needed to build new long-distance, high-capacity transmission lines, which means that some renewable energy, like wind power produced in the Great Plains, is stranded and can’t get to where it’s needed. But rail corridors are already being put to industrial use, so they could easily accommodate new power infrastructure, connecting renewable-energy-rich rural areas to big metropolitan areas.

To pay for all this, the Solutionary Rail team developed the concept of Steel Interstate Development Authorities, public agencies that would be able to raise low-cost capital from financial markets and take advantage of federal transportation dollars. SIDAs for different rail corridors would be created by interstate compacts and work in public-private partnerships with railroads. The electrification would remain under public ownership, managed by the SIDA, alleviating the property tax issue. Backbone is initially pushing a SIDA in the Northern Corridor, which has rail lines stretching from Chicago to the Northwest, to demonstrate the feasibility of electrification on lines mostly owned by BNSF, a property of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway.

Rail in the U.S. is not a huge contributor to climate disruption — it’s responsible for only 2 percent of greenhouse gases from the nation’s transportation sector. But it could be a huge part of the climate solution. A cleaner, more robust railroad system could replace substantial amounts of truck traffic, while making intercity passenger service more reliable and competitive with highways and aviation. This could help railroads thrive without being reliant on transporting bulk shipments of fossil fuels. The Solutionary Rail strategy still relies on resistance movements to stop those shipments, but offers the “yes” to strengthen the “no.” That is why the proposal has drawn support from labor leaders: It would help railroad workers make a “just transition” away from fossil fuels.

The huge, public benefits of rail electrification justify a public expenditure. But electrification would also greatly benefit privately owned railroads, and so they must offer public benefits in return. One is labor justice. Solutionary Rail has adopted the justice agenda of Railroad Workers United, a group that unites rail labor across union lines. It includes good working and safety conditions. The Solutionary Rail plan also calls for right-of-way justice for native tribes, renegotiating easements where tribes have historic grievances.

With Solutionary Rail, the oldest form of mass mechanized transportation can create a track to 21st century clean transportation and become an engine for sustainably and broadly realized prosperity.

Sweat Shops, GMOs and Neoliberal Fundamentalism: The Agroecological Alternative to Global Capitalism

By Colin Todhunter - CounterPunch, March 7, 2017

Much of the argument in favour of GM agriculture involves little more than misrepresentations and unscrupulous attacks on those who express concerns about the technology and its impacts. These attacks are in part designed to whip up populist sentiment and denigrate critics so that corporate interests can secure further control over agriculture. They also serve to divert attention from the underlying issues pertaining to hunger and poverty and genuine solutions, as well as the self-interest of the pro-GMO lobby itself.

The very foundation of the GMO agritech sector is based on a fraud. The sector and the wider transnational agribusiness cartel to which it belongs have also successfully captured for their own interests many international and national bodies and policies, including the WTO, various trade deals, governments institutions and regulators. From fraud to duplicity, little wonder then the sector is ridden with fear and paranoia.

“They are scared to death,” says Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University and author of several books on food policy. She adds: “They have an industry to defend and are attacking in the hope that they’ll neutralize critics … It’s a paranoid industry and has been from the beginning.”

Sen. Jim Smith, State Chair of ALEC, Pens Letter to PSC Supporting TransCanada’s Foreign Steel-Made, Foreign Oil-Carrying Keystone XL Export Pipeline

By Jane Kleeb - Bold Alliance, March 8, 2017

Bold Alliance president Jane Kleeb issued this response to a letter sent by Nebraska State Sen. Jim Smith, also the state chair of corporation-friendly bill mill ALEC, and other Senators to the Public Service Commission voicing support of TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL tarsands export pipeline, which is abusing eminent domain for private gain, and threatening our land, water and climate:

“Keystone XL is a foreign-owned pipeline, using foreign, non-union steel, transporting foreign oil, headed to the foreign export market,” said Bold Alliance president Jane Kleeb. “We stand with the United Steelworkers union demanding U.S. steel, landowners defending their property rights from eminent domain, and our Native allies as we all take action to protect our water.”

Foreign, Non-Union Steel Destined for KXL

President Trump has betrayed the promise of his Presidential Memorandum, and numerous statements he has made publicly saying that only U.S.-made steel would be used on Keystone XL.

Despite TransCanada’s contention that “75% of the steel [for Keystone XL] is coming from North American sources,” this statement grossly misrepresents the sourcing of steel already purchased by the company for the pipeline.

It’s true that some of the pipe intended for Keystone XL was manufactured in North America — Canada to be exact (which obviously does not meet Trump’s promise to “buy American” or “American-made” steel). But the Russian company with facilities in Regina, Canada that TransCanada contracted with for 40% of the pipe, Evraz, is co-owned by Russian steel oligarch Roman Abramovich, a close ally and mentor of Vladimir Putin — and a Trump family friend.

Memory, Fire and Hope: Five Lessons from Standing Rock

By Alnoor Ladha - Common Dreams, March 8, 2017

Last week, on February 22, 2017, water protectors at the Oceti Sakowin camp, the primary camp of Standing Rock, were evicted by the Army Corps of Engineers in a military style takeover. A peaceful resistance that began with a sacred fire lit on April 1, 2016, ended in a blaze as some of the protectors, in a final act of defiance, set some of the camp’s structures on fire.

The millions of people around the world who have stood in solidarity and empathy with Standing Rock now stand in disbelief and grief, but the forced closure of the encampment is simply the latest chapter in a violent, 500-year-old history of colonization against the First Nations. It is also the latest chapter in the battle between an extractive capitalist model and the possibility of a post-capitalist world.

Of course, the ongoing struggle will not go down in the flames at Oceti Sakowin. We should take this opportunity to remember the enduring lessons of this movement, and prepare ourselves for what is to come next.

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