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Just Transition and Energy Democracy: a civil service trade union perspective

By staff - Public and Commercial Services Union, June 22, 2017

New PCS pamphlet Just Transition and Energy Democracy : a civil service trade union perspective

We urgently need to transition to a zero carbon economy but this doesn’t have to come at a price for workers and communities. PCS will launch a new pamphlet on just transition and energy democracy at its annual delegate conference on 23 May. The pahmphlet makes the case for a just transition and energy democracy from the perspective of a civil service trade union, based on public ownership and democratic control of energy that provides an opportunity to re-vision and rebuild our public services for people not profit.  

ADC Green Fringe: Energy Democracy: A worker-public partnership for a just transition

Tuesday 23 May, 5.30pm

Brighton Conference Centre: Syndicate 2

Chaired by PCS vice president Kevin McHugh

Speakers:   

Chris Baugh - PCS assistant general secretary 

David Hall – Public Services International Research Unit (PSIRU)

Dorothy Grace Guerrero – Global Justice Now 

Searching for Justice in Appalachia: Part II

By Nick Mullins - The Thoughtful Coal Miner, June 21, 2017

In my original post, I skirted along the edges of some personal beliefs that I often spare my readership, beliefs that I must admit, cause me to doubt myself and this work. As I mentioned in my first post, one of the downsides to being a justice advocate is realizing just how bleak the situation can be. I get up every morning, wondering if we can ever truly achieve justice.

Just to recap, coal companies have billions in assets, lawyers on retainer, political campaign contributions, and they own the majority of our resources in Appalachia. Coal companies use the money they make from our resources to hire marketing firms, pay for advertising time on TV networks, and print thousands upon thousands of Friends of Coal stickers to convince us they are benefiting our communities. For many of us, it’s a struggle just to pay our bills and buy food, let alone stand up against it.

And then there’s something I don’t often admit. There are times I question whether we have anything left to fight for. Hundreds of thousands of acres have been surface mined. Millions of acres have been underground mined leaving voids that will eventually cause subsidence, sinking more wells in the decades to come, and creating more acidic mine drainage laden with heavy metals and whatever waste we left in there. Then there’s the billions of gallons of coal sludge dammed up in hollows all across Appalachia, and tens of thousands of natural gas wells belching out “residual waste” water.

The picture becomes even darker when I realize that the issues we have in Appalachia apply on a global scale. Everywhere there are natural resources to be had, companies have undertaken similar initiatives, and it’s all driven by the insatiable desire of millions and millions of people competing for social status and seeking all things comfortable and convenient. Add in all the social, racial, and environmental injustices that go along with it, and how the mainstream discredits justice seekers as eccentric or extremist and well… there just doesn’t seem to be any hope left out there in the world. I constantly go in and out of states of depression and the idea of throwing my hands in the air to run screaming into the woods where I would live out the remainder of my life as a hermit becomes more and more appealing.

But I never will. I can’t give up.

People on both sides of these debates are so often on the same page but don’t realize it, and therein lies some hope. Most folks working in extractive industries are conservationists, and that’s not a far cry from environmentalists. True, they’d rather be beaten about the head and shoulders with a roof jack than to be considered a “treehugger,” but many would stand up to preserve their hunting grounds or local lake. The problem always seems to be a break down in communications between environmentalists and the working class, and the industry always knows exactly where to place the dynamite on the bridges that are built between them. It’s always in the industry’s interests to keep people at odds—it’s been that way since the union days.

I’m going to keep trying to build those bridges. Some environmentalists consider me arrogant and self-serving when I criticize their methods, and some miners like to call me a “disgruntled employee” or a “treehugger,” but I’m none of it. What I am is crazy. Crazy enough to believe that if we can just clear away the bull****, we might have a chance at gaining our freedom, our land, and our children’s future back. This is where the rubber meets the road for me, this is where the past 20 years of my adult life comes to a head; getting up every morning, putting everything I have out there, taking the licks I get for opening my mouth, trying to scrape by on what little money comes our way, and forging ahead.

Don't Make a Bad Deal Worse: UE GEB Statement on Renegotiating NAFTA

By staff - United Electrical Workers, June 6, 2017

At its quarterly meeting the UE General Executive Board adopted the following statement on the Trump administration's plans to renegotiate NAFTA. 

RENEGOTIATION OF THE NORTH AMERICAN FREE TRADE AGREEMENT (NAFTA)

United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE)

June 2, 2017

Three years ago, on the 20th anniversary of NAFTA’s passage, North American labor, environmental groups, human rights organizations, and other citizen watchdogs—united to call out the terrible impact of this trade agreement on working people and our communities. As attention returns to NAFTA, now that President Trump has notified Congress officially of his intention to renegotiate, we caution against any belief that his administration will seek a deal benefitting people and the planet. NAFTA benefits corporations and those who have an interest in the free flow of capital, rather than improving the lives of workers, our communities, or the environment. Past attempts to appease concerns from labor and environmentalists have not been meaningful. .

We see the consequences of this failed treaty vividly: Across the continent, workers and families have been hit hard, as evidenced by persistent unemployment, wage stagnation, and record wealth and income inequality. There continues to be a decline in good-paying, union manufacturing jobs, as well as a loss of high-paying jobs in smaller businesses.  In those pockets where manufacturing has expanded, the jobs created have been mostly low wage with little attention to worker health and safety. In Mexico, the jobs that have emerged have been at such low rates of pay that poverty rates have risen—not fallen—since 1994. Mexico has experienced a loss of jobs in agriculture, where heavily-subsidized US corn, sugar, and other commodities led to the collapse of the Mexican farm economy.  Since the implementation of NAFTA, workers in the three countries have suffered, while wealthy investors and big corporations have seen their profits balloon.

Communities of North America continue to suffer under NAFTA as corporations continue to exploit our shared environment for profit and pollute our land, air, and water as governments are unable or unwilling to force corporations to clean up hazardous mistakes created by negligence. This is evident from the St. Lawrence River in Québec, which is threatened by fracking from Lone Pine Resources, to the Midwestern plains, where oil leaks from the TransCanada-owned Keystone Pipeline, to the hills of Guadalcázar, where residents pray they have seen the last child born with birth defects from the toxic waste MetalClad has refused to clean up. Corporate profits continue to grow while the health of our communities and environment suffers.

NAFTA enables the unrestricted flow of capital causing misery for working people, including: the forced migration of people looking for jobs; increased rates of homelessness; mental health problems associated with dislocation; higher rates of diabetes and other ailments linked to cheap high fructose corn syrup; and rising violence, particularly against women. NAFTA devastated the Mexican economy, particularly agriculture and family farms by allowing US corporations to dump cheap corn and other staples into Mexico. It is a key reason why millions upon millions of Mexican workers have been forced to migrate north to the US looking for better work.

President Trump says he wants to renegotiate this “bad deal,” but his vague plans are anchored in building a wall for workers and tearing down walls for capital. He makes a xenophobic argument for renegotiation, and we reject its racist and nationalistic orientation. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue have stated that the rejected and discredited Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) would be the starting point for a renegotiated NAFTA. Unionists and environmentalists rejected TPP for good reasons and to have that as the administration’s starting point is very troubling.

The Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism in NAFTA infringes on sovereignty and citizens’ rights to self-governance by allowing corporations to sue governments who restrain profit-making opportunities. This would have been made more powerful under TPP. TPP would have weakened US health and safety standards, including those that ensure safe pharmaceuticals and food. TPP attacked net neutrality and a free and open Internet. NAFTA was negotiated in the early 1990’s and the internet was not included in the original NAFTA. We expect this to be a major target of the administration’s renegotiation.

We reject the corporate-led vision for a renegotiation of NAFTA and call for a new set of trade policies that prioritize workers common interests and relies on international solidarity as its cornerstone. Any renegotiation of NAFTA must be oriented around the improvement of workers’ lives and protection of the environment focused on those regions of the continent where conditions are the most desperate.

We call for the end of the ISDS protections NAFTA offers to  corporations to exploit working people and the environment.  As we said three years ago, 20 years after the passage of NAFTA, any new treaty must “strengthen governments’ ability to protect social, environmental and labor rights, particularly for migrants.”

We demand, as required by the UN International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions 87 and 98, an end to laws that allow employers to prevent workers from choosing their own unions or from exercising their rights to assemble, organize, and represent workers without any employer interference. This includes an end to attacks in the U.S against unions seeking to negotiate union security clauses with employers.

We demand government investment to create good-paying jobs in our communities, to build affordable housing, accessible public transportation, and green energy production, with quality food, education, and healthcare for all, and with improved access to clean air and water, public parks, and green recreation spaces. All trade negotiations must be opened to civil society participation, which includes prior publication of the texts and the construction of mechanisms for information sharing, social participation and deliberation, while avoiding the imposition of any “fast track”. A renegotiated NAFTA treaty must include effective mechanisms to protect human, labor, and environmental rights with meaningful sanctions and enforcement provisions to assure the supremacy of human rights over corporate privilege.

We support the “Political Declaration of the Encounter of the Social Organizations of Canada, United States, and Mexico” which came out of meetings held in Mexico City on May 26 and 27, 2017. We unite in international solidarity with these goals in mind and are prepared to fight back against any and all attempts to divide or devalue our work, our communities, and our environment.

Transit Riders Unions vs. Climate Change, White Supremacy and Disaster Capitalism

By Desiree Hellegers - CounterPunch, June 19, 2017

Over the past few weeks, Portland, Oregon has been catapulted into the national spotlight as the site of clashes between antiracist and antifascist activists, on the one hand, and white supremacist and militia groups like the Prayer Patriots, Oathkeepers and American Freedom Keepers on the other. The right wing militia groups, along with other assorted Trump supporters, descended on the city in the immediate wake of the May 28th deaths of two out of three men who intervened to stop 35-year old Jeremy Joseph Christian, a self-professed white supremacist, from harassing two young Black women, one of them wearing a hijab. The attacks occurred on the city’s light rail or “Max” line on the eve of Ramadan.

Unremarked, however, in national media coverage of the attacks and their aftermath is the fact that the attack came in the midst of a growing debate in Portland about the militarization of public transportation. The attacks, in fact, came within days of a May 24 vote by the board of Trimet—the tri-county agency that manages Portland’s public transit system—to spend $9.9 million dollars to construct a new transit police facility and jail, and an additional $1.6 million to ramp up policing of public transportation.

The standing room only crowd at the May 24 Trimet Board meeting represented a cross section of Portland progressive community.  At the center of the organizing work was the people-of-color-led statewide Portland-based NGO OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon, and its member organization Bus Riders Unite! (BRU).  OPAL and BRU worked to turn out a strong showing for the hearing, which included activists with union, disability rights, fossil fuel/climate justice, immigrant, houseless and renters’ rights activists, and police accountability activists from Black Lives Matter, Don’t Shoot Portland, and Portland Copwatch. Police violence became a particular flashpoint for the hearing, coming as it did on the heels of the police shooting of a 24-year-old Black man named Terrell Johnson. The shooting occurred within two months of a grand jury decision not to pursue charges against the officer who, in February, shot and killed another Black man, 17-year-old Quanice Hayes.

The shooting occurred within two months of a grand jury decision not to pursue charges against the officer who, in February, shot and killed another Black man, 17-year-old Quanice Hayes.

Barely a month earlier, OPAL activists and their allies in Oregon’s Just Transition Alliance also mobilized thousands to turn out for an April 29 march, part of the global People of Color’s Climate March, calling attention to the disproportionate impacts of climate change on frontline communities of color worldwide. On the same day, white supremacists and Trump supporters held a march down 82nd street, in a neighborhood that has increasingly become home to immigrants and people of color, many of whom have been forced out of the city’s urban core by decades of gentrification. As the Reverend Joseph Santos-Lyons, a long time OPAL board member and Executive Director of APANO (the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon) wrote in an op-ed in the Oregonian, “The sight left me with a feeling of deja vu. I was born and raised in Oregon and I had heard these chants before: ‘Go home,’ ‘Get out of our country,’ ‘You do not belong here.’ Only there was a key difference. The white supremacists were more confident, less ashamed. And perhaps for good reason. Their views are amplified nationally.” . Present on the scene at the April 29th march was Jeremy Joseph Christian, who would go on to slash the throats of three men on the city’s light rail, killing 53-year-old Ricky John Best, and 23-year-old Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche, of Southeast Portland, and severely injuring 21-year-old Micah Fletcher.

With OPAL activists and their allies regrouping from the April 29 marches and mobilizing to turn out activists for the May Trimet board meeting and budget vote, Portland’s Willamette Week newspaper published a front page story headlined “Governor Kate Brown Might Sell Four Agencies to Private Bidders to Keep Oregon Afloat.” Among the state “assets” slated for sale, as a subheading indicated, is “Portland’s light rail system.” A primary impediment to the sale, the article indicated, however, would be “TriMet’s union employees [who], reporter Nigel Jaquis noted, “exert enormous power and would oppose a sale of any TriMet functions.”

Nationwide, state and local governments are facing increasing pressures in the wake of the manufactured debt crisis, to include public transportation among “assets” to be liquidated in corporate fire sales. The Willamette Week story, and the prospect of the Democratic governor selling off state agencies met with a predictably celebratory response in the conservative Weekly Standard, which responded gleefully to the prospect of the governor “burning the [state’s] household furniture to say warm” , and “rechristen[ing] the University of Oregon ‘Nike U.’” The prospect of the privatization of Portland’s light rail system is a barometer of Brown’s willingness to pursue neoliberal austerity measures, and the power that corporations like Nike and Intel exert in a state with one of the lowest corporate income taxes in the country.

The possibility of privatizing light rail ought to send shock waves throughout Portland. The city, after all, is at the forefront of the national battle to divest from fossil fuels and convert to more sustainable forms of energy.  Few cities nationwide are better situated, then, to form a united front to push back against this regressive proposal, given the intersectional organizing already at work in a city that has been profoundly shaken by the resurgence of white supremacy and creeping fascism.

Trump goes for bust on the national-populist trail. What did you expect?

By Daniel Tanuro - International Viewpoint, June 15, 2017

The United States has denounced the Paris climate agreement, cancelled all the measures decided by the United States in application of this agreement and withdrew from the Green Fund for the Climate. These are the major decisions that Donald Trump finally announced, on Thursday, June 1, after a long period of suspense.

These decisions are in line with the promises made by the new President during his election campaign. In the past few months, some observers had wanted to believe that Trump would change his tune, but he did no such thing. On the contrary, the speech he delivered in the Rose Garden of the White House flowed from a disturbing nationalist and populist demagogy. What did you expect? - as the advertisers say...

Victimization and nationalism

For Trump, the Paris agreement was nothing but a scandalous piece of trickery imposed on the USA. "The Paris agreement is not about the climate," he said, "it’s about the financial advantage that other countries get compared to the United States. The rest of the world applauded when we signed the agreement. They were happy, for the simple reason that we suffer from a very great economic disadvantage."

Drawing an apocalyptic picture of the implications of the agreement, the president said it would lead to the loss of 2.7 million jobs, cost the US $3 trillion and would result in a loss of purchasing power for US citizens of up to $7,000 a year. He listed the figures of the reductions in economic activity that would affect the industrial sectors: "86 per cent in the coal sector", he said... omitting of course to mention that solar energy already gives employment to 800,000 US workers (against 67,000 in coal) and creates more jobs than the coal industry loses.[1]

For Trump, it is simple, there is a conspiracy: the poor Americans, who are too honest, are victims of an enormous injustice hatched by an evil machination of all the other countries. The denunciation of the agreement is therefore an elementary reaction of sovereignty and national dignity: "The heads of state of Europe and China should not have more to say about the policy of the United States than American citizens do. We do not want to be the laughing stock of the world. We will not be."

Donald Trump, the Paris Agreement, and the Meaning of America

By Paul Arbair - Paul Arbair, June 12, 2017

Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement on climate change has sparked a global uproar. Yet America’s reluctance to reduce its use of fossil fuels is, in fact, logical. Not only because of the U.S. president’s overt denial of man-made climate change, but also and more fundamentally because it reflects America’s historical essence and trajectory.

So he did it. Donald J. Trump, 45th president of the United States of America, finally announced his decision to withdraw his country from the Paris Agreement on climate change. According to the White House occupant, this agreement negotiated by the Obama administration was a ‘bad deal’ for America, undermining its competitiveness and jobs, costing millions to its taxpayers, imposing disproportionate and unfair restrictions on its carbon emissions, and weakening its sovereignty. This agreement, he said, “is less about the climate and more about other countries gaining a financial advantage over the United States”. It is “a massive redistribution of United States wealth to other countries”, and “the American family will suffer the consequences in the form of lost jobs and a very diminished quality of life.” Such a bad deal is unacceptable to a president who has pledged to ‘Make America Great Again’ and to put America and its workers first.

Obviously, Trump’s core supporters have cheered this momentous decision. The billionaire real estate mogul-turned-president, they say, has made good on a pledge he made during last year’s campaign, showing once again that he meant what he said. The rest of America, on the other hand, as well as much of the world, couldn’t be more outraged. By reneging on its commitment to help fight climate change alongside the international community, America is abdicating its claim to global leadership, many argue. By joining the group of countries that are not signed up to deal reached in the French capital in December 2015, a group that so far comprises only Nicaragua and Syria, it is even turning into a ‘rogue state’, some suggest. A state that rejects science, progress and enlightened values, choosing instead a one-way trip back to the ‘Dark Ages’. A state that cannot anymore be relied upon, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel put it just a few days ago, or even that represents a growing danger to the world. Sad!

In the U.S., Trump’s announcement has triggered a sharp reaction from cities, states and businesses, which have vowed to meet U.S. climate commitments regardless of what Washington says or does. More than 1,000 city mayors, state governors, college and university leaders, businesses, and investors signed a “We Are Still In” open letter to the international community, saying they are committed to delivering concrete carbon emissions reductions that will help meet America’s emissions pledge under the Paris Agreement. Billionaire and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg even promised to provide up to $15 million in funding that he says the United Nations will lose as a result of President Trump’s decision to pull out from the climate deal. Emblematic CEOs such as Tesla’s Elon Musk and Disney’s Robert Iger announced they would quit Trump advisory councils, and anti-Trump demonstrations have been held across the country.

Outside the U.S., the reaction has been no less virulent, and Donald Trump’s decision has been vehemently condemned across the international community. Emmanuel Macron, the young and newly elected French president, rebuked his U.S. counterpart in a televised speech – the first speech ever given in English by a French President from the Elysée Palace – condemning his decision as a historic “mistake” and issuing a call to “make our planet great again“. This call, a direct jibe at Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ election slogan, went immediately viral on social media… The leaders of the European Union and China, backed by India and Japan, announced they would fully implement the Paris Agreement despite Washington’s withdrawal. The deal, they insisted, is not up for renegotiation, despite what the U.S. president might say. Trump’s decision, many observers suggested, could actually trigger a wide-ranging geopolitical shake-up that would isolate the U.S., or even make it a ‘global pariah’, and hand China a chance for global leadership.

Beyond America’s geopolitical standing and diplomatic reputation, the reactions to Donald Trump’s decision have of course focused on what it may mean for the planet’s climate. A number of observers have suggested that the American president might actually be doing the world and global climate a favour: outside of the Paris deal, the U.S. will not be in a position to block progress as it has done so many times in the past on climate negotiations, and the rest of the world will therefore be able to step up its efforts. The ‘climate revolution’ they say, is already unstoppable anyway, including in the U.S. The stunning growth of renewable energies, fuelled by rapid technological progress and by their falling costs, will ensure that the ‘decarbonisation’ of the global economy accelerates in the coming years, whatever Mr. Trump may say or do.

Most analysts and climate activists, however, consider that the U.S. withdrawal will severely undermine the international community’s fight against climate change. The disengagement of the world’s only superpower and current second largest CO2 emitter – and by far the biggest carbon polluter in history – might in fact weaken the Paris Agreement in many ways. Not only because it may reduce incentives for some countries that only reluctantly signed up to the deal to meet their voluntary emissions reductions pledges, but also because it may slow down the pace of technological progress needed to enable the transition to ‘clean energy’. The U.S. indeed remains the world’s technological powerhouse, and a lot of the ‘solutions’ required to accelerate the deployment and use of renewable energies (e.g. concerning electricity storage or carbon capture) are expected to come from its research labs and tech companies. Without sufficient political support and government funding, these solutions may take longer to be developed, or even never emerge. In addition, America’s withdrawal will also undermine the Green Climate Fund, which aims to help developing countries reduce emissions and adapt to the changes already set in motion by past emissions, and to which the U.S. was the largest contributor in absolute terms. Trump’s decision, hence, appears to many as an irresponsible move, a ‘moral disgrace’ or even a ‘crime against humanity’. Future generations will reap catastrophes and conflicts, and “people will die” because of this reckless withdrawal, some have warned.

The 1970s Struggle to Save the Vic Market

By staff - Earthworker Cooperative, June 2017; artwork by Sofia Sabbagh

Remembering the struggle to save the Vic Market from the threat of redevelopment in the 1970s. Earthworker recognises itself as part of this tradition of defending public and community space. 

The Vic Market is a vital public space in the heart of Melbourne. Many of us who live in and around Melbourne appreciate the Market as a place to work, eat, meet and enjoy company with friends and family.

Not many know that in the 1970s, pressure began to mount for the “redevelopment” of the Queen Victoria Market into a combined trade and hotel precinct. Even fewer know the truth about the role that a militant trade union, namely the Builders Labourers’ Federation (BLF), played in protecting the Vic Market from this threat.

This is an excerpt from Vic Market’s own website: “The separation of the Wholesale Market from the Retail Market lead to a plan to redevelop the Queen Victoria Market site into a trade centre, office and hotel complex in the 1970s. However, public outcry prevented this and resulted in the Market being classified by the National Trust. Later, the Market site and its buildings were listed on the Historic Buildings Register.”

Not a word about a union. Yet if you talk to the older stall holders today they all know people who came before them who were involved in that period, and who are proud of the union-declared ban on development work at the Vic market. This action was only one in a series of bans that the BLF put on development sites that were deemed socially or environmentally harmful. This strategy was collectively termed “Green Bans”.

Here’s some words from Dave Kerin, co-founder of Earthworker and one of those involved in the victory to protect the Vic Market in the 1970s:

“Our community is there; our kids grew up with the Market as a formative community influence; and importantly thanks to John Cummins (previous Victorian secretary of the BLF), the Green Ban remains on the Vic Market. In the early 1990’s the stall holders approached Cummo to discuss yet another proposal to build inappropriately on Market land. Cummo reassured everybody that as far as he was concerned “The Green Ban was never lifted!” The Green Ban still holds and yet goes unacknowledged by the Market’s Administration. This ahistorical presentation of events must change.”

History is repeating, and we now see that the Vic Market is under threat again. But, if we know our history, we can assert with confidence “We’ve saved it before, we’ll save it again!”.

ILWU Local 10 Speaks Out Against the ORCEM/VMT project in Vallejo

ILWU Local 10 President Edwin Ferris speaks out against corporate greed and the ORCEM/VMT project - Fresh Air Vallejo, June 1, 2017

This is the powerful 2-minute statement from Edwin Ferris, President, Int’l Longshore & Warehouse Union, Local 10, at the May 30, 2017, City Council of Vallejo meeting. He spoke on the long history of ILWU in the Bay Area on- and off-loading ships, barges and rail cars. He told the City Council neither VMT or Orcem had ever contacted them. But stated that this detail was secondary to health of the vulnerable.

The people of Vallejo thank the ILWU-10 for their work on our behalf. And the volunteers of Fresh Air Vallejo would like to thank all of the organizations who have endorsed our research and eduction efforts for the past 20 months. Other great speakers on May 30th included the Sierra Club, Audubon Society, Migrante Napa-Solano and Voices of Vallejo as well as almost 100 individuals. To view the entire proceeding, please click on the City link and scroll down to the meeting date. Public comment start at 7pm and lasted until 11:30pm.


What premium do you place on the lives of the people of South Vallejo? - Fresh Air Vallejo, June 1, 2017

This is the 3-minute statement from Derrick Muhammad, Int’l Longshore & Warehouse Union, Local 10 Secretary and Treasurer, at the May 30, 2017, City Council of Vallejo meeting. A beautifully written speech that not only targets what we need to do now to stop the proposed VMT/Orcem private port and cement project—but also the problems we need to solve next for South Vallejo: Air, Food, Schools, Housing.

For more information, see this article.

An Open Letter to Our Allies in the Fight for Safe Rails and a Sustainable Environment

Open Letter - By Railroad Workers United, June 7, 2017

No More Lac-Mégantics – Drop the Charges

July 6th marks four years since a runaway train carrying volatile Bakken crude crashed and burned in the small town of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, killing 47 and destroying half the town. It’s time to recommit to making sure tragedies like this don’t happen again. It’s also the right time to speak up against the criminal trial beginning in early September this year, that unfairly and inaccurately hangs the Lac-Mégantic crash on two railroad workers.

Some of us focus on how dangerous this kind of cargo is. Trains carrying volatile crude are called “Bomb Trains” for a reason. Some of us focus more on rail safety, no matter what or who is on the train. We push for safer work schedules and big enough train crews to handle an unusual situation or an emergency. Railroad managers push hard to squeeze every dollar they can out of every train run. The Lac-Mégantic train had a dangerous cargo, a single crew-member and work rules that cut the margin of safety down to just about zero. The result was a disaster that still impacts the Lac-Mégantic community.

You’d expect railroaders to point the finger at management. But we’re not the only ones. Multiple government safety investigations and independent journalists looked at what happened in Lac-Mégantic and came to the same conclusion. Railroad management policies made this kind of runaway train crash likely to happen sooner or later. Lax government oversight looked the other way until it did.

You would think that four years later there would be stronger safety regulations on every railroad, with extra layers of protection for dangerous cargo. Sadly, this is not the case. Railroad policymakers are still cutting corners and government regulators are still looking the other way. They want people to believe that the big safety problem is a few careless railroad workers.

Even after all the reports and exposes, the Canadian and Quebec governments are still not going after the railroad policy makers and their unsafe policies. Instead railroad workers Tom Harding and Richard Labrie will be on trial this fall in Quebec. The managers who made the critical policies will not even get a slap on the wrist. That’s just wrong, and it guarantees that the danger continues. Every year since the crash, the number of reported runaway trains in Canada has increased. That’s a sign of a reckless culture, not the actions of two rail-road workers one night in Quebec.

Whether your main issue is the environment, community safety, rail safety, or worker’s rights, it comes down to stronger government regulations and stronger railroad safety policies, with real community and labor enforcement. The two railroad workers were not the cause of the Lac-Mégantic crash or any of the runaway trains since then. They are not the ones still running trains right through the town of Lac-Mégantic, ignoring the demands of the survivors for a simple rail bypass. The people in Lac-Mégantic know that sending Harding and Labrie to prison won’t address any of their problems with the railroad. But if that happens, you can bet the government will close the book as the official verdict on Lac-Mégantic and railroad management will be standing there with them.

Railroad Workers United is going to mark the Lac-Mégantic anniversary wherever we are. We’ll stand in solidarity with the people of Lac-Mégantic like we have for four years, and talk about rail safety. That’s who we are. But we’ll make sure to point out that scapegoating two railroad workers for this tragedy will make railroads and communities across the continent less safe.

When you hold public commemorations this year, we ask you to make this point your way. Blaming Harding and Labrie for the Lac-Mégantic tragedy weakens all of us and all our causes. So all of us have to speak up.

Justice for Lac-Mégantic requires Dropping the Charges Against Harding & Labrie

Sign on to this appeal! - Contact: (202) 798-3327 | info@railroadworkersunited.org

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