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green unionism

Jobs for Climate and Justice: A Worker Alternative to the Trump Agenda

By Staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, April 24, 2017

We are in a critical political moment. The impacts of climatechange are increasingly severe, taking a toll on our health, environment and our economies. In the midst of this growing crisis, the United States now has a President and Congressional leadership that simultaneously attack climateclimate science and aim to comprehensively roll back climate protection measures and the rights of workers to organize.

Jobs for Climate and Justice exposes and challenges the Trump agenda and proposes the kind of economic program we must fight for. It also offers examples of the great organizing efforts around the country – led by working people – that provide the foundation for the a transition to a just and climate-safe economy. It is organized based on 4 elements:

  1. Create good jobs fixing the climate
  2. Protect threatened workers and communities
  3. Remedy inequality and injustice
  4. Lay the basis for a New Economy

The full working paper can be found [Here]

Which Way for Science?

By Editorial Team - Science for the People, April 18, 2017

On April 22, 2017, the March for Science will pull several thousands of people into the streets to stand up for science and resist funding cuts proposed by the current US administration. Our organization, Science for the People, sees this development as a mostly positive step in the right direction. The scale of the political and economic crises facing people across the world is enormous and will require mass movements to resist and organize for change. However, we believe there is a need to advance radical solutions to face these crises. As such we have been interested in how the March for Science has developed since its inception around January 25, 2017. Our members have been taking measured approaches to engaging with the March for Science–nationally and locally–with the overall goal of putting forward a politics capable of both taking seriously the multitude of contradictions that define scientific enterprise and accounting for the people affected by and disaffected with the pursuit, uses, and abuses of science.

For radicals and revolutionaries, unearthing and addressing the burning questions of the latent social movement for science is an urgent and primary task:

  • What’s happening to U.S. Science?
  • Who will March for Science? Who will not?
  • What is Science for the People?

An American Uprising: Assessing Opportunities for Progressive Political Change

By Anthony DiMaggio - CounterPunch, April 20, 2017

We live in a time of tremendous instability and change. Concerns about growing authoritarianism in American politics – as reflected in the rise of corporate power in politics, the intensification of militarism, and the diversion of the masses from political participation – are legitimate. There’s always been negativity on “the left” regarding American politics and society, and for good reason. We live in a time of ecological unsustainability that threatens human survival. Record inequality means a growing number of Americans are economically insecure and struggling to pay for basic goods such as health care and education. The threat of militarism is real, with the Trump administration’s saber rattling against Russia and North Korea. Militarism was a problem under Obama as well, although many Americans held out hope based on Trump’s rhetoric that he’d cool relations with Russia.

Progressives are right to spotlight the dangers to democracy and human survival we face, and to condemn a political-economic system that’s engaged in an all-out assault on the public. But these dangers are far from the whole story when we talk about American politics today. There’s also a pathology that defines much of left discourse, marked by a fixation on condemning the political system, independent of any constructive effort to develop positive suggestions for transforming politics. This negativity suggests a refusal to recognize the unique moment we find ourselves in regarding the rising intensity of social protests over the last decade. Simply put, we are in the middle of what I’d call a second renaissance of social movement activism, equaled only by the social movements of the 1960s and early 1970s. This earlier period was a time of rapid change. Activists came together to protest state repression on many fronts, in opposition to America’s racial caste system, to resist an imperialist, murderous, immoral war in Asia, in support of challenging misogynist patriarchal norms, in opposition to environmental degradation via air pollution and nuclear power, and in pursuit of basic consumer protections.

We find ourselves in another critical and historic juncture today. Post-2008, we see movement after social movement emerge to assault a political-economic status quo that is rejected by the vast majority of Americans. Citizens are realizing that U.S. political system is working only to benefit the wealthy few. Gallup found in 2015 that less than one-in-four Americans trusted the national government “a great deal” or a “fair amount” – a record low since the organization started tracking this question in 1972. Just one-in-five Americans said in 2015 that government was “run for the benefit of all,” rather than for the few. As the Washington Post reported that year, “across party lines, Americans believe our economic system is rigged to favor the wealthy, and big corporations, and that our political system is, too – so much so that by nearly a 2-to-1 margin, Americans believe their ‘vote does not matter because of the influence wealthy individuals and big corporations have on the electoral process.’”

As a young, idealistic undergraduate college activist 15 years ago, I would have died if this many Americans had articulated such distrust of government. This is fertile ground for organizing, and progressives should rejoice at this historic opportunity. Young Americans are increasingly estranged from an economy that provides income gains only to the top one percent, while assaulting the rest of the population. This anger was on display in a 2016 Harvard Survey finding that just 42 percent of Millennials expressed support for capitalism. Young Americans aren’t stupid. They can read the writing on the wall, and they recognize that our economy is broken, functioning for the affluent few at the expense of the many. And young Americans will be vital to producing structural political or economic change in the coming decades.

We don’t have to wait to see growing pressure for change. A mass public uprising has been going on for years. I’m reluctant to say it started with the “Tea Party,” since polls demonstrated that these protesters were largely nativist, racist reactionaries who were preoccupied with preventing future tax increases and stifling efforts to repair our country’s broken health care system. Polls from the early 2010s found that Tea Partiers were quite privileged economically speaking, earning incomes well above the national average, and benefitting from high education levels. And there was no evidence that these individuals were more likely than other Americans to have been hurt by the outsourcing of manufacturing jobs. Since the decline of the Tea Party, however, many progressive waves of protest have emerged. Some are now gone, others remain. These include the Madison uprising against Governor Scott Walker (2011); Occupy Wall Street (2011), “Fight for $15” (2013 to present); Black Lives Matter (2013 to present); the Sanders uprising within the Democratic Party’s base (2016), and the anti-Trump protests (2016 to present), not to mention the environmental movement, which has remained relevant on numerous fronts over the last few decades.

Review – “Trade Unions in the Green Economy”

By x384117 - Environmental Unionism Caucus, April 25, 2017

Trade Unions in the Green Economy: Working for the Environment (2013) is a compilation of essays on the intersection of labor organizing and environmentalism, with contributions from workers, union staffers, activists, and researchers from around the world.  The usefulness of each chapter varies; some focus on the policies of various technocratic bodies, while others look at the actual social and political dynamics within pro-ecology unions, and a few advance anti-capitalist analysis.  Overall, it is a very useful introductory survey on the modern state of eco-unionism, and contains useful information for revolutionary unionists and environmental syndicalists.

The first three chapters look at the way international bodies of unions and labor organizations, such as the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the International Labour Organization (ILO), have incorporated environmental concerns into their programs and advocacy efforts.  This is of limited interest to revolutionary unionists, since we primarily concern ourselves with the dynamics of the rank-and-file and on-the-ground organizing, rather than what far-off committees and technocrats are pushing around on paper.  But these chapters are still of some use, insofar as they push back against the idea that unions are generally in opposition to environmental protections and ecological concerns. International and transnational bodies of labor groups have been including environmental provisions since the 1970s, and this itself has connected more recently with the inclusion of environmental concerns in local workplace bargaining strategies since the mid-2000s in the US, UK, Canada, and Spain (among other countries).  It is also useful to know what resources these international bodies could offer to more radical local efforts; for example, the ILO has a research wing dedicated to the labor market in clean energy sectors, which could potentially be leveraged by revolutionary unionists in efforts to build up workers cooperatives. 

Subsequent chapters were much more interesting, as they looked more at campaigns and ideas more rooted in local realities, and thus more dependent on grassroots initiative and militancy.  A chapter on eco-unionism in Spain discussed efforts to redefine the subject of the worker beyond being merely an appendage of the workplace, and as somebody who is also part of the larger environment that is degraded by the externalities of capitalism; this redefinition lays the groundwork for pushing unions to advocate for revolutionizing society away from carbon-based energy systems and privatized modes of transportation, and toward an economy of green energy, public transportation, and closed-loop production cycles.  Similar types of analysis are discussed in chapters on trade unions in Australia, many of whom have adopted the Just Transition framework as a way to reconcile the contradictions of extractive industries such as mining.

Some of the most compelling chapters were on struggles where worker self-interest and ecological protection wasn’t just a matter of theoretical convergence, but of obvious and immediate importance.  One chapter discussed the Rural Workers Trade Union (STTR), an organization of workers in rural northern Brazil, in the Amazon Rainforest.  The region’s economy is a site of deep contradiction, where dependence on the land for food and water clashes with the need to extract resources to sell to regional and global markets for additional income.  The STTR helped coordinate communities in the area on options for developing sustainable industries (as opposed to the common and destructive industry of logging), and also served as the organ of local, democratic, and sustainable governance of the natural resources.  Another chapter discussed how occupational health standards became increasingly important to unions in the US who worked with dangerous and toxic materials, in industries involving energy and chemical production.  Decreasing pollution and exposure to toxins was of immediate concern to workers, as critical issues of workplace safety and working conditions.  Addressing issues of occupational health and workplace safety was pushed hard by unions like the Oil, Atomic, and Chemical Workers (OACW) of the ‘70s and ‘80s, who eventually merged into the United Steelworkers (USW). 

Demands for a safe and healthy workplace can sound relatively moderate, but in some industries they could have an explosive and revolutionary impact.  This is the argument made in an excellent chapter on the status of food workers across the world, a segment of the working class which is often marginalized in both union and environmental discourse.  The global industrial agriculture system is a massive source of greenhouse gas emissions, and this is deeply connected with the low status and power of farmworkers, who are routinely exposed to toxic chemicals and brutally long working hours.  If farmworkers—who number roughly 1 billion worldwide—organized and demanded proper wages, reasonable hours, and safe and healthy working conditions, this would lead to revolutionizing agriculture, and an inevitable move away from petrochemical-intensive techniques toward sustainable alternatives like agro-ecology.  This point about organizing is important; in a brief critique of the Just Transition framework, the author argues that the use of the framework relies too much on the assumption that socio-economic restructuring and technological change comes about from rational discourse and good-faith debate, instead of recognizing that rights are fought for, not granted.  Thus a Just Transition requires workers to organize and actively fight and implement the framework, instead of simply asking the wealthy and powerful to do so for them. 

Worker power is the topic of another compelling chapter, written by a Swedish autoworker, on the subject of transforming the auto industry for the green economy of the future.  The author argues that workers need to seize the initiative and not only advocate for a complete reconfiguration of the industry toward products like public transit and green energy systems, but to also build up systems of worker self-management and actively participate in the planning and development of new production systems that can leverage their own skills and knowledge.  The example of the Lucas Plan, an attempt by aerospace workers in the UK to reconfigure a weapons plant in the 1970s, is given as a key model for how workers today can think about a worker-driven initiative toward seizing and restructuring their own workplaces, and the wider economy.

Indeed, if there is one takeaway from Trade Unions in the Green Economy, it is that worker self-organization and power are the central pillar of effective environmental unionism.  Transforming production via environmental reforms on capitalist lines will always result in a combination of 1) the displacement and destruction of working-class communities (and a concurrent shift toward reactionary politics in the absence of left-wing alternatives, as we are currently seeing in the Western world), and 2) the offshoring of dirty production to the Global South, which means that at the global level, we’re not necessarily reducing the net rates of pollution.  Furthermore, we must also recognize the limits of traditional liberal strategies for social change, which revolve around lobbying elites through the alleged power of ideas and rational discourse, and a focus on an abstract space of “public opinion”.  What we need instead is a strategy that brings politics into everyday life, where our neighborhoods and workplaces are sites of struggle for livable wages and healthy environments.    

The only way forward is to tie together unionism and environmentalism in a substantive manner, and build a strategy where we are the primary actors in transforming the economy—not politicians, technocrats, or capitalists. 

Free Nurbek Kushakbayev! Support independent workers’ organisation in Kazakhstan!

By Gabriel Levy - People and Nature, April 19, 2017

Trades unionists have launched an international campaign for the release of Nurbek Kushakbayev, who was jailed this month for his part in organising strike action in the western Kazakhstan oil field.

A court in Astana, the Kazakh capital, sentenced Kushakbayev to two-and-half years in jail, followed by a further two-year ban on organising.

Kushakbayev is a trade union safety inspector at Oil Construction Company (OCC), an oilfield service firm based in Mangistau, western Kazakhstan. He is also deputy president of the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Kazakhstan, which the government banned last year under a law designed to straitjacket unions not controlled by the state.

In January, workers at several oil companies in Mangistau staged a hunger strike in protest at the ban on union federation, to which their workplace organisations were affiliated. Dozens of participants in the hunger strike were arrested. Most were released without charge, but Kushakbayev and another union organiser at OCC, Amin Yeleusinov, were arrested and secretly transported to Astana, more than 1000 kilometres to the east. Yeleusinov is still awaiting trial.

NFU commemorates April 17th: International Day of Peasants' Struggle

By staff - La Via Campesina, April 18, 2017

(Saskatoon, April 17, 2017) -  On April 17th, 1996, 19 peasants were killed when military police in Pará, Brazil attacked members of the Landless Workers Movement (MST) who were blockading a highway in order to demand agrarian reform. Two more people died from their injuries several days later, and hundreds were so seriously injured that they could not go on working in agriculture. La Via Campesina, which was then in the midst of holding its second international conference in Tlaxcala, Mexico, declared April 17th to be the International Day of Farmers' and Peasants' Struggle

La Via Campesina is the international movement which brings together millions of peasants, small and medium-size farmers, landless people, women farmers, indigenous people, migrants and agricultural workers from around the world. It defends small-scale sustainable agriculture as a way to promote social justice and dignity.

The National Farmers Union (NFU) International Programming Committee (IPC) joins in commemorating the International Day of Peasants' Struggle by continuing to work to broaden the NFU's understanding and analysis of the global food system, by better understanding the impact of Canadian agricultural policy on farming families both domestically and globally, and by sharing information and experiences among farmers and their allies in other countries. 

We stand in solidarity with peasants around the world who face threats and discrimination, persecution and violence and we support the advance toward the UN Declaration of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas.  

In July 2017, in the Basque Country, La Via Campesina will hold its 7th International Conference.  Several members of the NFU will attend this important conference to deepen our understanding and analysis of the struggles faced by peasants and farmers, and work to strengthen our movement.

Standing Rock in Tacoma, Washington

By Sarah Morken - The North Star, April 16, 2017

Tacoma has been one of the main dumping grounds for polluting industry in western Washington. We are home to nine EPA Superfund clean up sites.

This week we gathered on the Tacoma tide flats outside outside the site where Puget Sound Energy (PSE) is preparing to build the nations largest fracked gas storage plant (Liquid Natural Gas or LNG). There were members of the Puyallup Tribe, Standing Rock Tribe, the Palouse Tribe and their non-native allies from local political and environmental groups. We were about 50 people coming and going. The protest was hosted by Tacoma Direct Action and sponsored by Redline Tacoma, Save Tacoma Water and Green Party Tahoma. This was the first local protest actually at the site.

Takes More Than Prayer

James Rideout, member of the Puyallup Tribe and geoduck diver started the protest with a prayer and a song, with help from Jesse Nightwalker a member of the Palouse Tribe. James asked how far we were willing to go to fight this project, reminding us that it was going to take more than prayer, reminding us about what happened in Standing Rock.

ILWU

We stood on the four corners at the intersection located between the LNG site and Totem Ocean Trailer Express (TOTE). TOTE is supposedly one of the primary customers of the LNG. We handed out flyers to Longshore workers (ILWU 23) as they drove through the gate at TOTE and also to other port workers as they drove by. Some of the cars drove past without stopping, but many of them took our flyers. Most of them were not even aware of the project. They weren’t aware that their union leadership supports the project. The decision to support LNG was voted on at a general membership meeting without effort to truly inform the members on the issue. The union has been helping with the million dollar greenwashing campaign for PSE.

Interestingly, ILWU 23 sent a delegation with supplies and money to Standing Rock showing solidarity with the Water Protectors against the oil and gas industry there. Can the dockworkers be convinced to stand in solidarity with the Puyallup Tribe right here at home? Or will they instead support the the oil and gas industry? In my opinion, it would be helpful if Puyallup Tribe members ask their Tribal Council to set up a meeting with ILWU 23 and have a conversation about this. As union members, as the working class, our natural allies are fellow exploited/oppressed/discriminated people, like Native Americans, not Puget Sound Energy!

Colonialism, climate change and the need to defund DAPL

By Amy Hall - Open Democracy, April 16, 2017

Back in 2009, when I was an undergraduate student, I went to a talk given by Eriel Tchekwie Deranger of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation which had a significant impact on my understanding of environmental justice.

This was the first time I had been awoken to the devastation of the tar sands in Canada. I knew that massive fossil fuel projects were bad news for the climate but what stuck with me was the impact of the tar sands on the people and their land. Why wasn't something being done to stop it? Aside from the relentless march of fossil fuel extraction and consumption, there's money to be made and the people in the way are poor and not white.

From Nigeria to North America, many of the people on the frontline of struggles against extraction projects are black, brown or from indigenous communities. Recently one of these, the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) has been making headlines.

The $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline travels 1,168 miles from North Dakota to Illinois, where it will join up with a second 774 mile pipeline to Texas. It will carry up to 570,000 barrels of Bakken crude oil per day once it is up and running, which could be within weeks.

If the pipeline, which is laid underneath the Missouri River, fails it will pollute a vital water source for the Standing Rock Sioux people and thousands of others. This threat is very real. Sunoco Logistics, one of the companies behind DAPL has had more than 200 leaks since 2010, according to Reuters. DAPL was re-routed away from Bismarck, a mostly white community, partly because of water pollution fears.

People of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe have been joined in their resistance by thousands of other indigenous people from across the region, as well as allies. At its peak, an estimated 10,000 people joined the water protectors at spiritual camps: Sacred Stone, Oceti Sakowin and others.

Kicking Them While They’re Down: What Trump is Doing to Appalachia

By Kenneth Surin - CounterPunch, April 11, 2017; Photo by Don O’Brien | CC BY 2.0

Appalachia voted overwhelmingly for Trump, who won it by a resounding 63%-33%.  Appalachia as a region is defined by federal law, and consists of 490 counties in 13 states.  Hillary Clinton won only 21 of these counties.  According to the right-wing Washington Examiner, “She did not win a single county in Appalachia that is mostly white, non-college-educated and has a population of under 100,000 people”.

Political analysts have used a fine-tooth comb to go over the issue of Trump’s popularity with less-educated whites, so there is no need to repeat their findings here.

More interesting, and not so much discussed thus far, is the potential impact on Appalachia of the budgetary policies announced recently by the Trump administration.  In a nutshell:  what’s been announced may “make America great again”, but it almost certainly won’t do this for Appalachia (not that the rest of the country, except for the plutocracy, is likely to benefit either).

Appalachia is one of the poorest regions in the US.

The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) has been earmarked for elimination by Trump, as has the Economic Development Administration (EDA)– more about this later.  The ARC compiles statistics on Appalachian poverty, income, and employment.

According to the ARC 2010-2014 Poverty Rate report, the poverty rate across the US was 15.6% compared to 19.7% in the Appalachian region of Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.

There are significant variations between different Appalachian states where poverty rates are concerned.  For example, the Virginian statewide rate is 11.5% as opposed to an 18.8% rate for the Appalachian region overall.

(This statistic is however somewhat misleading when used in this way because Virginia’s overall poverty rate is greatly reduced by the economic contribution of affluent northern Virginia (NoVa) with its abundance of well-paid government and tech jobs.  There are “two Virginias” where income disparities are concerned, and the poverty rate in Appalachian Virginia, as opposed to NoVa, is a more accurate 18.8%.)

The state with the worst regional poverty rate is Kentucky with a 25.4% rate in its Appalachian portion as opposed to the 18.9% rate for the rest of the state.

The cause of this poverty is not so much unemployment (though that is a contributing factor), but desperately low income levels.

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