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Draft Resolution - Stop Line 3

Draft Resolution - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, December 24, 2018

The following resolution is a draft only and has not yet been adopted by any IWW branch or the union as a whole. We will update this post if and when that changes. We are posting it here as a recommended resolution.

Whereas: The existing Line 3 is an Enbridge pipeline that transports crude oil from Alberta to Superior, Wisconsin spanning northern Minnesota and crossing the Leech Lake and Fond du Lac reservations and the 1855, 1854, and 1842 treaty areas;

Whereas: Since Enbridge Line 3’s construction in 1961 it has experienced severe corrosion that has led to countless spills and ruptures;

Whereas: Instead of decommissioning Line 3 and paying for its removal and the rehabilitation of the lands it has despoiled, Enbridge is pushing to expand and replace it (they call it a "replacement" but it is larger, with a higher volume and in a new corridor);

Whereas: At $7.5 billion, the proposed new Line 3 would be the “largest project in Enbridge’s history” and one of the largest crude oil pipelines in the world, carrying up to 915,000 barrels per day of one of the dirtiest fuels on earth, tar sands crude;

Whereas: Line 3 is poised to be a linchpin in tar-sands infrastructure, committed for decades to advancing a dying industry that is a major source of greenhouse gases, poses a direct threat to the lives and livelihoods of indigenous communities, and creates a perpetual risk to large sources of clean water including Lake Superior (also a large part of Minnesota’s tourist economy and a potent symbol to the region’s people);

Whereas: Economically, the tar-sands are doomed; and environmentally, they are a disaster;

Whereas: In approving Line 3, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission failed to adhere to even its modest mandate “to balance the private and public interest,” instead prioritizing the short-term profits of foreign corporations and their phony claims of “good jobs” over the will of Native communities, the overwhelming majority of Minnesotans (hundreds of thousands of whom have spoken out in opposition), and the very future of the planet without which there can be no “public”;

Whereas: In issuing a Certificate of Need for Line 3, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission also ignored the findings of the reviewing administrative law judge who said there is no need for a new pipeline on Enbridge’s preferred route;

Whereas: Line 3 will provide nowhere near the number of permanent union jobs the the project’s promoters promise they will (Enbridge itself estimates the number at around 25; its marketing and lobbying campaigns are designed to obscure this fact) and the Minnesota Department of Commerce has indicated that more local and long term jobs would actually be created by decommissioning the existing pipeline;

Whereas: More jobs could instead be created by investing in the infrastructure our communities actually need, such as clean water, affordable and livable housing, and widespread public transportation;

Whereas: Far more permanent union jobs can be created at comparable wages by repairing other aging and far more vital pipeline infrastructure, such as water mains in Flint, Michigan and elsewhere, or repairing leaks in existing oil and gas pipelines which, if unfixed, release harmful amounts of methane--a known greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming at a rate multiples greater than carbon dioxide;

Whereas: Far more jobs currently exist in the growing renewable energy sector than in the declining fossil fuel sector;

Whereas: Though these renewable energy jobs are currently typically nonunion, unions, if so determined, could easily develop a successful organizing program using solidarity unionism that could revitalize the struggling labor movement;

Whereas: Enbridge Line 3 will not deliver the promised "energy security" or "energy independence" promised by its promoters (many building trades and AFL-CIO union officials among them);

Whereas: Oil pipelines such as the proposed Line 3 “replacement” tend to leak and create unnecessary risks to the surrounding environment, both through methane gas leaks as well as crude oil spills--which in the case of heavy tar sands oil are literally impossible to clean up as the toxic substance sinks deep into the ground and into aquifers that supply millions of people with water;

Whereas: Such pipelines endanger the communities along their routes, including many indigenous communities whose tribal sovereignty has been ignored and violated during permitting processes by agencies subject to regulatory capture by the capitalist interests that promote them;

Whereas: Continued new construction of such pipelines will contribute massively to the acceleration of already dangerous levels of greenhouse gas emissions, which in turn are contributing to already dangerous levels of climate change and could lead to a dead planet with no jobs of any kind;

Be it Resolved that: the IWW declares and reiterates its steadfast opposition to the construction of the Line 3 “replacement”;

Be it Further Resolved that: the IWW stands in solidarity with First Nations, union members, environmental activists, and community members who oppose it;

Be it Further Resolved that: the IWW urges rank-and-file members of building trades unions, the Teamsters, and other unions who have declared support for Enbridge Line 3 to agitate and call upon their elected officials to reverse their support; and

Be it Finally Resolved that: the IWW supports a just transition away from fossil-fueled colonial capitalism which countless workers and activists of all stripes have been developing and visioning for decades, and declares its intention to fight for the implementation of a real and transformative--in other words, anti-capitalist and anti-racist--Green New Deal.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Climate Change, Land Grabs, and Revolution in Burkina Faso

By Alexander Reid Ross - Earth First! Newswire, November 4, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Like virtually every country in Africa, Burkina Faso has been assailed by North Atlantic military intervention over the past four decades, as well as an escalation of land grabs since 2008. More land has been grabbed in Africa over the past 15 years than in the rest of the world combined—more than 55 million hectares, according to Blessing Karumbidza of the Global Justice Ecology Project. The economic tensions between local producers and international powers that have contributed to the revolutionary dissatisfaction with the establishment in Burkina Faso can be found in virtually any country subject to the harsh and cruel conditions of the global land grab and the crisis of climate change. The revolution in Burkina Faso represents a crucial break, summoning the revolutionary leaders of past generations to maintain a legacy of popular control.

The popular movement that has spread throughout the small African state contains the process of liberation both inspired by and inspiring different forms of political engagement throughout the continent. While some, including the present military junta, insist that we are seeing a youth rebellion, the revolution has formulated a deeper, systemic challenge. The promise of Thomas Sankara, the “Che Guevara of Africa” who ruled Burkina from 1983 until his assassination in 1987, was the suture of the generation gap and the progression of egalitarian economic policies. While Sankara emerged as a powerful leader in Burkina Faso in the 1970s, a powerful student movements broke through in nearby Sierra Leone, the independence movement of Guinea-Bissau ascended to power, and the People’s Republic of Benin was declared. West Africa was uniting under common dreams of liberation fueled by the legacy of Kwame Nkrumah, Sekou Toure, and other noteworthy West African leaders of the 1950s and 1960s. After the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela and the assassination of Amílcar Cabral, Sankara appeared among the most important radical leaders in all of Africa. The current revolution, with its rekindling of Sankara’s legacy, can be seen as a return to the legacy of national liberation—not just as a youth movement, but a rejection of the neoliberal trajectory set into place after Sankara’s death.

This rekindling can be seen in the movement’s strategy and tactics. The absence of genuine movements linked to an intergenerational leadership led to the decline of social mobilizations in many places. For instance, the student movement of Sierra Leone disintegrated into what the leaders of the RUF would call “the bush path to democracy” (and what scholar Ibrahim Abdullah correctly deems “the bush path to destruction”). Rather than descending into Civil War, Burkina’s largely-urban revolution has developed through popular mobilizations and insurrectionary strikes against symbols of the established regime. It emerges as a popular rejection of two decades of political “decentralization,” wherein administrative powers and resources were supposed to be liberalized and granted to local councils. But at the same time, it is being supported by the leaders of the West, who seek to use it as an exhaust valve for popular resentment, enabling them to strengthen their grasp on the region through the elections to come.

After the Climate Movement: Ecology and Politics in the 21st Century (1/2)

By Javier Sethness Castro and Alexander Reid Ross - CounterPunch, September 15, 2014

This is part one of a two-part interview. The next part is forthcoming:

Edited by CounterPunch regular Alexander Reid Ross and newly published by AK Press, Grabbing Back: Essays Against the Global Land Grab assembles a formidable collection of articles and reports written by scholars and activists from North and South alike who are concerned with the distressing acceleration of massive land-expropriations executed by capitalist interests in recent years. Otherwise known as the “New Scramble for Africa,” the “New Great Game,” or the “Global Land Rush,” the global land grab has involved the acquisition by foreign power-groups of anywhere between 56 and 203 million hectares of lands belonging to Southern societies since the turn of the millennium. The corporations responsible for this massive privatization scheme hail from both wealthy and middle-income countries: India, South Korea, Israel, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, China, and the U.S., among others.

In part, the global land grab can be explained by the progression of ecological degradation, particularly through climate change, as combined with the desire of the ruling classes of these countries to ensure food security for their populations—the fate of local populations in the countries whose lands are colonized for export-oriented production be damned. Another factor has to do with the vast concentration of wealth in the hands of the transnational financial aristocracy, who are lending out capital less readily now during the Great Recession than before, such that they have more capital on hand with which to invest in overseas land ventures. However, not all the territory which has been usurped by corporations and banks of late is to be dedicated exclusively to food production; much of it instead will be directed toward the cultivation of agrofuels (biofuels) that are slated to replace petroleum to a limited extent as a base or transitional fossil fuel, with this being a situation that can be expected greatly to exacerbate food insecurity and starvation in the countries whose governments welcome (re)colonization. The scale of investment in agrofuels is truly staggering, in light of plans to occupy almost 6 percent of the territory of Liberia and 10 percent of that of Sierra Leone with African palm plantations; a similar if more immediately acute dynamic is unfolding in Indonesia and Malaysia, whose vast swathes of tropical rainforests are being expeditiously torn down in favor of palm oil crops. Summarized briefly and correctly by Sasha and Helen Yost, this process is one whereby land-based communities are dispossessed in order to “feed the industrial nightmare of climate change.”

The focus of Grabbing Backas the title suggests, however, is not exclusively to analyze the machinations of global capital, but rather much more to investigate a multitude of forms of resistance to the land grab, from militant ecological direct actions to port strikes and land occupations (or decolonizations). Bringing together such dissident writers as Vandana Shiva, Silvia Federici, Benjamin Dangl,Andrej Grubačić, Noam Chomsky, Max Rameau, scott crow, and Grace Lee Boggs, Grabbing Back presents a number of critically important perspectives on resisting the land grab in particular and global capitalism in general. It is with great pleasure, then, that I have had the opportunity to interview Sasha on the magnificent volume he has edited.

Sasha, your editorial introduction to Grabbing Back frames the collection of essays within a tour de force overview of what you see as the most important factors driving the global land grab. You list these origins—quite rightly, in my view—as climate change, financial speculation, the “Great Recession” of 2008, resource scarcity and extractivist policies and orientations, as well as established imperialist history. Of these, I would like to examine the last of these concerns, in light of the clearly neo-colonial implications of mass-capitalist land expropriations today.

Given that empire is yet to be abolished, analyses of past experiments in European colonialism are quite germane to the present predicament, as you observe, like Hannah Arendt did before you in The Origins of Totalitarianism. The madman capitalist Cecil B. Rhodes, who sought to found a “Red” (or British) Africa from the Cape of Good Hope to the Nile Delta, is famous for his saying that he would “annex the planets if [he] could.” The domination and enslavement of peoples of color seen in formal colonialism, coupled with the mass-suffering, deprivation, and super-exploitation of said peoples for which neoliberalism and the “Mafia Doctrine” are responsible, has severely constrained the latitude which Southern societies have been able to exercise in terms of alternatives to capital in the modern and postcolonial periods.

Within the schools of political economy and critical development studies, this problematic is known as the “path dependence” imposed by historical circumstance:1 for humans “make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances already existing, given and transmitted from the past” (Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon [1852]). Please discuss examples of resistance to the imposition of thanotic capital, as examined in Grabbing Back and beyond.

The three discursive positions of the Mafia Doctrine, Dependency Theory, and Marxism that you cite are extremely important in breaking down, or attempting to understand, the critical movements against land grabs around the world, and they each encircle one another in a growing overview of the processes at work. I think we can approach this triad with a claim that resistance to the Global Land Grab, and the capitalist process of accumulation outlined above, might counter the dominant paradigm with a three-part response.

1. From what I have observed, virtually every position against the current swathe of land grabs formulates itself as a small community-led movement, linked to one another by a generalized refusal of the schema of globalization. Not every movement has achieved the kind of generality necessary to comprise a mass rejection of the system, as with the People Power movements that swept through the Asia Pacific in the 1980s and the rise of Latin American populism in the late 1990s, but they all reject the position of North Atlantic hegemony.

2. Neocolonial dependency is at the heart of the Global Land Grab, which is essentially becoming a hegemonic struggle over resources between the growing BRICS sphere of influence and the NATO bloc. As has been shown in the Central Africa Republic, both during the Scramble for Africa and today, Imperialist countries are perfectly happy to watch a country implode, as long as their resources stay out of the hands of Imperialist rivals. Resistance to the Global Land Grab, therefore, can emerge within a developmentalist paradigm as a kind of radical synthesis of a movement that is antithetical to globalization. This is what we see in Bolivia and Ecuador today, where Indigenous peoples are rising up against the developmentalist model forwarded by governments who seek to remain independent from the North Atlantic, but cannot maintain their integrity as sovereign nations without making concessions to capital.

3. The problem with transforming the diplomatic relations of a nation state lies in the continuing failure of the model of the nation state, itself, which is what Marx points to in the 18th Brumaire. So the last position that I would say that many resistance movements take to the Global Land Grab is one of tacit refusal, not only of globalization and of developmentalism (or extractivism), but of the idea of diplomatic relations as they stand today. It is as impossible for the idea of the nation state to move “beyond capital” as it is for the modern field of geo-politics (developed at the turn of the 20th Century by German nationalists) to recognize alternative forms of power. For this reason, I would argue, many formations of resistance to the Global Land Grab share characteristics of what Maia Ramnath calls a kind of “decolonizing anarchism.”2

So this triad of (1) resistance to neoliberalism, (2) formulation of alternate diplomatic articulation, and (3) rejection of the geopolitical paradigm is somewhat interpenetrating, moving, it would appear, from generality to particularity in one perspective (generally against globalization, specifically towards the slogan “a new world is possible”) and then in the opposite direction from another perspective (specifically against globalization and generally in favor of what Chatterjee calls “timeless” liberation outside of historicity).3

It's here, and it's growing: the self-assembling Coalition of the Radical Left

By Alexander Reid Ross - The Ecologist, March 6, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

In January, I went to the Oregon coast to get away from the city, clear my mind, and have some fun. While walking down the beach, though, we noticed a horrible sight.

Thousands of dead young birds, called cassin's auklets, littered the sands, strewn amongst the bottles and random plastic like so many discarded dreams.

Scientists are baffled as to the reason for the die-off. National Geographic called it "unprecedented... one of the largest mass die-offs of seabirds ever recorded." Between 50-100,000 birds as of the end of January.

The most direct explanation is simply starvation. The natural food of the birds has gone away this season, and it fits in with a larger trend of mass die-offs on the Northwest coast. It could be that ocean acidification is creating an ecological collapse, a lack of oxygen in the water, perhaps, but the main theory places the blame on the warming oceans.

It is climate change that is causing this death, just as climate change induced drought have led to the wars in Syria and Mali. It is killing our young; the entire planet is in grave peril.

Something must be done. But what?

The political party in power in Greece is called Syriza, an acronym meaning Synaspismós Rizospastikís Aristerás (Συνασπισμός Ριζοσπαστικής Αριστεράς) or 'coalition of the radical left'. Their organization is not what one could possibly call a conventional political party: it is more of a work of rethinking politics and its relationship to the state.

They formed in 2004 as an anti-establishment party, and surfed into power on the waves of riotous discontent incumbent on austerity programs and police repression. Although they have found turbulent times amidst negotiations with global financial institutions, Syriza has shown the North Atlantic the possibility of taking hegemony from the core economic and political powers of neoliberalism.

Let Them Drown: The Violence of Othering in a Warming World

By Naomi Klein - London Review of Books, June 2, 2016

Edward Said was no tree-hugger. Descended from traders, artisans and professionals, he once described himself as ‘an extreme case of an urban Palestinian whose relationship to the land is basically metaphorical’. In After the Last Sky, his meditation on the photographs of Jean Mohr, he explored the most intimate aspects of Palestinian lives, from hospitality to sports to home décor. The tiniest detail – the placing of a picture frame, the defiant posture of a child – provoked a torrent of insight from Said. Yet when confronted with images of Palestinian farmers – tending their flocks, working the fields – the specificity suddenly evaporated. Which crops were being cultivated? What was the state of the soil? The availability of water? Nothing was forthcoming. ‘I continue to perceive a population of poor, suffering, occasionally colourful peasants, unchanging and collective,’ Said confessed. This perception was ‘mythic’, he acknowledged – yet it remained.

If farming was another world for Said, those who devoted their lives to matters like air and water pollution appear to have inhabited another planet. Speaking to his colleague Rob Nixon, he once described environmentalism as ‘the indulgence of spoiled tree-huggers who lack a proper cause’. But the environmental challenges of the Middle East are impossible to ignore for anyone immersed, as Said was, in its geopolitics. This is a region intensely vulnerable to heat and water stress, to sea-level rise and to desertification. A recent paper in Nature Climate Change predicts that, unless we radically lower emissions and lower them fast, large parts of the Middle East will likely ‘experience temperature levels that are intolerable to humans’ by the end of this century. And that’s about as blunt as climate scientists get. Yet environmental issues in the region still tend to be treated as afterthoughts, or luxury causes. The reason is not ignorance, or indifference. It’s just bandwidth. Climate change is a grave threat but the most frightening impacts are in the medium term. And in the short term, there are always far more pressing threats to contend with: military occupation, air assault, systemic discrimination, embargo. Nothing can compete with that – nor should it attempt to try.

There are other reasons why environmentalism might have looked like a bourgeois playground to Said. The Israeli state has long coated its nation-building project in a green veneer – it was a key part of the Zionist ‘back to the land’ pioneer ethos. And in this context trees, specifically, have been among the most potent weapons of land grabbing and occupation. It’s not only the countless olive and pistachio trees that have been uprooted to make way for settlements and Israeli-only roads. It’s also the sprawling pine and eucalyptus forests that have been planted over those orchards, as well as over Palestinian villages, most notoriously by the Jewish National Fund, which, under its slogan ‘Turning the Desert Green’, boasts of having planted 250 million trees in Israel since 1901, many of them non-native to the region. In publicity materials, the JNF bills itself as just another green NGO, concerned with forest and water management, parks and recreation. It also happens to be the largest private landowner in the state of Israel, and despite a number of complicated legal challenges, it still refuses to lease or sell land to non-Jews.

I grew up in a Jewish community where every occasion – births and deaths, Mother’s Day, bar mitzvahs – was marked with the proud purchase of a JNF tree in the person’s honour. It wasn’t until adulthood that I began to understand that those feel-good faraway conifers, certificates for which papered the walls of my Montreal elementary school, were not benign – not just something to plant and later hug. In fact these trees are among the most glaring symbols of Israel’s system of official discrimination – the one that must be dismantled if peaceful co-existence is to become possible.

The JNF is an extreme and recent example of what some call ‘green colonialism’. But the phenomenon is hardly new, nor is it unique to Israel. There is a long and painful history in the Americas of beautiful pieces of wilderness being turned into conservation parks – and then that designation being used to prevent Indigenous people from accessing their ancestral territories to hunt and fish, or simply to live. It has happened again and again. A contemporary version of this phenomenon is the carbon offset. Indigenous people from Brazil to Uganda are finding that some of the most aggressive land grabbing is being done by conservation organisations. A forest is suddenly rebranded a carbon offset and is put off-limits to its traditional inhabitants. As a result, the carbon offset market has created a whole new class of ‘green’ human rights abuses, with farmers and Indigenous people being physically attacked by park rangers or private security when they try to access these lands. Said’s comment about tree-huggers should be seen in this context.

And there is more. In the last year of Said’s life, Israel’s so-called ‘separation barrier’ was going up, seizing huge swathes of the West Bank, cutting Palestinian workers off from their jobs, farmers from their fields, patients from hospitals – and brutally dividing families. There was no shortage of reasons to oppose the wall on human rights grounds. Yet at the time, some of the loudest dissenting voices among Israeli Jews were not focused on any of that. Yehudit Naot, Israel’s then environment minister, was more worried about a report informing her that ‘The separation fence … is harmful to the landscape, the flora and fauna, the ecological corridors and the drainage of the creeks.’ ‘I certainly don’t want to stop or delay the building of the fence,’ she said, but ‘I am disturbed by the environmental damage involved.’ As the Palestinian activist Omar Barghouti later observed, Naot’s ‘ministry and the National Parks Protection Authority mounted diligent rescue efforts to save an affected reserve of irises by moving it to an alternative reserve. They’ve also created tiny passages [through the wall] for animals.’

Perhaps this puts the cynicism about the green movement in context. People do tend to get cynical when their lives are treated as less important than flowers and reptiles. And yet there is so much of Said’s intellectual legacy that both illuminates and clarifies the underlying causes of the global ecological crisis, so much that points to ways we might respond that are far more inclusive than current campaign models: ways that don’t ask suffering people to shelve their concerns about war, poverty and systemic racism and first ‘save the world’ – but instead demonstrate how all these crises are interconnected, and how the solutions could be too. In short, Said may have had no time for tree-huggers, but tree-huggers must urgently make time for Said – and for a great many other anti-imperialist, postcolonial thinkers – because without that knowledge, there is no way to understand how we ended up in this dangerous place, or to grasp the transformations required to get us out. So what follows are some thoughts – by no means complete – about what we can learn from reading Said in a warming world.

Naomi Klein: "If you can marry an economic justice agenda with climate action, people will fight for that future"

Interview by Agnès Rousseaux and Sophie Chapelle - Basta!, April 24, 2015

Given the massive inequalities generated by capitalism and the ecological urgency of climate change, "everything can change", Naomi Klein claims in a new book. Provided we do not "give in to despair", because "too many lives are at stake", and "fight for a more just economic system". The Canadian anti-globalization activist and essayist is famous for her inspired criticism of capitalism: No Logo denounced the tyranny of global brands, and The Shock Doctrine the brutality of neoliberal reforms. She now takes aim at the total impunity of major oil and gas corporations which have declared war on our planet. Interview and video.

21.000 signes

Basta! : We seem to be heading straight toward climate disaster. We know what will happen if we do nothing about climate change, yet nothing really changes. Why is it so?

Naomi Klein : It’s not that we’re doing nothing – we’re actually actively doing exactly the wrong things. We have an economic system that defines success and progress as infinite economic expansion. Any kind of expansion is deemed good. Our emissions are going up much faster than they were in the 1990s. In the past decade, we had very high oil prices, which has created huge economic incentives for fossil fuel companies to push into new, more expensive, higher-emitting forms of extraction, such as tar sands and fracking. We also have a system that allows multinationals to seek out the cheapest means of producing their products, with cheap labour and cheap energy – which has lead to the deregulated burning of coal. All this is making the problem much worse.

You say that transnational corporations such as ExxonMobil, BP and Shell have declared war on the planet...

The business model of these companies is to find new fossil fuel reserves, which is the exact opposite of what we need to do in order to fight climate change. A research from the Carbon Tracker, three years ago, showed that the global fossil fuel industry has five times more carbon in their proven reserves than is compatible with keeping temperatures below two degrees warming… That’s the target our governments agreed to in Copenhagen, and that’s a target that is already a very dangerous one for many communities. But it provides us with a global carbon budget. We know how much carbon can be burned while still giving ourselves a fifty-fifty chance or better of meeting that target, and these companies have five times more carbon in their reserves than that amount. That explains why fossil fuel companies so actively fight the very dissemination of honest, climate science, why they fund politicians and organisations that deny the science of climate change, and why they fight every serious attempt to respond to climate change, whether it is a carbon tax or whether it is support for renewable energy.

Why such impunity?

Fossil fuel companies, particularly oil companies, are the most powerful companies in the world. Wars have been waged by our governments to protect their interests. It’s in the nature of fossil fuels that they’re concentrated in specific geographical locations, very expensive to get out of the ground, to transport, and to process. And so it lends itself to concentration of wealth and power, with a fairly small number of huge players , both state-run and privately owned, and that kind of concentration of power also lends itself to political corruption, both of the legal kind and the illegal kind. Hence the impunity.

Worker Wisdom in a Changing Climate: Al Marshall - SEIU 1021, Oakland Chapter President

Interview and Image by Brooke Anderson - Climate Workers, November 13, 2015, reprinted by permission.

On September 21st, hundreds of people packed the Oakland City Hall to oppose developer Phil Tagami’s proposal to build a coal export terminal in Oakland. Among them were dozens of union members whose locals were opposing coal as anti-union, a major source of carbon emissions, and a risk to public health in working class neighborhoods through which coal trains would pass and deposit toxic coal dust. One of those union members was Al Marshall, SEIU 1021 City of Oakland Chapter President, who told the council that coal dust would only exacerbate his son’s asthma. We later interviewed Al. Here’s his story.

Brooke Anderson, Climate Workers: Thanks for talking to me, Al. You’re a union member. How did you get involved in the union?

Al Marshall, SEIU 1021: I’ve worked as a construction inspector for the City of Oakland for 15 years, and a city employee for 26 years total. One day I showed up to a union meeting, learned that our contract was being violated and that other people were frustrated too. I’ve been involved in the union ever since. I was elected City of Oakland Chapter President two years ago.

BA: So you live in Oakland then?

AM: I used to live in Oakland. But I lost my family home as a result of the furloughs during the financial crisis. My wife was laid off with reinstatement rights up to three years. She was called back with 45 days left, but by that time, the damage had been done. We now live on the other side of the tube in Alameda.

BA: You recently spoke against coal at Oakland City Council. Why do you oppose coal?

AM: My son DeVon is 7. He’s had asthma since he was 1.5 years old. He also has bad allergies. Most nights we have to hook him up to a ventilator to breathe. It’s a 20 minute process, and I lay there with him to help him find a breathing pattern that will calm his cough. As a parent, having a child with asthma is hell. It means many sleepless nights.

Depending on how hot it is and which way the wind is blowing, what’s in the atmosphere triggers my son’s allergies and asthma. So to me, it doesn’t make any sense to transport coal through Oakland. And if we know coal will cause health problems here, why we would send it elsewhere? We are the gatekeeper to the planet. What we do has impacts on the other side of the planet and vice versa. We are all responsible.

BA: At the hearing, we heard the coal lobbyists say we need coal because it will bring jobs.

AM: I find it interesting that all these people are coming out of the woodwork now to say how it important it is to have coal in Oakland to bring jobs. There is enough other things to put on that Army Base to bring good paying jobs to those who need them. We don’t need coal for that. It’s the people who are financially well off who have the money to push coal on the less fortunate neighborhoods. They don’t have to worry about it because they don’t live here. But if they did, they would oppose coal too.

BA: Any last words for the coal industry?

AM: We all have a duty here while we are here on earth. We need to recognize what our calling is and do our best to serve whatever that calling is in the amount of time that we have here. We need to preserve something for those who come after us. It’s called passing the baton, and we have to make sure the baton doesn’t get dropped.

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