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The Australian Green Bans: When Construction Workers Went on Strike for the Environment

By Steve Morse - Labor Notes - July 28, 2020

Imagine a building trades union that broke new ground in the 1970s in its support for environmentalism, community preservation, and women, and in its opposition to racism, even as it fought hard for all its members. Imagine a union that determined what got built, based on community interests rather than profit and greed.

From 1971 to 1974, the New South Wales Builders Labourers’ Federation (NSWBLF) conducted 53 strikes. The strikers’ demands were to preserve parkland and green space, to protect the country’s architectural heritage, and to protect working-class and other neighborhoods from destruction.

The “Green Bans” were the first environmental strikes by workers; almost a half-century later, they remain the largest and best example.

Union leader Jack Mundey, who died on May 10, was mourned in Australia by labor militants, environmentalists, and preservationists. The movement he led is credited with saving Sydney—the country’s biggest city, where 42 of these strikes took place—by preserving its housing for working-class and other residents, its character, its open space, and its livability.

No corporate U.S. medium mentioned Jack’s death (or his life); both Mundey and the Green Bans are almost unknown here. But the Green Bans deserve to be well known, because alliances among labor, indigenous communities, communities of color, and environmentalists (such as under the umbrella of the Green New Deal) are crucial to our future.

BUILD IT NOW?

The NSWBLF’s approach was profoundly different from the approach of building trades unions in the U.S. at that time (and now).

In 1975, as I was installing ductwork in San Francisco on my first high-rise job, many co-workers walked out. Their demand was to move forward the Yerba Buena project in the SoMa District.

The delay was because of community demands, including the relocation of the working-class residents who were living in the single-room occupancy hotels that would be demolished. The building trades unions (along with big business and the city’s political class) were saying “Build it now,” even though retired union members were among those who would be thrown under the bus.

Moreover, the project would eliminate shops full of unionized blue-collar jobs, to be replaced by office buildings full of non-union jobs. I didn’t join the walkout.

DETERMINING WHAT TO BUILD

If the U.S. unions’ demand was “Build it now,” here’s how Mundey as secretary of the NSWBLF in 1972 saw it:

“Yes, we want to build. However, we prefer to build urgently-required hospitals, schools, other public utilities, high-quality flats, units and houses, provided they are designed with adequate concern for the environment, than to build ugly unimaginative architecturally-bankrupt blocks of concrete and glass offices...

“Though we want all our members employed, we will not just become robots directed by developer-builders who value the dollar at the expense of the environment. More and more, we are going to determine which buildings we will build...

“The environmental interests of three million people are at stake and cannot be left to developers and building employers whose main concern is making profit. Progressive unions, like ours, therefore have a very useful social role to play in the citizens' interest, and we intend to play it.”

San Francisco Prepares for Historic Vote on Fossil Fuel Divestment

By Thanu Yakupitiyage and Dani Heffernan - Common Dreams, January 18, 2018

San Francisco - On January 24, the San Francisco Retirement Board will vote on a long-awaited resolution to divest San Francisco’s pension fund from fossil fuel companies.

The decision will be seen as an early indication of whether or not the fossil fuel divestment movement can build on the momentum from last week’s historic announcement that New York City would be divesting its pension funds and suing Big Oil for damages caused by climate change.

"This is a definitive moment for San Francisco in the fight for a fossil free world. As the city prepares to host a climate convening of the world's local leaders later this year, it's time to put their money where their mouth is,” said May Boeve, Executive Director of 350.org. “Tackling the climate crisis means that cities everywhere will need to stand up to the fossil fuel industry, specially when federal leaders are slow to act. By divesting their more than $20 billion pension fund from fossil fuels, the City by the Bay will show Big Oil billionaires and communities around the globe that they're serious about real climate action."

Since the campaign launch six years ago, the fossil fuel divestment movement has succeeded in securing commitments from over 800 institutions in over 77 countries representing more than $6 trillion in assets.

In San Francisco, it’s been a long path to next week’s vote. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to endorse fossil fuel divestment in April 2013. Last December, hours before he passed away, Mayor Ed Lee published a piece in Medium endorsing divestment, writing, “By taking the bold step to divest from fossil fuel assets, we are once again taking a strong stand on the essential issue of the environment.”

Meanwhile, many Bay Area institutions have been at the forefront of the divestment campaign. San Francisco State University became the first community college district in the nation to divest from fossil fuels. In the South Bay, the Santa Clara Valley Water District became the first such entity to make a commitment, while Stanford University made an early commitment to divest from coal in 2014.

Divestment has proved an effective tool to help stigmatize the fossil fuel industry and increase investor worries that as the world moves towards renewable energy, coal, oil and gas reserves could become “stranded assets” and drive down the share price of fossil fuel companies. A report from the University of Michigan concluded that the divestment campaign has successfully shifted the conversation around fossil fuels and institutional responsibility to act on climate.

According to many investment advisors and financial experts divesting from fossil fuels poses no significant risk to the portfolio performance. In fact, many are now arguing that as fossil fuel companies become an increasingly risky bet, divestment may be safer than holding onto coal, oil and gas stocks.

"The time to divest from all fossil fuels is now. Our pension board needs to listen to city workers and union members who have testified, written letters, and, presented the facts on the fossil fuel industry for years. SEIU 1021, that counts over 54,000 members in Northern California, publicly supports total divestment,” said Martha Hawthorne, retired RN from the Department of Public Health. “Our hard work built this pension system and we want an end to investments in a system of life killing extraction that endangers our future. We know climate crisis is upon us. This is evident by the drought, record pollution, extreme heat, catastrophic fires and deadly mudslides in just the last few months. We are in a race against time. Divestment is a clear way for San Francisco's pension board to make a difference now."

The nation’s largest environmental groups, notable figures such as Nobel Peace Prize Winner Desmond Tutu and former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, have all endorsed fossil fuel divestment as a key strategy in fighting climate change.

On January 24, San Francisco has the opportunity to take a bold step forward by announcing that it will join New York City and institutions around the world by divesting from fossil fuels.

Council Nurses Urge San Francisco To Divest from DAPL

By staff - California Nurses Association, March 15, 2017

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

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

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

California climate activists set sights on COP21

By Nicholas Isaac - Socialist Action, September 21, 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.

As governments and some 40,000 corporate negotiators, scientists of different persuasions, and other mostly corporate-friendly parties prepare to attend the Nov. 30-Dec. 12 United Nations Conference of Parties (COP21) in Paris, environmental and climate-crisis organizations are preparing massive and perhaps unprecedented mobilizations around the world.

Fear is widespread that this 21st UN-sponsored climate meeting will propose nothing to stop the earth’s temperature from rising beyond the point of no return—the point where catastrophic and irreversible changes threaten all life on earth. Few, if any, environmental and related movement organizations believe that the world’s greatest polluters have any intention of subordinating their highly profitable fossil-fuel extraction to the interests of humanity. Indeed, the greatest of the polluters, the U.S. and China, have every intention of increasing their production and use of fossil fuels!

Activists from 350.org and a broad range of other concerned organizations on the East Coast are making preparations for a massive mobilization in Boston on Dec. 12, the last day of COP21. They chose the last day of COP21 to indicate their lack of confidence in any of the “solutions” proposed to date and to state unequivocally that only a massive international movement, a “movements of movements,” is capable of saving the earth and its inhabitants from the destructive forces of today’s profit-driven polluters.

In Northern California, a broad coalition of environmental groups, labor unions, social justice, antiwar, and human rights groups, and a number of socialist parties, has been meeting in Oakland union halls for the past two months to plan a mass march and rally through downtown Oakland on Nov. 21. Leading organizations include 350.org chapters in all Bay Area counties, the Sunflower Alliance—which focuses on defending frontline communities—System Change Not Climate Change, and a host of groups aimed at fighting California fracking, coal transport, explosive bomb trains, and environmental racism. Socialist Action, Solidarity, DSA, ISO, and CoC have also been actively building this effort.

Stop Retaliation & Hanging Noose Incidents: Defend Recology IBT 350 Member Daryl Washington

By Steve Zeltser - Labor Video Project, July 27, 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.

San Francisco Recology company has retaliated against IBT 350 member Daryl Washington who reported on a "San Francisco Recology company has retaliated against IBT 350 member Daryl Washington who reported on a "hanging noose" incident at the company in 2013.

The company discriminated against him and sought to buy his silence with a bribe. Speakers pointed out that workplace bullying is a growing issue in the workplace including many other locations.

This rally/press conference which took place on July 27, 2015 was endorsed by United Public Workers For Action, Stop Workplace Bullying Group, and Transport Workers Solidarity Committee.

Additional video - http://youtu.be/g5PBHHR2m38
Production of Labor Video Project

EcoUnionist News #54

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, June 30, 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.

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Story:

Green Bans:

Bread and Roses:

An Injury to One is an Injury to All:

Carbon Bubble:

Just Transition:

Other News:

For more green news, please visit our news feeds section on ecology.iww.org; Twitter #IWWEUC; Hashtags: #greenunionism #greensyndicalism #IWW

Shipyard workers demand environmental justice

By Ahimsa Porter Sumchai, M.D., San Francisco Bayview, February 1, 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.

“Parcel A never underwent a full cleanup as required by the federal Superfund Act and was transferred with a litany of residual contaminants from lead and asbestos in buildings to arsenic, metals, motor oil and breakdown products of diesel in soil and groundwater.” This is documented in the Parcel A Record of Decision, a copy of which is included in my private archives of Navy cleanup documents. – Ahimsa Porter Sumchai, M.D. “The Liars Club,” SF Bay View, Sept. 26, 2007

A cleanup worker at the decommissioned Hunters Point Naval Shipyard (HPS) in southeast San Francisco is facing a rare life threatening cancer he believes is caused by his exposure to known toxins at the federal Superfund site.

Diagnosed with a Peripheral T Cell Lymphoma (PTCL), an aggressive high grade lymphoid malignancy arising from cells of the lymphatic system with a five year survival rate of 32 percent, the worker has retained the high powered New York law firm Weitz & Luxenberg. Representatives of W&L’s Environmental Protection, Toxic Tort, Consumer Protection Team will be in Bayview Hunters Point this week conducting meetings and investigations.

On Dec. 17, 2014, Weitz & Luxenberg announced a New York jury took less than two hours to award a $20 million verdict to the family of a Navy shipfitter who died last year of mesothelioma, against defendant corporation Burnham, LLC. In issuing the verdict the jury opined, “The defendant corporation acted with reckless disregard for the plaintiff’s safety when it caused him to be exposed to asbestos insulating their boilers.”

T lymphocytes are a type of white blood cell that plays a central role in cell mediated immunity. Many people are familiar with T lymphocytes because they are attacked by the AIDS virus and we measure their levels in people with HIV disease. In an aggressive lymphoma like PTCL, up to 70 percent of the circulating T cells can be in a cancerous blast form.

Research conducted in the 1990s linked solid cancers arising from cells of the lymphatic system to environmental exposures to PCBs, benzene, ionizing radiation, UV light and pesticides – all toxins that are widespread at HPS. In 2010 the Navy conducted a massive PCB cleanup action at HPS involving over 300 trucks.

The volatile organic compound benzene is listed as a carcinogen by the World Health Organization. Elevated benzene levels have been documented in numerous air monitoring studies conducted in Bayview Hunters Point.

Radium 226 is the most ubiquitous radioactive material found at HPS. Present in “Black Beauty sandblast,” radium dials buried in landfills and poured down the drains of the Naval Radiological Defense Laboratory (NRDL) on Parcel A, inhaled or ingested radium heightens the risk of developing diseases like lymphoma, bone cancers, leukemia and aplastic anemia.

Radium 226 is found at HPS in ambient levels so high that in October 2012, the U.S. Navy detected discrepancies in post remediation soil samples submitted by Tetra Tech field workers because the concentrations of radioactive potassium and Radium 226 were suspiciously low!

Tetra Tech is the Navy contractor overseeing the cleanup at HPS. A laboratory computer data base search identified 2,500 fraudulent samples collected from 20 survey sites involving Tetra Tech workers from 2008 to 2012.

Radiation Control Technician Ray Roberson was one of several field employees and supervisors listed on the chain of custody for the suspicious soil samples. Two of the field workers were terminated and Ray Roberson conveniently died at the conclusion of the damaging investigation.

Whole Foods Workers Demand Higher Wages and Union: Delegation Delivers Petitions to Whole Foods Management as Supporters Rally Outside SOMA Whole Foods

By Tim Maher - Wfmunite.com, November 6, 2014

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - This afternoon a delegation of 20 cashiers, stockers, and cooks at Whole Foods Market initiated a temporary work stoppage to deliver a petition to Whole Foods management demanding a $5 an hour wage increase for all employees and no retaliation against workers for organizing a union. After the delegation presented the petition to management, workers and supporters held a rally outside the store, located at 4th and Harrison Streets in San Francisco's South-of-Market district.

A worker must earn $29.83 an hour to afford a market-rate one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco, according to a 2014 report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Workers at the store currently earn from $11.25 to $19.25 per hour. The new minimum wage ordinance just approved by San Francisco voters will raise the City's minimum to $12.25 an hour next year, less than half of what is needed to rent an apartment.

Over 50 workers from the 4th Street store signed the petition. In addition to demanding the $5 per hour wage increase, the petition raises issues about paid time off, hours and scheduling, safety and health, and a retirement plan.

Whole Foods workers have demanded a response from Whole Foods by November 14, when their next paychecks are due. If management fails to respond, workers will begin taking job actions.

Whole Foods is a multinational chain with over 400 stores in the US, Canada and Great Britain, with $13 billion in annual sales, and 80,000 employees.

Prices are high, which is why Whole Foods is colloquially known as Whole Paycheck.

Beneath Whole Foods' glossy image of social responsibility, "working conditions at Whole Foods reflect the low industry standards that dominate all food and retail industries," according to the workers' website wfmunite.com. Despite the company's claims to the contrary, "low wages, constant understaffing, [and] inconsistent schedules" are rampant company-wide. Just recently CEO John Mackey announced that the company would be phasing out full-time positions for new hires. Meanwhile, workers say the company has forced them to shoulder more and more of the costs of their limited health benefits.

Whole Foods currently has over 100 stores in development. Case Garver, a buyer in the Prepared Foods department, has seen enough of the doublespeak.

"It seems like every 6 months they open up a brand new store," he stated, "while at the same time my manager turns around and says the company doesn't have enough money to give us 40 hours a week. We're tired of doing more with less."

Azalia Martinez, a cashier at the store, relates that in addition to working full time for Whole Foods, going to school and fulfilling family obligations, she must take additional side jobs to make ends meet. "It's extremely hard," she says.

Despite the hardships, workers at the store know that they can win better wages by standing together. "History proves that workers have the power to make change when we come together to fight for our interests. We are re-igniting a workers' movement where we have power: on the job. [...] This is our movement, we are capable of victory, and we are worth it."

The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) is a worker-led labor union uniting diverse members from several industries throughout the world.

Founded over a century ago, the IWW raises the quality of life for workers today while laying the foundation for a society without classes.

San Francisco Bay Area Oil Infrastructure

The following pamphlet, compiled by Gifford Hartman (Fall 2014) offers a brief, and concise description of the five oil refineries in the San Francisco Bay Area, located northeast of San Francisco. [PDF File]

Ironworkers Speakout On Wildcat Strike At SF 222 2nd Street Project In San Francisco

By Steve Zeltser  - Labor Video Project, September 12, 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.

Ironworkers in San Francisco spoke out about why they went out on a wildcat and how they view their work. Also other supporters, including expelled Carpenters union member John Reimann--who led a similar wildcat of Carpenters in 1999--joined them on the picket line on September 12, 2014.

The Fine Print I:

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The Fine Print II:

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