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Earth Day, Labor, and Me

By Joe Uehlein - Labor Network for Sustainability, April 21, 2021

The approach of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day on April 22 provides us an opportunity to reflect on the “long, strange trip” shared by the environmental movement and the labor movement over four decades here on Spaceship Earth.

A billion people participate in Earth Day events, making it the largest secular civic event in the world. But when it was founded in 1970, according to Earth Day’s first national coordinator Denis Hayes, “Without the UAW, the first Earth Day would have likely flopped!”

Less than a week after he first announced the idea for Earth Day, Senator Gaylord Nelson presented his proposal to the Industrial Union Department of the AFL-CIO. Walter Ruther, President of the UAW, enthusiastically donated $2000 to help kick the effort off ““ to be followed by much more. Hayes recalls:

“The UAW was by far the largest contributor to the first Earth Day, and its support went beyond the merely financial. It printed and mailed all our materials at its expense — even those critical of pollution-belching cars. Its organizers turned out workers in every city where it has a presence. And, of course, Walter then endorsed the Clear Air Act that the Big Four were doing their damnedest to kill or gut.”

Some people may be surprised to learn that a labor union played such a significant role in the emergence of the modern environmental movement. When they think of organized labor, they think of things like support for coal and nuclear power plants and opposition to auto emissions standards.

When it comes to the environment, organized labor has two hearts beating within a single breast. On the one hand, the millions of union members are people and citizens like everybody else, threatened by air and water pollution, dependent of fossil fuels, and threatened by the devastating consequences of climate change. On the other hand, unions are responsible for protecting the jobs of their members, and efforts to protect the environment sometimes may threaten workers’ jobs. First as a working class kid and then as a labor official, I’ve been dealing with the two sides of this question my whole life.

WTO Shutdown: A Few Things From the WTO Shutdown I Carry Into the Future

By David Solnit - Common Dreams, December 4, 2019

WTO Shutdown 20-Year Anniversary Series: The Shutdown WTO Organizers History Project and Common Dreams have produced this series of ten people's history accounts and forward-looking lessons from organizers who were in the streets of Seattle in 1999—at the very end of last century. Articles in the series—including archival photos and videos—will be published over ten days to commemorate and reflect on the events that happened 20 years ago this month. Read all the articles in the series here.


“…two projects of globalization are in dispute. The one from above globalizes conformity, cynicism, stupidity, war, destruction, death and amnesia. And the one from below globalizes rebellion, hope, creativity, intelligence, imagination, life, memory and building a world where many worlds fit.”

-Subcomandante Marcos, during the 2003 WTO Ministerial in Cancun, Mexico 

I just spent a good few days with old and new friends in Seattle, reflecting back 20 years since we all shutdown the WTO, and looking forward in this moment of global uprising against economic and political injustice.  Over the fall I reconnected with a few other core organizers from the Direct Action Network—the network of local groups that organized the shutdown of the WTO 20 years ago. We put together the Shutdown WTO Organizers History Project and did some writing, talking and thinking together. 

Here are a few things about the organizing we did that seem important and I carry with  me as I organize into the coming 20 years:

  • 1) Globalization from Below  
  • 2)  Jail Solidarity
  • 3) Grassroots (vs Nonprofit) Leadership  
  • 4) Effective Mass Action Requires Organizing and Strategy. 
  • 5) Indymedia: Interrupting the Corporate Media Narrative
  • 6) Art is a Hammer

1) GLOBALIZATION FROM BELOW

We were “globalizing from below”-- connected to, working with and mutually aiding movements across the globe. When we shut down the WTO in Seattle, movements on every continent were taking action with us, and when hundreds were in jail for five days, solidarity actions took place from Mexico to India.  On Nov 30, 1999 in India thousands of farmers in Karnataka marched to Bangalore and over a thousand villagers from Anja (Narmada Valley) held a procession. Thousands took to the streets in the Philippines, Pakistan, France, UK, Portugal, across Europe, the United States and Canada. In 80 different French cities, 75,000 people took to the streets and 800 miners clashed with police.

We were part of the People’s Global Action network, which came out of a series of Zapatista-initiated “Encuentro"gatherings.  We used the phrase, “Our resistance will be as transnational as capital.” 

WTO Shutdown: "Shut It Down. Didn't We. Don’t Let Them Tell You That It Can’t Be Done."

By Jim Page - Common Dreams, November 26, 2019

WTO Shutdown 20-Year Anniversary Series: The Shutdown WTO Organizers History Project and Common Dreams have produced this series of ten people's history accounts and forward-looking lessons from organizers who were in the streets of Seattle in 1999—at the very end of last century. Articles in the series—including archival photos and videos—will be published over ten days to commemorate and reflect on the events that happened 20 years ago this month. Read all the articles in the series here.


As far as I’m concerned no political movement can be called "authentic" without music, theater, poetry, dance, the whole thing. Revolution is not just a mental exercise. For most of my life I have pursued a musical career that carries the details of reality with it. I’ve traveled and lived in places that became the songs I sing. I play acoustic guitar, which makes it easy. You can take it out anywhere, at any time. Music is the landscape, song is the form, and the guitar is the tool.

Before the WTO got to Seattle I had become cynical. I didn’t expect much. That was an obvious mistake on my part, and I should’ve known better. I had a friend from Oakland staying at my house for those days—she was doing a literature table at one of the convergent points downtown. I gave her a ride on Tuesday morning to where she was going to be working. I turned the radio on and they were talking about tear gas and people blocking the intersections and how whole streets were unusable. I dropped her off and immediately went to the Pike Place Market to park my car. I figured they had more to worry about than parking tickets. I crossed First Avenue on Pike Street right into the middle of everything. There was somebody climbing up the face of Nike Town, there was a burning dumpster at 3rd Ave, there was a police line facing off to a line of demonstrators with linked arms, there was an IMC under siege, there was a marching band—absolutely every square foot of the city center was occupied by somebody doing politics. It was the first time I heard the phrase, "This is what democracy looks like," and it made complete sense.

I made up my mind to spend the next three days swimming in over my head, soaking up as much as was humanly possible—mining for songs.

People say, “Why do you sing political songs?” And I say that’s the wrong question. The correct question is, “Why don’t you sing political songs?” Or, “Why don’t you sing more political songs?” Because, as an artist, you not only have the right but the obligation to address the world that you live in. That means all of it—sports, economics, love, war, political scandal, comedy, tragedy, fascism, religion. Everything. If you can talk about it you can sing about it.

So that’s what I did. I tried to be everywhere at once. I wore out my shoes and got no sleep. I was booked to play at the Showbox on Tuesday evening, but Bill Clinton was in town and they had declared a state of emergency. There was a lot of gas outside and the word had gotten around that there was an enforced curfew, so that the venue security people didn’t come to work and the owners were afraid they would lose their license if they went ahead with the show. So the gig was moved to Pioneer Square. The next day I played at a church on 5th Ave, in behind the no-go lines. They had said that nobody was allowed on the streets but I went around anyway, it was porous. I carried my guitar with me everywhere.

I felt fortunate to have been a part of those events, even in the limited capacity that I was. It was an actual political victory, and those don’t happen very often. My main takeaway lesson was that cooperation, variety of tactics, and unity of vision is what leads to success. And most importantly, “direct action gets the goods.” Whoever said that hit the nail right on the head.

AND—don’t let them tell you that it can’t be done.

WTO Shutdown: Remembering for the Future: Learning from the 1999 Seattle Shutdown

By Chris Dixon - Common Dreams, November 25, 2019

WTO Shutdown 20-Year Anniversary Series: The Shutdown WTO Organizers History Project and Common Dreams have produced this series of ten people's history accounts and forward-looking lessons from organizers who were in the streets of Seattle in 1999—at the very end of last century. Articles in the series—including archival photos and videos—will be published over ten days to commemorate and reflect on the events that happened 20 years ago this month. Read all the articles in the series here.


On Tuesday, November 30, 1999, I was standing in downtown Seattle on 6th Avenue between Pike and Union – an unremarkable place amidst remarkable circumstances. Directly in front of me stood a reinforced line of police officers in full body armor, carrying truncheons, rubber bullet guns, and grenade launchers. All around me, hundreds of protesters packed into a human wall taking up half a block. And directly behind us in the middle of an intersection, at least another hundred people protectively surrounded a large wooden platform underpinned by metal pipes. Locked inside each pipe was the arm of an activist. Resolute and defiant, we were all there to shut down the World Trade Organization Ministerial meetings that were scheduled to begin that day.

“This is the Seattle Police,” an authoritative voice crackled through a loudspeaker. The rest was drowned out by the loud discharge from a grenade launcher and the disarming hiss of tear gas, punctuated by the shots of rubber bullets. Suddenly, we were scrambling, coughing, gasping, and crying. The police advanced, flanked by an armored personnel carrier. Yet, just as quickly as we dispersed, we returned – this time with bandannas on our faces and water for our eyes. We weren’t going to be moved so easily. And again, the face-off began. Such was the rhythm of the day.

Alone, this scene was inspiring. But what was truly remarkable was that we at that particular intersection were not alone. For blocks around us – stretching out of view and snaking around buildings – were thousands more people. There were blockades at every single intersection in the twenty blocks surrounding the Washington State Trade and Convention Center. In addition, many local students and workers were on strike that day, and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union had shut down the ports along the entire West Coast.

Who could have guessed that this was going to happen? Even those of us who had spent months planning to “shut it down” were stunned when our rhetoric became reality. On that Tuesday, the first day of WTO Ministerial meetings ever to take place in the U.S., most sessions were canceled because our blockades were so effective. The Seattle Times quoted one of the last WTO delegates to leave that afternoon: “That’s one for the bad guys.” We were the bad guys, and we clearly won.

In the years since, “Seattle 1999” has become a shorthand. People have produced articles, books, graphic art, music, documentaries, at least one oral history project, and even a Hollywood film about the protests. Police agencies and security analysts have closely studied “the battle of Seattle” in order to thwart similar efforts. Left intellectuals have used the Seattle protest experience to advance all sorts of theories about radical politics. The so-called “Seattle riots” have become an historical reference point for journalists covering U.S. protests. Not surprisingly, much is missing in these accounts.

With the twentieth anniversary of the Seattle protests, now is a good time to revisit the history from the perspective of those who were deeply involved in organizing the mass direct action. I was one among them – at that time, a 22-year-old activist living in Olympia, Washington. Along with dozens of others, I co-founded the Direct Action Network in the summer of 1999 and spent months organizing for the WTO shutdown. In what follows, I draw on accounts from other organizers and my own experiences to discuss the lead-up to Seattle, what actually happened, and what we can learn from it, all with an eye toward our current circumstances of struggle in North America.

Final Statement of the Peoples’ Summit “WTO Out, Building Sovereignty”

By staff - La Via Campesina, December 20, 2017

The Peoples’ Summit “WTO Out, Building Sovereignty” gathered on December 11-13, 2017 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, against the XI Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in this city.

The networks and trade unions, human rights, territorial, students, women, political, peasants, social and anti-extractives organizations amongst others from all over the world constituting the Peoples’ Summit reaffirm our rejection of free trade policies of the WTO. The WTO reflects the interests of a more concentrated transnational capital aiming to eliminate barriers to the free movement of goods, services and capital. It is an organization that only takes into account the needs of capital, helping the reproduction of capitalist relations of exploitation and looting. These policies affect rights conquered historically through the struggles of the peoples of the world.

Transnational corporations act under the umbrella of an Architecture of Impunity which includes the system of Debt, Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) and the protection of investments and multilateral organizations such as the WTO, which produce a form of globalization based on their desire for and pursuit of profit. In this context, public Debt has become one the main tools of capitalist expansion of concentration, inequality and oppression. It subordinates the models of production and consumption to the need to pay ever-increasing interests. We commit ourselves to work towards unveiling the repercussions that debt entails in the multiple forms of resistance, denouncing its illegitimate character, demonstrating who really owes what to whom and building a horizon of transformation and hope, while standing as People Creditors of debts that are not only economic, but also social, historical, ecological, democratic and gender, amongst others. We need to continue building from the struggles of the peoples to advance in this process, which includes actions such as comprehensive and citizen audits of Debt, ethical courts and popular consultations, amongst other strategies.

Faced with corporate power impersonating the dispossession of territories by transnational corporations, we commit ourselves to globalize the struggles and to continue strengthening ties and articulations. We must continue fighting to achieve an international treaty that ensures the respect of human rights by transnational corporations. We must dispute legislative and judicial spaces, denouncing how laws are violated, twisted, misinterpreted and adapted in the interest of transnational corporations. We must maintain the autonomy of social movements in relation to governments, emphasising our solidarity with persecuted and repressed Peoples, communities and organizations all over the world.

The liberalization of trade and financial flows unevenly impacts the daily lives of women and deepens inequalities and poverty by expanding unemployment, informality and compulsively financializing our lives, thus deepening all forms of patriarchal violence. Women, lesbians, trans, transvestites, bisexuals, gays, non-binaries, Afro-Argentines, afro-descendants, migrants, displaced, refugees, indigenous, blacks, peasants, self-managed workers gathered in the forum and the great Feminist Assembly against free trade affirm our anti-patriarchal, anti-racist and anti-capitalist struggle.

“WTO, Out! Building Alternatives”: La Via Campesina to organise Peoples’ Summit during WTO’s XI Ministerial Conference in Argentina

By staff - La Via Campesina, November 17, 2017

15 November 2017: La Via Campesina is calling upon social movements and civil society organisations of the world to mobilise and organise our resistances against the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), build solidarity alliances and to participate in the People’s Summit “WTO, Out! Building alternatives”, from the 10-13 December coinciding with the XI WTO Ministerial in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

A preliminary agenda of the summit is available here. As you may note, this is currently only available in Spanish. We will make the English version available shortly.

For the first time since its inception, the World Trade Organization (WTO) is planning to meet in Latin America. From the 10th to the 13th of December, Mauricio Macri’s government will host the WTO’s 11th Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Entrepreneurs, ministers, chancellors, and even presidents will be there. To do what? To demand more “freedom” for their companies, more “ease of doing business” for exploiting workers, peasants, indigenous people, and taking over land and territories. In other words, less “restrictions” on transnational wastage.

Since its beginnings in 1995 as derivative of General Agreement on Tariff and Trade (GATTs), the World Trade Organization has promoted the most brutal form of capitalism, better known as trade liberalization. At successive Ministerial Conferences, the WTO has set out to globalise the liberalisation of national markets, promising economic prosperity at the cost of sovereignty. In more or less the same terms, by its “liberalization, deregulation and privatization”, which is called Package of Neoliberalism, WTO has encouraged the multiplication of free trade agreements (FTAs) between countries and regional blocs, etc. On this basis and by making use of governments that have been co-opted, the world’s largest transnational corporations (TNCs) are seeking to undermine democracy and all of the institutional instruments for defending the lives, the territories, and the food and agricultural ecosystems of the world’s peoples.

In the previous Ministerial Conference (MC) in Nairobi in 2015, WTO had made six decisions on agriculture, cotton and issues related to LDCs. The agricultural decisions cover commitment to abolish export subsidies for farm exports, public stock-holding for food security purposes, a special safeguard mechanism for developing countries, and measures related to cotton. Decisions were also made regarding preferential treatment for least developed countries (LDCs) in the area of services and the criteria for determining whether exports from LDCs may benefit from trade preferences.

This year, with Macri Inc. in the Casa Rosada (Government House in Argentina), the coup leader Michel Temer in the Palacio del Planalto (the official workplace of the president of Brazil), and Brazilian Roberto Azevedo as its Director General, the WTO wants to return to the subject of agriculture, to put an end to small-scale fishing, and to make progress with multilateral agreements such as the misnamed General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). Notwithstanding the misleading protectionist statements coming from Washington and London, the WTO will meet again to try to impose the interests of capital at the cost of Planet Earth, of the democratic aspirations of the world’s peoples, and of life itself.

“WTO Kills Peasants! 21 Years is Enough!! WTO Out of Agriculture!!!” La Via Campesina to step up its resistance during the XI Ministerial Conference

By Francés: Claude Girod, et. al. - La Via Campesina, December 10, 2017

A large delegation of La Via Campesina comprising peasants, rural workers, indigenous peoples, women and youth from around the world will converge outside the venue of the 11th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), which is scheduled to take place in Buenos Aires, Argentina from the 10th to13th December.

During the week of the conference, La Via Campesina (LVC) will mobilise, organise and join social movements and allies to expose the devastative effects that WTO has had on peasant agriculture and to reiterate our long-standing demand of 21 years, to oust the multilateral trade body from any discussions and decisions regarding agriculture.

La Via Campesina, a global peasant movement with more than 180 member organisations from 79 countries, has consistently demanded to take agriculture out of the WTO’s scope. Instead it has demanded a systemic change that brings about food sovereignty to the worlds peoples. Once again the rallying call from the global peasants’ movement is “For Food Sovereignty, WTO Out of Agriculture!”.

Since its beginnings in 1995 as derivative of General Agreement on Tariff and Trade (GATTs), the World Trade Organization has promoted the most brutal form of capitalism, better known as trade liberalization. At successive Ministerial Conferences, the WTO has set out to globalise the liberalisation of national markets, promising economic prosperity at the cost of sovereignty. In more or less the same terms, by its “liberalization, deregulation and privatization”, which is called Package of Neoliberalism, WTO has encouraged the multiplication of free trade agreements (FTAs) between countries and regional blocs, etc. In this context, with help from governments that have been co-opted, the world’s largest transnational corporations (TNCs) continue to expand globally and are blatantly undermining democracy and all of the institutional instruments that are meant to defend the lives, the territories, and the food and agricultural ecosystems of the world’s peoples.

Through AoA (Agreement on Agriculture) regulated in the WTO, peasant communities become the most disadvantaged because they have minimal capital resources and little or no protection from national governments as WTO prohibits any protection that stand in the way of market liberalisation. Its role was replaced and eroded by corporations with large capital resources, slowly forming a monopoly scheme. As a result, peasants have to deal with dangerous implications such as land grabbing, criminalization, environmental pollution and the importation of agricultural products.

In the previous Ministerial Conference (MC) in Nairobi in 2015, WTO had made six decisions on agriculture, cotton and issues related to LDCs. The agricultural decisions cover commitment to abolish export subsidies for farm exports, public stock-holding for food security purposes, a special safeguard mechanism for developing countries, and measures related to cotton. Decisions were also made regarding preferential treatment for least developed countries (LDCs) in the area of services and the criteria for determining whether exports from LDCs may benefit from trade preferences.

In the 11th Ministerial Conference the WTO wants to return to the subject of agriculture in relation to public stock-holding, to put an end to small-scale fishing, and to make progress with multilateral agreements such as the misnamed General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). Notwithstanding the misleading protectionist statements coming from the developed countries, the WTO will meet again to try to impose the interests of capital at the cost of Planet Earth, of the democratic aspirations of the world’s peoples, and of life itself.

'For a class struggle approach to climate change and energy transition'

By Karl Cloete - Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal, February 2012

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 paper was presented on October 10, 2012, at a conference at Cornell University. NUMSA is South Africa’s second-largest union, with almost 290,000 members in the smelting, manufacturing, auto and electricity generation industries.

Our starting point as NUMSA is that to effect an energy transition, we as the global union movement DO need a perspective to guide us as well as strategies to be utilised by the movement. While such a perspective and accompanying strategies will definitely not come fully formed and in one go, we HAVE to keep working on them through discussions, through struggles, through experimentation and through learning from experiences of those in the forefront of energy struggles (within and outside of the labour movement).

Those who were at our February 2012 International Conference on Building a Socially Owned Renewable Energy Sector will know that in our head office in Johannesburg, we have a huge banner with the words: No Revolutionary Theory, No Revolutionary Movement! The slogan on the banner captures how much we, as a union attach to having a perspective that acts as a compass to our daily work. Our message to this roundtable is simple: Without a solid perspective on how to effect an energy transition, there will be no transition.

Trade Deals that Threaten Democracy

By staff - International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations, June 2014

At its 2002 World Congress, the IUF adopted a wide-ranging resolution on trade and investment committing our organization to vigorously oppose the expanded WTO “Doha Round” agenda and to combat the growing number of bilateral trade and investment agreements as instruments for entrenching and expanding corporate power at the expense of democratic rights and the rights of workers and their trade unions.

The resolution highlighted the function of the expanding web of regional and bilateral agreements in building on the WTO rules to construct, layer upon layer, “investment regimes which enforce the right of corporations to pursue maximum profit while removing and undermining restrictions which seek to regulate corporate activities in the interest of public health, worker and consumer health and safety, public services and the environment.”

The Resolution recalled the IUF’s historical and statutory commitment to promote and defend a broad spectrum of basic rights: the right to adequate, nutritious and safe food; the right to food security and food sovereignty; the right to a safe working and living environment; and the right to livelihood protection. Congress further called on the IUF and its affiliates to “actively support and campaign for governments at every level (local, national, regional) to review all existing trade and investment rules and treaties using these fundamental rights as a benchmark and to reject all trade and investment agreements which conflict with those rights.”

Organized opposition killed the proposed Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI), an attempt to establish far- reaching powers for transnational investors only partially realized in the WTO’s TRIMS agreement. Popular resistance also halted the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas, an attempt to extend the reach of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to all of Central and South America and the Caribbean. Since 2002, growing popular resistance has blocked the advance of the WTO Doha Round. This has arrested the insertion of more far-reaching investment rules into the WTO, but has also frozen into place a global food system whose destructive features were dramatically highlighted in the 2008 and subsequent food crises which are essentially permanent. And while attention has largely focused on these ambitious mega-treaties, an intricate web of bilateral and regional investment agreements, some of them deliberately and misleadingly packaged as free trade agreements, have conferred on transnational capital new powers to directly challenge the democratic right of governments to regulate and to legislate in the public interest.

The latest proposed treaty instruments to embody these investor ambitions are the EU-US trade deal now known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the twelve-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) between Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.

Both these treaties are being negotiated under conditions of the strictest secrecy. Corporations draft and share the negotiating texts, but citizens are denied access in the name of national security. On the basis of the leaked texts we know that they would build on existing trade and investment rules by incorporating the most toxic elements of the already-existing thousands of treaties and granting expanded powers to transnational capital to challenge public interest policies and practices, eliminating or putting at risk rights for which workers and unions have struggled over many decades.

This publication builds on the past work of the IUF and the efforts of many activists in explaining the nature of these threats and why the labour movement must commit to defeating these treaties as an urgent political priority. We would also hope to stimulate discussion on how we might move beyond these defensive struggles to begin putting in place a system of global rules to effectively enforce respect for human rights over the private claims of investors.

Read the report (PDF).

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