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Earth First!ers, Meet the IWW: Notes on Wobbly Environmentalism

By x322339 (Franklin Rosemont) - Industrial Worker, May 1988

Organized in Chicago in 1905, the Industrial Workers of the World has been fighting the boss class and the megamachine—the industrial wreckers of the world—for [nearly a century] now and has chalked up quite a record for militant, hard-hitting, straight-from-the-shoulder direct-action style, rank-and-file democratic labor unionism. Ask any seasoned old fighter from any half-decent union he or she’ll tell you that the Wobblies set a standard that has rarely been approached and never beaten.

We don’t like to brag, so we’ll just refer you to a couple of good histories: Fred Thompson’s The IWW: It’s First Seventy Years and Joyce Kornbluh’s beautifully illustrated IWW anthology, Rebel Voices (both available from the IWW). In these books (and dozens of others you can find in … bookstores and libraries), you can read all about the epoch-making organizing drives, strikes and free-speech fights that the IWW has waged over the years, and that have made One Big Union an inspiration for every indigenous radical current that has come along to challenge the existing order. Civil rights, antiwar, anti-nuclear and student activists, the New Left, anarchists, feminists, and now animal-liberationists and radical environmentalists have all acknowledged the influence of the good ol’ rebel band of labor.

Here we’d like to note a few of the things that make the IWW different from other “labor organizations,” especially in regard to environmental and ecological issues.

First, in our view, the “official” so-called labor movement, the AFL-CIO, is not really a labor movement at all, but rather a corrupt statist, CIA-dominated bureaucracy whose specific function is to control labor. Some of these unions are undoubtedly better than others, and a few of them are able now and then to act honestly better than others, and a few of them are able now and then to act honestly and decently. But all of them are afflicted with outdated hierarchical structures and above all an idiotic ideology submissive to the capitalist system of wage slavery.

Consider, for example, a ridiculous bumper-sticker slogan promoted by several AFL-CIO unions: “Pollution: Love it or leave it.” This hideous inanity was supposed to save steel mills and oil-refineries in industrial hell holes like Gary, Indiana. In other words, the AFL-CIO mobilizes workers to defend pollution in order to save jobs that will create more pollution. Would a real labor movement, one responsive to the real interests of working women and men, do a thing like that?

Don’t think that this typical AFL-CIO slogan was some sort of accident. On the contrary, the AFL-CIO’s self-confessed love of pollution is consistent with its whole policy. After all, if you support capitalism—and you have to support the things that automatically go with it: militarism, war, racism, sex-ism, and pollution, in ever-increasing doses.

Instead of the imbecile slogan, “Pollution: Love it or leave it,” the IWW inscribes on its banner the ecological watchword, “Let’s make this planet a good place to live.” And we argue that the best way to accomplish this goal is to organize One Big Union of all workers to abolish the wage-system. The bosses are able to cause such vast environmental devastation because they have organized industry their way for their profit. The IWW says to the workers of all industries: Dump the bosses your backs, dump the ecocidal profit-and-wage system, and organize your jobs for yourselves, for your own good and for the good of the Earth!

Fellow Workers, Meet Earth First!: An Open Letter to Wobblies Everywhere

By x322339 (Franklin Rosemont) - Industrial Worker, May 1988

Every once in a while a new radical movement arises and illustrates the social firmament so suddenly and so dazzlingly that many people are caught off guard and wonder: “What’s going on here? Who are these new radicals, and what do they want?”

To those who don’t know how to read the signs of the times, such new movements seem to appear unexpectedly and out of nowhere. In every case, however, most of the founders of the new movement prove to have been activists from older, less radical groups who eventually concluded that their former methods weren’t working.

This new movement proceeds to develop new direct-action strategies and tactics—or gives a new twist to old ones—and starts delivering real blows to the power and prestige of the ruling exploiters and their governmental stooges. This in turn inevitably arouses the hostility of the guardians of the status quo—cops, courts, preachers, politicians, and the prostituted press—who raise a hue and cry for the punishment and suppression of the trouble making upstarts.

Such wrathful clamor has a tendency to backfire, however. It focuses attention on the movement under attack, and attracts daring newcomers to its banner. Thus the new movement’s bitterest enemies unwittingly help to build it. “Listen to the fool’s reproach,” William Blake urged us long ago, “it is a kingly title.” Or as the vaudevillians used to say, “Every knock is a boost!”

And so the new movement, with wild songs and high humor, captures the imagination of masses of young rebels, spreads like wildfire, turns up everywhere, gets blamed for everything interesting that happens, and all the while writes page after page in the annals of freedom and justice for all.

A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, and Construction (Chris Alexander, et. al)

Disclaimer - Neither Christopher Alexander, nor any of his coauthors are affiliated with or necessarily endorse the ideas of the IWW; this text is posted here under fair use guidelines for informational purposes only.

Written in a time when radical ideas had become somewhat mainstream and libertarian anti-state and anti-capitalist theories began to achieve popular consciousness, the ideas set forth in this book, including ecological notions taken from authors such as Aldo Leopold and E.F. Schumacher and workplace organization inspired by the anarchism of Colin Ward and George Woodcock, come very close (without necessarily realizing it) to the"green syndicalism" called for by the IWW EUC.

Unlike the specialized knowledge required to design cities, plan urban developments, or craft buildings required by conventional urban design--the results of which are often highly dysfunctional, authoritarian, class stratified, and anti ecological, A Pattern Language offers a bottom-up, "open source" set of patterns that anybody can use to design buildings and plan their neighborhoods, even whole cities, themselves.

A Pattern Language (PDF) - by Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa, and Murray Silverstein, et. al.,1977

Our Lives Are at Stake: Workers Fight for Health and Safety (the Shell Strike of 1973)

By Berry Weisberg - OCAW 1-591, July 1973
Background Information by Douglas W. Erlandson - USW Local 12-591

On January 21st, OCAWIU President Bob Grospiron called over 4000 Shell OCAW members from 5 oil refineries and 3 chemical plants, out on strike. Then made a nationwide appeal to the public to boycott Shell Oil while the union continued its fight over the right to bargain health and safety issues.

The union was seeking:

  • 1) The establishment of a Joint Union-Management Health & Safety Committee
  • 2) Wanted the Union committee workers paid while performing official committee duties
  • 3) The right to call in independant Health & Safety inspectors
  • 4) Access to all Company information on both death and disease rates
  • 5) Annual Company medical examinations provided at Company expense

As a tactic for the 1973 strike, OCAW employed the first major "corporate campaign" in U.S. history. OCAW forged alliances with the scientific, academic, environmental and labor communities to fight Shell’s position that it would not bargain over health and safety. The union spent nearly half a million dollars to advertise a nationwide boycott of Shell and to educate the public about the need to protect the health of workers and the communities.

Even though 12 other major oil companies had already signed contracts that provided for the new joint union- management health and safety committees, they assisted Shell by buying their gasoline and blacklisting Shell's strikers. The oil industry's thinking was the new joint H&S committees would get in the way of production and profits.

Shell's corporate spokesman, J.H. Walter called the unions joint H&S committee 'another attempt at featherbedding since the workers could then decide how long they could safely work in the refineries and chemical plants.

Moreover, Shell stated that health & safety was none of the oil workers' business: "We are legally responsible for the health and safety of Shell employees in the workplace and this responsibility cannot be shared". The truth was the oil companies didn't want to give up control in this area.

From 1963-1969, Shell used caged canaries as 'safety devices' at their Houston chemical plant.(true story, no joke!) The canary's job was to detect the presence of carbon monoxide. If the canary died, it was time for the workers to leave. Shell went through a lot of canaries, OCAW was claiming by the time the canary died, the workers would already have been exposed.

The union was also seeking the right to inspect company records and financial reports of the pension funds Shell administered and to be able to grieve the company's arbitrary actions with regard to disability pensions. (The union suspected Shell's pension fund was under funded.) One Anacortes member who worked for Shell for 17 years, was certified by two doctors as being disabled, yet Shell wouldn't allow him disabled benefits even though he met the 15 year employment requirement. For the union, this was an item that needed to be addressed.

The International Representative assigned locally was Virgil Coragliotti, with Representative Tom Burkholder assisting on occasion. Don Yates was the Shell unit chairman and the committee members were Gil Nuessen, Wes Shull, F. D. Ferguson, Bob Melton Sr. Jerry Vrooman was the Local President and Jim Burgess was the financial secretary.

Picket pay was $25 a week. The 1-591 union brothers at General Chemical and Texaco assessed their monthly dues to help support the Shell members. Financial support was also received regularly from the Ferndale OCAW 1-590 local. Because Shell Oil’s daily production was unaffected and they didn’t lose any profits during the strike, the strikers received unemployment benefits under what was then known as the ‘dark plant rule’. Not surprising, Shell Oil later lobbied to get that section of the unemployment law changed.

About a week before the strike Snelsons’ had contracted with Shell to do maintenance work on a recently shutdown furnace. Their plan was to use the Boilermakers union, Local 104 out of Seattle. OCAW had gotten wind of it and a group of about 60 Shell brothers were on site waiting for the 14 building trades members when they attempted to cross the picket line, being led through by Bill Snelson. Several Shell picketers became so upset that they turned over both of Snelsons’ trucks and trailers. At the same time, someone smashed out Snelson's rear window. Out of fear, Snelson romped on the gas throwing John Garner, who was standing in front of him, onto the hood of his car. Garner was able to roll off as Snelson bolted on through. The Sheriff was immediately called.

Fred Nelson, Bob Melton and Charlie Pyburn were identified as the lead individuals involved and were fired. Later, after two days in court, Judge Deierlein had Melton and Pyburn jailed, then sharply criticized Shell management for not maintaining better communications with the union and local law enforcement officials in trying to prevent emotional blow-ups. Later Snelson took OCAW 1-591 to court and won $6700 for the damage done to his vehicles. Shell also fired Virgil Avey for breaking windsphrlds with his picket sign. While the other three were unable to get their jobs back, Fred Nelson was eventually rehired. Old time Union members refer to this incidence as the "Day of the Windstorm."

OCAW also had trouble with the Teamster's Union from Seattle. The same teamster leadership that was scabbing on the United Farm Workers, had ordered their drivers to disregard the picket line established by OCAW. And since there was an injunction limiting the number of pickets to two per gate, the union was unable to do much about the Teamsters pushing through with their trucks.

To keep in the health and safety issue in front of the public, OCAW had teams that traveled the northwest speaking to the news media and public about the need for work place safety. Shell later admitted the mobile speakers bureaus were very effective.

Finally, Shell, in the face of public pressure, bargained a compromised health and safety clause as well as meeting the union's demand allowing the pension fund to be reviewed and grieved if necessary. On June 1st the strike was officially ended.

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