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Tony Mazzocchi

The Working Class Stake in the Fight Against Global Warming

By Tom Wetzel - Workers' Solidarity, August 22, 2023

I’m going to suggest here that the working class has a unique role to play in the fight against global warming because the owning and managing classes have interests that are tied to an economic system that has an inherent tendency towards ecological devastation whereas the working class does not.

In its “Code Red for Humanity” warning in 2021, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said: “The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable: greenhouse‑gas emissions from fossil-fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk. Global heating is affecting every region on Earth…” With wreckage from intensifying storms and people dying from heat waves, it might seem that everyone has a stake in the project of ecological sustainability, and bringing a rapid end to the burning of fossil fuels. As we know, however, various sectors of the owning and managing classes pursue profits from fossil fuel extraction, refining, and burning fossil fuels. They protect sunk investments in fossil fuel-based infrastructure (like gas burning power plants) or propose highly implausible strategies (like carbon capture and storage). Thus many sectors of the top classes in our society are a roadblock to ecological sustainability.

The working class, on the other hand, have a stake in the fight for a livable future, and also have the potential power to do something about it. The working class is a large majority of the society, and thus has the numbers to be a major force. Their position in the workplace means workers have the potential to organize and resist environmentally destructive behaviors of the employers.

Tony Mazzocchi: Radical American Labor

Protecting Workers and Communities–From Below, Part 1: On the Ground

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, March 23, 2023

Climate protection will create jobs for workers and economic development for communities. But as fossil fuel facilities are closed down there will also be some jobs lost and some communities will lose taxes and other economic benefits. This Commentary recounts what communities around the country are doing “on the ground” to protect workers and local economies from collateral damage from the transition to climate-safe energy. The next Commentary describes what states are doing to include such protections in their climate and energy programs.

Our Power: Offshore Workers’ Demands for a Just Energy Transition

By Rosemary Harris, Gabrielle Jeliazkov, and Ryan Morrison - Our Power, March 6, 2023

Over the past two years, we’ve come together with offshore workers to build demands for a just energy transition. These workers developed 10 demands covering training and skills, pay, job creation, investment and public ownership.

We surveyed over 1000 additional offshore workers and over 90% agreed with these demands. This plan is comprehensive in scope, transformative in scale and deliverable now.

Below you will find a series of resources setting out the demands and the paths we can take to turn them into reality.

We need a rapid transition away from oil and gas that protects workers, communities and the climate. But the government has no plan to phase out oil and gas production in the North Sea.

Oil and gas workers are ready to lead a just transition away from oil and gas, but they are caught in a trap of exploitation and fear created by oil and gas companies. Working conditions are plummeting, just as profits, prices and temperatures are soaring.

The UK and Scottish Governments must listen to workers to make this transition work for all of us. These demands lay out a comprehensive plan, which includes:

  • Removing barriers that make it harder for oil and gas workers to move into the renewable industry.
  • Ensuring safety, job security and fair pay across the energy industry.
  • Sharing the benefits of our energy system fairly, with public investment in energy companies and communities.

Workers have told us what they need for a just transition, now we need to work with them to make it happen.

Read the report (PDF).

A Just Transition Primer from Global Climate Justice Leaders

By Molly Rosbach - Sunflower Alliance, October 1, 2022

A new report from leaders of the global climate justice movement argues that “a broad vision of Just Transition with social justice at its core is critical, especially as fossil fuel companies and defenders of ‘business as usual’ are adopting the language of climate action and just transition to thwart real solutions.”

The report, From Crisis to Transformation: A Just Transition Primer, released by Grassroots Global Justice and the Transnational Institute, “explores the root causes of the climate crisis . . . and argues that we need transformative and anti-capitalist visions to bring us “from crisis to transformation.” The report lays out the big picture of those causes, starting from colonialism, capitalism, and the industrial revolution, and traces the development of the current crisis. It outlines key elements of a true just transition:

  • Decolonization and restoration of indigenous sovereignty
  • Reparations and restitution
  • Ancestral and science-based solutions
  • Agroecology, food sovereignty, and agrarian reform
  • Recognition of rights to land, food, ecosystems, and territories
  • Cooperatives, social, and public production
  • Just distribution of reproductive labor
  • Going beyond endless economic growth

And provides case studies of communities putting visions of Just Transition into practice today:
* The Green New Deal
* Cooperation Jackson and the Jackson Just Transition Plan
* Just Transition in North Africa
* Movement of People Affected by Dams

Authors of the report include Jaron Brown of Grassroots Global Justice, Katie Sandwell and Lyda Fernanda Forero of the Transnational Institute, and Kali Akuno of Cooperation Jackson.

The report was released in Arabic, Spanish, and English, with plans to add translations in Bahasa, French, and Portuguese.

Grassroots Global Justice (GGJ) “is an alliance of over 60 US-based grassroots organizing (GRO) groups of working and poor people and communities of color,” including the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Communities for a Better Environment, the Indigenous Environmental Network, Jobs with Justice, Cooperation Jackson and many more.

The Transnational Institute “is an international research and advocacy institute committed to building a just, democratic, and sustainable planet.”

They “offer this primer as a contribution to the broader ecosystem of Just Transition frameworks and articulations. In particular, we honor the work of the Just Transition Alliance, the Indigenous Environmental Network, the Climate Justice Alliance, Movement Generation, the Labor Network for Sustainability, and Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, among many others.”

What does ​‘just transition’ really mean?

By Alison F. Takemura - Canary Media, September 15, 2022

What is a just transition?

To address the climate crisis, the world must rapidly shift from fossil fuels to clean energy. For this transition to be a just one, we need to repair the harms of the fossil-fuel economy and equitably distribute the benefits of the clean energy economy, so that no one is left behind. 

Are Refinery Workers Climate Enemies? - Part 2

By Steve Ongerth - IWW Environmental Union Caucus, May 25, 2022

For context and background, see part one, here. Unlike the first installment, this second response has ommitted the comments that preciptated it, for the sake of clarity, as well as the fact that the author tried to echo the rebutted points in the response. It should be noted that only one individual has expressed outright opposition to showing solidarity with striking refinery workers. It's a foregone conclusion that the overwhelming majority of the IWW does not share this one individual's view.

First of all, let me be clear: my position is that humanity must collectively phase out burning fossil fuels for energy, transportation, and locomotion as rapidly as possible.

That said, nobody seriously believes we can collectively cease burning fossil fuels in a single day, so the likelihood is that the burning of them will continue for some time (I aim to make that as little time as possible).

Regardless of how long it takes, no oil refinery is going to simply shut down just because large masses of people, even 3.5% of the population demand it. It’s not even technically possible, let alone economically or politically possible. Most of the Environmental Justice and Climate Justice organizations (other than a few ultra-sectarian extremists) get this, and they’ve crafted their demands accordingly.

While there’s a degree of variation among the various organizing, most of them call for the following:

  1. No new extraction of new fossil fuel sources;
  2. Rapid phase out of existing fossil fuel sources;
  3. Managed decline of the existing fossil fuel supply chain;
  4. Just transition for any and all affected workers in the entire fossil fuel supply chain;
  5. Repurposing of equipment for non fossil fuel burning purposes;
  6. Bioremediation of damaged ecosystems across the extraction supply chain;
  7. Reparations for the affected communities and tribes.

Supporting refinery workers involved in a strike is not in any way contradictory to the above demands.

Are Refinery Workers Climate Enemies?

By an anonymous ex-member of the IWW (with a response by Steve Ongerth) - ecology.iww.org, April 28, 2022

Editor's Note: Since Monday, March 21, 2022, the workers at the Chevron oil refinery in Richmond, California, members of the United Steelworkers Local 5 have been on strike and picketing the facility after voting down the company’s latest contract offer, which workers say contained insufficient wage increases and demanded cuts in union staffing that focused on health and safety in the refinery. The bosses have responded by bringing in scabs (including managers from other Chevron facilities). Meanwhile, USW Local 5 members have been picketing the refinery 24-7, and have been, at times, joined by members of the local BIPOC and/or environmental justice community. After IWW EUC cofounder and long-time Bay Area IWW General Membership Branch member, Steve Ongerth, brought a call for solidarity with the striking workers to the April branch meeeting, a disgruntled member (who has since resigned from the organization), sent the following letter to the branch (name deleted for privacy reasons).

Message from a Disgruntled (former) Member:

I’m sorry to say how disappointed I am in the IWW. I’m a relatively new wobbly and although I believe in standing in solidarity with fellow workers it seems at some point lines must be drawn.

As I’ve read through these last emails about the USW Local 5 and the call to action for us to stand with them as they strike, many questions come to mind. The first one is what if fellow climate activists, many of whom are wobblies were to implement a protest blockade to stall production of this refinery in defense of the environment? I wonder if those refinery workers with whom we are picketing would come outside and join our protest line? I also wonder if they would be interested in the invitation to join the 2022 Global Climate Strike that you forwarded to us? In both cases I assume it is reasonable to conclude they would not.

As wobblies, where do we draw the line? What if oil pipeline workers go to strike for hazard pay because a tribal nation, whose land the pipeline is planned to cross blocks safe access to thier jobsite in protest of the poisoning of thier waterways? Would the IWW Environmental Caucus also put a call out to picket with those Union workers? We draw the line when it comes to police unions who’s membership is hellbent on beating and imprisoning people protesting civil injustices. Why are we supporting refinery workers? This makes no sense. Iunderstand that just about every industry is to some degree tainted with These workers primary job is to process and prepare for market the product that’s catapulted us into the current global warming apocalyptic meltdown!

Green Unionism on the Chevron Richmond Refinery Workers Picket Line

By Steve Ongerth - IWW Environmental Union Caucus, April 15, 2022

Since Monday, March 21, 2022, the workers at the Chevron oil refinery in Richmond, California, members of the United Steelworkers Local 5 have been on strike and picketing the facility after voting down the company’s latest contract offer, which workers say contained insufficient wage increases. The bosses have responded by bringing in scabs (including managers from other Chevron facilities). The strike has gotten a good deal of media coverage:

However, the capitalist (and progressive) media have mostly missed some important details.

First of all, the striking refinery workers and their elected union leaders continue to emphasize that their issues extend beyond narrow bread and butter issues, such as wages and benefits. A major concern that they continue to articulate is that Chevron continues to try and cut unionized safety jobs and refuses to hire sufficient workers to safely and adequately staff the facility. Workers have complained of 12-hour days and six-day workweeks. All of these deficiencies not only risk the health and safety of the workers, but the surrounding, mostly BIPOC communities as well. Worse still, they have adverse environmental effects, a problem that hasn't been lost on the striking workers. As stated by USW Local 5 representative, B.K White:

“If we had more people and could get a better pay rate, maybe our members wouldn’t feel obligated to come in and work as many as 70 hours a week to make ends meet. We don’t believe that is safe. (that and the use of replacement workers) is at the detriment of the city of Richmond and the environment.”

Even less noticed by the media has been the presence of environmental justice activists (including, but not limited to, the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Communities for a Better Environment, Extinction Rebellion, Fossil Free California, Richmond Progressive Alliance, Sierra Club, Sunflower Alliance, Sunrise Movement, and 350), various socialist organizations (including DSA in particular), and members from the nearby front-line BIPOC communities, who have joined the pickets in solidarity with the workers, something the workers have also not hesitated to point out. Indeed, in spite of the fact that many environmental justice activists and community members are harshly critical of Chevron's role in turning the city of Richmond into a capital blight infested sacrifice zone, they recognize that the workers are not their enemies nor are the latter responsible for the damage done by the company. On the contrary, many recognize that the unionized workforce is one of the best mitigations against far worse capital blight (it bears mentioning that there has also been a good deal of support and picket line presence from rank and file workers and union officials from many other unions, including the AFSCME, IBEW, IWW, ILWU, SEIU, UFCW, and the Contra Costa County Central Labor Council).

Such seemingly unlikely bonds of solidarity, though delicate and, at times, fragile didn't arise out of thin air, but, in fact, have resulted from years of painstaking grassroots organizing.

How Tony Mazzocchi Built Worker Militancy in the Suburbs

By Paul Prescod - Jacobin, March 1, 2022

Labor leader Tony Mazzocchi believed unions could inspire their members to engage in a broader political movement of working people. His Local 149 did just that in the 1950s — and in a suburban environment where no one thought it possible.

There’s no denying that strong labor movements often thrive in urban centers. The organization of capitalist production in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, while heavily exploitative of workers, also created the conditions for robust forms of worker organization. Being densely packed in cities that were relatively close to their workplaces allowed industrial workers to form deep bonds of solidarity with each other. Apart from the shop floor, these workers were likely to also interact with each other in other social spaces common to cities.

But how does the labor movement fare in the suburbs? Traditionally, the suburbs are thought of as bastions of conservatism, where workers go to become atomized consumers free from the common public spaces that feed solidaristic action.

Indeed, the business class has long believed this. While commentators often examine the offshoring of manufacturing jobs, not nearly as many focus on the relocation of urban jobs to the suburbs. This process was already well underway in the 1950s and ’60s.

Despite the very real challenges that suburbanization present, the labor movement cannot resign itself to the impossibility of maintaining strong unionism in the suburbs. History can serve as inspiration here.

In the early 1950s, the Helena Rubinstein women’s cosmetics plant was moved from Queens to the leafy suburbs of Long Island. Tony Mazzocchi was president of the union representing its workers: Local 149 of United Gas, Coke, and Chemical Workers’ Union (Gas-Coke). While today Mazzocchi — whose life is chronicled in Les Leopold’s excellent book The Man Who Hated Work and Loved Labor: The Life and Times of Tony Mazzocchi — is known in labor circles for his pioneering work in the realm of workplace health and safety, he cut his teeth building in the heart of the suburbs one of the most well-organized, militant, and effective union locals in the country — “a vibrant ‘city-style’ union smack in the middle of all those boxy little houses,” Leopold writes.

In the fifth chapter of his book, Leopold tells the story of the new Rubinstein plant, located in Long Island’s North Shore, a beautiful setting that seemed to make worker discontent impossible — not just because of its geographic setting, which seemed to discourage aggressive trade unionism, but also the times. Red-baiting within the labor movement was at its peak in the early 1950s, and Gas-Coke had experienced purges of leftists already in the late 1940s. But the overwhelming anti-communism still could not eliminate all residues of good trade union culture.

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