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Tony Mazzocchi

Leave No Worker Behind

By Samantha M. Harvey - Earth Island Journal, Summer 2018; image by Brooke Anderson

There is a right way to do ‘just transition.’”

The statement echoes through the humid halls of the historic Stringer Grand Lodge Masonic Temple in Jackson, Mississippi, on an unseasonably scorching day in late February, 2018. Mingling with the ghosts of Medgar Evers, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 150 labor leaders, environmental justice activists, philanthropists, and national environmental organization staffers move from one side of the room to the other – far right for “strongly agree,” and far left for “strongly disagree.”

The group has come together to find alignment around the concept of just transition, so laughter erupts at the almost 50-50 split. But the mood soon settles. With the backdrop of a president who has filled his cabinet with oil executives, brutishly dismissed climate change, and denounced the Paris Accord, it’s hard to shake off what’s happening outside for too long: Puerto Ricans are fleeing the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria with no end in sight, #MeToo is a household term, and activists are railing against the assault on unions in the historic Supreme Court case Janus v. AFSCME. Those in the temple are steeped in these threats and more. But they also understand that while climate change, racism, patriarchy, and plutocracy are terrifying, they are not impenetrable, and dismantling one may lead to the unraveling of others.

Global activists share this systemic view, and around the world, locally based, integrated models are being built to support people working and living together in community. This decarbonized vision connects jobs and environment rather than pitting them against one another; breaks down patriarchy and systems of oppression; honors caring, culture, and community leadership; and reshuffles the paradigm that hails profit as the sole pinnacle of goodness. They call it “buen vivir” (good living) in South America, “commons” and “degrowth” in Europe, “agroecology,” “ecofeminisms,” and “rights of Mother Earth” in Indigenous communities, and in the United States, incorporating principles of all these concepts, “just transition.”

After much debate across the temple, a woman raises her hand from a spot dead center between the two poles. “Just transition will look different in different places, because it’s place-based,” she says. “But the principles behind it have to be the same. So there is a right way, but the right way is many ways.” She doesn’t mention that some “right ways” are more “right” than others. All seem to agree just transition fundamentally requires a shift off of fossil fuels, and in a radically climate-changing world, nothing could be more urgent. But grassroots movements also demand economic, racial, and gender justice underpin that shift. In fact, they assert decarbonizing simply cannot happen exclusive of justice.

How to Achieve Zero Emissions, Even if the Federal Government Won't Help

By C.J. Polychroniou - Truthout, January 17, 2018

With Donald Trump in the White House, the prospects for fighting climate change have never been any bleaker in the US. Yet there are options available to state governments to move forward with the greening of the economy even without federal support. This point is made crystal clear in two studies produced recently by economist Robert Pollin and some of his colleagues at the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst for the states of Washington and New York. In this exclusive interview for Truthout, Pollin explains the significance of Green New Deal programs.

C.J. Polychroniou: Bob, two new studies on fighting climate change have been produced by you and two PERI researchers for the states of New York and Washington. How did these studies come about?

Robert Pollin: These were both commissioned studies. For the New York study, the commissioning group was New York Renews, which is a coalition of over 130 organizations in New York State, including labor unions, environmental groups and social justice organizations. For the Washington State study, three important groups within the US labor movement commissioned the study -- the United Steelworkers, Washington State Labor Council of the AFL-CIO and the Tony Mazzocchi Center for Health, Safety and Environmental Education (TMC). Tony Mazzocchi was a great visionary labor leader with the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers International Union (OCAW -- [which] has since merged into the United Steelworkers), who fought to link the aims of working people with those of environmentalists.

It is not an accident that my co-workers and I were asked to do these similar studies at basically the same time. In both cases, the groups supporting the studies are advancing ambitious green economy programs within their respective states. It is obvious that nothing good on climate change is going to be coming out of the federal government under Trump. It is equally obvious that we can't wait around on climate issues (and many other matters) until somebody less awful gets into the White House. We therefore have to take the most forceful possible actions at the level of state politics. This is what the coalitions are doing in both New York and Washington States.

It is also significant that, with both studies, our priority was to show how a viable climate change project can be completely compatible with -- indeed, supportive of -- a pro-labor agenda. Trump and others on the right have feasted on the divides between labor and environmentalists, claiming that if you are for the environment, then you have to be against working people and their communities. These studies show in great detail (some might even say excruciating detail) that these Trump claims are flat-out wrong.

Beyond Fossil Fuels: Planning a Just Transition for Alaska's Economy

By John Talberth, Ph.D. and Daphne Wysham - Center for Sustainable Economy, October 2017

Of the 50 United States, Alaska best exemplifies the types of problems the rest of the country may well face in a matter of decades, if not years, if we don’t wean ourselves from fossil fuels. The U.S. is in the middle of an oil and gas production boom, one that has caused oil and gas prices to plummet, with devastating consequences for Alaska, a state that has grown dependent on revenue from the oil and gas industry for its public funds.

However, if one only looked at the prominent outlines of the boom-and-bust, oil and gas economy in Alaska, one would miss a subtler shift happening on a much smaller scale: A more sustainable, self-reliant economy is beginning to take shape in remote villages and towns throughout the state.

While this sustainable economy is beginning to take root, it needs special care. In a report, commissioned by Greenpeace USA, entitled “Beyond Fossil Fuels: Planning a Just Transition for Alaska’s Economy,” CSE’s John Talberth and Daphne Wysham write that this nascent economy in Alaska shows great promise but will require investments in the following key sectors if it is to thrive:

  • human capital—particularly in computer literacy in rural areas;
  • sustainable energy, including wind, wave, tidal and solar energy;
  • greater local self-reliance in food including produce, which currently is imported at great cost, and fisheries, which is often exported for processing, and manufacturing;
  • the clean-up of fossil fuel infrastructure, including abandoned infrastructure sites;
  • the protection of ecosystems;
  • tourism led and controlled by Alaska Native communities;
  • and sustainable fisheries.

But investment in these key building blocks is only the first step. Also needed are policy changes at the state and federal level that would remove subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, begin to internalize the price of pollution, and make federal funds available that are currently out of reach for many Alaska Natives.

Read the report (PDF).

Victory Over the Sun

By Connor Kilpatrick  - Jacobin, August 2017

The greatest environmentalist of postwar America wasn’t a scientist or a wonk. He didn’t even finish high school.

Brooklyn native Tony Mazzocchi, who passed away in 2002, isn’t a household name — yet. But when a future socialist society on the other side of the climate crisis goes looking for statues to build and parks to name, he will be at the top of the list.

Today, the AFL-CIO lobbies Congress to pass the Keystone XL pipeline while noted NASA climate scientist James Hansen, one of the first to link global warming to fossil fuels, is repeatedly arrested for protesting such projects. And while in 2017, the idea that the interests between wonky environmentalists and jobs-focused trade unionists would diverge seems like common sense, it’s only because the bad guys won.

But it wasn’t a preordained victory. For nearly a decade in the 1960s and ’70s, environmentalism seemed to be on the cusp of a popular reckoning against the powers of capital. And it found an ally in the labor movement which, for a few years, looked like it might be able to not only cling to life but find a way back into the heart of American society.

Mazzocchi and his union, the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers International (OCAW), were the primary muscle behind the 1970 Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), signed into law by Richard Nixon. Looking back on that victory, which mobilized both labor and the burgeoning environmental movement, Mazzocchi said: “We have demonstrated that an unpopular idea can be generated into a powerful political program that’ll reignite the consciousness of the American people.”

When the postwar boom was fizzling out, Mazzocchi — one of the few officials in the labor movement who bought into neither Cold War anticommunism nor business unionism — wanted to push harder: “workers should be ready to learn about the problems of capitalism.” And in the last decades of his life, Mazzocchi cofounded the Labor Party — whose 1996 convention saw Jeremy Corbyn taking the stage in Cleveland to declare it “one of the most hopeful and inspiring events I’ve been to in very many years.” Much like Sanders, Mazzocchi was a survivor of decades of left retreat — a Brooklyn Red from another era who, somehow, managed to stay fighting so that when the Left was ready, he was there. And with the appearance of the environmental movement, Mazzocchi saw an opening.

A Just Transition for U.S. Fossil Fuel Industry Workers

By Robert Pollin and Brian Callaci - American Prospect, July 6, 2016

According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2015 was the globe’s warmest year since at least 1880, when such figures were first recorded. 2014 was the next warmest, and the hottest five years also include 2013, 2010, and 2005. Can it be any more obvious that we absolutely must stop playing Russian roulette with the global climate?

The two most important things we need to do to stabilize the climate are straightforward. First, the world must dramatically cut its reliance on oil, coal, and natural gas in energy production. This is because carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions generated through burning fossil fuels, along with methane emissions released during fossil fuel extraction processes, are responsible for about 75 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change. Second, as the alternative to fossil fuel consumption, again on a global scale, we must massively expand investments in energy efficiency and clean renewable energy sources—solar, wind, geothermal, low-emissions bioenergy, and small-scale hydropower.

Both parts of this climate stabilization program will produce large-scale impacts on the employment opportunities for working people as well as on the communities in which they live. The investments in efficiency and clean renewables will generate millions of new jobs. But workers and communities whose livelihoods depend on the fossil fuel industry will unavoidably lose out in the clean energy transition. Unless strong policies are advanced to support these workers, they will face layoffs, falling incomes, and declining public-sector budgets to support schools, health clinics, and public safety. This in turn will increase political resistance to any effective climate stabilization program.

It follows that the global climate stabilization project must unequivocally commit to providing generous transitional support for workers and communities tied to the fossil fuel industry. The late U.S. labor leader and environmental visionary Tony Mazzocchi pioneered thinking on what is now termed a “Just Transition” for these workers and communities. As Mazzocchi wrote as early as 1993, “Paying people to make the transition from one kind of economy to another is not welfare. Those who work with toxic materials on a daily basis … in order to provide the world with the energy and the materials it needs deserve a helping hand to make a new start in life.”

In this article, we propose a Just Transition framework for U.S. workers. Our rough high-end estimate for such a program is a relatively modest $600 million per year. This is about 1 percent of the annual level of public investment that will be needed to advance a successful overall U.S. climate stabilization program. As we show, this level of funding would pay for income and pension-fund support for workers facing retrenchments as well as effective transition programs for what are now fossil fuel–dependent communities.

A Superfund for Workers

By Jeremy Brecher - Dollars and Sense, November 2015

When the Dominion Corporation proposed, on April 1, 2013, to build a liquefied natural gas export facility at Cove Point, Md., right on the Chesapeake Bay,seven hundred people demonstrated against it and many were arrested in a series of civil disobedience actions. But an open letter endorsing the project maintained it would “create more than 3,000 construction jobs” most of which would go “to local union members.” The letter—on Dominion letterhead—was signed not only by business leaders, but also by twenty local and national trade union leaders.

Similarly, in the struggle over the Keystone XL pipeline, pipeline proponents were quick to seize on the “jobs issue” and tout support from building trades unions and eventually the AFL-CIO. In a press release titled “U.S. Chamber Calls Politically-Charged Decision to Deny Keystone a Job Killer,” the Chamber said President Obama’s denial of the Keystone permit was “sacrificing tens of thousands of good-paying American jobs in the short term, and many more than that in the long term.”

The media repeat the jobs vs. environment frame again and again: an NPR headline on Keystone was typical of many: “Pipeline Decision Pits Jobs Against Environment.” A similar dynamic has marked the “beyond coal” campaign, the fracking battle, and the struggle for EPA regulation of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.

Is there a persuasive answer to the charge that climate protection policies are job-killers? A common environmentalist response has been that environmental protection produces far more jobs than it eliminates. EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson explained, “environmental protection creates jobs—1.7 million of them as of 2008.” It is true that, on balance, environmental policies usually create jobs; unfortunately, this is of little comfort to the small number of workers in fossil-fuel producing and using industries who are likely to lose their jobs as a result of climate protection policies, including coal miners, power-plant workers, and oil refinery workers. And such workers can rapidly become Fox News poster children for the threat posed to workers by climate protection.

Fortunately, a strategy has been emerging to protect workers and communities whose livelihoods may be threatened by climate protection policies.

Read the full article (PDF) here…

How Do We 'Change Everything' without Pitting Workers against the Planet?

By Alexandra Bradbury; image by Sam Churchill - Labor Notes, September 8, 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 fights erupted in the Pacific Northwest this summer over fuel export terminals and Arctic drilling, the idea of a just transition has been on my mind.

The late Tony Mazzocchi of the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers (now part of the Steelworkers) coined the term. A “just transition” away from fossil fuels wouldn’t pit workers against the planet. Those displaced should be able to count on decent new green jobs and retraining.

“There’s a Superfund for dirt,” Mazzocchi used to say. “There ought to be one for workers.”

SHELL NO?

As Shell Oil’s drilling rig and ice cutter churned toward the Arctic, activists in Seattle and Portland, paddling kayaks and dangling from cables, tried to block them. Some unions backed the protests, but not the usually progressive Longshore Workers (ILWU).

Servicing Shell’s fleet will provide “an awful lot of family-wage jobs,” said Justin Hirsch, an ILWU Local 19 executive board member—at a time when condo developers are eyeing the waterfront and longshore jobs are squeezed by shipping industry consolidation.

Don’t get him wrong. Hirsch also says “climate change is a massive issue, and it’s going to have to be dealt with by labor.”

But he’s worried the shift to a green economy offers employers an opportunity to destroy the pay, benefits, and workplace control it took generations of struggle to achieve. Will green jobs be lower-waged and nonunion?

Labor Movement Malpractice: Relinquishing the Fight for Workplace Health and Safety

By Garrett Brown - Portside, January 28, 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.

An underlying theme of California's most prominent union organizing campaigns in recent years-among warehouse workers east of Los Angeles, carwasheros in Los Angeles proper, and recycling workers in Oakland and southern California-has been worker concerns about unsafe and unhealthy conditions at work.  As labor visionaries like Tony Mazzocchi predicted, workers are deeply concerned about and can be successfully organized around workplace health and safety issues.  Rank-and-file concerns about health and safety, however, have not been taken up by union officials or lobbyists who view health and safety as a lower priority than labor legislation or gubernatorial appointees.

As a result, labor officials in California have passively watched as Democratic Governor Jerry Brown put California's state workplace health and safety agency-Cal/OSHA or DOSH-on a starvation diet. Since 2011, the agency has employed fewer field inspectors and has counted on lesser enforcement resources than under Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The unions also stood quietly by (with a couple of notable exceptions) when Ellen Widess, appointed as chief of Cal/OSHA in April 2011, was forced to resign in September 2013 following an intense employer campaign against her.

Cal/OSHA under Widess worked with Warehouse Workers United to identify the many hazards facing warehouse workers (heat, forklifts, falls) and to cite both the warehouse operators and the temporary staffing agencies as the workers' employers.  Cal/OSHA seriously investigated hotel workers' ergonomic complaints (UNITE HERE); health care workers' concerns about workplace violence and assaults (SEIU and CNA); and recycling workers' exposure to chemicals, biological, and mechanical hazards in the "green" industry (Longshore and Teamsters unions).  Yet the state's labor officials' and lobbyists' strategy of maintaining access and friendly relations with Brown and his appointees-at all costs-has undermined the resources at Cal/OSHA and led to the weakening of enforcement and worker protections.

Tony Mazzocchi's Spirit Haunts Big Oil Again

By Steve Early - CounterPunch and Beyon Chron, February 4, 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.

Twelve years ago, America’s leading advocate of occupational health and environmental safety succumbed to pancreatic cancer.

In the U.S., where the influence of organized labor has long been contracting, the death of a former trade union official is often little noted. Yet Tony Mazzocchi was no ordinary labor leader. His passing from the scene, at age 76, was widely recognized and correctly mourned as a great loss for the entire union movement.

As a top strategist for the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers (OCAW), Mazzocchi pioneered alliances between workers concerned about job safety and health hazards and communities exposed to industrial pollution generated by companies like Shell, Chevron, and Mobil.

In 1973, members of the OCAW (who are now part of the United Steel Workers) conducted a national contract campaign and four-month strike at Shell Oil over workplace safety rights and protections. As Mazzocchi’s biographer, Les Leopold notes, “the strike helped build a stronger anti-corporate movement” because OCAW members learned “that you can’t win these fights alone.” To win—or even just battle Big Oil to a draw—workers had to join forces with the very same environmental organizations long demonized by the industry as the enemy of labor and management alike.

Beating Climate Change by Retooling the Economy—The Story Begins in Navajo Country

A proposed community-owned solar project on an abandoned coal mine in Arizona illustrates how cooperative economics make it possible to stop extracting fossil fuels—without leaving workers behind.

By Mary Hansen - Yes Magazine, October 17, 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.

“I grew up without running water,” Nichole Alex, a young woman from Dilkon, Ariz., says in a video released by the activist group Black Mesa Water Coalition. Alex grew up on the Navajo reservation in the rural Black Mesa region of Arizona, where for decades a controversial coal mine emptied the region’s aquifer, leaving local wells dry.

“I grew up traveling 20 miles to gather water,” Alex continues. “That’s not fair, that my community is being sacrificed to power the valley here.”

In 1970, the Peabody Coal Company began mining on the reservation. Although tribal members were initially enthusiastic about the jobs the mine would provide, over time the relationship grew rocky. The company built a coal slurry pipeline that cut straight through the reservation and pumped billions of gallons of water from the Navajo Aquifer. Peabody mixed the water with coal and pumped the fluid mixture to a power plant in Nevada where the coal was burned to generate electricity for the nearby cities of Phoenix and Tucson, as well as other parts of the Southwest. But local people like Alex were left without access to water.

It’s a story echoed around the country: From the East Bay in California to the mountains of Appalachia, fossil fuel companies have drilled, burned, and mined their way into towns, cities, and rural areas—especially communities of color, as well as indigenous and low-income ones—disrupting the lives of people and damaging the environment.

But local residents have fought back. In 2001, Navajo and Hopi youth created the Black Mesa Water Coalition to stop the depletion of the Navajo Aquifer. They educated their peers and neighbors about the problem, and eventually persuaded the Navajo Tribal Council to cut off Peabody Coal’s access to the aquifer. That work, combined with a lawsuit that charged Peabody with violation of the Clean Air Act, helped to force the shutdown of the Black Mesa coal mine in 2005.

The problem with that outcome was that it left many residents of the reservation without jobs. About 300 Navajo and Hopi people had worked for Peabody, according to the advocacy group Cultural Survival . Efforts by the Black Mesa Water Coalition and its allies to create green jobs through traditional livelihoods, like wool-making and farming, have made only a small dent in the unemployment rate, which hovers around 50 percent. Furthermore, the land where the coal mine had been is not suitable for living or farming.

The story of Black Mesa illustrates a realization that is sweeping through the network of organizations, individuals, and coalitions working to fight global warming: While the burning of fossil fuels causes climate change, simply shutting down these industries leaves workers and their families behind, and often result in a familiar conflict over “jobs versus the environment.” That in turn prevents many workers and low-income groups from joining the fight against climate change—something movement leaders say they cannot afford.

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