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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.

Climate Justice and Class Struggle: Online Screening Event

By staff - IWW Ireland, May 18, 2022

Climate Justice and Class Struggle: Scheduled Screening to take place HERE on

Tuesday May 24, 2022 @ 1800 hours GMT

Global May Day is a project for grassroots labour unions and initiatives supporting labour struggles to make our work more visible and support each other across borders.

This year we chose to draw attention to the ecological crisis we all face and tilted a series of events around Climate Justice and Class Struggle.

A crisis brought about by the endless search for profit margins by capitalist interests. A crisis which will see wars raging worldwide, making the poorest of us suffer the earliest and most.

The global ecological crisis is an issue for the working class worldwide and already there are many of us engaged in fighting against its impacts in our local areas.

This coming Tuesday May 24, 2022 we will host and online screening of a number on important environmental struggles currently taking place around the world. It is vital that each of these campaigns be highlighted and supported.

To take part in this online screening event as part of the Global May Day events, please tune in online HERE on Tuesday May 24, 2022 at the following time @ 1800hours GMT

To find out more about Global May Day 2022 reports, you can click on the following link HERE

#1World1Struggle

#globalmayday2022

Chevron Threatens Our Air: Richmond Community Members and Striking Refinery Workers Speak Out Against Scab Labor and Flaring

By Marisol Cantú, Micheal Hayes, and staff - Richmond Progressive Alliance, May 16, 2022

Flaring at the Richmond Lubrications Oil Plant. April 14, 2-4 pm.

United Steelworkers (USW) Local 5 workers have been on strike at Richmond's Chevron Refinery since March 21, 2022. Since then, workers and community members have carefully documented flaring events at the refinery, which is currently run by strikebreakers who do not have the necessary training to safely operate the equipment. Below are three important documents of this extremely unsafe situation: a) a letter addressed to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) by organizer Marisol Cantú, articulating the current risks to our surrounding community and demands of relevant inspection agencies; b) a photographic gallery of flaring events taken during the strike by workers and community observers; and c) a letter authored by a USW Local 5 refinery worker, describing the extensive training he and his colleagues receive that is necessary to keep the community safe (and that current employees operating the plant do not have).

Why Labor Leader Tefere Gebre Has Brought His Organizing Talents to Greenpeace

By Jessica Goodheart - Capital & Main, May 16, 2022

Tefere Gebre’s biography has touched on the major crises affecting the planet: the massive rise in refugees, skyrocketing economic inequality and climate change. The first of those cataclysms was thrust upon him when he was just a teenager. He fled the civil war in Ethiopia, enduring a perilous 2½ week journey through the desert. “Sometimes you’d find yourself where you were a week ago,” he told Orange Coast magazine in 2014. He spent five months in a refugee camp in Sudan before arriving in Los Angeles, where he attended high school.

As an adult, Gebre became active in the labor movement, organizing trash sorters in Anaheim and holding leadership positions at the Orange County Labor Federation and the AFL-CIO, where he served as executive vice president. In February, he took the position as chief program officer at Greenpeace USA, the 3 million-member direct action organization known for its high-profile banner drops, opposition to whale hunting and campaign against plastic waste.

Capital & Main spoke to Gebre two days before Greenpeace held its first-ever protest in solidarity with fossil fuel workers. Two boats with activists from Greenpeace USA and United Steel Workers Local 5 members formed a picket line from land into San Francisco Bay as an oil tanker headed to Chevron’s Richmond refinery in what Gebre described as “a genuine attempt to build a transformational relationship” with the striking workers. Nearly 500 refinery employees went on strike over safety and salary concerns in March. The two sides have yet to come to an agreement. The oil tanker crossed the picket line, according to sources at Greenpeace.

Two enemies, one fight: climate disaster and frightful energy bills

By Simon Pirani - People and Nature, May 16, 2022

Two clouds darken the sky. A close-up one: gas and electricity bills have shot up since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and millions of families are struggling to pay. And a bigger, darker, higher one: the climate disaster, and politicians’ refusal to tackle it.

Ultimately, both these threats have a single cause: fossil fuels and the systems of wealth and power that depend on them. We need social movements to link the fight to protect families from unaffordable bills with the fight to move beyond fossil fuels, and in that way turn back global warming.

Here I suggest ways to develop such a movement in the UK, starting by demanding action on home heating.

The Chevron Strike Continues

By Shiva Mishek - Richmond Progressive Alliance, May 4, 2022

“To strike at a man's food and shelter is to strike at his life, and in a society organized on a tooth-and-nail basis, such an act, performed though it may be under the guise of generosity, is none the less menacing and terrible.”

—Jack London, The Scab, 1904

This week, United Steelworkers (USW) Local 5 enters its seventh week on strike at the Richmond Chevron refinery. Over 500 Chevron employees have been on strike since March 21, rejecting a contract that would codify a meager raise, unsafe working conditions, and Chevron’s so-called “standby” policy.

Chevron would also like to drastically reduce death benefits and pay for the Lubrications plant refinery workers, thereby creating a two-tier wage system and offering wages that do not keep pace with inflation (a reduction from an annual 3% wage increase to .6%).

Refinery operations have continued by employing strikebreakers. Advertisements placed by Chevron offer pay of $70 an hour for non-union workers lacking adequate refinery experience, with the explicit mention of possible work for up to 5 months. Meanwhile, inflation has soared across the United States, and refinery workers must also contend with the skyrocketing costs of basic needs.

Unsurprisingly, the high cost of gas prices in California has been somewhat attributed to the labor action. The day the strike began, the Guardian wrote, “But if the strike were to halt operations at the refinery, that could negatively affect fuel prices in California, which already has the highest gas prices in the US at $5.86 a gallon, according to the American Automobile Association.” Meanwhile, Chevron just reported earnings of $6.3 billion for the first quarter (Q1) of 2022, compared with $1.4 billion in earnings during Q1 of 2021. 

It’s typical to see workers villainized when they go on strike—teachers are depriving students of needed support; nurses and doctors are leaving patients to die in their hospital beds. But it is Chevron, not the workers, that has put Richmond at risk for decades. 

IPCC Report Calls for “Just Transition”

By Staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, May 2022

The latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change emphasizes the need for immediate action to protect the climate and lays out detailed strategies for how to do it. The report includes a lengthy analysis of ‘just transitions’ in countering climate change. A just transition could entail that

the state intervenes more actively in the eradication of poverty, and creates jobs in lower-carbon sectors, in part to compensate for soon-to-be abandoned fossil-fuel-based sectors, and that governments, polluting industries, corporations and those more able to pay higher associated taxes pay for transition costs, provide a welfare safety net and adequate compensation for people, communities, places, and regions that have been impacted by pollution, marginalized or negatively impacted by a transition from a high- to low-carbon economy and society.

The just transition concept has become

an international focal point tying together social movements, trade unions, and other key stakeholders to ensure equity is better accounted for in low-carbon transitions and to seek to protect workers and communities.

 According to the IPCC, “just transition” also forms a central pillar of the growing movement for a “Green New Deal”—a “roadmap for a broad spectrum of policies, programs, and legislation that aims to rapidly decarbonize the economy while significantly reducing economic inequality.”

The US Green New Deal Resolution for example positions structural inequality, poverty mitigation, and a just transition at its center. In 2019, the European Green Deal proposed including a UDF100 billion “Just Transition Mechanism” to mitigate the social effects of transitioning away from jobs in fossil based industries. National level green new deals with strong just transition components have been proposed in South Korea, Australia, Spain, UK, Puerto Rico, Canada, as well as regional proposals across Latin America and the Caribbean.

The report provides a list of organizations supporting just transition, including the Labor Network for Sustainability.

The report treats a just transition as part of the broader question of climate equity. Its section on “Equity in a just transition” says,

Looking at climate change from a justice perspective means placing the emphasis on

  • a) the protection of vulnerable populations from the impacts of climate change;
  • b) mitigating the effects of the transformations themselves, including easing the transition for those whose livelihoods currently rely on fossil fuel-based sectors; and
  • c) envisaging an equitable decarbonized world. Neglecting issues of justice risks a backlash against climate action generally, particularly from those who stand to lose from such actions.

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!

USW 5 Chevron Richmond Refinery Strike Continues Report By USW 5 President BK White

Extinction Rebellion Trade Unionists: a Timely Initiative

By Rob Marsden - Red-Green Labour, April 19, 2022

The incredibly clumsy, tone deaf and downright offensive tweeting by the official Labour party twitter account of a link to The Sun attacking environmental protesters shows the absolute need to build much better grassroots links between the labour movement and activist environmental campaigns, writes Rob Marsden

Recently relaunched, Extinction Rebellion Trade Unionists exists to further such a dialogue.

Building on the success of self-organised groups such as XR Scientists and XR Doctors it aims to assist Extinction Rebellion in getting its key message across to workers whose jobs are in the direct line of the necessary rapid transition away from fossil fuels.

The founding ‘mandate’ of Extinction Rebellion Trade Unionists includes the following ideas:

  • Promote XR members to join a union.
  • Promote concerns about the climate crisis and XR within our trade unions and the trade union movement.
  • To ensure that the withdrawal from fossil fuels includes a just transition for workers.
  • Lobby for XR actions to include consultation, and link actions with trade unions,
  • To support trade union and workers strikes.
  • Promote strike action as an effective form of NVDA, in the fight for climate justice.

XR recently issued a statement in support of Fawley oil refinery workers:

“On the 8th April members of XR Trade Unionists will visit the workers on their picket line in order to show support and solidarity. The dots are being joined for us all in the current context, from the wars fuelled by fossil fuel money, the exacerbating inequalities in the cost of living crisis, and energy companies shamelessly making record profits from the plight of the ordinary person and leaving workers behind. It is now clear in the UK that we’re being ripped off, our future is being burned, sold, decimated and all the while companies and the government sit back and support corporate interest over people’s live and livelihoods. Enough of the lies, deceit and deadly political failure. Unite workers are taking disruptive nonviolent action just as we are, and we wish them luck in their endeavours.”

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