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Vale Jack Mundey: A Visionary Ecosocialist Unionist

By Jim McIlroy - Green Left, May 11, 2020

Jack Mundey, a path breaker in militant unionism and a pioneer of the Green Bans movement in Australia, died on May 10, aged 90.

Mundey, along with co-officials Joe Owens and Bob Pringle, led the New South Wales Builders Labourers Federation (BLF) in one of the most crucial periods of working-class militancy in Australia.

Born in north Queensland, Mundey came to Sydney to play Rugby League with Parramatta in the 1950s. He got a job as a builder’s labourer and eventually joined with other members of the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) and other left militants to win leadership of the BLF in the late 1960s.

Greg Mallory quotes Mundey in his book Uncharted Waters: Social Responsibility in Australian Trade Unions about the BLF’s campaigns to win significant wages and conditions for its members being led by the union’s new, left-wing leadership: “If it wasn’t for that civilising of the building industry in the campaigns of 1970 and 1971, well then I’m sure we wouldn’t have had the luxury of the membership going along with us in what was considered by some as ‘avant-garde’, ‘way-out’ actions of supporting mainly middle-class people in environmental actions. I think that gave us the mandate to allow us to go into uncharted waters.”

However, Mundey, who was elected NSW BLF secretary in 1968, also stressed: “It is no point winning great wages and conditions if the world we build chokes us to death”.

Green Bans

The Green Bans story started in the 1960s when Sydney was being transformed by a huge building boom, pushed along by the corrupt, pro-developer Liberal Premier Robert Askin.

The first Green Ban supported a campaign by a group of North Shore women to save a small piece of undeveloped land called Kelly’s Bush. After that success, the BLF was besieged with similar requests for industrial action to protect the environment and social values. BLF support was conditional on proven merit and community involvement and soon some 40 Green Bans tied up billions of dollars worth of development projects in Sydney and nearby regions.

The movement captured the imagination of residents, urban planners, environmentalists and heritage activists. Bans were extended to express solidarity with the right of women to work in the industry, to support anti-freeways campaigns and for Aboriginal justice. In 1973, the BLF imposed a “pink ban” when Macquarie University discriminated against a gay student.

Mundey also pursued another central principle — union democracy. All decisions on industrial bans and actions were put to the BLF membership for a vote.

The militant NSW BLF was eventually defeated by an unholy alliance between factionally opposed union leaderships, the Master Builders Association and the state government.

However, the Green Bans saved large parts of Sydney and set down new heritage pathways as part of a more progressive attitude towards urban development.

Mundey continued to campaign for environmental and social justice, and was elected to Sydney City Council from 1984 to 1987. He also worked with the Australian Conservation Council for more than 10 years, and was chair of the Historic Houses Trust of NSW.

Visionary

NSW Greens co-convenors Sylvia Hale and Rochelle Flood described Mundey as “a great visionary”.

“Under his leadership of the Builders Labourers Federation, for the first time we saw unity between the struggles of unions and environmentalists.

“The Green Bans born out of this unity reshaped Australian politics and delivered significant wins for heritage, urban bushland and public housing. The union stood shoulder to shoulder with the community in fighting developments whose sole purpose was to enrich the few at the expense of the many.

“Jack’s courage was phenomenal — taking on the corrupt Askin government and many ruthless developers. He and his union colleagues built a broad-based social movement with students and residents that won protection for The Rocks, Centennial Park, Kelly's Bush and Woolloomooloo.

“At the heart of Jack’s politics was a deep understanding that it is broad based social movements that are the drivers of progressive change. Jack was a great unifier.”

Motion: climate strikes and COP26

By RS21 members - RS21, January 18, 2020

As temperature records tumble and states fiddle while the world burns, we can’t afford to wait five years for a new government to tackle the climate emergency. Convergence between the climate movement and the labour movement offers the only hope of averting catastrophe. rs21 members have produced a model motion you can adapt and use in unions and the Labour Party to popularise the idea of a climate strike on International Workers’ Day, 1 May 2020, mobilise for the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow in November, and organise for action on climate in every workplace.

You can download a PDF copy of the motion here.

This (branch/region/committee/trades council/union/conference) notes the urgent need for action on the climate emergency, both in response to existing negative impacts such as extreme weather, fires, droughts, floods and loss of habitat and species; and to avoid the catastrophic and irreversible climate damage which people increasingly realise the world is on course for, after the 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.

We recognise that big business, the military and the richest individuals are responsible for the vast majority of climate change, yet the global working class and poor are disproportionately at risk. A just transition (that protects the lives, livelihoods and rights of the working class, poor and disadvantaged) to a decarbonised economy is not only right, but is the only way the movement against climate chaos will secure the mass support needed to win, and avoid a rich minority protecting themselves at the expense of the planet and the vast majority of people.

We congratulate the school students striking around the world for real climate action and welcome the decision of the TUC to support them and call for a solidarity stoppage. We note that many workers did strike on 20 September 2019, despite Britain’s repressive legislation, by campaigning to pressure employers not to apply sanctions to climate strikers.

We note that there is discussion about the possibility of making Friday 1 May 2020, traditionally International Workers’ Day, also a climate strike. We note that the UN ‘COP’ climate change conferences have become a major focus for campaigners, that COP26 will be taking place in Glasgow from 9-20 November 2020, and that many organisations are already making plans.

First U.S. Union-Authorized Climate Strike?

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, March 2020; images by SEIU Local 26

Above: Thousands of Minneapolis cleaning workers walked off their jobs and struck their downtown commercial high-rises. Among their key demands was that their employers take action on climate change. Quite possibly the first union sanctioned strike in the U.S. for climate protection demands. Credit: SEIU Local 26.

It isn’t easy for unions to strike to protect the climate. U.S. labor law doesn’t make it easy to strike over anything except wages, hours, and working conditions – even over things like climate change that profoundly affect workers and their future. So it was important news when Minneapolis commercial janitors held an Unfair Labor Practices strike this week to protest employer stalling – including on demands that their employers help fight climate change. This is the third in a series of commentaries on The Future of Climate Strikes. For the entire series see here.

On Thursday February 27 thousands of Minneapolis cleaning workers walked off their jobs and struck their downtown commercial high-rises. Among their key demands was that their employers take action on climate change. It was one of the first—as far as I have been able to discover, the very first—union sanctioned strike in the U.S. for climate protection demands.

The janitors are members of Service Employees International Union Local 26. They are employed by over a dozen different subcontractors like ABM & Marsden to clean corporate buildings like IDS, Capella Tower, EcoLab, U.S Bank, Wells Fargo, United Health Group, Ameriprise and many more across the Twin Cities.[1] The workers are overwhelmingly immigrants and people of color. One observer described the meeting authorizing the strike as “a rainbow coalition of immigrants from all over the world and people from every race and religion in the state.” The union provided simultaneous interpretation into Spanish, Somali, Vietnamese, Amharic, and Nepalese.[2]

I wanted to know something about the background to the strike, so I called Steve Payne, who wrote an excellent article about plans for the strike in Labor Notes.[3] He spent years as an organizer for Local 26 and now works for the North Star chapter of the Sierra Club. Much of this commentary is informed by my discussion with him.

Twin Cities Janitors and Guards Feature Climate and Housing in Their Strike Demands

By Steve Payne - Labor Notes, February 20, 2020; images by SEIU Local 26

“Twin Cities janitors and security officers vote to authorize strike over pay and sick leave,” read the headline in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

It’s true that those are among the workers’ top demands. But Service Employees (SEIU) Local 26’s fight is also for something bigger: affordable homes and a healthy planet for us all.

The union is demanding that companies negotiate over climate emissions and pay more to support affordable housing.

On February 8, 500 janitors, security officers, and their allies crowded into a warehouse space normally used for photo shoots. Banners lined the walls as people waved signs.

Local 26 has lined up every single one of its contracts, covering 8,000 workers, for this moment. Commercial office janitors, retail janitors, security officers, window cleaners, and airport workers are all fighting simultaneously.

The room was a rainbow coalition of immigrants from all over the world and people from every race and religion in the state. The union provided simultaneous interpretation into Spanish, Somali, Vietnamese, Amharic, and Nepalese. Chants in multiple languages filled the air.

Supporters from other unions and the city’s regional labor federation were there, along with a more unusual set of allies—representatives of the state’s environmental movement, including MN350 and young climate strikers.

The Future of Climate Strikes

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, February 2020

This is the first in a series of commentaries on the Future of Climate Strikes. This introductory commentary asks whether strikes and forms of mass direct action “people power” might help halt climate destruction and bring about a Green New Deal. For the entire Future of Climate Strike series see here.

During the week of September 20, 2019 more than seven million people around the world participated in what was dubbed a global climate strike. They held more than six thousand events in 185 countries.[1] Weekly school strikes initiated by students had burgeoned within a few months into a global movement. The young people who initiated the movement vowed to continue their weekly protests and to build up to an even more disruptive week of global climate strike during the week of Earth Day 2020.

The logic underlying the climate strike movement was summed up by its founder Greta Thunburg: “Some say that we should not engage in activism, instead we should leave everything to our politicians and just vote for change instead,” she said. “But what do we do when there is no political will? What do we do when the politics needed are nowhere in sight?”[2] Her answer was a strike that would disrupt “business as usual” around the world.

Meanwhile, mass strikes and nonviolent mass uprisings around the world have been demonstrating how ordinary people can make history by intervening in business as usual. Just in the past year, Puerto Ricans held a general strike and a million of them – about one in three Puerto Ricans – occupied the capitol San Juan, forcing the government’s highest official to resign.[3] In Sudan, a two-day general strike and street protests led to the ouster of the president. In Brazil, 45 million workers took part in a general strike to protect worker rights.[4] Massive confrontations in Hong Kong, featuring a general strike, continued month after month. India saw the largest general strike in the history of the world, with 150-200 million participants.[5] In Chile demonstrations against a subway fare hike eventually brought four million people to the streets to reject the country’s 20-year experiment with extreme neoliberalism and call for a new, more democratic constitution. Millions participated in general strikes and large street protests in Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Ecuador, Indonesia, Italy, France, UK, Catalonia, and the Czech Republic.[6]

Could some similar kind of mass strike and popular nonviolent uprising create the political will for climate protection and break the power of the forces that are promoting climate destruction? As the world hurtles into climate catastrophe, such a possibility has begun to take hold on the imagination of those around the world who would not sit by and see the basis for human life on earth destroyed. Groups like the student strike organizations, the Sunrise Movement, and Extinction Rebellion have called for strikes and mass direct action to implement climate protection and a Green New Deal. Sunrise Organizing Director Dyanna Jaye recently wrote,

The only way to get the political establishment to make the Green New Deal a priority in 2021 and beyond is by disrupting business as usual. Young people around the world have already been doing this with the #ClimateStrike movement. This year, we’re going to turn up the heat, starting with massive strikes on Earth Day to make sure that the Green New Deal is THE story for 2020 as we head into the elections.

Strike for a Sustainable Climate

By AblokeIMet - Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group, November 10, 2019

This article first appeared in The Anvil Vol 8 No 5, Sep-Oct 2019.

On 20 September this year, there was a co-ordinated series of demonstrations around the world held under the umbrella of “School Strike for Climate”. At least 6 million people participated, with protests across 4,500 locations in 150 countries. It was followed the next week by another 2 million people protesting in 2,400 locations. In Australia, protests were attended by about 300,000 people – amounting to over 1% of the population.

These protests mark a watershed in global politics around climate change. In key countries, including Australia, huge numbers of people are angry about the impending climate disaster and willing to do something about it. Capitalist governments, however, are taking inadequate action and some are even denying there is a problem.

It will take more than protest to avert the danger of global temperature rises of 3-4 degrees C, which would cause the death of billions and possibly the end of industrial civilisation – and most people know it.

What is urgently necessary now is to turn protest into resistance, through turning the school strikes into workers’ strikes. In Australia, the next global school strike day should be the occasion for mass co-ordinated strikes by workers from as many industries as possible, with the aim of building towards a general strike.

Such strikes, of course, will be illegal. But this is such a broad and urgent issue that we now have a golden opportunity to smash the “Fair” Work Act and its vicious anti-union provisions to smithereens. Workers who have had strikes banned by the “Fair” Work Commission, or been injuncted off picket lines, or fallen foul of other rules that are designed to prevent us exercising our economic power have a vital interest in joining the next climate strike.

The Climate Strikers Walked Out of School. Next, Let’s Walk Off the Job

By Sydney Ghazarian - In These Times, November 5, 2019.

This September, the world erupted when over 7 million people — young and old—poured into the streets for the Global Climate Strike. The mass action, which made a Green New Deal a top demand, was sparked in the lead-up to Sweden’s 2018 general election, when teen activist Greta Thunberg began ditching school to protest Sweden’s inaction on climate change. Greta, who was already inspiring more student strikes through social media, catalyzed the Fridays for Future movement when she decided to continue striking on Fridays after the general election. Over the past year, young leaders—particularly youth of color—have been on the forefront of building Friday Climate Strikes into a worldwide student civil disobedience movement, taking aim at the political failure to address the climate emergency.

The logic of the Climate Strike movement was summated by Greta at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2019. “Some say that we should not engage in activism, instead we should leave everything to our politicians and just vote for change instead,” she said. “But what do we do when there is no political will? What do we do when the politics needed are nowhere in sight?”

With the Help of Teachers Unions, the Climate Strikes Could Be Moving Into Phase 2

By Rachel M Cohen - In These Times, November 4, 2019.

As young people across the country join the global movement to mobilize school strikes to demand climate action, one group is starting to think more seriously about how to best support those efforts: their teachers.

Educators, like those in the California Federation of Teachers and the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA), are beginning to leverage their power both as teachers and union members to push the bounds of climate activism.

Kurt Ostrow, a high school English teacher in Fall River, Mass., has helped lead his union to the forefront of the climate movement over the last few years.

“Climate to me has always been the major crisis that needs to be addressed, and even though in the classroom I really try to prioritize it, it just doesn’t feel always enough,” he says. “So I have been trying to use the leverage that we have a as union of 110,000 people to support the movement.”

In his first year of teaching five years ago, Ostrow went as a delegate to MTA’s annual meeting, where the union’s social justice caucus—Educators for a Democratic Union—sought a teacher to introduce a resolution (known as a “New Business Item”) recommending the divestment of state pension plans from coal. Ostrow’s college friends had been leaders in the campus divestment movement, and he had always participated in their actions as an ally, so he was happy to volunteer to introduce it.

“We lost a quorum, so we weren’t able to take a vote on it, but the next year we did it again and it passed,” he said. “That was really how I first dipped my toes in.”

When the youth climate strikes took off last year, Ostrow, who now serves on the board of his statewide union, began thinking harder about how teachers could help them. At its March board meeting, he decided to introduce a resolution that the MTA would support the youth climate strike scheduled for March 15. It passed unanimously.

At the union’s next annual meeting, held in May two months later, leaders of the social justice caucus deliberated over what environmental resolutions they should introduce to best support the Green New Deal.

“I knew we could put forward a resolution that said MTA supports the Green New Deal, and I think that would have passed easily, but I really wanted to create a decision point, like a ‘which side are you on’ moment that would really force teachers to confront their own conscience,” he told In These Times. “So I decided to go radical, and I put forward a New Business Item calling for the MTA to propose a national teachers strike in support of the Green New Deal.”

It’s illegal for teachers to strike in Massachusetts, and following Ostrow’s impassioned speech at the conference, there was some heated debate. In the end, though, it passed.

Strike, Blockade, Shut it Down! Reflections on the Wollongong Global Climate Strike

By Mark Gawne & Nick Southall (with contributions from Sharon Pusell & Rascal Rowe) - Revolts Now, October 23, 2019

The Wollongong Global Climate Strike on September 20 was the largest protest in the city since the 2003 anti-war demonstration. The Climate Strike fits into a recent series of protests in the region, specifically coming off the back of the earlier school climate strike in March, and the climate action demonstration in May, with some other smaller protests taking place over the year as well. Of these actions, the Wollongong Global Climate Strike was by far the largest and drew together a vast array of groups and individuals. It was organised by open meetings composed of people from several organisations and groups, as well as individuals, all working together. The largest meeting had over 50 people participate, and there was a consistent number of at least 25-30 people attend each meeting. The Strike itself expresses the latest moment in a process of radicalisation in the region’s climate movement and provides a basis for ongoing struggle in and around Wollongong, most clearly demonstrated in the newly formed Illawarra Climate Justice Alliance (ICJA). We offer here some reflections on why the Strike should be understood as an important growth of struggle in the Illawarra, on the ecology of the strike in Wollongong, and the politics of the Strike, as we look forward to the next steps in the movement.

Earth Strike Ireland Rising

By IWW Ireland - IWW Ireland, September 22, 2019.

Millions of people took part in one of the largest international mobilisations seen in a number of decades as Earth Strike generated street protests across the globe from the biggest cities to the smallest of villages and Ireland was no exception.

As an internationalist working class movement, members of the Industrial Workers of the World have played a full role in helping to mobilise the grassroots in the build up to Earth Strike.

In Ireland activists took part in student rallies, street mobilisations and die-ins throughout the country from Cork to Derry at which thousands of people took part to help highlight this emergency call. Thousands including many schoolchildren along with teachers, parents, older supporters, community and trade union organisations came to out on to the streets in a unified global demonstration as part of a world-wide Climate Strike. Villages, towns and cities such as Ennis, Cloughjordan, Letterkenny, Belfast, Dublin, Waterford, Galway, Cork, Sligo, Derry and Athlone added their names to the vast growing list of mass protests and rallies across the country whilst similar demonstrations took part in London, Cardiff, Glasgow and beyond.

During the Earth Strike a spokesperson for the Industrial Workers of the World said that, “for wobblies, today’s actions around the world is one of people power and grassroots activism. Our union in particular has a long history of not just fighting against capital but the protection of our earth. Over the past decades our members have been targeted, arrested and imprisoned for their part played in the fight to save the earth from its destruction by the hand of capitalism. Make no mistake this is a class war in that the business class will stop and nothing in their pursuit of profit, that is the nature of capitalism.

“As a revolutionary grassroots union, it is our fundamental belief, that the only way in which we can stop the destruction of our planet before its too late is to make capitalism extinct. That can only be done by the workers themselves, the working class. Without doubt there is an urgency in that class war but it’s never too late to unionise that fight. What we can’t have now is for all that anger and energy witnessed today to be allowed to slowly evaporate. Widespread and continuing pressure must be increased on those who are killing our planet. On a day such as this, we should take note of the words of one our great troubadours, Utah Philips ‘the earth is not dying, it’s being killed, and those who are killing it have names and addresses.’

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