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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.’

Interview With An Earth Strike Organiser

Interview with IWW Member, Sab Cat - Organise, September 12, 2019

Sab is the organiser for Earth Strike UK in the South West. He’s an active and well known voice in Bristol’s syndicalist and Environmental movements. He kindly took the time to meet us down the pub for a chat about Earth Strike and the upcoming Global Climate Strike.

Organise: Could you start by giving us an introduction to Earth Strike?

So, Earth Strike is a grass roots organisation, that is creating a worker led movement to tackle climate change. We believe that the most effective way of doing that is to organise both in unions and in autonomous groups, and build towards a global general strike to shut down capitalism. Thus removing peoples participation in the system that is fundamentally the cause of ecological crisis.

Why should people get involved?

I actually really like this question. I’ve come up with a way of putting it. I think anyone, no matter what their background, whether they are a workplace activist, or environmental activist, or totally new to organising, should take a moment to ask themselves three questions.

Firstly, do you think we’re in an ecological crisis? It doesn’t take very long if you look around to realise we are. Our air is polluted, it’s estimated air pollution kills 300 people a year just in Bristol. The Amazon is on fire, Siberia is on fire. A heck of a lot of shit is on fire. A worrying amount of shit is on fire. Species are disappearing at a rate not seen since the last mass extinction, sea levels are rising. Even the United Nations is freaking out a bit at this point. The science around it has been clear for a long time now. So I think most people would say yes to this, if not well… they need to take a long hard look around them.

Earth Strike – 20 September

By EUC Dan - Bristol IWW, August 14, 2019

A lot has been going on as the Environmental Union Caucus works towards a strike on 20 September. This summer we’ve been picketing and passing out flyers, writing a Green Charter for a just transition for workers, and holding meetings with local union and activist leaders to discuss the mechanics of striking this September.

You can get up to date information for the strike event on the Bristol event page. And download and share our leaflet to help get the word out. For questions about striking in your workplace ask at an upcoming branch meeting, stop by the EUC’s Monday organizing meeting, or email sw@earth-strike.co.uk to contact our local organizer.

Right now, business as usual is not solving climate change. As workers, we have the power to disrupt and change business so that it does. Join us in building that movement. It’s time to strike back!

A Look At the Miners’ Blockade Stopping Coal in its Tracks

By Earth First! Journal - It's Going Down, August 14, 2019

When I heard news of the coal miners’ railroad blockade in Harlan County, I knew it presented a real chance for growth, especially for movements like Earth First! who are at the intersection of various struggles, including eco-defense, anti-capitalism, climate justice, and prison abolition.

Though I spent most of my life in flat swampy Florida, stories of Harlan County, Kentucky, were burned into my head as a teenage anarchist in circles of Earth First!ers and IWW-types singing labor songs by fireside.

One of the most famous of union ballads, “Which Side Are You On?,” about miners’ resistance in the Kentucky coalfields, includes the line, “They say in Harlan County there are no neutrals there…” Even before the development of climate-focused mass movement, it has always been Big Coal vs. the rest of us.

Over the years, I must have heard dozens of knock-offs of that song for campaigns all across the country. We’d replace Harlan with whatever county we found ourselves in at the time, facing off with corporate raiders of all types.

And now the barricades have come full circle: back to Harlan, a locale of near-mythical significance for it’s legacy of resistance to corporate greed. The miners there have stopped a coal train operated by the company Blackjewel LLC, which filed for bankruptcy and secretly stopped paying the miners while they were still working.

IWW WISERA Statement of Support for 20th September Earth Strike

By Administration - IWW WISERA, August 2019

Note: this resolution was passed specifically by the IWW WISERA (UK).

The IWW supports the call for Earth Strike on September 20th 2019 and the international dimensions of the action. The IWW will mobilise its members to take action on the day and will support its members in taking strike action.

The IWW sees Earth Strike as an important contribution to the engagement of unions in the climate crisis and in particular it highlights the need for workers action to confront and destroy capitalism to avoid extinction.

To further these aims the IWW has voted to establish an Environmental Committee to develop the union's policy and educate, agitate and organise for a mass worker-led ecological movement.

A long standing aim of the IWW has been to abolish wage slavery and create a new world where we can live in harmony with the earth. With the climate crisis revolution is now more necessary than ever before. System Change not Climate Change!

In Solidarity
Russ Spring, IWW Secretary (WISE-RA)

#ShutItDown: Organizing to Strike for Climate Justice

By Patrick Young - Rising Tide, July 14, 2019

Throughout the 2018–2019 school year, young people around organized massive school climate strikes to demand that the world’s leaders take immediate action to address climate change. The strikes started first in Sweden, then spread throughout the European Union and around the world. By March, 15 tens of thousands of students in more than 100 countries around the world walked out of school as part of the first Global Climate Strike for Our Future issuing a strong challenge to the world’s leaders. Greta Thunberg, one of the strike’s leaders wrote in an open letter in the Guardian,

“We, the young, are deeply concerned about our future… We will no longer accept this injustice… We demand the world’s decision-makers take responsibility and solve this crisis. You have failed us in the past. If you continue failing in the future, we, the young people, will make change happen by ourselves. The youth of this world has started to move and we will not rest again.”

Inspired by these bold youth-led actions and motivated by the increasing urgency of the climate crisis, others in the climate movement have issued calls for climate strikes starting as soon as September of 2019. Starting on September 20, the students who have been organizing the weekly climate strikes are launching a major strike and week of actions. Then starting on September 27th, Earth Strike is calling for a general strike demanding immediate climate action from governments and corporations worldwide. WeRise2020, a widespread network of climate action groups across Europe is planning on mobilizing alongside EarthStrike starting on September 27th for four to six weeks of escalated actions before pausing to regroup for another wave of action.

These calls for climate strikes offer an inspiring vision for action at the scale and scope needed to disrupt the entrenched power structures that have created the climate crisis and continually blocked the serious measures needed to combat it. But beyond calls to walk out of school and work, truly effective climate strikes will require a strategy for mass participation and disruption to seriously threaten the entrenched power structures. It won’t be easy but by drawing on the lessons from previous mass strikes and tested organizing principles we believe that it is possible to build mass climate strikes that can offer a credible threat to the governments and corporations that have failed to address the climate crisis.

Unions and Climate Strikes: How climate strikers can involve unions/union workers

By x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, July 2019

The following is text from a leaflet you can download intended for Climate and Earth Strike organizers who wish to engage unions, union workers, or workers in general in an effort to invite them to participate in the Climate and Earth Strikes from September 20-27, 2019. There is a generic version and an IWW specific version (below and right; click on the image to view and download a PDF of either or both).

Unions have engaged in strikes for the environment since the 1970s, known as green bans. However:

  • Generic LeafletWhile it is tempting to believe we can create enough buzz to convince enough workers to actually engage in work stoppages (actual workplace strikes) on September 20, 27, or any other date, we cannot guarantee it, even though some unions and union officials have suggested that a “strike” for the climate (e.g. Bruce Hamilton, Vice President of ATU) or at least for the Green New Deal (e.g. the Massachusetts Teacher’s Union) are exactly what are needed.
  • Things can change between now and September 2019 and we cannot predict how that will unfold.
  • We can recall the immigrant workers’ “general strike” on May 1, 2006, in which some unions, notably the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), participated as a possible forerunner, but again, we cannot guarantee it.
  • Anyone can call for a general strike, but actually organizing one is much more difficult, as Jane McAlevey points out here.
  • Some unions may participate, but won’t publicly announce their intent, because doing so could bring swift retribution from the bosses.
  • IWW Specific LeafletWhat we can do is urge workers to participate in the day(s) of action by attending events in the morning (before work), at lunch, or in the evening (after work); we can suggest they use a vacation day (but not a sick day). They can also sign a statement, draft a resolution for their union “in support”, or (if possible) hold a “stop work meeting” to discuss the issue. They can also conduct a social media campaign, such as taking a selfie with a sign saying they support the strike, and include a hashtag (this video from England has similar suggestions).
  • Meanwhile, those organizing day(s) of action can support unions in their day-to-day struggles and they can be prepared to pledge to defend any workers who actually get disciplined for participating in the strike (but this should not be dangled as an offer to pressure workers into joining).

There are a number of “green” unionists who are working on this, including (but not limited to):

The IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus will try and keep a record of who in the labor movement is (or who may be) participating in the strikes. Visit our website and enter these tags in the “search” engine (or enter the same hashtags on our social media pages) for news: #GreenBans; #EarthStrike; #ClimateStrike. Email euc@iww.org for more information.

Video: How to strike for climate in your workplace

By Ian Allinson - RS21, June 19, 2019

On Friday 21 June, youth strikers (took) action for the climate in the UK around the world again. Now they have put out a call for adults to join them in a global general strike for the climate on 27 September, and rank and file trade unionists are taking up the call. In this video, Ian Allinson gives some suggestions about how you can take part, whether you work in a unionised workplace or not.

Maximising solidarity for the youth strikers this Friday will also help build up momentum towards September. What can you do? Can you attend the protests, share solidarity photos or videos, hold lunchtime meetings or rallies outside work?

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