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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

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.

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!

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.”

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.

Climate Strike!

By Philly Metro Area WSA - Workers Solidarity Alliance, April 13, 2022

Philly Metro WSA was visited by Lucien-Charles Tronchet-Ridel, a Quebec-based WSA activist. He met with members of the branch last month to discuss his work in Quebec with Workers for Climate Justice, a network of union activists.

The “Earth Invites Itself to Parliament” in 2019 built solidarity between workers and students, and culminated in a mass climate march in September 2019. This climate march was not only the largest demonstration in Canadian history, but also one of the biggest climate-marches in world’s history..14 unions declared a climate strike, which was mostly carried out by teachers of various CEGEP (publicly funded colleges). CEGEPs have a tradition of organizing student strikes for social causes. 

Cédric Gray-Lehoux, spokesperson for the youth network of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador, was one of three people to make a speech in September 2019. Before this, a training camp linked non-native activists with native activists during two days to share their knowledge and experiences. There is a growing concern in the Quebec ecological movement to connect itself to First Nation struggles. The student movement mostly works to build connections with Native people.

In 2021, Earth Invites Itself to Parliament created a separate network of green unionists: Workers for Climate Justice. This network decided to have another mass mobilization for fall of 2022, when they plan to be more oppositional than in the fall of 2019. The 2019 march was mainstream enough that even the prime minister of Canada marched. The Workers for Climate Justice, for their more oppositional march, have prepared a workshop for workers to present on the workshop floor. 

Waging a strike campaign outside of a bargaining period between two contract periods is technically illegal. Since it will be a social strike, a strike for bettering society, it will be a legitimate campaign even if not a legally sanctioned strike for collective bargaining.

Lucien-Charles is helping Workers for Climate Justice to get in touch with environmental and radical ecology groups in North America, and branch members of WSA were happy to put him in touch with their contacts in Philly and Delaware County. 

When asked what pro-IWA groups can offer to this work, Lucien-Charles replied,“the IWA, I feel, can provide a critical anti-capitalist and anti-statist viewpoint, which is lacking in the mainstream Climate movement, which is largely oriented toward the Green New Deal, and is limited to the UN Recommendations for Carbon Emissions.” He added, “IWA and the IWA Climate Committee can bring a much more radical viewpoint, grounded in the creative possibilities of workers’ direct action, to such as strikes and boycotts, and the ideals of anarcho-communism/anarcho-syndicalism.”

Branch members expressed interest in how to engage on a local level with IWA Climate committee work. When Lucien presented a small film from the mass mobilization of 2019, the visual effect of the never-ending march was inspiring..Branch members shared their reactions and reflections. 

2022 Global Climate Strike: Travailleuses et Travailleurs pour la Justice Climatique

By staff - Travailleuses et Travailleurs pour la Justice Climatique, April 10, 2022

Greetings to all climate conscious workers

Who are we?

We are Travailleuses et travailleurs pour la justice climatique (TJC, Workers for Climate Justice), a Québec-based network. As workers, we are union officers, union executive or rank-and-file union activists. We are conscious of the highest relevance of Climate Justice for the future of our species, all the biosphere and the welfare of our class. Therefore we want to put pressure on fossil fuel profiteers and their politician puppets to make sure greenhouse gas emissions are kept under a secure level.

What do we want?

Our demands are to ban fossil fuels in Québec and Canada by 2030, and tax the rich massively in order to reinvest in public services and social programs. That is why us rank-and-file and local union officers intend to take action in our workplaces. We are calling for nothing else but a Québec-wide social strike for Climate Justice in Autumn 2022!

Climate strike in the past

In September 2019, we organized our first climate strike, in which 14 local unions representing around 7,500 workers across Québec participated. The strike took place alongside the historic climate march of 500,000 people in Montréal on September 27, 2019 - the largest demonstration in our history. 

Climate strike in 2022

This year, we are organizing to mobilize a climate strike on an even greater scale, seeking at least 20 local unions with 10,000 workers to initiate the strike sometime this fall. We are also organizing in solidarity with student movements and community groups in order to build broader support across the province. We will be determining the date of the strike in collaboration with our comrades in the student movement. 

Our outreach intentions

We believe that in order to fight effectively against the climate catastrophe, we must build a movement for climate strike among workers across North America. The greenhouse gas emissions have no borders; it takes an international working-class to fight against them. While the concrete demands may be different in different places, we can support each other and pressure our respective strategic targets, and ensure international visibility and create bonds of solidarity for our common cause.

If your organization or anyone you know is interested in working with us, please let us know and one of us will be in touch with you shortly. Furthermore, please spread this message to as many labour groups in your area as possible. It’s up to us, workers of the world, to act for Climate Justice. Let’s build a Global Climate Strike!

In solidarity, 

Travailleuses et travailleurs pour la justice climatique (TJC)

Coordinating Committee of TJC.

https://justiceclimatique.org/

South Africa's Coal Miners’ Union Calls for a Public Pathway Approach to Energy Transition

By staff - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, April 5, 2022

At its recent 17th National Congress, South Africa’s National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) adopted a bold position in favor of keeping the country’s electrical power utility Eskom fully public.

Attended by roughly 750 delegates, the three-day congress — held in Boksburg, South Africa, from March 30th to April 1st, 2022 — adopted a report titled “Just Transition and the Energy Sector.” The report declares:

As a union with a long history of internationalism, NUM is today part of a global trade union-led effort to secure a Just Transition to a low carbon future. Once championed by unions, the term just transition has been hijacked by capital and its original meaning has been distorted. It is now being used to advance a global “green structural adjustment” agenda, one that is using the climate emergency as cover to advance privatisation and to dismantle public companies and assets.

In recent years, NUM has worked alongside the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), TUED, AIDC and the Transnational Institute to repel government-led efforts to break up and privatize the national utility Eskom.

Let Nature Play: A Possible Pathway of Total Liberation and Earth Restoration

By Dan Fischer - Green Theory & Praxis, April 2022

Many argue that we are running out of time, but perhaps the problem is time itself. Or rather, it is the alienated time that we spend working on the clock, obsessively looking at screens, letting consumption of commodities dominate our free time and even invade our dreams. And it is the perception we often have of the universe as a giant clock, an inert machine to be put to work. Too often, there is no sense that nature, ourselves included, has a right to relax, a right to be lazy, a right to play.

While Autonomist Marxists define capitalism as an “endless imposition of work” on human beings (van Meter, 2017), we could add that the system also imposes endless work on nonhuman animals and nature. Moving even beyond van Meter’s broad conception of the working class as inclusive of “students, housewives, slaves, peasants, the unemployed, welfare recipients and workers in the technical and service industries” in addition to the industrial proletariat, Jason Hribal (2012) describes exploited animals as working-class. He points to animals’ labor for humans’ food, clothing, transportation, entertainment, and medicine. Corroborating such a perspective, capitalists themselves label exploited ecosystems as “working landscapes” (Wuerthner, 2014), exploited farm animals as “labouring cattle” (Hribal, 2012), genetically modified crops as “living factories” (Fish, 2013), and extracted hydrocarbons as “energy slaves” (Fuller, 1940). As summarized by Indigenous Environmental Network director Tom Goldtooth (2015) the dominant worldview posits that “Mother Earth is a slave.” This endless work has been disastrous for the planet. Humans’ long hours of alienated labor contribute to deeply destructive economic growth (Hickel & Kallis, 2019; Knight et al., 2013). So does the exploited labor of animals, with livestock taking up some 76% of the world’s agricultural land (Poore & Nemecek, 2018). Working landscapes “suffer losses in biological diversity, soil health, and other ecological attributes” (Wuerthner, 2014). And even the cleanest “energy slaves,” wind and solar power, can require large amounts of resources and land in the context of a growing economy (War on Want & London Mining Network, 2019).

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