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Capital Blight: Alliances Between Workers and Environmentalists Must be Built from the Ground Up

By x344543 - July 12, 2013

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.

It's a commonly expressed hope among younger, radical environmentalist activists that Judi Bari's vision of "green syndicalism" (worker lead reorganization of the new world within the shell of the old into a post capitalist, post technocratic, biocentric society) will manifest itself by big AFL-CIO unions--such as the building trades, UMWA, Teamsters, etc., refusing to build or operate the machinery that is destroying the environment, such as the Keystone XL Pipeline or the trains transporting coal, or the ships exporting that coal to China.

They recall the "Teamsters and Turtles" coalition that sprang up during the anti-WTO demonstrations on November 30, 1999 in Seattle; they might mention the Earth First! alliance with the United Steelworkers (at Kaiser Aluminum) against Maxxam the previous year; some invoke the Australian "Green Bans" that saved Kelly's Bush in Hunter's Hill (New South Wales) in the early 1970s, where construction workers refused to construct a building that would destroy one of the last remaining open spaces in that community.

These are all real examples to be sure, but they represent the exception--not the rule--and that realization leaves some wondering why, while others--like Earth First! co-founder Dave Foreman--simply write the workers off.

Both views are wrong in my opinion, because both fail to understand the depths of the problem. They might respond by asking how Judi Bari was able to succeed, including co-founding what came to be known as Earth First! - IWW Local #1, made up of environmentalists and timber workers, where others failed, and why others cannot simply replicate her efforts. I am certain others can, but we must recognize what made Judi Bari's efforts so special and unique to begin with: she correctly recognized the union officialdom (not to mention the leadership of the mainstream environmental organizations) as typically being part of the problem and not the solution.

Bay Area IWW Endorses August 3rd "Summer Heat" Action in Richmond, California!

At its July business meeting, the Bay Area General Membership Branch of the IWW endorsed the following event:

This May marked an ominous milestone on our rush past the safe upper limit of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  As CO2 exceeds 400 parts per million, the moment has come to do “hard, important, powerful things” to stop the large-scale burning of fossil fuels. These are the words of the organizers of 350.org’s national Summer Heat campaign—Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben, Winona LaDuke, Sandra Steingraber, and Rev. Lennox Yearwood, who are asking that we turn up the heat, show up and speak out “to the industry that’s wrecking our future.”

As part of Summer Heat events all across the country (see JoinSummerHeat.org), 350.org and its allies invite you to come together in a momentous West Coast mass action to declare our collective resistance to fossil fuels. We hope this will be one of the largest climate justice protests ever. Please join 350 Bay Area, the Richmond Progressive Alliance, Communities for a Better Environment, Asian Pacific Environmental Network, No Keystone Action Council, Idle No More, San Francisco Solidarity, Urban Tilth, and Gathering Tribes on August 3rd and 6th to stand with the people of Richmond, California who are in the frontlines in our common fight for the health and safety of our communities, and against accelerating climate change.

On August 3rd, three days before the one-year anniversary of the Chevron refinery explosion and fire, we will gather at 10am at the Richmond BART to march to a spirited rally with national and regional leaders in the fight against climate catastrophe.  (Full schedule is at JoinSummerHeat.org/bay; bus available for non-walkers.) The rally will be followed by a march to the gates of the Chevron refinery with the following demands:

  • NO KEYSTONE XL TAR SANDS PIPELINE.
  • NO MORE LIFE-THREATENING HAZARDS. Chevron and other Bay Area refineries shall prevent future spills, fires and explosions by retrofitting with the best and safest technology available.
  • NO REFINING OF DIRTY CRUDE.  Refining high-sulfur, low-quality tar sands and fracked oil increases greenhouse gas emissions and toxic air pollutants. It also seriously corrodes refinery machinery, which contributes to major industrial accidents.
  • NO MORE CORPORATE TAX EVASION.  Chevron shall pay its fair share of taxes to City, County, State and Federal agencies, and stop all frivolous litigation relating to these matters.
  • NO MORE POLLUTING OUR DEMOCRACY.  Chevron invests more in lobbying and manipulating elections with outrageous campaign contributions than it does in plant safety. Big Oil’s injection of mega-bucks into the political process ensures its continuing domination of energy policy.
  • A JUST TRANSITION FROM DIRTY FOSSIL FUELS TO UNION JOBS IN CLEAN ENERGY.              Government and Big Oil shall invest in high-quality union jobs in clean energy for local residents. Chevron needs to support Richmond’s long-term transition to a renewable energy-based economy that’s good for people and the planet.

By Rail or Pipeline: Can Tar Sands be Safely Transported at All?

By Jonathan Flanders - Reproduced from Counterpunch, July 8, 2013

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.

My last years working as a railroad machinist were spent working on locomotive air brakes. In most situations, the system is fail safe. I always chuckle when I see a movie where a train separates, as it did in the latest James Bond thriller, and  both ends of the train keep going. This is close to impossible in real life, the air brake system automatically will go into emergency braking if there is a break in two. When a locomotive engineer applies the brakes to a train, he or she makes a “reduction”

of the equalizing or control air, which then triggers a brake application. This reduction of equalizing air, in the case of a break is the key to emergency brake applications. There is much more to the system, of course as it was refined over time, but its all based on this concept.

What we know so far in Quebec, is that the oil train was parked on a grade. The brakes were set by the crew, at some point the brakes came off, and the train rolled into the little town of Lac-Megantic, derailed and exploded, leaving many dead and the town devastated.

Green Unionism

By Arthur J. Miller

Green Unionism

What is Green Unionism? - Our site features a sizable collection of documents that offer a variety of opinions and definitions that we believe help establish a general understanding of class struggle environmental unionism. For your convenience, there are three ways to search for the information you seek.

The Myth of the Non-Existent Aboriginal Working Class in Canada

By El Machetero - Unsettling America, April 9, 2013

“Native people focusing on settler colonialism sometimes don’t see how it intersects with capitalism and white supremacy. Consequently, things get articulated as sovereignty projects that really are not that great. Your sovereignty comes to be defined as economic development by any means necessary – let’s exploit the resources, let’s build a class structure within Native communities – and that ends up destroying the land as much as multinational corporations are doing. That goes against the principle of having a radical relationship with the land. And it’s self-defeating ultimately, because multinational corporations are not going to let you do what you want to do with the land because they want the resources. It ends up hurting your communities. So I think it’s critical to see where Native struggles and class struggles intersect.”

-Andrea Smith (1)

The role which Aboriginal workers have played in the building of Canada is one which is seldom acknowledged or recognized. During the rare instances when this long-minimized role and largely untold history is engaged, it brings to the light a complex dialectic concerning some of the immense contradictions inherent to any colonial situation. In these contexts, it can be reasonably argued to be in direct contravention to the survival of any subjugated peoples in question to actively contribute to the building of an empire-society which effectively requires their wholesale displacement and “removal” in order to establish and expand itself in the cancerous manner which such systems typically tend to do.

At the same time, there is no way that this paradoxical reality can diminish or remove the basic fact that such societies have also been historically most dependent on those who they oppress with the most vigor and the least remorse, nor does it even begin to resolve the simple economic fact that even those with the least to be gained from contributing to such an ongoing colonial project still have to find the means to survive within it, greatly magnifying the basic dilemma faced by all peoples living on the receiving end of predatory capitalism, where we have come to be dependent on the very things which destroy us all in order to stay alive.

Reduced Work Hours as a Means of Slowing Climate Change

By David Rosnick - Center for Economic and Policy Research, February 2013

As productivity grows in high-income, as well as developing countries, social choices will be made as to how much of the productivity gains will be taken in the form of higher consumption levels versus fewer work hours. In the last few decades, for example, western European countries have significantly reduced work hours (through shorter weekly hours and increased vacation time) while the United States has not. Western Europe had about the same hours worked per person as the U.S. in the early 1970s, but by 2005 they were about 50 percent less.

This choice between fewer work hours versus increased consumption has significant implications for the rate of climate change. A number of studies (e.g. Knight et al. 2012, Rosnick and Weisbrot 2006) have found that shorter work hours are associated with lower greenhouse gas emissions and therefore less global climate change. The relationship between these two variables is complex and not clearly understood, but it is understandable that lowering levels of consumption, holding everything else constant, would reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

This paper estimates the impact on climate change of reducing work hours over the rest of the century by an annual average of 0.5 percent. It finds that such a change in work hours would eliminate about one-quarter to one-half of the global warming that is not already locked in (i.e. warming that would be caused by 1990 levels of greenhouse gas concentrations already in the atmosphere).

It is worth noting that the pursuit of reduced work hours as a policy alternative would be much more difficult in an economy where inequality is high and/or growing. In the United States, for example, just under two-thirds of all income gains from 1973–2007 went to the top 1 percent of households. In this type of economy, the majority of workers would have to take an absolute reduction in their living standards in order to work less. The analysis in this paper assumes that the gains from productivity growth will be more broadly shared in the future, as they have been in the past.

The analysis uses four “illustrative scenarios” from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and software from the Model for the Assessment of Greenhouse-gas Induced Climate Change to estimate the impact of a reduction in work hours. As would be expected, the amount of global warming that could be mitigated by reducing work hours depends on the baseline scenario, as well as the range of sensitivity of global temperatures to greenhouse gas emissions.

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What is a Just Agriculture System and Why Does it matter?

By Elizabeth Henderson - The Prying Mantis, November 13, 2012

Panel discussion at the Annual Meeting of the Domestic Fair Trade Association with Nelson Carrasquillo, Michael Sligh, and Elizabeth Henderson, November 13, 2012

My presentation:The current cheap food system coupled with Free Trade makes it difficult to keep family-scale farms afloat. Over the years since WWII, family scale farms have been going out of business at a steady and alarming pace until very recently. In 1943, the year I was born, there were over 6 million farms. There are only 2.2 million today. The local foods movement has reversed the trend and the number of small farms is actually growing. Nevertheless, something like 84% of the existing farms are in debt. Prices do not cover farmers’ costs of production. Many of the farms that do not have labor do have a family member who works off the farm so that the farmer can have health insurance or the farmer works a regular job and spends evenings and weekends doing farm work. While there are some outstanding examples of farms that do not have labor and are doing well financially, most of the family scale farms I know about are struggling to make ends meet, or are run by people who have chosen to live “simply.” Often, farmers are so discouraged about the money aspects of their farms that they do not even try to calculate costs accurately. They farm for the love of it, and either eek out a living that would qualify as below the poverty line or make money doing something else to support their farming habit. Family-scale farmers are a marginal population in the US and all of North America. These are fragile small businesses.

Taking a market-based approach, domestic fair trade seeks to pay farmers enough to allow them to use sustainable farming practices, to earn a living wage for themselves and their families and to pay living wages for the people who work on their farms. The Agricultural Justice Project hasassembled farmers, farm workers and other stakeholders to compose high bar standards for fair pricing, and decent working conditions for people who work throughout the food system. The goal is to change relationships so that everyone benefits. The reality is that family-scale farmers as well as farm workers in this country are in desperate need of fair trade.

Our society as a whole looks down on jobs that get people dirty. Vocational studies are for youngsters who do poorly at academic courses. We call picking vegetables “stoop labor,” and the majority of the people who do this work are undocumented migrant farm workers whose average annual wages amount to less than $13,000 a year, according to the United Farm Workers. NYS law requires farmers to pay hired helpers minimum wage, soon to rise to $7.65 an hour, and federal law requires paying legal H2A “guest workers” $9.60 an hour, but there is no requirement for time and a half for work over 40 hours a week, and even if you work 60 hours aweek year round, minimum wage is poverty pay.

And there is no protection for farm workers who want to organize. The National Labor Relations Act excludes two groups of workers – farm workers and domestics. Farm workers are not covered by the limited protections afforded to other workers by the National Labor RelationsAct, particularly the right to form unions that is so much under attack these days. And protections for farmers in negotiating contracts with buyers are lacking too.

Since 911, the Department of Homeland Security has increased its operatives along the NY northern border from 341 to 2000, and farms complain bitterly about raids and arrests. There is a critical need for immigration reform and passage of the AgJobs bill.

A major squeeze or speed up has been underway that has been especially hard on dairy farms and farms that produce commodity crops. Rising costs, global warming (droughts, floods) and low prices due to concentration in markets that reduces the number of possible buyers. Contracts, including those given by organic processors, are poor. Most farms are not profitable, and many are in debt.

A fair food system would pay high enough prices for farm products that farmers could pay themselves and everyone working on the farm true living wages – that cover shelter, high quality, culturally appropriate food, health care, education, transportation, savings, retirement,self-improvement and recreation.

Labor’s Stake in Decentralized Energy: A Strategic Perspective

By Al Weinrub - Local Clean Energy Alliance, September 20, 2012

This paper sketches some of the implications of the world’s economic and climate crisis for the future of the international labor movement.

It contends that resolving this crisis requires a transition from the globalized capitalist economy based on fossil energy to local sustainable economic development made possible by decentralized renewable energy systems.

Furthermore, it posits that the labor movement, as the most organized expression of the working class around the world, can play a crucial role in this transition. Labor’s challenge is to represent the interests of the world’s working people in averting the economic and ecological collapse now underway and in developing the new economic models needed for our survival.

This is a new role for organized labor. It means breaking with old patterns. It means looking beyond labor’s traditional job-protection focus to join with other sectors within the 99% majority to actively participate in the creation of economic development models—based on decentralized renewable energy systems—that can help assure our survival.

Read the report (PDF).

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