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Chapter 1 : An Injury to One is an Injury to All!

By Steve Ongerth - From the book, Redwood Uprising: Book 1

Download a free PDF version of this chapter.

The mill men all insist on one thing: that the Government will grant the manufacturers protection from the lawless element of the I.W.W.’s”

—J. P. Weyerhaeuser, 1917

Is there aught we hold in common with the greedy parasite,
Who would lash us into serfdom and would crush us with his might,
Is there anything left to us but to organize and fight?
The union makes us strong…

—Lyrics excerpted from Solidarity Forever, by Ralph Chaplin, ca. 1915

The timber industry has, throughout nearly its entire history, been in the control of an elite minority of the very rich and powerful, and they have been especially avaricious, violent, and repressive towards all who would challenge their power. They have also—in spite of a barrage of slick propaganda trumpeting their careful management of the resource—depleted most of the virgin forests of the Pacific Northwest. Many environmental organizations can trace their origins to opposition to such practices, and in the struggles by environmentalists to preserve forestlands, timber workers have had a reputation for being their fiercest adversaries, and in many cases, this is true. Timber workers have a well deserved reputation for being outspoken about the pride of purpose in their job, as well as a deeply ingrained cultural machismo. Yet lumber harvesting and production is historically one of the ten most dangerous jobs in the industrialized world, and timber workers are among those most exploited by their employers. One would logically expect the timber workers to be highly resistant to such treatment, but in recent years they haven’t been. This wasn’t always so. To understand why, one must examine the industry’s origins.

Before the arrival of European-American settlers to the Pacific Northwest, the entire region stretching from northern California to Canada and Alaska from the Pacific Coast to the Rocky Mountains was dominated by coniferous old growth forests. At least 20 million acres of this land was forested, dominated by various species of trees, some of them hundreds of feet in height, over a dozen feet in diameter, and centuries or even millennia old.[1] In the southwestern part of this region, stretching from Big Sur to roughly what is now the Oregon state line, in a belt that was at least twenty miles wide for most of its expanse a very unique species of tree dominated, Sequoia sempervirens, commonly known as the California redwoods, some of them standing over 350 feet tall. Their close (and similarly large) cousins, Sequoiadendron giganteum, better known as the Giant Sequoia, only grew in a few isolated spots in the southern end of the Sierra Nevada foothills. These vast forests were far more then the trees, however. Hundreds, if not thousands of plant and animal species lived and flourished within these wooded habitats, and as far as is known, the indigenous population of the Americas had no significant lasting impact on California’s ancient redwood forests, nor did they have any lasting effect on the timberlands of the Pacific Northwest in general.[2] Like the Native Americans, the old growth forests of the Pacific Northwest had remained left more or less untouched for thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of years.

The coming of the white man changed all of that. The Russians first began exploiting the redwoods for the construction of Fort Ross in 1812, during their very brief settlement there.[3] As more Europeans arrived, the forests south of San Francisco were the first to be logged, usually through clearcutting, until these ancient stands were completely liquidated by 1860. In those days, loggers used hand saws, and felling an ancient redwood could take anywhere from two-to-five days to complete. The redwoods to the north of the Golden Gate in what is now Marin County were logged next, especially along rivers that allowed easy transportation by the available modes of the day. By this time, around 1881, the steam engine had replaced pack animals. Though this first wave of automation did not have a significant impact on the number of workers involved in the logging process, it greatly increased the impact logging had on the redwoods. Entire forests were liquidated, no matter how small the tree, because even the baby trees were used to build the skid roads used for hauling the larger ones. These forests were never replanted, and very few of them grew back, and in some cases, farmlands replaced them. By the beginning of the 20th Century, all but a few of these ancient trees were gone and logging operations migrated north to Sonoma County. One quarter century later, most of these old growth forests were likewise gone.[4]

Redwood Uprising: Introduction

By Steve Ongerth

Download a free PDF version of this chapter.

The arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice.

—Martin Luther King Jr.

I know, I know. I need to write a book about all this. Fighting to save the redwoods, building alliances with the loggers, getting car bombed and finding out what we’re up against not just the timber industry but also the FBI. Then coming back home and ending up back on the front lines again. I fully intend to write about it eventually, but it’s hard to write about something when you’re still in the middle of it.”

—Judi Bari, introduction to Timber Wars, 1994

“All this,” is a very complex and intriguing story (not to mention a call to action), and while most people have never heard it, a great many are at least partially aware of its defining moment.

On the morning of May 24, 1990, two activists, Judi Bari and her friend and comrade Darryl Cherney, set out from Oakland, California, while on a tour to organize support for a campaign they had organized called Redwood Summer. They were part of the radical environmental movement known as Earth First!, which had a reputation for militant tactics, including the sabotaging of logging and earth moving machinery as well as spiking trees—the act of driving large nails into standing trees in order to deter logging operations. The previous year in Arizona, five environmentalists, including Peg Millett and Earth First! cofounder Dave Foreman, had been arrested and charged by the FBI for a conspiracy to sabotage power lines in protest against nuclear power. Some welcomed Earth First!’s uncompromising reputation. Others denounced them as reckless, or even as terrorists.

According to the mainstream media, Earth First!’s radical agenda earned them the animosity of the timber workers whose jobs the environmentalists supposedly threatened. They were described as “outside agitators” (among many other things) who had “polarized” the timber dependent communities of northwestern California’s redwood region—historically known as the “Redwood Empire”, but more recently as the “North Coast”—with their militant and uncompromising “environmental extremism.” Their alleged hard-line anti-logging stances were seen as too extreme even by most environmentalists, and they supposedly stood upon the radical fringes of the ecology movement. Redwood Summer was reportedly planned as a summer-long campaign of direct actions by these “fringe” environmentalists to thwart the harvesting of old growth redwood timber in northwestern California, specifically Humboldt, Mendocino, and Sonoma Counties.

On May 24, however, Bari’s and Cherney’s planned destination was Santa Cruz County, where—just one month previously—power lines had supposedly been sabotaged by unknown perpetrators calling themselves the “Earth Night Action Group”. Just before 11:55 AM a bomb in Bari’s car exploded, nearly killing her and injuring Cherney. Within minutes the FBI and Oakland Police arrived on the scene and arrested both of them as they were being transported to Highland Hospital. The authorities called them dangerous terrorists and accused the pair of knowingly transporting the bomb for use in some undetermined act of environmental sabotage when it had accidentally detonated. The media spun the event as the arrest of two potentially violent environmental extremists.

Climate Change As Class War: A Review

By Tom Wetzel - Ideas and Action, December 6, 2022

As the burning of fossil fuels continues to pump up the size of the carbon dioxide layer in the atmosphere, the global warming crisis becomes ever more acute. In its “Code Red for Humanity” warning in 2021, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said: “The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable: greenhouse gas emissions from fossil-fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk. Global heating is affecting every region on Earth…”

But we’re losing the climate battle thus far. In Climate Change as Class War, Marxist geographer Matthew Huber argues that the climate movement is losing because it is rooted in the “professional class.” He argues that this class lacks the power to defeat the powerful capitalist interests that drag their heals against the kind of drastic cutting back of fossil-fuel burning that is needed. For Huber, the climate movement needs to be rooted in the working class to have sufficient power to enact radical structural reforms needed to effectively fight global warming. 

Huber analyses the existing climate movement as consisting of three layers. First, there are the “science communicators” like James Hansen who try to do popular education about climate change science. A second group are “policy technocrats” with expertise in law or policy studies and work in think tanks, the university world, or non-profits. Their orientation is to craft “smart” policy solutions. A third group are the “anti-system radicals” whose exposure to the science of environmental devastation “leads to a kind of political radicalization.” Huber views these groups as part of the “professional class” and tries to use his theory of this class to explain the politics of the climate movement. Huber pinpoints two features of the climate movement that he sees as sources of weakness: (1) The emphasis on high levels of personal consumption as a factor in global warming, thus leading to a “politics of less” — especially a feature of “degrowth” politics; and (2) an emphasis on science education. “Making climate politics purely about science evades the question of power. It allows us to attribute…inaction on climate change as simply due to misinformation rather than a lack of power.”

Huber appeals to the theory of the “Professional-Managerial Class” (proposed by Barbara and John Ehrenreich) to try to explain the origin of these features of the “professional class” climate movement. Here he points to the centrality of credentials which mediates the access of the “professional class” to the labor market. This includes “the existence of a specialized body of knowledge, accessible only by lengthy training,” degree and licensing programs, professional associations, which he regards as “forms of class organization.” This tends to encourage acceptance of meritocratic ideology which favors decision-making power for managers and professionals. This emphasis on the importance of knowledge and the role of professionals tends to favor the science education emphasis of the climate movement, as Huber sees it.

In the Ehrenreichs’ theory of the PMC their class position is based on their control over cultural and social reproduction. This is how teachers and writers are included in the class. Among both Marxists and libertarian socialists, however, class has historically been seen as an institutional group-to-group power relation in social production, as in Marx’s concept of capital as a social power relation. Looking at it from this point of view, I think the PMC theory tends to paper over a distinction between two different class groups. First, there is a group I call the bureaucratic control class. This group’s class position is based on their relative monopoly of decision-making power, via bureaucratic hierarchies that exist to control labor and run corporations and government agencies day-to-day. This includes not only salaried managers but high-end professionals who work closely with management to control labor and defend corporate interests, such as corporate lawyers, HR experts, and industrial engineers who design jobs and work organization. This class power relation is the basis of the clear antagonism between this layer and the working class. 

It’s noteworthy that school teachers, newspaper reporters, script writers, and nurses all form unions and occasionally go on strike. These lower level professional employees are not usually part of the management apparatus, and don’t manage other workers. As such, they have a structural position like the core working class of manual workers, not the bureaucratic control class. The people in this lower professional layer often have college degrees, and sometimes do show elitism towards the core manual working class. They also tend to have more autonomy in their work. However, the “skilled trades” in the early 20th century often showed elitism towards less skilled manual workers and often had relative autonomy in their work. But we generally regard skilled blue collar workers (such as tool and die makers) as part of the working class. 

Lower level professional employees may be tempted to middle class meritocratic ideology. As such they will be in a conflicted position, as they also share the subordination of the working class position. This is why Erik Olin Wright’s phrase “contradictory class location” is appropriate for this group — a point that Huber concedes.

2022 Oil Change International Supporter Briefing

A Discussion on the Inflation Reduction Act and Climate Justice

Safe and Sustainable Rail

Germany: War, gas price protests and solidarity with Ukraine: An ecosocialist perspective

By Federico Fuentes and Christian Zeller - Green Left, October 19, 2022

Across Europe, protests have been growing over rising gas prices, with Germany no exception. Politicians have sought to blame Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine — or, alternatively, sanctions imposed by Europe — for the situation.

But is this the case? How should ecosocialists approach the interrelated issues of climate, war, gas prices and international solidarity?

Green Left’s Federico Fuentes discussed these issues with Christian Zeller, a professor of economic geography and editorial board member of the German-language journal, emancipation — Journal for Ecosocialist Strategy. Zeller is also the author of Climate Revolution: Why we need an ecosocialist alternative (available in German).

TUC Congress: Unite calls for ‘just transition’ for food industry workers impacted by climate change

By Ryan Fletcher - Unite the Union, October 19, 2022

At TUC Congress in Brighton today (Wednesday), Unite called for a just transition for UK food industry workers impacted by efforts in the sector to reduce carbon emissions.

Supporting composite three in favour of declaring a food emergency, Unite noted that last year Congress welcomed the government’s National Food Strategy.

However Unite said the strategy, which primarily considers health and the environment, ‘barely mentions workers’.

Addressing Congress, Unite assistant general secretary Diana Holland said: “(The National Food Strategy is) nearly 300 pages, and nothing about the people who grow process, stack, pick, cook, serve, sell and transport our food. About their pay and conditions, the dangers they face, and above all the inequality between capital and labour that is so stark in the food industry.”

Holland said it was clear that a UK food strategy also cannot be discussed without addressing the climate crisis.

Diana Holland said: “Food safety and security is a basic human right that is being denied. We need action to secure safe healthy food, produced sustainably, and food workers treated fairly and decently.

“The meat and dairy industries are major causes of greenhouse gases. But they employ 175,000 workers in the UK alone. So we have to put into practice the global trade union principles of a ‘just transition’. There must be a transition to jobs that are decent, secure and sustainable, a transition led by workers and with no worker left behind.”

TUC Congress votes to endorse a ‘just transition’ to a UK free from carbon emissions

By Chris Jarvis - Left Foot Forward, October 18, 2022

The TUC (held) its annual Congress is meeting in Brighton from 18-20 October. On the first day of the Congress, delegates voted for a motion that called for a ‘just transition’ to a UK free from carbon emissions.

In backing the motion, the TUC has agreed to support “a move to net zero that offers a fair deal for workers”, “where green jobs are secure, sustainable, good jobs delivered through collective bargaining and where those workers and communities whose industries are threatened by the changes to develop a low-carbon world have jobs protected, through decarbonisation of existing industries in consultation with workers in those industries and their skills fully utilised in the sustainable industries of the future.”

According to the motion passed by the TUC, there is a need for “state intervention, investment and support to protect jobs, incomes, skills and communities.”

The motion went on to argue for decarbonisation – with protections for jobs – in a number of key industries, including steel and the transport sector. The motion argued, “A just transition in transportation requires ambitious objectives from government to support the upskilling and reskilling of workers, as well as sustainable employment opportunities that supports the transport sector transitioning to a zero-carbon future.”

Alongside this, the motion acknowledged concerns concerns about what a different path towards net zero could mean for trade unions and workers’ jobs. The motion read, “The UK government is promising up to 480,000 skilled green jobs by 2030 and Congress welcomes the TUC’s involvement in the green jobs delivery group. However, there is not nearly enough detail about what those jobs are.

“Congress is also concerned that some companies are using the transition into green industries to discard national agreements and remove collective bargaining.”

In light of this, the motion called for the TUC General Council to ensure that any just transition strategy endorsed by the trade union movement must set out: “realistic estimates” for numbers of green jobs; “the skills, education and training” required for new green jobs, and guarantees for health and safety practices.

In proposing the motion, Gail Cartmail, from Unite, said the it would see the trade union movement working to “ensure a future built on secure, well paid green jobs”, adding, “we must demand a comprehensive climate strategy – from retrofitting of homes to take energy back into public hands, properly funding services and building a green manufacturing sector”.

WANTED: a debate on climate policy in the Trade Union movement

By Tahir Latif - Greener Jobs Alliance, October 16, 2022

On 8th October, our colleagues in Campaign Against Climate Change held a day’s conference titled ‘Urgent action, long term solutions: cost of living, climate and industrial action’. One of the sessions, for which I was Chair, had the title ‘Winning climate arguments in trade unions’ and included excellent contributions from Sam Mason (PCS and Trade Unions for Energy Democracy), Mel Mullings (RMT) and Suzanne Jeffery (Chair, CACCTU).

There was also a great contribution from Pablo John, a GMB worker and a member of GMB for a Green New Deal, and Pablo has written a follow-up piece that appears alongside this article as part of the debate thread we hope to initiate around trade union policy and climate.

At such a critical moment for the country we desperately need a sensible, well-thought-out debate about how trade unions deal with the climate crisis and serve the long-term interest of their members. That means recognising first that what many GJA supporters will see as a worrying trend towards regressive policies (support for fracking, oil and gas drilling, more nuclear) is a response to the fact that we have a government that is promoting those very industries and therefore that’s where the jobs would be.

My own counter to that would be that, as climate catastrophe approaches, those industries become increasingly untenable and our energy strategy will have to change and change more abruptly and dramatically the longer we leave it. But it is difficult to sustain that argument when union leaders only have to look around to see that their members’ current jobs are ‘real’ while the point I’ve just made is ‘notional’. The ask of those trade unions would be, even while supporting ‘regressive’ policies, at least come to the table to talk about the future, and what the workforce will look like, or else when the catastrophe strikes, as everyone knows it will, the change will be done to you not by you.

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