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Earth First! - IWW Local 1

Capital Blight: To Wrench or Not to Wrench, a Response

By x344543 - October 29, 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.

A few days ago, I read To Wrench or Not to Wrench: A Brief History of Direct Action in the Environmental Movement and its Potential Consequences, Ethical Implications, and Effectiveness, by By Jeriah Bowser, of the Hampton Institute with particular interest, because it deals with a subject with which I have a good deal of familiarity. Having worked alongside Judi Bari and her fellow Earth First! - IWW Local #1 organizers, I learned a good deal from listening to the ongoing and evolving discussions and debates over strategy and tactics within both Earth First! and the IWW, and so Bowser's article immediately caught my attention.

To be certain, I wanted to make sure I read his piece very carefully, because the subject he covers is particularly contentious and--in my humble opinion--often misconstrued in any number of frustrating ways. I found some things to agree with in Hampton's piece, but there are some glaring errors and oversights in his argument, not to mention some very dangerous and damaging mistakes as well.

For starters, Bowser establishes a false dichotomy between environmental (or other) groups which "engage in direct action" and those that "stick to the democratic process". There are many that do both and see no contradiction in doing so. There is an old debate about "working within the system" versus "tearing the (rotten) system down". Certainly the IWW advocates the later in regards to capitalism ("capitalism cannot be reformed") philosophically, but as a matter of day-to-day survival the IWW is not adverse to working within established systems to make small gains, knowing full well that ultimately the IWW's intended end, the abolition of wage slavery and the establishment of a cooperative commonwealth (that lives in harmony with the Earth) cannot be achieved within the context of capitalism, no matter how much one tries to reform it. Often times, the IWW alsoadvocates working outside the system through direct action, specifically at the point of production. Most times, the IWW favors the latter, but sometimes the boundaries aren't entirely clear. The same holds true with radical environmentalists.

On the flip side, Bowser either naively or even dangerously lumps all forms of "direct acton" together and all groups that engage in a whole range of direct action tactics into a single grouping. Specifically he conflates Earth First!, Earth Liberation Front (ELF), and Animal Liberation Front (ALF) into one category. I suppose that's essentially accurate on a certain level, and it's been a good long time since I have been an "active" Earth First!er (however that is defined), but when I was active in Earth First! (1995-98), we never engaged in or advocated some of the tactics commonly associated with either ALF or ELF, including, especially arson. Arson was not only not condoned, the Earth First! groups I worked with specifically eschewed such tactics as counterproductive and self destructive. To my knowledge, that is still the case, even if Earth First! favorably reports on the activities of ELF and ALF.

Bowser also makes few distinctions between the veritable aresnal of direct action tactics that exist, simply labeling "tree sitting, blocking logging roads, and street protests" as "passive, non-violent" civil disobedience, then mentioning "tree spiking, or driving huge nails into trees" as an escalation of Earth First!'s militancy. He then goes on to declare that the Billboard Liberation Front (BLF) escalated those tactics by "defacing" billboards (although, perhaps "culture jamming" would be a more accurate term, because simple defacement and repurposing the message into an anti-capitalist or ironic satire is substantially more meaningful) followed by "burning" (or) "cutting them down". I know of no proven examples of the latter, but I'll accept that I don't know everything and take the author at their word. However, the author then goes on to state that "arson slowly emerged as the preferred method of resistance, however, and was co-opted by other emerging environmental and animal rights groups- most notably the ELF and ALF," as if there were a logical and linear progression from one to the other, which is a dubious argument.

Capital Blight: The Yellow Unions' "Green Coalition" Blues

By x344543 - September 21, 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.

In a recent In These Times article, Rebecca Burns laments that the recent announcement by AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka to "open up the labor movement in order to regain political (sic) clout" by partnering with progressive NGOs, such as the Sierra Club, NAACP, and Council de la Raza, has not been well received by more conservative elements within the federation, namely the building trades.

“Giving people a seat where they have governance, and they don't represent workers--that was a bridge too far for lots of folks," Building Construction Trades Department (BCTD) union President Sean McGarvey told the (Wall Street) Journal. McGarvey, whose union has been a strong backer of the Keystone XL Pipeline because of the jobs it will create, also said that the Sierra Club’s attempts to dissuade the AFL-CIO from issuing a resolution supporting the pipeline last year “just highlighted the audacity of people in the radical environmental movement trying to influence the policy of the labor movement.”

There are so many problems with that statement (from McGarvey and Burns alike) it's difficult to know where to begin.

McGarvey's claim that Keystone XL Pipeline is being opposed by people in the "radical environmental movement" (and his identification of the Sierra Club of all organizations as being the leader of it) is absurd. The very idea that the Sierra Club is the leader of the "radical" environmental movement, or even radical at all is nonsense. The big NGOs opposing the project include Corporate Ethics International, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, 350.org, National Wildlife Federation, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, and Rainforest Action Network, and as we have pointed out, these groups are anything but radical. Furthermore, Over 1,000,000 individuals have gone on record as opposing the Keystone XL pipeline, and it's highly unlikely that they're all "radical" in any sense, and don't get me wrong, it would be nice if they were, but I'm a realist! Does McGarvey understand that many of these people are union workers? Would McGarvey also include the growing number of unions who've gone on record opposing Keystone XL?

One might want to ask McGarvey to what extent the building trades themselves represent workers, because the evidence suggest that for the most part, they represent the capitalist class more than anything else. He also doth protest too much, because those so-called "radical" environmentalists, for the most part are fixated primarily on Keystone XL and ignoring the other pipelines--such as the Bluegrass Pipeline, Enbridge's Line 9, Transcanada East, and others--a strategy which Barack Obama might use to expedite the latter. Fortunately, the real radical environmentalists (who're not beyond criticism, certainly) are focused on those and doing quite well at fighting them.

In any case, McGarvey has little to worry about, because what Trumka is proposing is hardly anything close to a meaningful Blue-Green alliance and is, more likely than not, going to be more old wine in new bottles, namely building coalitions to keep the labor movement (and the progressive NGOs) firmly tied to capitalism and the Democratic Party. If the AFL-CIO's combined efforts with the Sierra Club et. al. amount to anything more than intensified lobbying and get-out-the-vote (for Democrats--and even occasionally Republicans) it will be a huge surprise.

Common Misconceptions and Entangled Histories: a Review of Jonathan K London's Academic Revisionism of Earth First! - IWW Local #1

By x344543 - August 29, 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.

In my efforts to uncover as much potentially useful information as I can for the IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus's website, the results of which generally wind up in our Green Unionism library, I occasionally come across an unexpected nugget of gold. Other times, it turns out to be iron pyrite (Fool's Gold). Such was the case with Jonathan K London's muddled academically oriented article, "Common Roots and Entangled Limbs: Earth First! and the Growth of Post-Wilderness on California's North Coast", published in Antipode 30:2 in 1988.

The article begins auspiciously describing the pioneering "green syndicalism" of Earth First! - IWW Local #1, as led by Judi Bari, Darryl Cherney, Greg King, et. al. London observes that Local #1 (which he describes mainly as "North Coast Earth First!"--that the IWW's role in that history is frequently omitted is not the fault of London):

"offer(ed) the promise of a truly radical movement, by which I mean one that truly confront(ed) capital’s interlinked degradation of both natural and human communities. This article examines the efforts by the North Coast Earth First! to inscribe a new community of activists and timber workers joined in the struggle to contest corporate claims on the redwood forest."

These conclusions match my own direct experiences, having worked alongside Bari, Cherney, and others between 1995-98 and having helped usher in what ultimately became the "Blue-Green Alliance" (that this effort was co-opted by reformist elements was sadly beyond our control).

Having established this, London unfortunately proceeds to the very dubious conclusion that Local 1 ultimately alienated the timber workers with whom they achieved common ground by, "by redefining the redwood forest as the exclusive property of the activists themselves."

A careful examination of London's presentation of the information in which he attempts (vainly) to make his case reveals that he offers no substantive proof to make such a conclusion, and what historical accounts he does reference are carelessly cited out of historical continuity and context. It betrays a lack of deep understanding of the actual issues, and instead suggests a very shallow--perhaps even sectarian--examination of what really happened in the so called "Timber Wars".

Capital Blight: Reflections on the August 3rd, 2013 Protest in Richmond, California

By x344543 - August 11, 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.

On Saturday, August 3, 2013, I--along with approximately 3500 others--attended the Summer Heat: Together we Can Stop Climate Chaos rally, jointly organized by 350.org and a coalition of local environmental and social justice groups.

The coalescing of these forces reflected a confluence of several factors, including:

  • The struggle of a predominantly people of color community to wrangle some justice for the environmental and economic transgressions committed by the Chevron corporation, which has for all intents and purposes run Richmond like a company town (and this corporation's refinery--a piece of the once ubiquitous Standard Oil monopoly--actually existed before the town which we now call Richmond was established);
  • A massive explosion and fire that occurred at the refinery a year previously, which investigations later revealed was due to corroded pipes, which refinery workers complained about to management, but were allowed to let stand, lest the company's profits be lessened by so much as a penny;
  • Chevron's connection to the extraction of tar sands from Alberta and elsewhere which represent a form of "extreme energy" which endangers the environment, workers, and communities along the transport routes of this stuff (whether by train, truck, ship, or pipeline), and has already caused massive devastation and death in Kalamazoo, Minnesota; Lac Megantic, Quebec, and Mayflower, Arkansas, just to name a few places; and
  • The increasing realization that continued unabated use (and increased use) of fossil fuels (and for that matter, capitalism in general) has the human race on a collision course with doom, because (capitalist) human caused global warming--which has already progressed past the dangerous two degrees Celsius threshold that gives 350.org its name--will almost certainly condemn the human race, and quite likely all of the Earth, to a Venus like end, and must be stopped...yesterday.

Due to the participation of my fellow IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus members, Elliot and Ryan, an idea that they planted as a seed blossomed into a sizable labor contingent, composed of over thirty unions--including the Bay Area IWW General Membership Branch--that endorsed the rally and participated as an organized force in one way or another. The idea became so popular within the coalition organizing this particular campaign, that 350.org hired an organizer, Brooke Anderson, to make it happen--which she did to great effect. Ultimately 208 participants, including all three of us, my wife, 350.org spokesman Bill McKibben, ILWU Local 6 president Fred Pecker, and Richmond's mayor, Gayle McLauglin.

The event began with a meet-up at the Richmond BART station--the Bay Area's principal public transit system--an electric heavy rail network, whose union workers--represented by various ATU and SEIU Locals were embroiled in a nasty labor dispute with the agency's management and had (before the date of the rally) engaged in a one-week strike. Due to my efforts, and in no small part because I am a transit worker myself, a ferryboat deckhand at another one of the Bay Area's public transit systems, I suggested to Anderson that she make overtures to the BART workers as workers who work as part of the solution to capitalist fossil-fuel driven climate change; she agreed. At the other end of the equation, as a member of the rank and file opposition caucus, Transport Workers Solidarity Committee, to which several rank and file members from the various BART unions have since joined, I pushed for the committee to reciprocate; they did.

As one would expect, corporate media coverage of the event, while extensive, was overall mediocre to atrocious.

Book Review: Green Syndicalism - an Alternative Red/Green Vision, by Jeff Shantz

By x344543 - July 24, 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.

I have known of Jeff Shantz now for several years, having been an IWW member since 1995, having also been a subscriber to (and for half a decade the web administrator for) Anarcho-Syndicalist Review (to which he was a frequent contributor), and having run in radical environmentalist circles during the last years of Judi Bari's life (1995-97).

Neither he nor I have crossed paths until just recently, and that is largely due to the emergence of the IWW's Environmental Unionist Caucus (EUC). In forging the IWW EUC, we looked primarily to four sources for our inspiration:

(1) The IWW and its rich history, which--according to our late Fellow Worker Franklin Rosemont--has a good deal of nascent "green syndicalist" tendencies which are not well studied (and Rosemont did a fair share of his own);

(2) The pioneering efforts of Earth First! - IWW Local #1, organized and led by the late Judi Bari, which put what Jeff Shantz calls "green syndicalism" into the most advanced practice known about in the redwood forests of northwestern California from 1988-98;

(3) The Australian Green Bans of the early 1970s; and

(4) Contemporary movements in opposition to fracking, tar sands, and mountain top removal coal mining, with particular attention paid to the indigenous peoples' leadership of these campaigns.

I have also suggested we look to the efforts of three additional inspirations, these being Chico Mendes, Helen Keller, and Karen Silkwood, because there are many insights we can gain from their experiences, and far too little has been written about them.

In his book, Green Syndicalism - an Alternative Red/Green Vision, Shantz focuses primarily on Local 1 and Judi Bari, describing her work as representing one of the only examples of fully developed "green syndicalism" put into practice, even if on a limited scale.

To Shantz, "green syndicalism" succeeds where all other environmental movements and class struggle tendencies fail, because it alone addresses the shortcomings of the others.

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.

Earth First! and the IWW, Part 3 - Tree Spikes and Wedges

By x344543 - Industrial Worker, July 2013

When Greg King and Darryl Cherney cofounded Southern Humboldt County Earth First! in 1986, the principle target of their actions was the now Maxxam controlled Pacific Lumber Company. Sensing that the 800-plus Pacific Lumber workers--of which almost 350 had made it known in a full page ad that they opposed the Maxxam takeover--and the environmentalists shared a common adversary, King and Cherney tailored their campaign to the workers as well as the forest itself. Their earliest demonstrations conveyed the message that this particular Earth First! group at least, was concerned for the future of the loggers and millworkers as much as they were for the redwoods and the flora and fauna that depended on it.

A good number of the workers welcomed this show of solidarity, and a handful of them, including shipping clerk John Maurer, millworker Kelly Bettiga, mechanic Lester Reynolds, and company blacksmith (whose job primarily consisted of forging specialized logging equipment needed for the cutting of the unique redwoods), Pete Kayes--who would eventually join the IWW, engaged in regular, amicable dialog with the environmentalists.

At first, Maxxam largely ignored the protests and dissidents but as Earth First!'s efforts gained momentum and support, and as more workers began to grumble about their mandatory overtime and question the now rapacious timber harvesting efforts, the bosses began to take the growing grassroots resistance more seriously. An unprecedented spate of successful legal challenges by a local environmental watchdog group called EPIC under a hitherto inconsistently enforced California forestry practices act was the straw that broke the camel's back.

Using the PR Firm Hill & Knowlton and stoking the ego of the more conservative "scissorbill" employees, Maxxam fomented the creation of a "timber worker" front group known as Taxpayers for the Environment and its Management (TEAM). The organization initiated an intense propaganda campaign accusing the environmentalists of being "unwashed-out-of-town-jobless-hippies-on-drugs" whose sole aim was to destroy the economic well being of the humble residents of Humboldt (and Mendocino) county(s). TEAM claimed to be composed entirely of timber workers, but it was ACTUALLY largely made up of low level managers, gyppo operators, and assorted ranchers, many of whom belonged to other, similar front groups, such as one called WECARE, that had previously exaggerated the differences between workers and environmentalists.

The IWW And Earth First! - Part 2: The Crucible

By X344543 - Industrial Worker, June 2013

The IWW connection to Earth First! was, believe it or not, woven in the woof. In fact, as far as the two organizations’ struggles with the timber bosses go, both could be said to have been forged from the same crucible: the Humboldt County town of Eureka in northwestern California, the de facto capital of the Redwood Empire.

Long before the IWW joined in Earth First!’s (ultimately successful) struggles to save Headwaters Forest in Humboldt County, the roots of that struggle began with the workers’ struggles against the timber bosses.

In the formative years of the timber industry in the United States and Canada—the last third of the 19th century—working conditions were abysmal. Then, as now, timber was one of the top five most dangerous industrial jobs in the world. Timber workers were subjected to long hours, dangerous working conditions, unsanitary labor camps, company towns (where the employer was literally the government) and no job security. The bosses, meanwhile, were making a killing on the backs of both the workers and the environment. Vast amounts of standing timber were held by what would soon evolve into modern timber corporations, and not too few of them had acquired their holdings through graft and very questionable homesteading laws.

This was no exception in the Redwood Empire. In Eureka, the California Redwood Company (CRC), whose owners were European capitalists, was one of the worst examples. Workers at the CRC, many of whom were populists—including a butcher by the name of Charles Keller, who was a member of the International Workingmen’s Association (IWA)—formed the very first union of timber workers in North America to affiliate with the American Federation of Labor (AFL). Together, they exposed the CRC’s graft, in spite of vigilante mobs organized by the CRC and the other companies as well as yellow jour nalism and slander by the local press. The union didn’t secure recognition, but they did improve working conditions slightly, and the CRC was forced to shut down.

The story of the IWW’s LumberWorkers Industrial Union and its successful fight for the eight-hour day is well documented elsewhere, but what is not well known is that, while the IWW never gained much of a foothold in the Redwood Empire (its successes were concentrated mostly in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana), its influence was felt there nonetheless.

The IWW And Earth First!: Part 1 - Establishing Roots

By X344543 - Industrial Worker, May 2013. Dedicated to Franklin Rosemont, Carlos Cortez, and Utah Phillips.

Judi Bari was both an Earth First!er and a Wobbly from 1988 to 1993 and during that time there was a close alliance between the two organizations. Although some assume she brought the two together, the truth is more complex. When Judi Bari joined Earth First! and the IWW in the summer of 1988, Earth First!ers and Wobblies were already discussing the idea of forging an alliance. There are many reasons for this, but the overarching explanation is that Earth First! and the IWW are really different manifestations of thesame revolutionary impulse.

The IWW, founded in Chicago in 1905 by radical working class anti-capitalists from veterans of various movements and struggles, united around the idea of forming One Big Union of the working class. They offered a revolutionary alternative to the classcollaborationist American Federation of Labor (AFL). The IWW pledged to organize all workers—regardless of ethnicity, gender or skill level—by industry rather than craft. Instead of the conservative AFL motto, “a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work,” the IWW sought to abolish wage slavery altogether. No longer would workers collectively enable their own oppression by crossing each other’s (craft based) picket lines, they said. The IWW would organize the working class together. This was summarized by the slogan, “An injury to one is an injury to all!”

The IWW set out to achieve this creatively, becoming known as much for its “right brain” artistic contributions to working-class culture as well as its “left brain” organizing activities.

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