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Lucas Plan

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!

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.

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).

Green Unionism against Precarity

By Steve Ongerth - IWW Environmental Union Caucus, January 1, 2022

Editor's Note: all but one or two of the links in this article link to multiple articles, located on the IWW Environmental Union Caucus site, categorized by topic. Therefore, it is to the reader's interest to explore all of the articles brought forth by each link, at their convenience (and that body of information is ever evolving over time).

An edited version of this article appears in New Politics 72.

In a real sense, under capitalism, all workers are "precarious", meaning that they can be downsized, replaced, deskilled, outsourced, etc. It's simply a matter of degrees.

The ultimate peak in precarity is "gig work" (which has actually always existed; the names simply keep changing, but the concept is the same).

Unions represent a check against precarity, though this occurs on a graduated scale. The stronger the union, the less the workers' precarity.

Union strength manifests in various ways: it can result from a well organized, international, militant democratic union (ideal, but rare, with few real world examples, such as ILWU, and the IWW, of course), though more often than not it's a result of concentration of elite craft workers in skilled trades unions, which represents a strong guard against precarity, but only for workers in the union, in which case, solidarity is limited.

Other checks against precarity include high demand for skilled craft workers in rare supply, High demand for hard to replace workers (such as workers that required skilled credentials, such as teachers or transport workers), or tight labor markets (which exist in our semi-post COVID-19 world, due to a combination of factors spelled out in the Vox article).

This is nothing more than class struggle 101, as expertly phrased by Karl Marx, et. al.

There are new forms of precarity emerging due to climate catastrophe (brought on by capitalism). Workers find themselves facing new health and safety hazards and/or threats to their working environment.

Beyond a Just Transition

Beyond "Just Transition"

By Dr Eurig Scandrett - The Jimmy Reid Foundation, December 3, 2021

Introduction

It is no use simply saying to South Wales miners that all around them is an ecological disaster. They already know. They live in it. They have lived in it for generations. They carry it in their lungs… you cannot just say to people who have committed their lives and their communities to certain kinds of production that this has all got to be changed… Everything will have to be done by negotiation, by equitable negotiation, and it will have to be taken steadily along the way. Otherwise, you will find … that there is a middle-class environmental group protesting against the damage and there’s a trade-union group supporting the coming of the work. Now for socialists this is a terrible conflict to get into. Because if each group does not really listen to what the other is saying, there will be a sterile conflict which will postpone any real solutions at a time when it is already a matter for argument whether there is still time for the solutions. Raymond Williams (1982/1989)

The idea of ‘Just Transition’ (JT) has gained traction in recent years. With its roots in the union movement at the end of the twentieth century, it has developed into a concept with diverse and contested meanings. This engagement with JT has created spaces within the urgent policy areas of climate change mitigation to address potential job losses and the disproportionate impact up on the poorest communities, and more positively, to work for the generation of good quality, unionised jobs and greater social equality in a green economy. This is a fast-moving and often technical area of policy development. In Scotland, the Just Transition Commission (2021) reported in May 2021 after meeting over a period of two years, and relevant technical and policy reports are published with increasing frequency.

This paper is not a detailed contribution to these debates, on which others are more competent to comment, although it will inevitably touch on these. The paper aims to take a somewhat longer-term and more abstracted view of JT. It asks what do we mean by ‘Just’ and to what are we expecting to ‘Transition’ to? It argues that, in the discussions over the meanings of JT, the collective interests of workers, low-income communities and the environment are central, and require mechanisms to facilitate challenging dialogues between these interests.

There is an inevitable tendency, in developing positions on JT, to seek common ground between the two principal social movements that have driven JT debates: unions and environmental NGOs; or else between different unions or different industrial sectors. This process of seeking common ground can lead to a dilution of principle on all sides, a common denominator that all can live with, but with which none is entirely satisfied. While the process of negotiating common ground is a necessary and useful process for practical purposes, and a process at which the union movement is particularly adept, this paper argues that JT also provides the opportunity for a deeper dialogue in which all key stakeholders – the environment and working-class people who are either dependent on or excluded from the current unsustainable economy – can seek to incorporate the principles of the others. There are areas where the union movement and the environmental movement disagree. These areas of disagreement could be seen as potentially fertile grounds for deep dialogue in order to seek meaningful and lasting resolution.

This paper is, therefore, not intended to reflect the policy of any union or environmental group, but rather constitute a contribution to a debate within these movements and outwith them as well. It is, in places, designed to challenge. Indeed, it makes the case that the union and environmental movements can best learn from one another by being willing to be challenged by each other. All social movements reflect the interests of their participants, members, opinion formers and supporters and are contingent upon the social and political conditions in which they are acting. This is a strength, but also leads to ‘blind spots’ which are best addressed through collective self-reflection and challenges in solidarity from comrades in the struggle.

It is argued here that JT provides an opportunity to explore, for example, the tension well known in unions between representing the immediate interests of members and the long-term interests of the working-class; and in the environmental movement between the disproportionately educated, white, professional middle-class membership of the NGOs and the communities most directly affected by environmental devastation.

As has been recognised in some of the debates about JT, the idea can be located in a radical working-class tradition which, in Britain includes defence diversification, the East Kilbride Rolls Royce boycott of Chilean engines, the Lucas Aerospace Alternative Plan, the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders work-in, amongst others. JT can be more than a mechanism to address climate change, for it can also be a process which can be applied to transitions of many kinds that the labour movement and the left more generally have long advocated: the transition to a more democratic economy, more equal society and socially beneficial system of production, distribution and exchange. The paper, therefore, argues that the union movement, along with environmental and anti-poverty movements would benefit from going ‘beyond’ just transition.

Pushing for a Green New Deal at Rolls Royce

By Mika Minio-Paluello - Trades Union Congress, October 28, 2021

Union members and reps in aviation manufacturing are campaigning to retool their sites to produce zero-carbon technology.

Across three Rolls Royce sites, union reps have developed plans for green manufacturing that could future-proof jobs by providing a long-term future and security.

The reps described that the best way to get buy-in and members excited about a just transition was to:

  • include union members in discussions from the start
  • present a vision where the Green Industrial Revolution will be delivered by workers and communities, not by managers
  • place workers in the driving seat in coming up with ideas for new products.

Worker’s events at COP26: virtual and in-person

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, October 26, 2021

Web editor's note: Although these events have all passed, we include this as a record of the union efforts surrounding COP26.

The UN Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow begins on October 31 and runs until November 12, with the world’s media in attendance to chronicle if the high expectations are being met. A good source of news from a Canadian perspective is Canada’s National Observer, which will send reporters to Glasgow, and whose coverage has already begun, here .

Some news from a worker’s point of view:

Climate Jobs: Building a workforce for the climate emergency will be released to coincide with COP26, by the Campaign against Climate Change, a coalition of U.K. unions . As of October 26, two chapters of the new report are available for free download: Warm homes, healthy workplaces: climate jobs in buildings and Creating a green, affordable and accessible network for all: climate jobs in transport. The new report updates their 2014 report, One Million Climate Jobs.

Another U.K. organization, the COP26 Coalition, is a broader, civil society coalition which includes environment and development NGOs, labour unions, grassroots community campaigns, faith groups, youth groups, migrant and racial justice networks. Their statement of demands is here . The Coalition is organizing a Global Day of Climate Justice on November 6 – with events in Canada happening in Toronto and in Quebec City , along with a related event in Sherbrooke Quebec on Nov. 5th .

In addition, COP26 Coalition has organized a People’s Climate Justice Summit  in Glasgow, composed of 150 sessions which will focus on indigenous struggles, racial justice, youth issues, and worker and labour union perspectives. Many, but not all, worker-related sessions will be held on November 8 as a “Just Transition Hub” – a full day of sessions hosted by the Friends of the Earth Scotland, Just Transition Partnership, Platform, STUC, TUC and War on Want. The full program, with the ability to register is here : those unable to travel to Glasgow can register as “Online- only” to receive a Zoom link for a livestream of some of the sessions. The online program includes the opening panel for the Just Transition Hub: “Here and Everywhere: Building our Power”, to be led by Asad Rehman, (War on Want), Sean Sweeney,(TUED), Roz Foyer, (STUC), and Denise Christie, (FBU). Other sessions available online include “UK climate jobs rooted in global solidarity and climate justice” and “Just Transition in Latin America, from Decarbonization to Transformation”.

In-person only sessions, which tend to have a U.K. focus, include: “Lessons from the Frontline: Climate crisis resistance from around the world”; “Are green jobs great jobs, or are green jobs rubbish jobs?”; “The Lucas Plan for Climate? How workers are fighting to future-proof industry”; “Geared Up: Campaigns for Greener Transport”; “Air tight: Campaigns for home retrofits”; “Organising the unorganised: tactics and strategies for power in new industries”; and “Changing workplaces, changing jobs: organising for power in unionised workplaces” – a training session led by Prospect union. Other sessions, outside of the Just Transition Hub, ( in-person only), include “Trade Unions and Climate Action”, a training session led by the Ella Baker School of Organizing and “International Trade Union Forum on Social and Ecological Transitions: what’s next?”, reporting on the International Trade Union Forum on Ecological and Social Transitions which took place for 6 days during June 2021, with more than 140 organizations from about 60 countries.

We tried to transition to green jobs, but the bosses are closing our car factory down

By Frank Duffy - The Guardian, September 20, 2021

More than 500 workers, myself included, at the GKN Automotive factory in Birmingham have voted for strike action to save both our plant and British manufacturing. It’s the last thing we ever wanted to do, but we feel we have been left with no choice.

Currently, we manufacture and assemble components for drivelines, the all-important section underneath your car for transferring power from the engine and transmission to the wheels. In 2019, 90% of GKN’s components went into traditional combustion engines, but that may halve by 2025, with electric vehicles (EVs) taking 15% of components, and hybrids about 40%. The move to electric will only continue, as UK factories unveil their new vehicle plans before purely internal combustion engines are banned in 2030.

In order to future-proof our jobs and the British automotive industry, we need to transition to producing components for EVs, including new propulsion systems and e-drives. GKN has developed a new e-drive with UK government funding at its Oxfordshire research facility, but sadly we won’t see this innovation creating new green jobs for British workers. Melrose, the owners of GKN, have decided to close our plant in 2022 and move jobs overseas.

We realised that if we want to see a green future for the UK car industry and save our skilled jobs, we couldn’t leave it to our bosses and had to take matters into our own hands. We put together a 90-page alternative plan detailing how we could reorganise production to save money and make these new components.

Ours is the first transition plan for an automotive plant proposed by union stewards in the UK, and an echo of the 1976 Lucas Plan, when shop stewards at Lucas Aerospace, also in Birmingham, proposed converting their plant to socially useful products.

Now, as then, our alternative plan proposed saving jobs in Birmingham while transitioning the plant into an asset to support the wider UK industry. That’s a win for the workforce, the industry and the environment. If that isn’t what’s meant by the phrase “just transition”, I don’t know what is.

Suds and Socialism Forum: Workers and the Environment

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