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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".

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.

Chapter 11 - How the Workers Can Manage Industry

THE objection is sometimes raised to the I. W. W. program of industrial democracy, that industry could not run unless financed by capitalists, and that without bosses to employ them workers could not exist. These objectors do not understand the difference between capital and capitalists. Capital means "stored up labor power," or "wealth that is used to produce more wealth." Wealth is "nature's material adapted by labor to suit the needs of man." The machinery Or production, such as sawmills, steel plants, factories, mining machinery, railroads, is capital.

Chapter 10 - Past Battles of the Lumber Workers

MANY attempts at organization among lumber workers have been made with varying success. The first lumber workers' union of which we have any record was organized at Eureka, Calif., in 1884. Six months later it took out a charter in the Knights of Labor, and soon gained a membership of over two thousand. It had locals in Eureka, Arcata, Freshwater, and several other points in Northern California, and published a weekly paper called "the Western Watchman." One of the principal grievances of the lumber workers was the hospital fee.

Chapter 8 - Organization

All wealth is produced by labor being applied to the natural resources of the earth. Wherever labor and natural resources come together, there industry springs up--a job comes into existence. The wealth produced on the job is divided in two ways. Part goes to the workers in the form of wages and part to the capitalists in the form of profits. The share of each is determined by the amount of control they exert over the job. On every job there are two conflicting interests. The capitalist wants to make the biggest possible profits in the shortest possible time.

Chapter 7 - Labor Conditions in the Lumber Industry

OWING to the nature of the industry conditions for loggers differ considerably from those of most workers. Situated in thinly settled forest regions, lumber camps are, to a great extent, cut off from civilization. The resulting conditions are a peculiar mixture of capitalism and feudalism, civilization and barbarism. Each camp is a community by itself--a unit in the industrial empire of the Lumber Trust--and is ruled by a foreman who has the powers of a petty czar. The company not only plays the part of employer but also that of hotel and store keeper.

Chapter 6 - Ruinous Mismanagement of Stolen Property

SOME idea of the waste and destruction of the forests of the U. S. can be gained from the following extracts from the report by the Forest Service, U. S. Department of Agriculture, June 1, 1920, entitled "Timber Depletion, Lumber Prices, Lumber Exports, and Concentration of Timber Ownership."

"The outstanding facts reported by the Forest Service are:

Chapter 5 - How Rich Grafters Got Possession of the Timber Lands of the Country

OWING to lack of space it is impossible to deal under this heading with more than a few examples. The history of the crimes committed by big capitalists in getting possession of the natural resources of the country would fill many volumes. The few cases mentioned are only typical examples of the methods by which all the big timber interests acquired their stolen property.


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