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Making the Transition: Helping Workers and Communities Retool for the Clean Energy Economy

By Elena Foshay, et. al. - Apollo Alliance and Cornell Global Labor Institute, August 11, 2020

We stand at a critical moment in American history. We face a choice: do we continue with business as usual, ignoring the climate implications of current energy, environmental, and economic policy? Or do we move forward with a new set of priorities aimed at promoting climate stability, energy security, and economic prosperity?

Green Unionists: for Jobs and the Environment

Green Unionism in Theory and Practice

By Dan Jakopovich - Synthesis/Regeneration 43 (Spring 2007)

A new current in the global anti-capitalist movement has begun to develop in the last few decades. Rather than unfolding into a cohesive, self-assured and well received movement, it has largely existed on theoretical and practical margins, thwarted by dogmatic party-political, “affinity group” and NGO dominance, yet periodically reappearing as the “star of the day” wherever favorable socio-economic conditions or visionary initiatives gave it the broad attention and determination it needed to flourish.

The biggest hope for the greening of the labor movement lies in the revival of this decentralized, grassroots unionism. The parochialism, corruptibility and ingrained authoritarianism of the union officialdom have been shown time and time again, and only a bottom-up, rank-and-file approach to union work can seriously aid environmental protection and wider social change.

A basic tenet of green unionism is that labor struggles and ecological struggles are not necessarily separate, but have a potential to be mutually reinforcing. The basis for a working relationship between differing strands is the unity-in-diversity approach to organizing a mutually respectful and supportive alliance.

Especially since the late 60s and early 70s, partly as a response to working-class deradicalization and often an integration of traditional “workers’ organizations” — statist, bureaucratic political parties and business unions — there has been a massive practical and theoretical retreat from questions of class and especially class struggle, particularly in the “new social movements” which have gained in popularity after the second world war.

With the onset of neoliberal globalization, there has been a reversal to previously held positions, decomposition of people’s political “representation” (especially in social-democratic parties), a deterioration of workers’ rights and living conditions. A six-hour working day even seemed more plausible at the beginning of the 20th century (and indeed, some called for its implementation) than it does today.

Parallel to the de facto progressive deterioration of working conditions, depoliticization of the workplace has also continued, along with a general activist culture largely still hostile to labor issues (although this has partly been changing recently, especially due to the “new organizing model” exemplified by the Justice for Janitors campaign).

A dynamic understanding of people as workers and workers as activists is missing. For several decades now, there has occurred a shift of the concept of oppression from production relations (as the material basis for exploitation) to consumption, especially among many mainstream Greens who would have us confined to our roles as consumers, where we are inherently relatively powerless and almost always disorganized. This approach, as commonly understood and implemented, produces an individualistic and moralistic substitute for sustained political activity.

It is important to recognize the central importance of class and the revolutionary implications of class struggle at the point of production. People are in their materially most powerful role as producers of goods and services, capable of withholding labor, and also democratically taking over the means of production and distribution.

It is the material conditions of life which restrict and deform peoples’ humanity; therefore the struggle against those conditions also has to be concrete:

The constitution of new identities as expressive human beings in transcendence of alienated class identities implies a successful struggle over the very structures of domination, regimentation, hierarchy and discipline which exist concretely within the workplace. One cannot assume that the job site will simply wither away with the flowering of a new identity. [1]

Murray Bookchin discards the syndicalist strategy as narrow economism [2], and while it is true that the syndicalist movement has in fact often been guilty of “cultural workerism,” productivism and the idealization of the working class and its role in society, especially in the past, this has been widely challenged in and by the movement itself, and is only a secondary tendency now.

Not believing in the future of the workplace as an arena of political and social change, Bookchin calls instead for a sole focus on the “community” (as though communities exist without workplaces or classes). When talking about his libertarian municipalism, Bookchin conveniently forgets it is precisely the syndicalists who have the strongest and most successful tradition of community organizing among all explicitly libertarian currents and wider. [3]

However, democratic unionism from below is not inconsistent with the conversion to a bioregional structure consisting of self-governing, socialized units of producers and consumers, and in a system of production for need, not profit, rank-and-file unions might be able to provide the necessary councilist infrastructure necessary for decentralized decision-making and distribution, at least in the transitional period.

Green syndicalists insist that overcoming ecological devastation depends on shared responsibilities towards developing convivial ways of living in which relations of affinity, both within our own species and with other species, are nurtured (See Bari, 2001). They envision, for example, an association of workers committed to the dismantling of the factory system, its work discipline, hierarchies and regimentation — all of the things which Bookchin identifies (Kaufmann and Ditz, 1992; Purchase, 1994; 1997b). This involves both an actual destruction of some factories and their conversion towards “soft” forms of small, local production. [4]

Building the new society in the shell of the old entails changing who controls production, what is produced and how it is produced. This can be achieved only through democratizing the workplaces and empowering the communities. “The questions of ownership and control of the earth are nothing if not questions of class.” [5]

Syndicalism, Ecology and Feminism: Judi Bari’s Vision

By Jeff Shantz - January 12, 2001 [PDF File Available]

According to the late Wobbly organizer and Earth Firster, Judi Bari, a truly biocentric perspective must really challenge the system of industrial capitalism which is founded upon the ‘ownership’ of the earth. Industrial capitalism cannot be reformed since it is founded upon the destruction of nature. The profit drive of capitalism insists that more be taken out than is put back (be it labour or land). Bari extended the Marxist discussion of surplus value to include the elements of nature. She argued that a portion of the profit derived from any capitalist product results from the unilateral (under)valuing, by capital, of resources extracted from nature.

Because of her analysis of the rootedness of ecological destruction in capitalist relations Bari turned her attentions to the everyday activities of working people. Workers would be a potentially crucial ally of environmentalists, she realized, but such an alliance could only come about if environmentalists were willing to educate themselves about workplace concerns. Bari held no naïve notions of workers as privileged historical agents. She simply stressed her belief that for ecology to confront capitalist relations effectively and in a non-authoritarian manner requires the active participation of workers. Likewise, if workers were to assist environmentalists it was reasonable to accept some mutual aid in return from ecology activists.

In her view the power which manifests itself as resource extraction in the countryside manifests itself as racism and exploitation in the city. An effective radical ecology movement (one which could begin to be considered revolutionary) must organize among poor and working people. Only through workers’ control of production and distribution can the machinery of ecological destruction be shut down.

Ecological crises become possible only within the context of social relations which engender a weakening of people’s capacities to fight an organized defence of the planet’s ecological communities. Bari understood that the restriction of participation in decision-making processes within ordered hierarchies, prerequisite to accumulation, has been a crucial impediment to ecological organizing.[1] This convinced her that radical ecology must now include demands for workers’ control and a decentralization of industries in ways which are harmonious with nature. It also meant rejecting ecological moralizing and developing some sensitivity to workers’ anxieties and concerns.

To critics this emphasis on the concerns of workers and the need to overcome capitalist social relations signified a turn towards workerist analysis which, in their view, undermined her ecology. Criticisms of workers and ‘leftist ecology’ have come not only from deep ecologists, as discussed above, but from social ecologists, such as Murray Bookchin and Janet Biehl, who otherwise oppose deep ecology. Social ecology guru Bookchin has been especially hostile to any idea of the workplace as an important site of social and political activity or of workers as significant radical actors. Bookchin repeats recent talk about the disappearance of the working class [2], although he is confused about whether the working class is ‘numerically diminishing’ or just ‘being integrated’. Bookchin sees the ‘counterculture’ (roughly the new social movements like ecology) as a new privileged social actor, and in place of workers turns to a populist ‘the people’ and the ascendancy of community. Underlying Bookchin’s critique of labour organizing, however, is a low opinion of workers which he views contemptuously as ‘mere objects’ without any active presence within communities.[3]

Democracy is Not a Spectator Sport

Dan Fortson Interviews Dave Chism and Bob Cramer - The Public Outlaw Show on November 27, 1997, KMUD 91.1 FM Southern Humboldt County, 88.3 FM Northern Humboldt County, and 88.9 FM Mendocino County

Dan Fortson: Good evening everyone. This is Dan Fortson, and we're gonna have a talk show here. I've a couple of guests in the studio with me; Dave Chism, former union representative, Dave, welcome.[1]

Dave Chism: Hi, how are you doing?

Dan Fortson: Just fine, and Bob Cramer, member of Taxpayers for Headwaters and outspoken advocate, welcome Bob.

Bob Cramer: Thank you.

Dan Fortson: Why don't we start off with a little bit of introductions. Dave you want to tell us something about yourself?

Dave Chism: Well, I'm a local boy

Dan Fortson: Okay

Dave Chism: --grew up in Trinidad, in that area. I went to work in the timber industry at the paper mill at Simpson. A lot of the members of my family have worked for various companies around here. I think we've worked for pretty much all of them. LP and Simpson primarily. I was pretty active in union politics out there and trying to build some working relationship with the environmental community. So it was kind of an interesting place to be in, especially when the mill went down, there was a lot of animosity about that.

Dan Fortson: And Bob, what have you been up to lately?

Bob Cramer: Well, I'm a native Californian, I've been living up here for five years. I came up here to go to school after I lost my job because of a corporate takeover and because I'm a Vietnam veteran, a disabled veteran. The V.A. offered to send me up to go to school here on vocational rehabilitation. My major was Environmental Science, and I had a little problem with [Calculus] II. So I decided to get into Environmental Ethics, and while I was in environmental ethics I started learning about what was actually going on up here. Of course, because of the lack of news about what was going on, I really didn't have any Idea. But when I found about what was going on in the Headwaters, I joined the protesters last September 15th [1996]. I noticed that all of the people that were at the [MAXXAM property] line who were waiting to cross over [to be arrested] were all about my age, which is 53 right now, by the way, and I was kind of stunned! It looked like members of the community were all around me. And we started talking.

So anyway, after that action a few of us formed Taxpayers for Headwaters. Because we felt that the people who were representing environmentalism in this area were not just Earth First! And EPIC and Trees [Foundation], but also people up in Eureka, Fortuna, and the other areas who were business people and professionals and regular taxpaying citizens, if you will, who are very concerned about overharvesting of our natural resources. Because we can see into the future a little bit. It doesn't take much to extrapolate what happens when you overharvest and not only that, there is a great History of overharvesting and how it has devastated other areas of the country. And we just didn't want to see it happen to this area. So we formed Taxpayers for Headwaters and now were about 800 members strong. And we've been involved in doing a lot of things. We've gone before the [Humboldt] County Board of Supervisors. We've talked to law enforcement, we've been to several hearings, senate hearing, natural resources hearings. We've called for grand jury investigations, we've just really been involved in the situation and basically that's what my background is and why I'm here today.

But What About Jobs?

By Judi Bari, Fall 1996

When Redwood National Park was created in the 1970's, the loggers and millworkers in this region still had unions to represent them. Those unions negotiated an agreement in which displaced timber workers were paid two thirds of their wages for the next six years, to give them a chance to re-train or re-locate and find a new job.

Since then, the unions have been busted, and the only ones pretending to speak for the workers are MAXXAM management and their captive congressman Frank Riggs (a Republican). For all their talk about jobs, none of their proposals have included one iota of compensation for displaced workers, although all of their proposals have included oodles of compensation for corporate criminal Charles Hurwitz.

Back in 1993, when Dan Hamburg (a Democrat at the time) had just been elected to Congress and environmentalists were drafting the Headwaters Acquisition Bill, I got a chance to look at this problem in detail. I was in charge of the committee assigned to write a worker's clause for the bill.

In order to do this, I convened a group of displaced and currently employed loggers and millworkers from MAXXAM, Simpson, and L-P, who met with a small group of hand-picked Earth First!ers. We asked the timber workers what to do about the loss of jobs that would come from saving Headwaters. Printed below is the proposal we came up with. This proposal should be part of any plan to save Headwaters.

Revolutionary Ecology, Biocentrism, and Deep Ecology

By Judi Bari - 1995 | [PDF File Available]

I was a social justice activist for many years before I ever heard of Earth First!. So it came as a surprise to me, when I joined Earth First! in the 1980s, to find that the radical environmental movement paid little attention to the social causes of ecological destruction. Similarly, the urban-based social justice movement seems to have a hard time admitting the importance of biological issues, often dismissing all but "environmental racism" as trivial. Yet in order to effectively respond to the crises of today, I believe we must merge these two issues.

Starting from the very reasonable, but unfortunately revolutionary concept that social practices which threaten the continuation of life on Earth must be changed, we need a theory of revolutionary ecology that will encompass social and biological issues, class struggle, and a recognition of the role of global corporate capitalism in the oppression of peoples and the destruction of nature.

I believe we already have such a theory. It's called deep ecology, and it is the core belief of the radical environmental movement. The problem is that, in the early stages of this debate, deep ecology was falsely associated with such right wing notions as sealing the borders, applauding AIDS as a population control mechanism, and encouraging Ethiopians to starve. This sent the social ecologists justifiably scurrying to disassociate. And I believe it has muddied the waters of our movement's attempt to define itself behind a common philosophy.

So in this article, I will try to explain, from my perspective as an unabashed leftist, why I think deep ecology is a revolutionary world view. I am not trying to proclaim that my ideas are Absolute Truth, or even that they represent a finished thought process in my own mind. These are just some ideas I have on the subject, and I hope that by airing them, it will spark more debate and advance the discussion.

Who Bombed Judi Bari? - Interview with Beth Bosk

Interview by Beth Bosk - New Settler Interview, January 1995

NEW SETTLER: The last my readers know of you with regard to the bombing, you are in an Oakland hospital, near comatose. Outside, the FBI and the Oakland police are accusing you of the act of transporting the bomb that blew up your car as you were careening down a street in Oakland. I'd like you to begin with your recollection of the day you were bombed: why you were in Oakland?

JUDI: I'm going to start the day before in Willits, because I think it is more logical that way... It was the eve of Redwood Summer and we were calling for people to come in from all over the country to engage in non-violent civil disobedience to stop the over-cutting; and the timber industry was mounting a campaign to portray us as violent, and to whip up hatred against us. This included my receipt of increasingly frightening death threats, and fake press releases that were being distributed not only to the press, but were being passed out in the lumber mills and on the logging jobs. The fake press releases had the Earth First! logo on them -- but they weren't written by us, and in contrast to what we were really saying, they were calling for violence and tree spiking. One of the fake press releases actually spelled Darryl's name wrong, so it was easy to prove it was fake -- as we were asserting -- yet these were still being distributed as if they were real, and treated by the press as if they were real.

And perceived real by the increasingly-angered men who work in the industry.

JUDI: We've documented all this stuff since. Louisiana-Pacific, for example, in at least one plant (I suspect in more) held a meeting -- on the clock, that workers were forced to attend -- where they passed out the fake press releases -- presented them as real -- and encouraged the workers (in the words of the plant manager) "to go to public meetings wearing your hard hat and work boots and role up your sleeves and sit down right next to one of them so they won't talk too freely." I know this because the union filed a grievance against L-P for making them listen to anti-Earth First! propaganda on company time.

The companies were very actively trying to discredit us. G-P canceled their mill tours because of the alleged "terrorist threat." That's how they were doing their part. MAXXAM (and I have actual proof from their internal company memos) MAXXAM distributed these fake press releases calling for violence to the press after they acknowledged privately that they were fake. L-P put a barbed wire fence around their Ukiah plant. There was a whole bunch of things going on to portray us as terrorists and make people afraid of us. The bombing didn't happen in a vacuum.

Our reaction, though, was to try to head off the violence. We knew a lot of contract loggers -- the gyppos -- and we wanted to meet with them face-to-face and explain to them who we really were and to allay their fears and to work things out so that we wouldn't have to face violence that summer.

We had asked Art Harwood to help us set up these meetings of local gyppo operators, in that he was one of the largest ones, and he did that and we had two mediated meetings with a paid mediator in Willits. There were some rank-and-file loggers, but mostly it was contract loggers, company owners -- Bill Bailey was there, he owns a big logger supply outfit in Laytonville. Jerry Philbrick was there. Tom Loop was there.

And we had actually been making progress: first in humanizing each other -- in learning that each other were human beings, that we really had more in common than we thought; -- and then in allaying each other's fears. At the second meeting, we had reached an agreement that we called "The No First Strike Agreement": we had assured them that we had no intention of monkeywrenching their equipment, and they had said that they would not assault us if we don't. [laughs]

So we really felt that we were making progress and that things were going well. So, that's where I was on Tuesday of the week I was bombed. That meeting was held in the evening.

Dislocated Workers. A Look Back at the Redwood Employment Training Programs

By Robert H. Michel, et. al - United States General Accounting Office, December 13, 1993

(This) study examined implementation of the Redwood worker assistance programs implemented to help mitigate the loss of jobs by timber workers in Northern California upon expansion of the Redwood National Park in 1978. The benefits provided to workers under the Redwood Employee Protection Program (REPP) were generous.

As of December 1988, REPP had spent about $104 million on 3,500 individuals. Less than 13 percent of these individuals enrolled in retraining. Of those workers who participated in retraining, officials estimated that about 95 percent completed their training and 25 percent of those relocated. California Employment Development Department (EDD) officials and REPP participants identified several problems they believed hampered implementation of assistance programs.

Workers and officials said communication regarding the program was inadequate. EDD officials said that because Department of Labor regulations for retraining were delayed until 14 months after program implementation, educational service providers were reluctant to develop retraining programs and officials lost contact with many dislocated workers before they could be provided with training.

Workers and officials said that receipt of benefits was not tied to retraining or job search assistance, and the benefits became a disincentive to work. They also believed that program eligibility was very lenient. During the period of the park's expansion, Humboldt County remained relatively stable, and Del Norte County experienced more fluctuations

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