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Green Unionism

By Arthur J. Miller

Like it or not, we humans are dependent upon the environment for our survival. Fact is capitalism has been the most harmful human activity to the environment in history. We don't even know all the harmful effects of capitalist industry of the past 100 years or more. That fact can be seen in the reality of all that was buried, like industrial waste, and the long term process of that waste reaching the groundwater or the rivers and oceans. As capitalist industry developed the proliferated the use of known and unknown threats to the environment at an ever increasing rate. The amount of harmful substances created by industry has swelled significantly. Whereas in the past it took 50 years to produce the same amount of harmful substances that later it took 10 years to produce, today we produce that same amount of harmful substances in less than a year. And this tend will only increase.

Tens of thousands of new chemicals are produced every year and most of the testing of harmful effects is done by the same companies that profit from its production. Given all that we do know and realizing, all we don't know about the harm capitalist industry has on the environment, and given the fact that capitalism's overwhelming priority is profit at any experience, we should clearly understand that capitalism cannot be reformed to become truly green.

Much of the environmental movement, both liberal and radical reformists, is so overwhelmed by the problem that it cannot do much about it. It is having less of an effect than sticking its finger in a hole in a dike trying to hold back the water. It takes them so long to make any gains and in that time capitalist industry has increased the dangers many times over.

Given that capitalism and its multinational corporations have made such gains in its goal of global conquest of everything that can be exploited for profit and its global corporate facism to protect its conquest, makes the idea of reform even less possible.

This reality is hard to comprehend. So some resort to creating fantasies such as small acts by eco-warriors or so-called primitivism. Small acts will never add up to enough to solve any problem. Primitivism, even if 3/4s of the population was removed, what was left would strip the natural world of everything that it could in order to survive and there would be wars to fight over what natural resources were left. So this fantasy would be even worse than capitalism in it impact on the environment. They point to early tribalism, but what they fail to understand is even early tribalism took hundreds of years to develop and cannot be created over night.

All of the above looks rather grim. But there is a real solution to the environmental problem. Industrial change at the point of where the problems are create, at the point of production. And who is at the point of production doing the producing? Not the capitalists, but we workers.

Workers have a direct interest in making environmental changes in industry, not just because we depend upon the environment to survive, but also because more often than not, we are the first victims of hazardous production and more likely than not it is our communities that are first polluted.

We Wobblies have sought to organized at the point of production to gain greater control over our production with the goal of gaining complete control over our labor and thus end the exploitation of our class by capitalism. With greater control over our production should also come greater responsibility for the effects of our production on other working people, on our communities and on our plant Mother Earth.

Much of the so-called environmental movement has been blinded by class bigotry that they have not realized that the solution to to the harms created by capitalist industry can only be changed by changing capitalist industry itself at the point of production. They are too sold-out to class privilege to be real environmentalists, for if they were not they would get into industry and organize!

I believe than good unionism should take on the environmental problems, often this is called health and safety, with the same amount of struggle as any other union issues. We workers understand our industries and we know how to change our production. We do need good information from research workers on the problems and on safe industrial methods and we can use our union power to create industrial change including using direct action and green strikes if need be.

Based upon the IWW idea of organizing industry for day-to-day struggles, and that should include environmental struggles, as a means of organizing the power of production to the point that the organized power of the working class is greater than the organized power of the capitalist class and then withhold our production from the capitalists and take control over our labor, we can create a new society based upon those that do the labor control their labor and take responsibility for the effects of their labor and use production for the well-being of all, including Mother Earth.

The point of production is not the only place we working people need to organize. We need to organize in our working class communities. We need to educate, and organize through direct action to confront environmental problems and create alternatives to the madness of capitalist consumerism. We need to rebuild our communities based upon our real needs and not the profits of the capitalists. The organized struggles at the point of production and within our communities should stand hand in hand in solidarity with each other.

The real solutions to the environmental problems does not exist within fantasys, it does not exist within small acts of destruction. It does not exist within any political system and reforming it. The real solutions can be found in true green unionism.

The first step is to do a Toxic Index of our workplaces. While it is true that we don't know all the harmful effects industry has, we can begin to identify those possible dangers based upon information we can gain through MSDSs and other research. A Toxic Index would list known toxic hazards, how they are used in our workplaces, how we can improve the use of these hazards, and possible safe alternatives. No matter what it seems like, every workplace can improve its environmental safe way of doing things. For example, many places are very good at recycling, but parts of the recycling industry do use toxic processes and thus it would be better to reuse rather than recycle.

The next step could be a Waste Index. A great contributor in the over use of nature resources is needless waste. The best example of that is in over packaging. In the construction industry a lot of older construction material is discarded that could still be reused. Even the practice of demolition of older homes or buildings just to put up new ones to sell is a process we could add to a Waste Index. Look at what your workplaces dumps in the trash and if that could be recycled or reused? And then include alternatives to creating so much waste.

Last create an Environmental Responsibility Index. What are the environmental impacts of your workplace and what you produce on the environmental and the surrounding community? What can be done to make your workplace and what it produces earth safe? What are better alternatives?

Once you have your have all this information then you know where to begin your green union struggle. Different shopfloor union organizations have different committees like grievance committee, health and safety committee and so on. Each shopfloor organization should also have an environmental committee. Industrial training is also important. There is the training of job skills, health and safety and union training. There should also be environmental training.

Good community outreach is also important. Communities are often put into danger by the industries around them. Thus it makes very good sense to outreach to communities to gain their support of your green union struggles on the job. Also, it is important to hear the concerns of communities as to the impact that industry has on them. You could even organize a union/community solidarity council to be able to work together on common issues.

Some of the changes you can make by direct action on the job. Back in the old days of the IWW, some workers won the 8 hour day by just quit working after 8 hours. This tactic can be used in green unionism by just doing your jobs, where you can, by doing earth safe work. You and your Fellow Workers can refuse to pollute the environment. At contract negotiation time you can include environmental issues in your contracts. And if the situation calls for it you can even have a green strike if needed.

Green unionism will only work if we have real worker solidarity. When workers through green unionism act we need to stand with them in the same way we do with any other issue. This needs to be our commitment and not fall for the tricks of so-called reformists of the system. Like so often happens their so-called reform only takes away from us and gives more power to the state that functions for the bosses. Our working class environment struggle is to important to have such political tricks played on us. Thus our struggle needs to be base upon true Principles of Labor Solidarity. An example of what those principles could look like are below.

Principles of Labor Solidarity:

  • Every worker on every job throughout the world has a right to organize with their fellow workers in their common interests.
  • Every worker throughout the world has a right to a living wage, safe and healthy working conditions, and health care coverage.
  • Every worker throughout the world has a right to labor free of harassment and discrimination based upon race, sex, nationality, religion, or any other form of bigotry.
  • Every worker throughout the world has the right to refuse to participate in or support wars where working people of one country are used to fight and kill working people of another country.
  • Every worker throughout the world has the right and responsibility to protect the environment of our world.
  • Every worker throughout the world has the right to withhold their labor as means to advance the above principles.
  • No worker throughout the world should ever be a scab.
    • No worker should ever cross the picket line of striking workers.
    • No worker should ever supply a shop on strike with goods or services.
    • No worker should ever handle scab goods.
    • No worker should ever consume scab goods.
    • No worker should ever do the work that striking workers would have done if they were not on strike.
    • Whenever workers are faced with government repression because of their right to organize and strike then all workers have the right to withhold their labor from the companies and industries profiting from that repression and a universal boycott should be in place on all goods going to and from that country, and on the companies profiting from the repression in that country.
  • Every strike or job action is a class action and should be supported by direct solidarity unless that action violates the Principles of Labor Solidarity.

Labor Solidarity needs to become a part of international working class culture and practiced on a daily basis.

Capitalism by its very nature cannot control itself. Even when the capitalists understand the impact they have on people and the earth, their driven lust for profit drives them on no matter what the cost is. Capitalism cannot be reformed. It has been the historic interest of working people to end the exploitation by the capitalists and gain control over our labor. Worker self-management comes with a responsibility to end exploitation and to produce for needs rather than profit. It is also an important part of worker self-management for workers to take responsibility for what they produce, how it is produced and what it is used for. And part of that responsibility of production needs to include the impact our production has on the environment. Thus the new union movement that is needed must include Green Unionism as a fundamental part of it.

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