Thursday, March 10, 2011

Green Unionism, Too!

A Piece for the Free Press Cooperative of Central MN and the IWW Blog by EJDoyle

Friends, readers, and fellow workers,

last month in this Free Press Cooperative, I wrote on the need for Industrial Unionism here in Central Minnesota, to combat the exploitation of the working people. I write this month to highlight a second great injustice of the capitalist system: the degradation our common home, the pollution of our air and water, the waste of both finite and renewing resources, the devaluing of nonhuman life, and the permanent altering of our habitat in such a way that it is no longer hospitable to that life which has heretofore adapted to it- in short, the ecological devastation that has seized the world in its deathly grip since the dawn of our current economic epoch.

Capitalism lays waste to our common home. Some would be inclined to blame industry, or the concept of civilization itself, as the source of these problems; this is ignorant. While there is no doubt that the specialization of labor allowed by the agricultural revolution has enabled our species to construct a myriad of technologies, which have in turn enabled us to expand our footprint within the ecosystem, to blame technology is to ignore the power that chooses how we use that technology.

In capitalism, that power is the capitalists, both as individuals and a class. To understand how we have reached our ecological crisis, we must understand how capitalism has forcibly guided the hand of industry in the short-term interest of the few at both the short and long-term expense of people and the Earth.

The capitalist system places value only in what is both owned and can be sold. For example, to this system, air quality is an ‘externality’, because it is a damage to our common resource- air cannot be owned nor sold and so does not count in the economic calculations of capitalists. While this is called, by the apologists of exploitation, a ‘tragedy of the commons’, we know it for what it really is; a tragedy that occurs when the needs of private holders takes precedence over the needs of those who use the commons; it is a tragedy of privatization and commodification.

The response to this tragedy, enforced on the global south by the World Bank and their ilk, and increasingly coming to invade and dismantle the scant protection of progressivism in the north (all in the name of ‘free trade’), is to further privatize what is commonly held; already, they have privatized land, water, fisheries, and even ‘genetic information’- seeds. Such privatization serves only to further consolidate wealth into the hands of the capitalist class, to be further mismanaged.

Capitalism mismanages because it and the privatization scheme places the power to make decisions in the hands of a tiny class, disregarding the needs of communities. Consider the suffering of Appalachia: Who decides that it is most ‘efficient’ to blow up mountains, dump the mud and rock into the valleys, choke the air with carcinogens, and poison the rivers with acid runoff, all to extract coal to power some capitalist’s machines in some other place, choking that town’s air and poisoning its water, and at every step of the way spewing forth carbon, contributing to the deathly toll of climate change?

It is the capitalist (or, in the modern corporation, the Board elected by the capitalists), safe in his office, away from the poisons he commands- the capitalist who can afford to keep his own home relatively free of pollution, and keep some crude semblance of wilderness alive in his estates for his enjoyment.

The needs of the people of Appalachia do not factor into the mining company’s decisions, nor do the needs of the people of Manchuria factor into the decisions of the manufacturing bosses or the State’s party bosses- so can the absentee bosses shift the ecological burden to the working classes, and ignore the costs of production, making a false efficiency from willfully blind industrialism. To the people who live and work in Appalachia or Manchuria, however, the pollution of their air and water, the loss of habitat and wildlife, the losses to public health, are all pressing concerns.

Had the workers, living with the consequences of industry, their say, would such degradation be tolerated? Common sense, and the growing alliance of labor with the environmental movement, dictates that it would not, but as long as the decisions are made in the board room, dictating the will of the capitalist class without regard to the consequences suffered by workers and their communities, such degradation continues.

These insanities of capitalism, among others, ensure that any attempt to ‘green’ the system is doomed. The public can try, as they have and as they should, to introduce public regulation of pollution. But, the hand of the boss class, kept powerful by the labor of the dependant workers, has ways of breaking down, bypassing, and rewriting these regulations. Unopposed by the organized power of the workers, the bosses can make these regulations mean little or nothing, and continue with more or less regular capitalist relationships to the environment. The other action people can take is direct and economic; they can refuse to purchase unsustainable products. This is a popular and welcome strategy, but again, it is not enough- it does not change the fundamental nature of the industry, but only creates a niche market, a sub-section of that industry, still controlled by the capitalists, but selling organic or ‘fair trade’ (less exploited) goods- often, with the money flowing to exact same corporate despoilers to be reinvested in their deadly industrial processes.

Consumer pressure alone is not enough, because it requires the huge majority of consumers to choose not to support industries that are poisoning people and destroying ecosystems. While it seems obvious that it is no more acceptable to pollute someone’s air and water or otherwise destroy their environment than it is to outright assault them, there are enough shortsighted blockheads and scissorbills in the world who don’t realize this and will continue to buy whatever good is cheapest in commodity price, regardless of its cost to the world. There is another course of action, an effective and powerful course that addresses the problem directly at its primary source. This is the course of green unionism. Labor addresses the threat to the environment where it is greatest; in the factories, fields, and mines of industry.

A capitalist may work around the other two strategies of environmental defense, and can even recuperate the losses of direct action, but what can they do, when the labor that keeps their industry running, refuses to work until real change is made? Though any union will help to bring the environmental needs of the community into the question of economic decision-making, industrial unionism is especially suited to this job.

An industrial union, such as the IWW, does not believe in shifting the burdens from one group of workers to another, as some business unions do. We don’t believe that getting rid of a polluter is progress, if they just move their pollution to a poorer side of town. We don’t think that putting solar panels up to power a business is sustainable, if the copper was gotten by ruining someone else’s home. We recognize that industrial pesticides hurt not only the workers in the field, but all the workers and communities downstream. Moving towards sustainability means solidarity not only with your own local community, but with people all over the world; this is a value that both bosses and too many business unions lack, but that forms the foundation of industrial unionism- a harm to one, whether through economic or ecological injustice, is a harm to all.

An industrial union is suited to green unionism because it is democratic. As we’ve already seen, hierarchical power relationships mean that the goals and values of one party take precedence over the values of others. While business unions are certainly better than no union, even they can form a controlling clique, and ignore the needs and desires of the rank and file. Industrial unions like the IWW don’t allow this centralization of power.

The IWW structure is radically democratic- each shop, industry, and local is its own center of power, with the IWW general body serving as a coordinator, not a commander, of activities. This structure, whether applied to a union, an activist network (for example, Earth First!, which the IWW has worked with in the past and which uses this grassroots, federative organizational principle), or a society, ensures that people get a voice in what affects them; a central goal of designing an ecologically just society. Finally, industrial unions are key to the defense of the environment in the workplace, because unlike business unions, the IWW and other industrial unions are openly and proudly advocates of economic democracy. Economic democracy is the negation of the capitalist method of organization, and the expansion of those things that make industrial unionism great; it is worker and community control of the factories and fields, the primacy of the people’s needs, both for constructed goods and for a healthy world, in the economic process, and the replacement of top-down control that benefits the owners without regard for the workers, with worker’s control, which benefits the workers and the community. In an ecologically conscious economic democracy (almost a redundancy), all value is considered; not only the value of commodity goods and stocks to the capitalist, but the very real value of our common resources and the people who depend on them, our children’s futures, and habitats and lives of non-human species- values that capitalism, in its commoditization of human and non-human life and devaluing of the wants and needs of the dispossessed, can never realize. Whatever other measures are taken to ensure the continued well-being of our environment, the power of industry will exploit and recklessly plunder the world, unless guided by the hands of all those who share that world, and not a privileged few.

Sustainability requires economic democracy and green unionism, and these demand industrial unionism. The IWW, with its commitment to sustainability and real change, is just the union we need, to make ecological and economic democracy come to life.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Monday, March 7, 2011

DeChristopher speaks after verdict

On Thursday, a jury in Salt Lake City declared climate activist Tim DeChristopher guilty for his interference with an oil and gas auction held at the end of the Bush administration. He faces a sentence of up to 10 years, to be determined by a judge.

The following is a transcript and video of Tim’s speech outside of the courthouse after the guilty verdict was handed down.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Worm in the Coffee Bean: Starbucks' Union-busting, Greenwashing Tactics and the Corporate Social Responsibility Movement

This is an old piece from the  Still, nothing has changed; Starbucks continues to green-wash, Starbucks continues to union-bust. 

The Worm in the Coffee Bean: Starbucks' Union-busting, Greenwashing Tactics and the Corporate Social Responsibility Movement

Daniel Goldin 

A few days after putting up my post "Starbucks and the White Whale" -- a reflection on Starbucks' ambition to become a cultural taste-maker -- I received an email from Daniel Gross, a Starbucks union-organizer in New York, pointing out some facts I had got wrong. I had said that "most of Starbucks' employees work part-time." In fact, all of Starbucks' retail employees work part-time (the company includes management in its statistics), with no guarantee even of the twenty hours needed to stay on the company's part-time worker health plan. I had compared Starbucks favorably to WalMart, but a little research revealed that in the area of insurance Starbucks fell short of WalMart, insuring only 42% of its workers (this figure also includes management), against WalMart's 47%.

Even more alarming is Starbucks' union-busting policies. Starbucks new CEO Jim Donald hails from -- you guessed it -- WalMart, as well as Safeway, companies famous for playing hard-ball against unions, and he seems to have imported similar hard-scrabble tactics to the running if Starbucks.

The IWW recently won a settlement against Starbucks from the National Labor Relations Board in response to charges against the company for illegal union-busting policies, including firing workers for union activity. In this agreement, Starbucks admitted no guilt but agreed to the following:

"NOT TO issue adverse performance reviews or deny pay increases to our employees in order to discourage them from joining or supporting Industrial Union 660."

"NOT TO provide employees with free pizza, free gym passes and free baseball tickets in order to encourage employees to withdraw their support for Industrial Union 660"

"NOT TO create the impression among their employees that their union activities are under surveillance or engage in surveillance of employees."

It is not hard to read between the lines of this settlement to figure out what the company did do. It is also not hard to understand why. The presence of a union hurts Starbucks' "progressive" brand by implying that its workers have grievances. The company's official line is that it is already committed to the well-being of its "partners." Why join a union, it tells its employees, when we're looking out for you?

This "noblesse oblige" argument that a corporation can internalize a feeling of obligation toward its workers -- as well as toward the environment -- and regulate itself, is at the heart of the "Corporate Social Responsibility" movement or C.S.R.. The gigantic turnout for the Social Responsibility Conference in New York last week shows just how mainstream C.S.R. has become. The conference included representatives from Chevron, J.C. Penny, Pfizer, McDonalds, Ford Motor, Exxon Mobil and, of course, Starbucks.

Starbucks has long been at the forefront of the C.S.R. movement. The company donates to military personnel, offers community building programs, claims a commitment to sustainable agriculture and to the rights of foreign workers. "More than our logo is green," goes the slogan. Critics complain that Starbucks engages in "green-washing," offering only a minuscule percentage of certified Fair Trade coffee -- and only after public lobbying from human rights organization Global Exchange -- and an even smaller percentage of coffee derived from sustainable coffee farming. They bring up union-busting and low wages. The company's supporters bring up insurance and the fact that the company supports fair trade at all, which goes against its bottom line. They say Starbucks does what it can, balancing a desire to be socially responsible with a need to compete in global markets.

Who's right? Is Starbucks a good corporate citizen -- or a lousy one?

To understand this notion of corporate citizenship, we need to consider the history of the corporation. The first corporations were chartered by the government to accomplish public works requiring pooled capital. The Massachusetts Bay Company was one of these, charged with colonizing the New World. By the early 19th century, American corporations formed to build factories with no long-term goal beyond the accumulation of wealth. The Supreme Court, under John Marshall, protected these new capitalist collectives against state regulation by invoking the "obligation of contracts" clause in the constitution, which states that "no state shall pass any law impairing the obligation of contracts." 1886 brought a landmark decision that still affects our thinking about corporations. In the case of Santa Clara County vs. Southern Pacific railroad, the court defined corporations as "persons" and ruled that they deserved the same protections of "life, liberty and property" accorded citizens under the 14th amendment. The legal metaphor persists to this day under the term "corporate personhood," and contributes to a confusion in America between democracy and capitalism.

A confusion Starbucks exploits when it invokes its good intentions against a need for oversight. Corporations are not people, despite the court's attempt to personify them. A corporation does not have feelings or good intentions, or a conscience, for that matter. It lacks empathy, and no P.R. department or Corporate Responsibility program can substitute for this quintessentially human check on selfishness. Corporations are not evil. But they are not good either. Moral terms do not apply because corporations are not human. Is Starbucks a good corporate citizen? Of course not. It is not a citizen at all. The argument that Starbucks' workers do not need to unionize because the company has their interests in mind presupposes that it has a mind in the first place -- which it doesn't.

Corporations are powerful engines of growth, but we make a grave error when we assign human qualities to them. C.P.R. programs prove that external pressures work. But they do not indicate some intrinsic corporate goodness that should encourage us to let up our guard.

Judi Bari on Sundance TV

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Check out Make your workplace bottled water free < Privatization, Water | CUPE

CUPE: Make your workplace bottled water free

  On March 10, 2011, communities across Canada will be mobilizing to ban the bottle and reclaim public water. This date marks the second annual Bottled Water Free Day. It’s never too soon to start your campaign to ban bottled water in your workplace As leaders in the fight against water privatization CUPE is working with the Canadian Federation of Students, the Sierra Youth Coalition, Development & Peace and the Polaris Institute to promote Bottled Water Free Day.
It’s increasingly difficult to access public drinking water in Canadian workplaces.  Public fountains aren’t being maintained – or installed in new buildings. And bottled water corporations are moving in to corner the market, replacing public infrastructure with private vending machines.
This year CUPE and our partner organizations are pushing hard to make university and college campuses and municipal workplaces bottled water free. Already 81 municipalities and ten university and college campuses have taken action toward being bottled water free. But much more can be done.
  • Take the Tap Water Pledge today to add your voice to the growing number of Canadians who want to protect and promote access to public drinking water.

Get involved in Bottled Water Free Day:
  1. Encourage your members, networks, friends and colleagues to sign the pledge and endorse the campaign by visiting
  2. Organize an event in the build-up to and on Bottled Water Free Day.  Materials and ideas are available on the website.
  3. Contact your city councilors, school board trustees and university/college presidents and ask them to make the Bottled Water Free Day Pledge.
Check out Make your workplace bottled water free < Privatization, Water | CUPE

Friday, February 25, 2011

End:Civ, a new revolutionary panacea?

This article delves into the development of anti-civilization ideology and critiques it as a potential dead end without the growth of an movement that crosses simple pronouncements. 

 I think that it is recognizable that modern industrial development has been, on a whole, destructive to the environment.  The need then is how to dismantlement harmful industrial technologies and provide a just transition for the workers within those industries.  We need to build solidarity, against sexism, patriarchy, capitalism, and for a new, green world. 

    Originally posted here

End:Civ, a new revolutionary panacea?

Blog posts are the work of individual contributors, reflecting their thoughts, opinions and research.
A lot of the bad publicity for Marxist groups has come as a result of those members who preach Marxist dogma just as Christians preach their gospel. There's no need to study many texts on Marx's writings to realize this current created a lot of red-robed priests telling us “what the great Karl really meant”. It seems as though new ideologists haven't learned from the mistakes of the past, as we're witnessing the dawn of a new generation of “green-robed priests”. This review traces parallels between Marxists' mistakes, and new ideas in anti-civilization discourse; focusing on the aim to propagate an argumentative structure formed from “premises”, the tendency to split and fork into smaller groups, and the "inevitable future" discourse that stresses the importance of acting in an emergency.
Argumentative structure
Maoist movements were delivered sentences by the Little Red Book just as End:Civ (like End Game) is structured around premises for involvement in the anti-civilization movement. These sentences make the anti-civilization movement assume particular answers to questions that need to be addressed collectively-the problem is that accepting the premises from End Game dismisses all the major discussions grassroots organizations must go through in their development and radicalization.
An example is the premise "love does not imply pacifism". Involvement in social movements will force you to have discussions on that topic over and over again, inside groups, because of the obvious importance of having unity over tactics. You have to be open-minded and understand your opponent's points of view if you want to develop arguments that they view as relevant. The movie does help discussion on this topic. However, by stating one opinion as a given premise, it pushes out people who have not yet decided over the issue.
The same problems will arise from the premise "civilization, especially industrial civilization, can never be sustainable". End:Civ tells us we should take this as granted. Meanwhile, we have millions of Canadians giving money to the Canadian Pension Plan (the biggest investor in military equipment suppliers), who could be convinced of the risky nature of their pension system-which could erupt just as in Greece or France. Here, the majority of the population should be rejected by that premise,just because they ignore the risky nature of our economic institutions. Even among those who don't ignore it, a lot of them should also be rejected on behalf of their materialism; because they are refusing to have a firm position on something that can't be proven.
If an ideology takes for granted the answers to major questions deserving to be addressed within our struggles, it takes us away from those movements-puts us above their discussions. It's hard to know what will come of the anti-civilization movement, but Marxism isolated individuals in groups of highly radicalized people, who spoke an hermetic language, who acted on behalf of others, and who were mimicked by following generations...
...that repeated the same mistakes!
Marxists movements in Canada never achieved a critical mass, in a tendency that might be depicted as confusing ideological and personal disagreements. Marxist-Leninists, Trotskyists, Maoists, all ignored each other in their publications. They did so to hide the tensions between groups and pretend that everything was perfect in the communist world, and above all, they were the only solution to capitalism.
In the anti-civilization world, there was a first generation including the likes John Zerzan and Dave Foreman, who supported veganism and the Animal Liberation movement. While End:Civ covers the "environmentalist movement", nothing is said of the ALF, the ELF, Earth First or operation backfire (because of which Rod Coronado, pictured in the movie, has been in jail).
As a refresher, the ALF and ELF were allegedly active in 40 countries, did massive campaigns of animal liberation, attacked power lines, etc., and ended up with a large amount of people in jail after operation backfire, in which the CIA infiltrated a cell. It's useful to explain that the environmentalist movement contains groups that have been co-opted, but ignoring those who have been crushed by the state prevents the movement from connecting with its past.
One conclusion of the West Coast episode of the ALF is that if you want to sustain any kind of direct action movement over time, you need a humongous amount of support and resources. These things take a long time to build. They require a lot of effort and a lot of contacts, sustained over a long period of time...
...but our days are counted!
Just as Marx made the mistake of declaring that capitalism would inevitably fall (more precisely, first in England, and finally in Russia), an End Game premise declares industrial civilization "unsustainable".
Saying "the longer we wait for civilization to crash, the worse life will be after its fall", without addressing head-first the quantity of work there is to do to “smash the state”, can lead to many misconceptions about the nature of this work. The struggle against “civilization” will be won when there are no longer enough believers in the capitalist mode of production to overthrow our thriving post-revolutionary society; not just when the White House or Monsanto's headquarters burn down.
But it gets worse as the "act right now" discourse in End:Civ ignores different streams of struggle to focus only on the one against civilization. Prioritizing struggles has been the main source of failure from the Marxist movements of the past. To "Fuck Patience" here would be to postpone the important work done by other groups until after the revolution, keeping a lot of allies out of the struggle.
Take as an example the 1969 Chicago convention of the Students for a Democratic Society, which fell into disarray after Marxists (formerly the Worker Student Alliance and the Progressive Labour Party) took over; postponing the anti-racist and feminist discussions for "after the revolution". This is why some anarchists tend to separate the anti-civilization movement from anarchism. The anarchist tradition includes large anarcho-syndicalist, anarcho-feminist, anarcho-queer, and anarchist people of colour segments, which emphasize having a movement structured in the same way as the post-revolutionary society. Therefore most anarchists refuse the principle of ideological unity, because all those fighting back deserve to have their voices equally heard.
It is as important to understand the refusal of civilization, as it is to understand the 200 years of resistance that the worldwide population has waged in struggle against the capitalist system, as it is to understand the struggle against patriarchy, heterosexism, homophobia, ableism and all other systems of oppression. The more angles of approach we have, the more likely we are to inflict some damage.

Movements for social justice should try to move beyond such efforts as convincing people to follow “premises” and threatening them with Armageddon without disclosing how previous movements have already experienced the outcomes of such approaches. People defending the land are in an important struggle, but people also face oppression because of their gender (or lack thereof), their skin colour, their heritage, etc., and are also fighting back! People understand the links between patriarchy and capitalism, the similitude of racism and heterosexism... Disregarding these links between different oppressions, between different movements, can turn one valid point of resistance into a dead-end analysis that simply snubs other groups in struggle.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Attack on Labor: Six Reasons Sustainability Activists Should Care

The Attack on Labor: Six Reasons Sustainability Activists Should Care

Advocates for sustainability, under assault from climate deniers and drill-baby-drillers, are struggling to protect the earth from global warming, desertification, extinction of plants and animals, and other looming threats.  Why should they also be concerned about the escalating attack on America's labor unions?

According to a recent New York Times report, many governors and state legislatures are now seeking "far-reaching, structural changes that would weaken the bargaining power and political influence of unions, including private sector ones." While much of the attack is spearheaded by Republicans, many Democratic politicians are joining in the charge.

Here are some examples:

-- Legislators in ten states are planning to introduce legislation to prevent private sector unions from requiring members to pay dues or fees.

-- Sixteen state legislatures are considering laws to prevent unions from spending money on political activities unless it comes from individual members who have agreed to "opt in" for such expenditures.

-- According to the Columbus Dispatch, newly elected Ohio governor John Kasich is proposing to take away the right of state-financed child care and home care workers to unionize.  He says of teachers, "If they want to strike, they should be fired."  He wants the right to pay construction workers less than union pay scales on public contracts.  And he even wants to ban binding arbitration for government employees.  Former governor Ted Strickland points out that the state's workers, far from making extravagant demands, voluntarily agreed to forgo raises and take ten unpaid furlough days.

-- According to the Green Bay Press Gazette, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker announced he wants to "end collective bargaining for nearly all public employees."  He also "updated emergency plans and alerted the National Guard just in case" they are needed to "ensure state services aren't interrupted."  The Press Gazette headlined the article, "Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker says National Guard ready for any unrest over anti-union bill."

"In the long run, if these measures deprive unions of resources, it will cut them off at their knees. They'll melt away," said Charles E. Wilson, a law professor at Ohio State University.  Sustainability activists may be tempted to say, well, why should we take time off from trying to avert global catastrophe to concern ourselves with what is happening to the unions?  After all, aren't unions just concerned with the narrow interests of their members?  Aren't they just about getting some folks a bit more of the pie?  And haven't they opposed or stalled action on many issues important to sustainability?  But before they come to that conclusion, sustainability advocates should consider:

1.  Organized labor is the most powerful force for fighting conservative ideology.  If unions "melt away," American politics will be totally dominated by a combination of corporate greed, right-wing media, and tea party extremism.

2.  Despite occasional elements of discord, the alliance of labor, environmental, and sustainability movements has been crucial ever since the first Earth Day in supporting and passing environmental legislation.  It will continue to be crucial in the future.

3.  The right-wing strategy is to divide progressive groups that should be natural allies, and play them off against each other.  For example, they are attempting to drive a wedge between private sector and public sector workers.  Similarly, they constantly harp on the theory that environmental protection will destroy workers' jobs - while implying that workers have no interest in protecting the environment.

4.  The most promising strategy for reviving popular support for sustainability policies is a program to create full employment by creating millions of green jobs protecting the climate and the environment.  Organized labor has been a major supporter of green jobs.  If unions "melt away," so will a major pillar of support for environmental policies that create jobs.

5.  Unions are far more likely to support sustainability policies if in their hour of need they receive support from sustainability activists.  The support of groups like the Sierra Club for right-to-organize legislation played a significant role in encouraging unions to support climate legislation, for example.  It helped to persuade the Teamster's to reverse its position on Arctic drilling and pull out of the coalition that supports it.

6.  Even when they differ on particular issues, unions are the most important allies of sustainability activists in the political arena.   Unions recently spent more than $200 million to defeat candidates who are threatening to break the labor movement.  In virtually all cases they are the very same candidates who are trying to gut environmental protection policies and who claim global warming is a myth.   Even on the minimal basis of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" sustainability activists should be try to keep organized labor from being "cut off at their knees."

The defense of the rights of workers to organize, bargain collectively, and take concerted action is taking place right now at every level from the White House, to state legislatures, to city councils.  It is very much a struggle for the hearts and minds of citizens, workers, and community members.  Which side the sustainability movement is on in that struggle will help determine how significant a role the labor movement will play in building a sustainable future.

Joe Uehlein is co-founder of the Labor Network for Sustainability, which is dedicated to rallying trade unionists for economic, social and environmental sustainability.  Learn more at

Monday, February 14, 2011

Kentucky Rising! Day Two: Why Kentucky Can't Wait

Coal Miners, Mine Inspectors, nurses, labour historians and writers Sit-In agianst mountin top removal and strip mining. (from

Governor's Sit-In Day Two: Why Kentucky Can't Wait
Jeff Biggers
Author, "Reckoning at Eagle Creek: The Secret Legacy of Coal in the Heartland"
Posted: February 12, 2011 09:54 AM

As the nation's beloved author/farmer philosopher Wendell Berry settled his 76-year-old lanky frame onto the floor of Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear's office last night, he picked up a copy of The Tempest. But in joining other protesters in this extraordinary sit-in to halt reckless mountaintop removal mining, including a coal miner and inspector who dedicated 40 years of his life to the industry, a Harlan County activist whose brother was killed in a mine, a nurse who has served black lung-affected coal miners for decades, and some of the country's top Appalachian labor and history scholars, Berry was not taking part in any Shakespeare spectacle.

When Prospero commands in the classic play, "We are such stuff, as dreams are made on," Kentuckians, who have lived among the ravages of strip-mining for a century -- and mountaintop removal operations since 1970 -- were making it clear that they can no longer wait for the elusive dream of coalfield justice and democracy in their own homeland of central Appalachia.

When Martin Luther King wrote his game-changing letter for the Civil Rights movement on the need for civil disobedience, "Why We Can't Wait" from the Birmingham, Alabama jail in 1963, the neighbors and families of these same Kentuckians were already in the throes of a growing movement to stop the devastation from unyielding and increasingly lawless strip-mining operations.

While King sought "to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation," besieged strip-mined residents in Knott County in eastern Kentucky organized their own sit-ins and protests to keep unchecked strip-miners from destroying their historic homelands and hillsides and watersheds. They exclaimed to the world: "We feel we have been forsaken."

As early as 1965, a 50-car convey of coalfield residents made the same trek as today's protesters to the governor's office in Frankfort, and called on him to enact enforceable laws to keep absentee coal companies from "ruining our farms and fields and streams."

Yesterday's meeting between the sit-in activists and Gov. Steve Beshear revealed the state's still astonishing denial of the human, environmental and economic cost of coal placed on the shoulder of its coalfield citizens. Beshear refused to acknowledge any of the impacts from strip-mining, including the widely documented irreversible and pervasive destruction of federally-protected waterways from mountaintop removal dumping. He dismissed the EPA as a meddler in state affairs.

Later in the day, Beshear's administration was symbolically reprimanded by a circuit court judge in his decision to include citizen participation in a stunning case of coal industry fraud and violation over the Clean Water Act. Beshear's administration had attempted to dismiss the citizens groups as "unwarranted burdens."
In one of the most poignant moments in the meeting, eastern Kentucky coalfield resident Rick Handshoe said to the governor: "I pay a higher electric bill than you: I pay my electric bill, and I pay with my family's health, my nephew's health. We pay a bigger price. We're paying with our lives there."

More than four decades since King's letter and the Kentucky movement to abolish strip-mining, Kentuckians and the nation have watched as close to 300 mountains and nearly 600,000 acres of hardwood forests, and hundreds of miles of headwater streams, have been irreversibly destroyed by mountaintop removal strip mining. In the process, more than 60 percent of the coal miner jobs have been stripped by the heavily mechanized operations, leaving the local economies in ruin and without any hope of economic diversification. According to recent studies, less than four percent of any mountaintop removal reclamation operation has resulted in verifiable post-mining economic productivity excluding forestry and pasture.
Kentuckians are as forsaken today as they were when the desperate Knott County residents called on the nation for assistance in the 1960s.

As the most egregious human rights and environmental crime over the past 40 years, mountaintop removal mining in all of central Appalachia, which provides less than 5-8 percent of our national coal production, has resulted in the largest forced removal of American citizens since the the mid-19th century.
Martin Luther King dispelled the role "outside agitators" in his letter, and provided the "four basic steps" of non-violent civil disobedience: "The collection of the facts to determine whether injustice exists; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action."

As Berry and the sit-in protesters remain holed up in his office for the weekend in this inspiring act of protest, in anticipation of the call for a mass rally on Monday at the Kentucky capitol for "I Love Mountains Day," the nation will continue to watch as this veritable Kentucky Rising plays out.
The question remains: Will Kentucky continue to deny the costly and deadly impacts of mountaintop removal, or begin the process, as Martin Luther King wrote, "to heal" the legacies of the past and move his state toward a just transition for clean energy?

Either way, Kentucky can't wait.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Anarcho-Syndicalism, Technology and Ecology

Anarcho-Syndicalism, Technology and Ecology

by Graham Purchase

This article originally appeared in issue #35 (Summer, 1995) of Kick It Over

In an anarchist society, the absence of centralized state authority will permit a radically new integration of nature, labour and culture. As the social and ecological revolution progresses, national boundaries will become cartographical curiosities, and divisions based upon differences in geography, climate and species distribution will re-emerge. This essay addresses the question of what role unionism will play in these changes.
First, it seems obvious that telecommunications, transportation and postal networks all require organization which extends far beyond the individual ecological region, and activities like road building between communities require cooperation beyond that of individual locales. Thus, a return to a community-based lifestyle need not and cannot imply a return to the isolation of the walled medieval city or peasant village.
Anarcho-syndicalists (that is, anarchist unionists) argue that the best way to address such needs is for the "workers of the world" to cease producing for capitalist elites and their political allies. Instead, they should organize to serve humanity by creating not only communication and transportation networks, but industrial, service, and agricultural networks as well, in order to ensure the continued production and distribution of goods and services.
Yet there are many people in anarchist and radical environmental circles who regard anarcho-syndicalism with distrust, as they mistakenly identify it with industrialism. They argue that global industrialism has been responsible for centralized organization and environmental destruction. They view industrialism as necessarily based upon mass production, and the factory as inevitably involving high energy use and dehumanizing working conditions. In short, critics believe that providing six billion people with toilet paper and building materials (let alone TVs, VCRs and automobiles) necessarily involves large-scale, mass production techniques ill-suited to ecological health - regardless of whether capitalist leeches or "free" workers are running the show. Industrialism, it is argued, is an environmental evil in and of itself; it is only made slightly more destructive by the narrow, short-term interests of capital and state. Such critics argue that technology has likewise outgrown its capitalistic origins, and has taken on a sinister and destructive life of its own.
I am not unsympathetic to this argument. That children and adults alike spend hours on end surrounded by deafening noise and blinding lights in video arcades, in an utterly synthetic technological orgy, is ample evidence of our species' sick fetish for non-organic, superficial pleasures. The regimentation of the work day, and the consignment of leisure and play to half-hour television slots interrupted by nauseating commercials, is nothing short of the industrial robotification of human nature - an alarming process that has led many to argue that humanity should abandon the industrial and technological revolutions altogether. They further argue that we should return to small-scale, minimally industrial technologies that utilize simple devices such as the hand loom. Given the enormously destructive effects of today's industrial system, such a course may ultimately be the only path open to humanity. At this point, however, simply abandoning our cities and our technologies and hoping that our species will somehow return to a small-scale, pre-industrial existence appears both unlikely and reckless.

Worker Control

In recent years, there has been a revolution in the distasteful discipline of "personnel" management. For, example, "experts" are declaring a new day in industrial relations because bosses now eat in the same canteen as the workers in some industries. In the past, when the bosses seemed to be distant figures, the inequities of the class/wage system were obvious to all. But, if the bosses exercise with the rank and file in the company gym, they are perceived as "really just some of ,us." In such circumstances, workers tend to forget the 10- or 20-to-one pay differential, company car, and handsome retirement scheme that comes with being the boss. One example of this new type of "personnel management" is found in Australia, where there has been much fuss recently about a "harmonious, happy" outfit which "allows" employees to set their own wages, holiday arrangements, and production quotas. No wonder the boss is happy with this arrangement; s/he no longer has to go to the trouble of working all this out for them. Letting the workers spend their time figuring out the fine details of their own wage slavery is touted as the pinnacle of modem management techniques. (Not only would the employees be much better off financially if they sacked the boss and shared all the profits among themselves, their work would become a richly human experience instead of a dehumanizing and unrewarding one.) Merely by providing a semblance of an egalitarian work environment, modern management has dramatically increased production and minimized sabotage. Imagine the efficiency and satisfaction that would result if this appearance of worker control were turned into a living reality.

Efficiency and Self-Sufficiency

Although the local, small-scale production of manufactured items should be encouraged in every ecological region, it would be absurd to expect that every village, town or region would produce its own can openers, razor blades, nails and windmill blades. Even if it were possible for craftspeople in every community to produce these products and thousands like them, this would surely involve an enormous waste of time and energy. No one wants to suffer the noise and clamor of the factory and be a slave to the machine, but neither do most people want to make their own nails and rope by the methods traditionally employed by village blacksmiths and rope, makers. The hellfire and brimstone of the factory floor on the one hand, and hours of tedious, mind-numbing weaving on the other, are not desirable alternatives to the wire cutter and the mechanical loom, respectively. There is simply no good reason to reject industrial workshops as a means for producing the wide variety of manufactured items that are required in our daily lives.
Only certain regions have the ores necessary to the production of iron, steel, copper and aluminum, and even if the manufacture of the many items made from such ores were carried out in each local region, it would still require a transport network to get the ores there in the first place. In adopting the ecoregionally self-sufficient community as the basis for a future anarchist society, we must not blind ourselves to its real limitations. In the absence of intercommunal worker associations for the provision of transport, communication, and basic articles of consumption, the anarchist vision is reduced to an absurd and unworkable utopia. Although we may justly assert that many items such as bread, food, energy, building materials ad infinitum should, and in many cases could, be produced by the inhabitants of each city-region, insisting upon a concept of total self-sufficiency, as anti-syndicalist anarchists are apt to do, is unrealistic and dogmatic.
No one wants to spend their whole life in the factory or workshop, but everyone needs nails, transportation, or rope at some time, It would only be fair that all people spend a few hours every week helping to provide these useful products in co-operation with their fellows. Machines do help us make these things more easily; people only become slaves to their machines because they are slaves to their bosses and to a wasteful, growth-oriented economy. If there were no useless bosses who collect the profits but do no work at the machines they own or oversee, and if production did not always have to be increased to fuel an ever-expanding, growth-oriented consumerism, then it is doubtful that any of us would have to work more than a few hours per week. Those who are by temperament "workaholics" could spend their time improving upon, and experimenting with, products or projects of their choice.

Primitivism and Technophilia

Looking back toward the Stone Age or forward toward some post-industrial techno-utopia is equally pointless. Primitivists long for a quick fix from a (largely imagined) glorious past, while technophiles long for the quick fix in an idealized future - when the way out of the present mess probably entails an imaginative mixture of Neolithic community and selected technologies. For example, the use of non-renewable oil and coal resources during the past two centuries is undoubtedly ill-suited to the ecology of our planet, but so would be the Neolithic firewood hearth, were it to be used by Earth's six billion people today. (In time, all non-renewable energy sources will of necessity be superseded by renewable ones such as wind and water.)

Capitalism and a Clean Environment

But, returning to the present industrial/technological nightmare, it seems evident that new technological priorities tend to produce changes of emphasis in the realm of so-called pure science. Biology was, until quite recently, seen as a "soft" science compared to the "MM" and more "logical" sciences of inorganic chemistry and physics. This is now changing, and the study of molecular biology is at the forefront of contemporary intellectual and popular interest. Botany, biology and biochemistry are emerging as the main sciences of a second industrial age.
Every day, natural products are being discovered that can take the place of the outdated, chemical synthetic materials of bygone eras. It is now possible to envision a time when every item of industrial manufacture presently associated with environmental destruction cars, fuels, oils, aircraft, plastics, computers, etc. - is constructed with materials that have been harmlessly extracted from nature, and which can in turn be harmlessly and quickly re-absorbed by nature.
Industrialism is, however, beginning to partially reform itself. (Of course, environmental reforms under capitalism will succeed only to the extent that they are compatible with the profit motive.) Even our capitalist bosses cannot escape skin cancer and oil slicks while they sun themselves at their exclusive beach resorts; and many people no longer wish to buy or use environmentally unsound products. The capitalists, ever watchful of the market, have become increasingly aware of this fact; those companies which have presented a superficial "Green image" while persisting in unsound practices have on the whole been "found out," and are beginning to regret their dishonesty. Green journalism has created a better informed and extremely angry public which will no longer be easily fooled by transparent corporate tactics. Capitalists now fully appreciate that a Green image with genuinely Green products behind it will translate into big dollars and huge profits in the future.
Capitalists are not the only segment of our population undergoing Green-inspired change. Everywhere in the world inventors, scientists, engineers and botanochemists are becoming inspired by the vision of a greener world, and the number of new and potentially environmentally safe processes and products multiplies with every passing day.

Consumerism and Environmentalism

Industrialism is not inherently anti-ecological, and the strength of Green consumerism will almost certainly ensure that the resource base for many of the manufactured products that we consume must and will change for the better. But the individualistic mass consumer culture which has grown up around the industrial system is another matter. If people continue to insist upon having three cars ad individually owning every conceivable appliance and convenience, then things are unlikely to get very much better.
No environmentalist wishes to see many millions of acres of land devoted to the monocultural production of maize or palm oil in order to provide bio-fuels for our cars. But neither syndicalism nor, indeed, industrialism, requires capitalism's promotion of "growth" and individualistic over-consumption. For example, syndicalists are committed to providing extensive public transport networks and other basic utilities on a non-profit basis for the benefit of all; and the provision of utilities or public transport using manufactured industrial products in no way requires the destructive and profit-oriented consumer culture of the present day. It might take X number of acres of biomass to power an electric railway, but it would well take 100 times that much to fuel the number of privately-owned automobiles which would transport a similar number of people as the train. It might take Y amount of natural fiber to provide seating for all that train, but it might take 100 times that much to outfit all of those cars. While it might be possible to grow enough biomass or fiber on small lots in a large number of small, organically diverse farms to support the train, the attempt to produce 100 times that amount to support the cars almost inevitably implies the need for extensive monocultural production - with all the degradation of wilderness and soil that such farming methods entail.
Capitalists are committed to growth-oriented consumerism; it does not mater much to them whether they are selling natural or artificial products so long as people keep buying and consuming more and more. As a consequence, more and more of the available land is being given over to producing more and more products for individual consumption. Syndicalists, on the other hand, understand the need for the communal consumption of industrial resources. They understand that a well-constructed trolley line might last 100 years and transport millions or even tens of millions of people in its lifetime. Once a railway or trolley line is built, there is no inherent requirement for growth. Chances are, one line from point A to point B will be all that will ever be needed; there probably will be no need to construct another, let alone 20 or 30 of them. The point is that syndicalists are not interested in growth or profit, and their concept of industrialism must not be confused with the profoundly destructive consumer culture of contemporary capitalism.

Anarcho-Syndicalism and Environmentalism

Only time will tell whether human technology and society can co-evolve successfully with nature. Neither the "primitivists" nor the "technophiles" can read the future, but I am convinced that neither alone holds the answer. That we can simply dismantle the industrial and technological revolutions and return to small-scale tribal communities seems even more naive a proposal than some old-fashioned anarcho-syndicalists' view that workers self-management alone will bring about the "free society." The idea that a workers' paradise could simply be built upon the shoulders of global capitalism is simply preposterous. The large-scale, centralized, mass-production approach that developed with capitalism, idolized by many Marxists, was, unfortunately, never seriously challenged by either the union movement or by anarcho-syndicalists. The wider anarchist movement, however, has always distrusted large-scale, wasteful industrial practices and deplored the regimentation involved in work and the factory system, and has placed its faith in the self-governing, environmentally integrated community. Anarcho-syndicalists should review the intellectual insights of the broad anarchist movement to a much greater extent than they have. Otherwise, anarcho-syndicalism will become just another tired, 19th-century socialist philosophy with an overly optimistic assessment of the liberatory potential of mass industrial culture.
Nevertheless, it is only through organizing our fellow wage-earners, who have the least to gain from the continued functioning of global capitalism, that we can build any lasting challenge to the state and its power elite. The traditional methods of syndicalism, such as the general strike, could bring the global mega-machine to a complete standstill overnight. No other group can achieve this, because wage-earners, and especially the growing army of service workers, represent the majority (at least 60%) of the adult population. Once the people wrest the industrial and service infrastructure from the hands of the elite, we can do what we will with it. Maybe the majority of workers will choose to dismantle their factories and abandon their fast-food restaurant chains, committing industrial mass manufacture to the dustbin of history; or perhaps they will elect to develop new, more localized versions of their industries. Of course, unless anarchists persuade their fellow workers to organize themselves to resist and eventually eliminate the current state and corporate coercive apparatus, this whole discussion is so much pie in the sky. This is the most compelling reason why an environmentally sensitive and rejuvenated anarcho-syndicalist movement represents one of the most practical methods of halting the destructive advance of the state and the mega-corporation.
The worldwide nature of pollution provides more reason for international workers' organizations. Even though governments have achieved some successes in controlling pollution, these successes have been sporadic and limited. For example, the Montreal protocol appears to have been successful in slowing the continued production of ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons, of CFCs. These chemicals are, however, mainly produced by only six companies, and we should not be too optimistic about the possibility for global co-operation between capitalists and national governments on environmental issues. (The failure to do anything about "greenhouse" gas emissions shows the near-total lack of environmental concern of those in power.) Although CFCs were first synthesized in 1894, they were not used industrially until 1927. Had they been used beginning in 1894, we may not have had an ozone layer left to protect. We are told that, after a period of thinning, the ozone layer will most likely begin to repair itself. But what other long-term or irreversible industrial damage is occurring without our being aware of it?
The industrial system as we know it may indeed be causing such damage, but what do anti-syndicalist anarchists propose to do about it? Even if humanity decided to give up industrialism altogether and return to a craft economy, global co-operation among the industrial workers of the world would be necessary to implement that decision - via a permanent, worldwide general strike. In the absence of a grassroots and anarchistically inspired workers' movement that could mount a sustained opposition to industrial capitalism, such a course does not even present itself as a possibility. Anti-syndicalist anarchists, if they are sincere in their desire to abolish the industrial system, should as a matter of logic talk with working people, persuade them to accept their point of view, and then help organize them to implement it. Neither capitalists nor unorganized, unaware workers will abandon their factories and consumerist habits. And, as long as there are industrial capitalists - and no massive international opposition to them - industrialism as we know it will assuredly remain.

Means and Ends

It is true that we may ultimately discover that most technology, and even the industrial system itself, is inherently environmentally destructive. It is even possible that many of the new eco-technologies that seem to offer hope may turn out to have unforeseen side effects, and that humanity will be compelled to give up modem technology altogether. But, if this happens, it must be an organic process. Its starting point, one would hope, would not be simply to smash up the machines, dynamite the roads and abandon the cities, beginning again at "year zero" - as Pol Pot attempted to do in Cambodia. The only non-authoritarian way in which the "year zero" can come is for the people to decide unanimously to destroy their factories, stores, highways, and telephone systems themselves. If this happens, there would be nothing anyone could or should do to stop them. But starvation, dislocation, chaos and violence would almost certainly be the immediate result of such reckless actions, leading to dictatorship, horrendous suffering, and political and social passivity in the long run. (And even if primitivists would, by some miracle, convince a majority of our fellow citizens to discard science and technology, would that give them the right to force the rest of us to submit to their will?)
The everyday needs of humanity are enmeshed in the continued functioning of the industrial machine. One cannot simply smash up the life-support system and hope for the best. Instead, it must be carefully dismantled while new methods and practices are developed. If we are to achieve an eco-anarchist society, workers must wrest power from their employers, after which the goal should be production of socially necessary and environmentally benign goods. Once people are no longer forced to produce useless consumer goods and services, it is likely that every person will work only a very few hours per week - leaving people with much more time to devote to their own interests and to their communities. By eliminating the parasitic classes and reducing industrial activity to the production of basic necessities, a huge amount of human energy would be released. The reconstruction of the eco-regionally integrated human community from the corpse of the state could thus commence in an incremental way, ensuring that basic human needs would be effectively met while retaining the positive aspects of the industrial infrastructure. Each of us would have to continue to work a few hours per week to keep the industrial machine minimally functioning while we made changes.
If, in the face of sustained efforts to reduce its adverse effects and to integrate it with the local eco-region, the industrial system still proved to be an environmental menace, then humanity would, one hopes, have had the time to explore new ways of life suited to meeting its basic needs without industry as we know it. Industrial syndicalism is one relatively bloodless way of doing away with the state/capitalist elite, and of allowing construction of an anarchist society; it may or may not have a place in the creation of an ecologically sound way of life, but it is a sure method of returning economic and industrial power into the hands of the people. Anarchists - be they industrial-syndicalist, technophile, or neo-primitivist - thus have no program other than to bluntly declare that it is the people who must decide their own social and environmental destiny.
Of course, the question remains of whether industrial syndicalism is the only, or most satisfactory, anarchist method of reorganizing the distribution of goods and services within communities. What we can be sure of is that the individualistic mass consumerism of the current state/capitalist system is quite ill-suited to the health and sustainability of life on Earth.

The Organization of Daily Life

In order to have influence, anarchists, who have always believed that the individual and the collectivity are of equal value and can co-exist harmoniously, must clarify the alternatives to both capitalist and authoritarian "communist" economics. For example, nonprofit, community-based forms of individual skills exchange, such as barter-based networks, represent co-operative efforts which strengthen the autonomy of both individuals and communities. Local skills exchange systems use their own bartered "currency" and distribute goods, services and labour within the community; community infrastructures can thus develop according to the ideals of their members, without dependence upon government, capital or state.
The value that ordinary people place upon individual effort and exchange cannot be ignored by anarchists; there is simply no need to collectivize or industrialize those services that do not require elaborate structures. Further, the rise of the service sector (counseling, food services, daycare, etc.), together with the need to reduce the work week and to minimize consumption by producing only socially necessary goods, will mean that the social organization of work will be increasingly directed toward community-based and non-profit activities such as skills exchange networks.
But, unless the trains run and municipal water and energy supplies, are assured, the social situation will quickly dissolve into chaos. The intercommunal postal and transport networks needed to deliver basic goods and services obviously cannot be supplied by community-based skills exchange networks.
Again, anarcho-syndicalists' traditional approach to providing such services via worker-controlled organizations points to a solution: workers in non-profit industries would simply exchange their labour and products for credits in local skills exchange networks. Small-scale, non-industrial approaches and their integration with local exchange networks are thus viable steps toward an anarchist society. The realization of a federation of free communities requires a multifaceted attack upon the institutions of capital and state, involving elements of traditional syndicalism as well as more individually oriented yet essentially non-capitalist systems of production and consumption, systems that allow for adequate levels of consumer choice.
Village life is in decline everywhere and, even if it will eventually be necessary to return to a world composed of small villages, at present we face the problem of increasing millions of urban dwellers living on the outskirts of cities which long ago ceased to be discernible social entities. The social ills upon which modem life is based - mass alienation, consumerism and self-centered individualism - may prove fatal to our species, and should be democratically eradicated through education. Syndicalism, local skills exchange networks, and traditional co-operative ventures are ways of helping people to educate themselves about community and regionally-based ways of life. These possibilities are far superior to either the Stalinist "proletarianization" of the people through terror, or the state, capitalist robotification of the urban and rural masses by an endless media circus that lobotomizes people into insatiable consumerism, cynicism, and social apathy.
Reprinted from Anarchism and Environmental Survival (See Sharp Press, PO Box 1731, Tucson, AZ 85702 USA). Anarchism and Environmental Survival is available in the US directly from See Sharp for $11.95 + $2.00 p&h. This book, and Graham Purchase's pamphlets Anarchism and Ecology: The Historical Relationship, Anarchist Organization: Suggestions and Possibilities, and The New Anarchy are also available from AK Distribution (PO Box 40682, San Francisco, CA 94140-0682, USA), Left Bank Distribution (4142 Brooklyn NE, Seattle, WA 98105 USA), and Jura Books (110 Crystal Street, Petersham, NSW 2111, Australia).

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Earth First!, Meet the IWW - Notes on Wobbly Environmentalism

Earth First!, Meet the IWW - Notes on Wobbly Environmentalism

By x322339 - From the Industrial Worker, May 1988

This article was obviously written for an Earth First! audience largely unfamiliar with the IWW.

Organized in Chicago in 1905, the Industrial Workers of the World has been fighting the boss class and the megamachine--the industrial wreckers of the world--for [nearly a century] now and has chalked up quite a record for militant, hard-hitting, straight-from-the-shoulder direct-action style, rank-and-file democratic labor unionism. Ask any seasoned old fighter from any half-decent union he or she'll tell you that the Wobblies set a standard that has rarely been approached and never beaten.

We don't like to brag, so we'll just refer you to a couple of good histories: Fred Thompson's The IWW: It's First Seventy Years and Joyce Kornbluh's beautifully illustrated IWW anthology, Rebel Voices (both available form the IWW). In these books (and dozens of others you can find in bookstores and libraries), you can read all about the epoch-making organizing drives, strikes and free-speech fights that the IWW has waged over the years, and that have made One Big Union an inspiration for every indigenous radical current that has come along to challenge the existing order. Civil rights, antiwar, anti-nuclear and student activists, the New Left, anarchists, feminists, and now animal-liberationists and radical environmentalists have all acknowledged the influence of the good ol' rebel band of labor.

Here we'd like to note a few of the things that make the IWW different from other "labor organizations," especially in regard to environmental and ecological issues.

First, in our view, the "official" so-called labor movement, the AFL-CIO, is not really a labor movement at all, but rather a corrupt statist, CIA-dominated bureaucracy whose specific function is to control labor. Some of these unions are undoubtedly better than others, and a few of them are able now and then to act honestly better than others, and a few of them are able now and then to act honestly and decently. But all of them are afflicted with outdated hierarchical structures and above all an idiotic ideology submissive to the capitalist system of wage slavery.

Consider, for example, a ridiculous bumper-sticker slogan promoted by several AFL-CIO unions: "Pollution: Love it or leave it." This hideous inanity was supposed to save steel mills and oil-refineries in industrial hell holes like Gary, Indiana. In other words, the AFL-CIO mobilizes workers to defend pollution in order to save jobs that will create more pollution. Would a real labor movement, one responsive to the real interests of working women and men, do a thing like that?

Don't think that this typical AFL-CIO slogan was some sort of accident. On the contrary, the AFL-CIO's self-confessed love of pollution is consistent with its whole policy. After all, if you support capitalism--and you have to support the things that automatically go with it: militarism, war, racism, sexism, and pollution, in ever-increasing doses.

Instead of the imbecile slogan, "Pollution: Love it or leave it," the IWW inscribes on its banner the ecological watchword, "Let's make this planet a good place to live." And we argue that the best way to accomplish this goal is to organize One Big Union of All workers to abolish the wage-system. The bosses are able to cause such vast environmental devastation because they have organized industry their way for their profit. The IWW says to the workers of all industries: Dump the bosses your backs, dump the ecocidal profit-and-wage system, and organize your jobs for yourselves, for your own good and for the good of the Earth!

Historians of the conservation and environmental movements have not examined the contributions of the IWW, but there's a remarkable story there that should be told some day, at length. The Wobblies, in fact, can lay claim to being the only group in the history of North American labor to have been consistently on the side of the Earth against its commercial and industrial despoilers.

In its early years the Union urged that the organized working class would exercise an enlightened stewardship of the planet. The anthropocentric notion of "stewardship" has now been superseded, of course, but in those days it represented the thinking of all but a few conservationists.

Even in that early period, however, the IWW sometimes looked far beyond the limited horizons of the conservation movement at the time, and now and then the Union's voice of protest rang out in tones that bring to mind the impassioned vociferations of John Muir himself.

No organization in American history, for example, has done more to fight and expose the ruinous, murderous deeds of the lumber barons. From the 1910s on, the IWW press published numerous warnings of the great dangers to America's forests posed by these malevolent mercenaries. The Industrial Pioneer for December 1925 called for immediate "conservation action" to stop the lumber companies' "criminal and wholly unnecessary wastage" of forests: "Nothing but mute stumps over thousands of acres....Where is it going to end?" An accompanying photograph of devastated woodland is captioned: "A Forest Gone to Waste--Made Into Chicago Tribune Editorials."

Another article (One Big Union Monthly, October 1919) denounced the "totally destructive" character of then-current methods of reforestation, and pointed out that under the administration of workers' self-management that the IWW proposed, such thoughtless destruction would be inconceivable.

Some of the old-time Wobblies stand out as real champions of the Earth, a living part of the wilderness they loved, and forerunners what today is often called "deep" ecology (to distinguish it from the superficial Mickey mouse version which begins and ends with depositing one's beer-can in the waste-receptacle rather than throwing it on the lawn). Wobbly bard Ralph Chaplin, left us some powerful poems reflecting a profound awareness of Earth's natural diversity. And then there were guys like Irish-born Fellow Worker John Dennis who, after working for a time on the Great Lakes headed west, fell in love with the wilderness ("This was as far as I wanted go. Idaho looked like the best county in the world"), joined the IWW, and fought the good fight for many a long year. Toward the end of his life he served as field consultant for St. John's Flora of Eastern Washington and Harrison's Flora of Idaho. "What they needed," he explained, "was someone to show them where they could find various plants, and I knew the elevations and places where they grew." These wilderness Wobblies deserve to be better known.

Let's say a few words, finally, on over-population. As early as the 1910s Wobblies argued that a smaller workforce could more easily win higher wages and shorter hours, as well as better living and working conditions and working conditions, and therefore the Union became a vigorous advocate of birth-control. Of course they could have further justified their position with feminist and environmentalist arguments. What is important, however, is that they reached conclusions compatible with feminism and environmentalism not by adopting someone else's arguments, but on their own, out of their own experiences as workers in revolt.

These are just a few elements in the "hidden history" of the IWW that many of us are trying to develop today, in the hope of building a mass workers' movement capable of responding effectively to the specific challenges before us here and now and tomorrow. We are convinced that the IWW heritage is the best foundation to build on, and also that American working men and women are increasingly ready to take action along IWW lines.

We urge all of you out there to help us in any ways you can. Spread the word about the IWW among your friends and fellow workers. And if you know of unorganized (or misorganized) workers who are looking for a real union with vision and guts, tell them about us (or about them).

Remember, we're all in this together. x322339.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Green Unionism in Theory and Practice by Dan Jakopovich

Green Unionism in Theory and Practice

by Dan Jakopovich

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, corrupti-bility 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 de-radicalization 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.

People are in their materially most powerful role as producers of goods and services …

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]

Green bans

The context in which the best-known Australian green ban struggles occurred (where workers refused to work on projects that are held to be anti-environmental) strongly resembles the current context of widespread gentrification (“regeneration”) of working-class areas.

The interests of home buyers and architectural heritage lost out against often purely speculative construction. At one stage, there was ten million square feet of vacant office space in Sydney’s business district, while people looking for their first homes or flats could find nothing. [6]

The first green ban was implemented by the Builders Labourers’ Federation (BLF) to protect Kelly’s Bush, the last remaining bushland in the Sydney suburb of Hunter’s Hill.

Green bans, among many other achievements, protected historic eighteenth century buildings being demolished to make way for office space, and prevented the Royal Botanic Gardens from being turned into a carpark for the Sydney Opera House.

The union went on imposing green bans wherever community support for the ban was expressed in the form of an enthusiastic public meeting by the people concerned (there were 42 green bans from 1971–74 until the federal branch leadership of the BLF with wholehearted support of the politicians, the media and the “property developers” dismissed the union branch leadership “on the grounds that the New South Wales branch had overstepped the bounds of traditional union business.” [7]

…direct industrial action of this sort is far more effective in defending the environment than are the lobbying and symbolic actions …

It is estimated that BLF’s green bans held up approximately 18 billion Australian dollars (in 2005 money) worth of development. [8] Although the local BLF’s initiative was suppressed, the movement spread to other unions. Their experiences are particularly relevant concerning the growing calls by companies and the British government for new nuclear plants in Britain. For instance:

In 1976, the Australian Council of Trade Unions banned the mining, handling and export of uranium. A national strike in 1977 got a Queensland train guard fired for stopping a uranium shipment his job back. In 1981, Darwin unions blocked loading of uranium ore for export for several weeks, though the ACTU finally intervened under government pressure to allow the loading of the ore. In October of this year, the British aircraft carrier Ark Royal abandoned efforts to dock in Melbourne for a 10-day “goodwill mission” when seamen refused to send out thugs, supporting disarmament groups who charged that the warship carried nuclear weapons… [9]

The example of our Australian fellow workers demonstrates that, where the necessary educational and organizational work has been done, workers are willing to take action in defense of the environment (just as US and Irish workers have taken direct industrial action in solidarity with their South African fellow workers) even where that action involves short-term financial hardship.

… the alliance she envisaged was only possible if environmentalists educated themselves about workers’ concerns …

And direct industrial action of this sort is far more effective in defending the environment than are the lobbying and symbolic actions favored by the self-proclaimed defenders of “Mother Earth.” Rather than focusing our scarce energies and resources on lobbying campaigns or one-shot symbolic actions aimed at bringing pressure to bear upon our exploiters (though such actions may have a place in bringing issues to a wider public or in maintaining morale), we need to focus our efforts on organizing in our workplace and in our communities to build a better environment ourselves.

This can entail campaigns as seemingly mundane as organizing against toxic chemicals in the workplace — a campaign which implicitly and, properly conducted, explicitly goes far beyond the right to a safe environment to pose questions of the link between the workplace and the environment, who has the right to control work processes, and the need for different modes of union organization and activity. [10]

Some other notable campaigns include:

Builders, seafarers, dockers, transport, and railworkers boycotted all work connected with the nuclear industry, and the Franklin River project — which would have flooded the Tasmanian National Park (including Aboriginal land) for a large hydro-electric project — a victory. Similarly, workers opposed the attempts of the Amax corporation to drill and mine for oil and diamonds on aboriginal land at Noonkanbah. These workers also actively supported the militant occupation of the site by aboriginal people. In Britain, in the 1980s, rank and file seafarers boycotted the dumping of nuclear waste at sea, forcing the government to abandon the policy. In Brazil, rubber tappers forged an alliance with native peoples and environmentalists to oppose the massive deforestation of the Amazon rainforest by big landowners and business interests. Their success led to the murder of union activist Chico Mendes by hired assassins in December 1988, but the struggle continues. [11]

Jack Mundey, one of the leaders of the local branch of the Builders Labourers’ Federation, argued recently that

…the political significance of the green-ban movement, while it lasted, was that it forged a winning alliance between environmentalists and trade unionists. As 90% of the population resides in urban areas, success in preserving the built environment is vital, and trade unionists are especially well placed to influence the construction of the built environment: The task of achieving a sustainable society, with a human face, an ecological heart and an egalitarian body, requires a massive joint effort by environmentalists and the organized working class. [12]

“Timber wars” in the Pacific Northwest

David Pepper posited that an ingress of libertarian unionism might revitalize the Green movement in North America just as syndicalism revived the labor movement in early 20th century. [13]

The late Wobbly and Earth First! organizer, Judi Bari, came closer to that objective than anyone else. Starting in 1989, she initiated an alliance between the exploited timber workers and radical environmentalists committed to the protection of redwood forests in Northern California. To this goal she organized an Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) Local 1 with workers and eco-activists (and environmentally aware workers) as members.

Originating from a working-class background herself, she was fully aware that the alliance she envisaged was only possible if environmentalists educated themselves about workers’ concerns, and realized that they could only work together on the principle of mutual aid and respect. It meant “rejecting ecological moralizing and developing some sensitivity to workers’ anxieties and concerns.” [14] She aimed to help transform Earth First! from a narrow-minded conservationist movement into an allied social force aiming to change social relations themselves, and the new and inventive way she went about it was undoubtedly the reason why she and her fellow organizer Darryl Cherney were subjected to an attempted bomb assassination in 1990, and were immediately charged with intentionally blowing themselves up by the FBI.

She was determined to fight the polarization of work-dependent people within communities, while addressing the class tensions and inequalities which are usually tucked under the carpet. They creatively engaged themselves with the neighboring population. [15] Workplace issues such as health and safety were used as a potent weapon against the logging companies.

“In her work, Bari forged real connections between the suffering of timber workers with ecological destruction today. The history of workers’ struggles becomes part of the history of ecology.” [16] She pushed for Earth First! to embrace non-violent direct action and renounce tree-spiking and any other tactics that could injure timber and mill workers, fighting against the “eco-terrorist” image that played into the hands of the companies.

“This system cannot be stopped by force. The only way I can even imagine stopping it is through massive non-cooperation.”

Advocating tactics beyond mere theatrical demonstrations and unthinking sabotage alike, she opposed violent insurrectionist notions which often occur when real sources of people’s power are neglected. In a Wobblyesque tone, Bari noted: “This system cannot be stopped by force. It is violent and ruthless beyond the capacity of any people’s resistance movement. The only way I can even imagine stopping it is through massive non-cooperation.” [17]

Consistently against blaming workers, and criticizing the lack of almost any class consciousness on the part of many Earth Firsters, she stressed they should be concentrating on the causes, not just effects; the root cause of ecological destruction and the destruction and exploitation of logging communities is corporate greed. It was necessary to make links between unsustainable overcutting and worker layoffs (“when the trees are gone, the jobs will be gone too”). This was connected to opposing speed-ups and pointing out environmental hazards that the workers and their communities were forced to endure. She nicely summed up the green unionist idea of inclusivity, wider networks of solidarity and strategic positioning against the power structures:

A revolutionary ecology movement should also organize among poor and working people. For it is the working people who have their hands on the machinery. And only by stopping the machinery of destruction can we ever hope to stop this madness. [18]

Dan Jakopovich is the main editor of the major new magazine of the participatory democratic Left on the ex-Yugoslav territory (mainly Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Slovenia) called Novi Plamen (


1. Jeff Shantz, Radical ecology and class struggle: A re-consideration.
2. See for instance Bookchin, Purchase, Morris, Itchtey, Hart & Wilbert, Deep ecology and anarchism, Freedom Press, London, 1997, pp. 47–58.
3. See for instance Iain McKay, Anarchism and community politics,
4. Jeff Shantz, op. cit.
5. Ibid.
6. A perspective on Sydney’s green ban campaign, 1970 – 74, Teaching heritage in V. Burgmann, Power and protest, 1993.
7. Ibid.
8. Ibid.
9. John Judis, Australian unions foil corporate developers, In These Times, January 5, 1977, p. 10. Ironically, the same page contains an article about how Swedish voters who relied on the ballot to block nuclear power were thwarted.
10. Jon Bekken, Anarcho-syndicalism and the environmental movement, Libertarian labor review, Issue 6, Winter 1989, pp.15–16.
11. Group of authors, Ecology and class — where there’s brass, there’s muck, Anarchist federation, London, p. 34.
12. V. Burgmann, Ibid.
13. David Pepper, Eco-socialism, from deep ecology to social justice, London, Routledge, 1993.
14. Jeff Shantz, Syndicalism, ecology and feminism: Judi Bari’s vision,
15. “This past summer, a three month long series of actions were held. The actions included nonviolent blockades of ports and of logging, demonstrations, picketing, humor and song, and reaching out to everyone in the communities. It was called Redwood Summer. 5000 people participated. The goal was, and is, to turn the timber industry to sustained-yield harvesting under community and worker control and ownership.” (Jeff Ditz, We Must Live in Harmony With the Planet, Libertarian labor review, Issue 10, Winter 1991, p. 25.
16. Jeff Shantz, Radical ecology and class struggle: A re-consideration.
17. Paul Buhle & Nicole Schulman (ed.), The Wobblies — A Graphic History of the Industrial Workers of the World, Verso, New York, 2005
18. Ibid.