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