Towards an Ecological General Strike – the Earth Day to May Day Assembly and Days of Direct Action
From Indybay - By Elliot Hughes and Steve Ongerth
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.
Direct actions are planned in the Bay Area between Earth Day on April 22 and May 1st to raise awareness about the intersections of labor rights, immigration rights, and environmental issues. Actions may include sit-ins, tree sits, guerrilla gardening, pickets, marches, blockades, and strikes. Our goal is to challenge the "Jobs vs Environment" myth, to unite workers and environmentalists against the bosses, and rapidly transition unsustainable industries through direct action. The process in which we would achieve so, is through directly democratic workers assemblies and Environmental Unionist Caucuses within our existing unions where we would organize actions to halt the destruction of the planet. We seek to live up to our IWW Preamble which states that we must "abolish wage slavery and live in harmony with the Earth."
We know that the workers, the community, and the planet are exploited by the state and capitalist forces that rule over our lives, but now the ruling class is escalating that attack on the working class and the planet we inhabit. We must come together to fight back or our planet will be completely destroyed. Recently the concentration of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere exceeded 400 ppm. It greatly surpasses the 350 ppm that scientists argue is the limit to avoid run away global warming. As the capitalist class continues their “extreme energy” rampage including offshore oil drilling, tar sands mining, mountain removal, and fracking, a mass movement to oppose these forms of energy is rapidly growing and radicalizing. Recently, there has been an increased amount of oil spills, pipeline ruptures, oil train derailments, refinery fires, and chemical dumps. These disasters have not only destroyed the environment, but they have also injured and/or killed the very workers whom the capitalists depend on to extract these “resources”.
The same capitalist economic system destroying the Earth destroying the lives of the workers. Some of their methods of class warfare include eroding health and safety standards, downsizing and outsourcing the workforce, establishing a “blame the worker” safety culture, and creating dangerous labor conditions all around. These conditions that endanger the workers are also directly harming the communities around them, for example while the company towns develop cancers and asthma from air pollution, the workers often breathe in a higher density of these toxins because they work in close proximity with them. Yet, the bosses, through their use of propaganda are able to convince many exploited workers that environmentalists are their enemy are threats to their jobs. We must debunk this myth and come together to take direct action for health and safety and a halt to the destruction of our world.
A revolutionary ecology movement must also organize among poor and working people. With the exception of the toxins movement and the native land rights movement most U.S. environmentalists are white and privileged. This group is too invested in the system to pose it much of a threat. A revolutionary ideology in the hands of privileged people can indeed bring about some disruption and change in the system. But a revolutionary ideology in the hands of working people can bring that system to a halt. 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.
Deep Ecology and Judi Bari's concept of Revolutionary Ecology can teach us that all sociopolitical issues are intersectional. The police and borders are militarizing, we are under constant surveillance, and new prisons are being built partially because of the inevitability of ecological revolt and migration. Necessities such as food, clothing, and shelter because of the increasing gas prices as well as drought. Energy and natural resource companies and regulatory agencies are dismantling health and safety standards and cutting wages because the want to maximize their profits before their time runs out. The economic crises is directly connected with the ecological crises. Colonialism and Racism are tools of oppression originate from the fight for land and "resources". Corporations will most often declare indigenous communities and other communities of color as "sacrifice zones" and pollute them. All social movements must eventually come together because it will become more clear that these sociopolitical issues are environmental issues.
"Starting from the very reasonable, but unfortunately revolutionary concept that social practices which threaten the continuation of life on Earth must be changed, we need a theory of revolutionary ecology that will encompass social and biological issues, class struggle, and a recognition of the role of global corporate capitalism in the oppression of peoples and the destruction of nature."
"Direct action gets the goods” says the old IWW slogan, and indeed, many radical environmental movements have taken up that banner, but somehow, our current strategies of direct action don't seem to be enough. Countless ecological campaigns have been waged by activists, but it seems like for every ecocidal project we stop another one is proposed. Often our campaigns are easily isolated by the capitalists and the state and organizers are mis-identified as a fringe group. Does this mean there’s no hope?
For us there is hope because we believe the direct actions challenging unsustainable industries will be stronger with participation of the workers at the point of production! These destructive energy industries are the infrastructure of the capitalist system and by revolting against them with the help of workers we can effectively challenge their rule.
We can think of many times when this was the case, such as the 1934 General Strike in San Francisco by the Longshore union, or the anarcho-syndicalists of CNT whose 3 million members seized control of major cities as well as farm lands during the Spanish Civil War. With their resilient spirits and strong self organization they fought the oppression of fascists and capitalist a like. While the CNT's organizational structure wasn't perfect, we can learn from its model and further dismantle hierarchy and all forms of oppression including racism, sexism, homophobia, and speciesism. Each of these campaigns had a strong anarchist orientation and were waged by the workers who organized themselves at the point of production.Yet, how can eco-warriors organize with the workers when all too often the bosses convince the latter and their communities that the environmentalists “threaten jobs”?
Fortunately, we know of many examples of where workers and environmentalists have joined forces. For example, in 1973 the Builders Labourers' Federation refused to construct luxury homes that threatened a popular park called Kelly's Bush. It was a refuge for working class people in Hunter's Hill, Australia, who quickly became upset upon hearing the plan for its destruction. Soon after, with the consent of the union, a group of working class women leading 600 people met with the BLF asking them to reject the development plan. The BLF agreed and a new labor tactic called “the Green Ban” was born. Over the course of 4 years, the Builders Labourers' Federation called 42 Green Bans on development plans effectively defending the working class, indigenous communities, the environment, and squatters. These direct actions halted 18 billion dollars of development putting a major dent in the pocket of the corporations who ruthlessly seek to exploit life for the sake of a profit.
"What would we have said to the next generation? that we destroyed Sydney in the name of full employment? No, we wanted to construct buildings that were socially useful."
--Jack Mundey of the Builders Labourers' Federation
Shell oil workers struck to oppose toxic pollution in 1973 and LUCAS aerospace workers in the UK struck to demand that their bosses transition from building nuclear weapons to renewable energy equipment, in 1976. The Aerospace workers included in their demands that LUCAS should focus on developing renewable sources of energy generation as well as develop more efficient methods of energy conservation from fuel sources. They demanded that LUCAS develop and produce heat pumps to prevent the waste of energy, solar cells, fuel cells, windmills.
More recently, other examples of radical green unionism were taken by eco-warrior and labor organizer, Judi Bari. She brought the IWW and Earth First! together in northwestern California to build an alliance of timber workers and Earth First!ers. She organized direct actions, legal support, and other forms of solidarity for workers in the logging industry. To the surprise of people who doubted her she organized loggers into IWW local 1 and brought timber workers out in support of blockades against clear-cutting. She helped win a major Unfair Labor Practice for 6 mill workers who had PCB toxins spilled on them at the job. Later they fought together to oppose corporate logging in the old growth Redwood Forests and from there the radical alliance between Earth First! and the United Steelworkers was built. On May 24th a pipe bomb exploded in her car. Many people to this day suspect that it was planted by someone working with Pacific lumber company and/or the FBI because earlier the Feds did a bomb school training on Pacific Lumber land.
"Although I basically agree with this analysis, I think there is one big thing missing. I believe that part of the value of a product comes not just from the labor put into it, but also from the natural resources used to make the product. And I believe that surplus value (i.e., profit) is not just stolen from the workers, but also from the earth itself. A clearcut is the perfect example of a part of the earth from which surplus value has been extracted. If human production and consumption is done within the natural limits of the earth's fertility, then the supply is indeed endless. But this cannot happen under capitalism, because the capitalist class exists by extracting profit not only from the workers, but also from the earth."
The only reason why these campaigns didn't bring about the much needed societal transformation is that they were isolated and silenced. This is why we need radical environmentalists to organize and build solidarity with these workers in mass because together we can effectively challenge all forms of oppression. We must remember the lesson handed down to us by the IWW. Solidarity is our strongest and most effective weapon. An injury to one is an injury to all!
If we organize to challenge the "jobs vs environment" myth, we can build a working class opposition to fracking, deforestation, nuclear power, mining, and other destructive industries. Then we can unite forces and liberate life as well as the land from this oppressive system.
A globalized ecological insurrection is inevitable and in fact we know it has already begun. Major uprisings around the world such as the Arab Spring are proven to be linked to food and water shortages caused by climate change. From First Nations people who are leading a massive and militant opposition to new oil pipelines to workers and environmentalists in Japan who are standing up against nuclear power and pollution, we are witnessing a global eco-revolution in the making. We could have an ecological general strike where workers and environmentalists take over or blockade these unsustainable industries and also dismantle what can't be rapidly transitioned. I envision urban and rural land reclamations where indigenous people and settlers band together to grow their own food and create communes where all forms of oppression are dismantled. These communes could also be our bases from which we wage decentralized and effective direct actions against the ruling class.Where massive amounts of people take streets and overcome the capitalists.I envision a structure of the new society within the shell of the old where consensus decision making and mutual aid is the foundation of our freedom.
"The bourgeoisie might blast and ruin its own world before it leaves the stage of history. We carry a new world here, in our hearts. That world is growing in this minute."
The Earth Day to May Day Direct Actions will bring us closer to a world free of wage slavery and ecological destruction. We must break our chains and take a stand in every aspect of our lives.No single person will have the solution but by coming together and listening to each others dreams of liberation we can form a collective vision that will bring us closer to total emancipation.
Hope to see you in the streets from April 22nd to May 1st!
To email event or action proposals or endorse this assembly, contact us at ecogeneralstrike [at] riseup.net.