Happy International Workers’ Day!
The inspiration for this global holiday, time off from work in a number of countries, and marked by mass marches and rallies in many, came from Chicago—the 1886 Haymarket police riot and subsequent frame-up and execution of anarchist and socialist martyrs who were part of the movement for the eight-hour day. The (Second) Socialist International helped perpetuate their memory and their cause by calling on, “all Social Democratic Party organizations and trade unions of all countries to demonstrate energetically on the First of May for the legal establishment of the 8-hour day, for the class demands of the proletariat, and for universal peace.”
Today’s remnant of the Second International has a much different character. During the Cold War, most U.S. unions stopped observing May Day. There was a dramatic resurgence in 2006 when more than a million immigrant workers from countries where May Day is Labor Day held mass marches in cities across the land–many after walking off jobs–in support of immigrant rights. In 2011 the KC Labor website hosted a successful, nonsectarian local May Day event.
The spirit of May Day has survived repression, apathy and betrayal. Our companion Labor Advocate blog is sure to carry reports of actions by militant workers across the world. Included will be marches and other events planned in the Twin Cities, Seattle, the Bay Area—and Chicago.
You can find valuable historical resources about May Day on the Holt Labor Library site.
Keeping Our Promise
Two weeks ago I started explaining to new readers—and reviewing for old—the Class and Climate Justice perspective promoted by KC Labor’s Week In Review. I began with examples of how the richest sectors of global capital—often in cahoots with the governments dedicated to advancing their class interests—covered up what they knew about the massive damage being done to our planet by burning fossil fuels.
Last week I exposed how the oil and gas sectors continue to prolong their destructive pursuit of profits even while hailing the signing of agreements negotiated at the Paris COP21 summit last December. That deal was concisely characterized in popular parlance by the world’s best known climate scientist as– “b******t.”
The stated treaty target was limiting global warming to ideally 1.5C over pre-industrial levels–and no more than 2. I quoted a Reuters story, “On current trends, scientists say, the world will warm by 4 C over benchmark pre-Industrial Revolution levels — or 3 C if countries live up to their pledges.” With the sum of the parts less than the whole, it amounts to a surrender to climate disaster for future generations.
But we don’t have to wave the white flag just yet. I also said last week,
“Since the dominant driving force of global warming is fossil fuels the solution would seem obvious—commit to completely replace fossil fuels with clean, renewable, freely available energy sources like solar, wind, and tidal, as quickly as possible. That is in fact what nearly all climate scientists propose. There are credible estimates that an emergency crash program could accomplish this goal in 20-25 years.”
I’m talking about an economic conversion and mobilization even bigger than what was accomplished with an American economy emerging from the Great Depression to fight World War II. Then, the government suspended the normal capitalist market and took charge of the economy–running it according to an ambitious but achievable plan. The needs of this plan also resulted in full employment after more than a decade of mass joblessness. Among other less intended consequences, unions grew in members and density and people of color and women entered industries from which they had long been excluded. In terms of its goals it was an historic success.
Our goals would, of course, be far different. We want to secure a sustainable biosphere—not inflict massive death and destruction. The war economy enriched the war profiteers; our plan would socialize the climate wrecking industries in order to replace them with climate friendly ones. Instead of direction by government bureaucrats representing military brass, our restructuring would be democratically planned, utilizing scientists, engineers, number crunchers–and workplace management elected by the workers who know how to get the job done.
To completely clean up the environmental mess we confront will require more than new fuels. Some are literally messes needing decades of remediation—such as General Electric’s settlement obligation to keep dredging the Hudson River until it is completely free of the PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyl) they routinely dumped from the now closed, UE-organized Hudson Falls plant.
Some newly revealed even more dangerous localized hot spots continue to pop up. An April 28 Wall Street Journal article begins,
“About a mile from homes in Missouri’s St. Louis County lies a radioactive hot spot with contamination levels hundreds of times above federal safety guidelines. But there are no plans to clean it up. That is because the location, tainted with waste from atomic-weapons work done in local factories decades ago, has been deemed by the federal government to be effectively inaccessible and not a threat.”
But they quickly follow,
“However, a group of private researchers funded by an environmental activist, including a former senior official of the Clinton administration’s Energy Department, is challenging those assurances. They say a recent sampling they did suggests contamination from the radioactive hot spot is entering a nearby stream, known as Coldwater Creek, and then traveling downstream into the yards of homes. The contamination involves thorium, a radioactive material that can increase a person’s risks for certain cancers if it gets inside the body, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.”
But, in the USA, we have an even bigger challenge. If we are to build an ecologically sustainable society providing a good standard of living for all, we have to halt and reverse the Urban Sprawl that has been the linchpin of post-World War II domestic ruling class strategy. They have done a thorough job of integrating this scourge—socially and environmentally harmful in so many ways—in to the American Dream of the vanishing Middle Class.
Convincing workers that we need to phase out suburbia and instead renovate, rebuild, and repopulate our collapsed urban cores–and reclaim the forests, wetlands, and farm land that used to surround and nourish our cities before being wrecked by irrational “development”–will not be an easy sell. Tougher yet will be winning them over to the fact that we can’t sustain each individual having their own personal car, truck or SUV. Electric powered public transit in the cities, and plug-in electric vehicles in rural areas, will need to become our dominant forms of daily transportation. I wrote about these questions in a special edition of the WIR which was favorably quoted and linked in In Transit—the official magazine of the Amalgamated Transit Union.
Trying to reason with the Establishment to do the right thing is a fool’s errand. Because of their vast reserves of wealth produced by our labor, they can live with some reforms they don’t like. But they know the steps needed to survive the climate crisis they have created put the future of their very system of rule by the rich at mortal risk. Better them than us.
On the other hand—with no illusions about the difficulties–I have confidence we can educate and organize the working class majority to not just support but lead the struggle to satisfactorily resolve the greatest crisis humanity has yet faced. My optimism is two-fold. It is in the material interest of our class to do so–and only our class has the social and economic clout to defeat the climate-wrecking bosses and bankers.
There are already hopeful signs in the union movement. On a global scale, there is Trade Unions for Energy Democracy with affiliates representing 4.6 million workers in 17 countries on every inhabited continent—nine of them in the USA. They have produced an excellent short YouTube animation introducing workers to climate change—and what can be done about it—suitable for showing at union meetings or any gathering of workers.
The Labor Network for Sustainability is a U.S. affiliate of TUED that is developing educational programs for American unions and collaborates with other climate action movements like 350.org. And some major unions, such as the Amalgamated Transit Union, National Nurses United, and the Service Employees International Union, have for the past few years mobilized their members for actions against the Keystone XL pipeline, and participation in the 400,000 strong 2014 People’s Climate March in New York.
Victories of American social movements, such as civil rights, antiwar, and women’s rights have all been accompanied by visible protests in the form of mass demonstrations and/or mass civil disobedience. Last week I wrote about the impact of the first Earth Day mobilizations on the successful breakthrough in getting significant environmental reforms. All of these were assisted by support from wings of organized labor. Building a broad climate action movement through such tactics is needed right now.
But the scope and urgency of the climate crisis—not to mention the other class issues flowing from Globalization, wars of intervention, incarceration, deportation, austerity and a host of other ills–requires us to simultaneously prepare to go beyond protest. We need to aim to take political power out of the hands of the ruling rich. We must replace the rule of greed, war, and pollution with a working class government that can implement our plan to save our biosphere so that we can all “Make a Living on a Living Planet.”
But this is the Achilles Heel of the American labor and social movements. Every other industrialized democracy has at least one mass working class party—most of them established in the Nineteenth Century. Only in America has the ruling class been allowed to have a virtually uncontested monopoly of all things political through their control of the two major parties. The long track record of numerous attempts to capture one of these parties on behalf of our class proves it is every bit as doomed as winning over the master class itself through reasoned civil discourse.
Reviving the movement for a class-based labor party is a vital component of a Class& Climate program in the country with the biggest economy and biggest concentration of the super-rich.
After three installments it’s time to wrap up this introductory indoctrination. I freely admit my perspective is an imperfect work in progress. I welcome constructive criticism and pay attention to all kinds. We will all learn more by testing our ideas in the struggles that are sure to come.
* Though I did not share his Faith or agree with some of his tactics, I note with respect the passing at age 95 of Rev Daniel Berrigan. A radical Jesuit priest, he sacrificed much for his often illegal but nonviolent protests in support of civil rights and opposition to the Vietnam war.
* My bus driver friend Rod in Vancouver informs me that 98 percent of members of two transit union locals there voted to approve strike authorization. No strike deadline has yet been set for the 4,700 workers who are affiliated with the trans-Canada Unifor union.
* Twin Cities area readers should check out the calendar of events for May at the East Side Freedom Library in St Paul. Topics for just the first couple of weeks include: The Civil Rights Movement Meets the Labor Movement: A Page From History; Racial Uplift in a Jim Crow Local: Black Union Organizing in Minneapolis Hotels in the 1930s; Storytelling Through Vinyl and Film: Round Midnight; Eyewitness Account of UN Conference on Climate Change; A conversation with Frank M. White the author of the new book They Played for the Love of the Game: Untold Stories of Black Baseball in Minnesota.
* A forty-minute film—Disobedience, the Courage to Break Free—has been released to promote major civil disobedience actions by 350.org and many other groups later this month at prime fossil fuel locations. The initial showing in Kansas City, to be followed by discussion will take place Monday, May 2, 7PM, at All Souls Unitarian, 4501 Walnut.
* Just got an e-mail blast from the CWA, “40,000 men and women are still on strike at Verizon and Verizon Wireless determined to fight for as long as it takes to protect good jobs. On Thursday, May 5 we’re taking this important fight to communities across the United States with a Verizon Strike National Day of Action. Will you save the date and join us? We’ll be back in touch soon with more information about actions at Verizon Wireless stores near you and how you can join the fight online.”
That’s all for this week.
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