Week In Review Extra—Labor & Climate

 Week In Review  Comments Off on Week In Review Extra—Labor & Climate
Sep 222016

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

I know I said to expect this mid-week; I’m glad I didn’t specify which week. Cheers.

Our motto is For Class & Climate Justice. Both are of crucial importance—the climate crisis is overarching. In the era of Globalization neither capital nor climate change respect national boundaries. The struggles against both require an internationalist perspective.

Having said that, in this Extra I will focus primarily on movements in the USA. This is not because of some perverse patriotic pride in my country of residence. The American ruling class is by far the dominant culprit in the climate crisis as well as the main perpetrator and benefactor of growing wealth inequality at home and abroad. They also command the most powerful military machine in history, capable of destroying most of humanity within hours. For these reasons I’m convinced the decisive battles in the global conflicts determining the future of our class—and human civilization—will be fought in the USA.

The only class based mass organizations in the USA are our trade unions. They are our First Responders and we need them to get any kind of justice. This is my long promised assessment of the state of the labor movement’s current and needed roles in fighting climate change. Regular readers of the WIR will already be familiar with much of this. But even old hands can benefit from occasional review and repetition.

The Man Who Hated Work and Loved Labor: The Life and Times of Tony Mazzocchi

The Mazzocchi Legacy

About nine years ago, I wrote a review of Les Leopold’s excellent biography of Tony Mazzocchi, The Man Who Hated Work and Loved Labor. (The Wikipedia article about Mazzocchi is also useful.) I came to know this remarkable leader, who made so many important contributions to various workers’ struggles, only during his final years in his last big project—the Labor Party.

Image result for Tony Mazzocchi site:kclabor.org

The only chance I had for a substantial one-on-one conversation with Tony was when I met him for breakfast and took him to the airport after a 1994 visit to Kansas City to promote our newly formed chapter of Labor Party Advocates. In the course of our unstructured discussion I happened to mention that I had become interested in environmental issues after reading Rachel Carson’s 1962 best seller The Silent Spring. His facial expression indicated he was not impressed and I asked him why. I didn’t take notes, but basically he said,

Carson did a fine job of exposing the dangers of DDT, the lies of the chemical industry, and the duplicity of government officials. She told us why we were losing all those birds. But she said nothing about the hazards to workers who made the stuff, or sprayed it in the fields, or handled the crops at harvest.

It was a fair criticism of Carson and too many environmentalists. Tony’s dedication to environmental issues came from his recognition, on the shop floor of a cosmetics plant, that workers are the first to suffer the effects of pollution. The union where Tony made his bones—the Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers—confronted the full spectrum of environmental dangers in the workplace. He came to believe that labor shouldn’t just be involved in the environmental movement—they should lead that movement.

Tony’s early collaboration with an environmental scientist overlapped with their joint opposition to nuclear weapons. Barry Commoner, an eminent biologist who was also a pro-labor, antiwar socialist, suspected strontium 90 fall out from atmospheric H-bomb tests was being absorbed by grazing cows who in turn passed it on to young children through their milk. But he needed samples to verify his hypothesis. Mazzocchi broadcast an appeal to OCAW members to send their kids’ baby teeth to Commoner–and more than enough responded to prove his case. Commoner’s findings directly contributed to a ban on surface bomb tests.

Tony first became widely known and respected beyond his own union by leading the successful labor political mobilization that won the game-changing Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970—no small feat with Nixon in the White House and George Meany speaking for the House of Labor.

In 1973, when OCAW went on strike against Shell, Mazzocchi helped convince the mild-mannered Sierra Club to support the strikers on the picket lines and through an effective Shell boycott.

The following year Mazzocchi heard disturbing news from an OCAW rep at a newly unionized Kerr-McGee plutonium fuel rod plant in Oklahoma. Karen Silkwood reported many workers were wary of radioactive contamination and that the company had been falsifying records. Tony advised her to cautiously take notes about verifiable discrepancies to build a credible case to take to the Atomic Energy Commission and the news media. This she did, with great courage and competence.

Silkwood herself became mysteriously contaminated at a time when she was assigned to only paperwork duties. A few months later, she died in a suspicious one car accident while on her way to meet a reporter. The union could not convince local authorities to pursue a criminal investigation of Silkwood’s death but her father and children later won a 1.38 million dollar settlement of a civil liability suit against Kerr-McGee for her contamination.

Silkwood imp.jpg

With OCAW’s cooperation, she was further memorialized in the 1983 film Silkwood. Meryl Streep played the title role in a low budget box office success that won numerous Academy Award and BAFTA nominations and Streep was selected Best Actress by the Kansas City Film Critics Circle.

Just Transition

It’s one thing to fight hazards on the job. Every worker can identify with Anne Feeney when she sings, We just come to work here—we don’t come to die. But opposing the environmental damage of the finished goods workers produce is another matter. The bosses have a coercive threat—if you follow the “tree-huggers” they will lead you to the unemployment line.

Mazzocchi had a powerful alternative to the Hobson’s choice of jobs or the environment—Just Transition. The basic underlying principle is that when workers lose their jobs to advance the greater good of society society has an obligation to provide them with pay, and expenses for retraining, and relocation until they can find suitable new jobs.

There are many examples of how this might be applied—workers adding to the overkill stockpile of nuclear weapons; the loss of jobs in the billing and advertising departments in insurance companies, hospitals, and clinics when medicine is socialized; and industries that wreck our environment and climate.

Tony Mazzocchi did not invent this principle but no one did more to popularize it, flesh it out, and demand action to implement it in manufacturing and extraction industries. As the “Founding Brother” of the Labor Party project he made sure Just Transition was given a prominent place in the party’s program. While society as a whole, through government, must be the ultimate guarantor of Just Transition the Labor Party approach was to make those corporations who long profited from environmental destruction pay for not only clean-up costs but also make their displaced workers and affected communities whole during transition.

The Labor Party never directly took a position on the mother of all environmental crises—climate change. Abatement of the processes responsible for global warming will mean entire major industries will have to be shut down or converted to sustainable methods and products. Mazzocchi was certainly aware of this. Collaborators such as Commoner and Ralph Nader were quite outspoken on the topic. Katherine Isaac, his companion in later years, and a leader in the Labor Party in her own right, had once been active in Greenpeace.

But Tony preached a restraint that he usually also followed—don’t propose anything to the Labor Party that you can’t get passed in your local union. This was not intended to deter breaking new ground. In 1996, global warming was under attack as “junk science.” In 1997 the AFL-CIO mimicked the Chamber of Commerce in condemning the first international climate treaty, the Kyoto Protocol. President Clinton refused to even submit this timid agreement, signed by Vice-President Gore, to the Senate for a vote.

While some LP affiliates were already recognizing the need for climate action others, such as the United Mine Workers, saw recognition of climate change as a death sentence for coal mining. Mazzocchi believed it was more important to educate around a disputed crisis and try to win over a a majority prepared to act, rather than simply adopting fine resolutions that couldn’t be implemented.

Unfortunately, in 2002, a few months after the Labor Party’s last convention, Tony lost a battle with an untreatable cancer. The subsequent decline of the Labor Party until its induced coma a decade later is another story for another time.

But it too is a part of the Mazzocchi legacy that provides valuable lessons more relevant than ever today. Our unions and protest movements can win important defensive battles but to achieve class and climate justice requires an effective working class party that can take political power. The Labor Party experience means we don’t have to reinvent the wheel to craft a new political vehicle.

The Blue Green Alliance

Unions and environmental groups found themselves on the same side in the fights against NAFTA and the WTO. Such so-called “trade” agreements—actually a global deregulation removing barriers to free movement of capital—have hurt workers, farmers, and the environment in all countries. “Hard hats and tree-huggers” united in mass demonstrations and intense lobbying efforts against what came to be known as Globalization—with little substantive success.

Ten years ago, the leaders of the Steelworkers—who through mergers includes the old OCAW—and the Sierra Club, who today claim a million members, took the initiative to formalize and expand these new friendly relations through the Blue Green Alliance. It is a loose coalition of bureaucracies of unions and what many call Pale Green environmental groups. Their somewhat purposely vague focus is on Clean Jobs, Clean Infrastructure, Fair Trade.

They have failed to get a consensus on all important Clean Energy and there have been some defections—such as the noisy exit of the Laborers after BGA took a stand against the Keystone XL pipeline. Some affiliates, such as the Plumbers/Pipefitters are boosters of the Dakota Access pipeline—now also endorsed by the AFL-CIO—while others like the Amalgamated Transit Union, Communication Workers, and some SEIU bodies have strongly supported the Dakota protests.

The concept of unity of labor and environmental activists is a worthy goal. But BGA falls far short of that objective and is unlikely to ever play that role.

St Paul Ford Sustainability Fight

In 2006, Ford announced it would close its Twin Cities Assembly plant after the then current contract expired the following year. Their Ranger pick-up line was going to a plant in Thailand. Neither the national UAW, nor the Blue Green Alliance whose national organizer was then based in the Twin Cities, had any interest in fighting the closure.

But the Health and Safety Committee in UAW Local 879 came up with some innovative ideas for saving the plant–and the workforce–after Ford’s departure. The plant had a unique asset—it was powered by zero emission electricity from a nearby Mississippi River dam purpose built for Ford. The Twin Cities transit authority was taking bids for production of hundreds of new buses and one bidder wanted to build them in the Twin Cities. It was an opportunity for a conversion of a plant to save Green, good, union jobs.

To build support for this “repurposing,” Local 879 not only reached out to other unions but also environmentalists. They sponsored a 2-day Labor and Sustainability Conference at the union hall January 19-20, 2007. I was invited to speak in behalf of the Labor Party. There was more than polite interest in my remarks about Urban Sprawl and Just Transition. And Ford workers appreciated the reminder that when all auto production was halted in 1942 to convert to war-time needs not a single UAW job was lost and their contract remained in force. The effort to convert their plant to building buses was not pie-in-the-sky.

Unfortunately, even though the sensible proposal from Local 879 won a lot of public support it was vetoed by Ford and the local Establishment—including some “labor friends.” The St Paul plant was razed for sale of the land to real estate speculators. But the ideas and lessons of the struggle could not be so easily erased.


Labor Network for Sustainability

The main instigators of the LNS were Joe Uehlein, Jeremy Brecher, and Tim Costello. Costello passed away soon after its launch and Becky Glass was brought on board the central leadership team in 2010. You can read their impressive credentials here. The unionists, environmentalists, and scholars on the Board they report to are respected and influential in their constituencies.

This is not your typical NGO, letterhead coalition, or social media friends. They educate in order to agitate and organize working class action to confront the greatest challenge humanity has yet faced. They are well grounded in labor history and identify with much of the Mazzocchi legacy—especially Just Transition. While not picking any fights with others, they do not shirk their duty to advance bold new proposals. And while their website is a treasure trove of resources its goal is to prepare activists to get out of the house for live encounters.

In a well-done introductory video, Uehlein says,

A common thread running through all of our work is the belief that workers are key to building a robust and effective climate protection movement. LNS’s strategy requires that we are able to help the labor and climate movements engage together to build a sustainable future, and one of the most important things about organizing with labor is going to the right union members and leaders at the right time with the right frame.”

To help climate aware workers make these choices a useful, objective profile of a number of national, state and local union bodies is provided on the LNS site.

The video also explains,

As awareness of the need for just transition strategies grows, our opportunities to advance projects that engage labor and communities and environmentalists together grows as well. In every case, our work includes building job creation strategies into environmental campaigns, and integrating an understanding of the impact of climate into economic justice work.”

I have long heard positive reports from Connecticut readers about LNS implementing this strategy through the Connecticut Roundtable. And there are other state and local examples, including many fights against fracking as well.

LNS also helped mobilize the tens of thousands of unionists who participated in the 400,000 strong 2014 People’s Climate March in New York City. In my opinion, every class and climate conscious worker, student, or retiree in North America should plug in to the LNS in whatever way you can.

Screenshot 2015-12-10 19.33.34

I want to close—finally!–on a note of internationalism. LNS is affiliated to a growing, inspiring global network—Trade Unions for Energy Democracy. You can view a list of 52 participating labor bodies from 17 countries on six continents here. The photo above is a TUED panel organized off-site during the Paris Climate Summit last December. I can identify the Canadian author and activist Naomi Klein, insurgent Leader of the British Labor Party Jeremy Corbyn, and Sean Sweeney, director of the Cornell Global Labor Institute in the picture.

TUED has a perspective similar to LNS except for one important advance above what North American unionists have so far raised—they call for socialization of all energy and operating these industries under worker management. They have produced an excellent animated video, aimed at a working class audience, promoting this needed step toward sustainability which you can view here. There are also numerous other useful text and video resources on the TUED site.

We Yanks lag far behind the advances of our union sisters and brothers in many countries on climate action—and most other struggles as well. Our history shows once we decide to move we can go as fast and far as any others. However, there is little time to waste. This is the biggest battle yet, the final deadline for action is unknown, not subject to change, and missing it will mean game over—if not for you and me then our progeny. I’ll end with an optimistic paraphrasing of an old worker’s anthem–

’tis the final conflict, let each stand in their place,

class and climate justice shall be the human race

That’s all for this Extra.

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Week In Review September 13

 Week In Review  Comments Off on Week In Review September 13
Sep 132016

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

Again, our cup runneth over–Look for a Midweek Extra of the WIR devoted solely to Labor and the Climate Crisis.

Standing Solid Like a Rock

The confrontations in isolated Standing Rock, North Dakota, aiming to halt construction of a pipeline from the Bakken fracking fields to refineries in Illinois, have begun to attract world attention–as well they should. This is not just a local dispute. It raises multiple issues of great importance that have generated significant and still growing solidarity across North America and beyond. These include,

* The legal and moral rights of the nations and tribes of indigenous peoples who variously identify themselves as Indians, Native Americans, or in the Canadian state as First Nations, to determine the use of their ancestral and sacred lands.

* The environmental impact of not only construction of pipelines on land and under water but also their wretched track record of polluting leaks—in this case endangering the Missouri River which is the source of drinking water for numerous cities and towns, such as my home town of Kansas City.

* The fight against pipelines, along with dangerous rail shipments, have become the main fronts in the broader struggle to stop fracking. In addition to its environmental and safety dangers fracking has a major impact on climate change—and in some regions triggers earthquakes.

* A threat to peaceful protests was seen in the use of pepper spray and attack dogs by private “security” forces supplemented by state intimidation such as arrest warrants for journalists and the Green Party candidate for President.

Standing Rock has also renewed a deep division in the labor movement. The international presidents of the Teamsters, Laborers, Operating Engineers, and Pipefitters who represent the hard hats building the pipeline cynically called on state and Federal officials to “protect” their members so that they can do their work and get paid. But the only violence and threats on the scene came from the employer’s hired thugs. These bureaucrats preaching and practicing “partnership” with the boss echo climate change deniers and are grateful for the temporary jobs that are so destructive–first for local residents, and ultimately the biosphere upon which we all depend.

I am pleased that the union that collects my retiree dues–the Amalgamated Transit Union–issued a good statement in support of the Dakota protests. So did National Nurses United and the Communication Workers of America. My friend Ann Montague forwarded a solidarity message from her union, Service Employees International Union Local 503. These unionists know the Just Transition they support will provide generations of work for the construction trades–building solar power arrays, wind farms, and transmission lines to replace the need for fracking and pipelines.

The Standing Rock demonstrations won a partial, likely temporary victory over the weekend with a “pause” in pipeline construction in that area while specific complaints of the Tribes are given a fresh review. The movement can take pride in this achievement. But we have hardly begun to fight in this theater of nonviolent war for class and climate justice.

The Two 9/11s

Last Sunday was the fifteenth anniversary of the biggest terrorist attacks in USA history. The big majority of the victims that day were workers in their workplace and First Responders trying to save them. It was a despicable act and remembrance of those victims is our duty.

We should also remember—and compensate–an even greater number who have died, or are terminally ill, as a result of toxic exposure doing clean-up work after–while being assured by officials they would be safe.

But these thousands of innocent deaths were also exploited as prologue to a global “War on Terror” that will mark its fifteenth anniversary in a few weeks. Masterminded by “neocons,” It was launched by a President who had finished second in the 2000 election but had a majority on the Supreme Court. After perceived early victories in the invasion of Afghanistan, he initially modestly proclaimed a new Bush Doctrine. It essentially gave him and his successors the right to preemptive war anywhere, any time, he/they saw fit. The War on Terror exempted itself from the Geneva Conventions and through rendition even the Constitution and laws of the United States. It was used again, based on outright lies, to invade Iraq.

At times there was a mass antiwar movement in the USA, and around the world, against these wars throughout the Bush administration. That movement subsided when many thought he had been replaced by a peace President. But as the eight years of a Nobel Peace Prize laureate in the White House winds down, the war in Afghanistan continues; there was a new adventure in Libya; GIs are back on the ground in Iraq; American “advisers” are fighting and dying in Syria. And planes, drones, and sea-launched American missiles and bombs rain death daily throughout the Middle East and East Africa.

This bipartisan, non-stop aggression dishonors the victims of 9/11, and sullies the Stars and Stripes the war-mongers wave. We should reaffirm the maxim of the great Eugene V Debs—For us there is no war but the class war!


Just about everyone remembers when they heard the horrible news on 9/11/2001. But many readers hadn’t yet been born on the other infamous 9/11 in 1973. I was working second shift at the time and first heard the breaking news about a coup in Chile on a radio in an empty laundromat where I was doing my household laundry chores. At home, my wife had already left for her day job and our two sleepy cats didn’t bother to wake up. It was frustrating to have no one to discuss the ominous situation.

While Latin American coups were not so unusual or transformative in those days this one in Chile was historic for two reasons.

In September, 1970 a free election–the results accepted by all major parties–chose the Socialist Salvador Allende to be President of Chile. He had run with the backing of the Popular Unity Alliance including the Communist Party, and Alliance members began to run the executive branch of government.

While the concrete achievements of the Popular Unity government were modest, and many on the left were critical of its timid pace, the Allende government in the most industrialized South American country was a great symbolic victory that inspired the working class of not only Chile but throughout Latin America–and beyond.
The Chilean ruling class, however, understood the cautious regime was a mortal threat to their rule.

The Nixon White House shared that concern and Hillary Clinton’s “friend and mentor” Henry Kissinger was tasked to put together a strategic plan involving the CIA collaborating with Chilean military brass headed by General Augusto Pinochet. It was not to be a run of the mill coup.

They were not content to seize the Presidential Palace and murdering Allende. With the help of information supplied by numerous long-term CIA operatives, they rounded up thousands of suspects. Many were interned in a soccer stadium—most never seen alive again. They included not only leaders of working class parties and trade unions but also artists and academics.

American ex-pats were not spared. The father of one such American victim, Thomas Hauser, wrote a compelling book, Missing [no longer in print], which Costa-Gavras turned into an impressive 1982 film of the same name starring Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek, winning the Academy Award for best script.

The joint military-CIA task force also targeted Cubans—even those with diplomatic immunity. At least a couple of thousand of Chilean nationals, Cubans, and refugees from Uruguay, Bolivia, and Peru that had been granted asylum by Allende, were smuggled out of Chile through heroic efforts by the Swedish ambassador Gustav Harald Edelstam.

As the military dictatorship rolled back the gains of the Allende regime they relied on a group of economists known as the Chicago Boys—groomed by Milton Friedman at the University of Chicago. They succeeded in implementing a scheme Friedman failed to do in this country—privatizing Social Security and investing in the stock market. It was hailed at the time as the greatest thing since sliced bagels. It survived the gradual phasing out of junta rule. But earlier this week the New York Times reported,

Discontent has been brewing for years in Chile over pensions so low that most people must keep working past retirement age. All the while, privately run companies have reaped enormous profits by investing Chileans’ social security savings.”

Of course, the U.S. government has never acknowledged—much less apologized—for their crimes in Chile. Indeed the Democrat front-runner for President has thanked Henry Kissinger for his service to his adopted country. Like the arch-criminal Pinochet Kissinger will likely go scot-free to his natural demise.

The victims of this secret American aided dictatorship deserve better. We at least should remind the old and acquaint the young with the shameful other 9/11.

That’s all for this week.

If you’re not already signed up you can get the Week In Review free of charge in one of the following ways.

http://www.workdayminnesota.org/sites/workdayminnesota.org/themes/workdayminnesota/images/social/large/rss.png Really Simple Syndication (RSS)

Simply send your name and e-mail address to billonasch[at]kclabor.org

Follow Bill Onasch on Google +

Our companion Labor Advocate news blog posts articles of interest to working people by 9AM Central, Monday-Friday.

Our sole source of operating income is reader contributions. If you can help please visit the KC Labor Donate page.