by Bill Onasch
Red Warriors and Bottom Feeders
I noted in the September 13 Week In Review that a great battle had begun on the Standing Rock Reservation in a sparsely populated sector of North Dakota. Campsites there have attracted the biggest gathering of North American indigenous peoples in a century. As their cause is just—with tie-ins to issues of global importance–they were soon augmented by many others showing solidarity.
The Sioux Dakota had first tried to use the courts to stop the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, basing their case on rights under the 1851 Ft Laramie treaty. The DAPL would carry a half-million gallons a day of fracked oil through ancestral and sacred land—alongside and under the Missouri River—hundreds of miles to refineries in Illinois.
The ancestors of the plaintiffs were once custodians of this land, striving to live in harmony and sustainability with what Nature had provided.
But then along came the Manifest Destiny of American capitalism claiming everything from Sea to Shining Sea. Those who because of a navigational error of Christoper Columbus came to be known as Indians were seen as an obstacle to this divine right, transferred from English monarchs to the New World bosses, merchants, and bankers—and for a while slave holders. The Declaration of Independence described the indigenous peoples as “the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.”
When the Indians were found to be “squatting” on the Promised Land for whites the Indian Removal Act of 1830 authorized their expulsion. They were told to pack up and move under escort often hundreds of miles to less desirable territory. Sometimes treaties, like the one in 1851, were signed.
Resistance was mercilessly subdued by the U.S. Army enforcing Divine eviction. The methods of those troops and white land-grabbers often included “an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.”
In some cases their exiled locations turned out to be richer than their previous residence. Oklahoma—one of the terminals of the Trail of Tears--was Indian Territory until oil was found. Then it soon became a state and token royalties were paid to the Tribes.
The policies of physical and cultural genocide against Native Americans are not just a shameful part of our history; they continue today. Young Red Warriors on horseback are again resisting. Recognizing the firepower that can be used against them they have wisely chosen not to take up arms.
The Army Corps of Engineers had automatically awarded fast track approval to the DAPL project of the Energy Transfer Partners corporation—a company that has contributed a lot of money to the Trump campaign as well as lining up support of construction craft unions.
The Red Warriors have called on Trump’s Democrat opponent to take a stand on the DAPL but so far she has exercised her right to remain silent. Perhaps she will get back to them by e-mail. Nor has this been a topic in the stump speeches of liberal surrogates such as Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren.
The first confrontations between protesters and pipeline crews encountered a mean-spirited but greatly outnumbered private security force using dogs and pepper spray. Arrest warrants were issued for those who were recognized, such as journalist Amy Goodman, but most, if not all, were dismissed. The Tribes won a temporary restraining order against further work. In the earlier WIR I said,
“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.”
I admit surprise that my prediction was so soon verified. ETP had already assembled equipment and crews and every day of “pause” was eating their profits. They had no problem finding a sympathetic appeal judge who set aside the lower court TRO. With more than a little help from institutions of “law and order,” they announced plans to start digging last Thursday. As expected, they were confronted by protesters committed to nonviolent resistance to try to stop them who had already established a new 1851 Camp directly in the path of the heavy equipment.
Elite police and National Guard units from five states, many dressed in flak uniforms and wearing oxygen supplied hoods to protect them from the tear gas and pepper spray they used, as they moved aggressively in to the demonstrators. They were backed up by mounted troops, armored vehicles and helicopters. They threw stun grenades, fired rubber bullets and bean-bags, while also using tasers. There were at least two serious and numerous lesser injuries among the protesters. At least 141 were arrested. Not wanting any martyrs like at Kent State, the main body of the blockaders retreated to permanent camps.
This brutal violence against peaceful protest is reminiscent of Apartheid South Africa and the British in Ireland. The embedded media showed little of that but dutifully filmed a staged start-up of digging.
National Nurses United, a union that has been out front on issues such as human rights and climate change, issued a statement that said in part,
“National Nurses United today sharply condemned police and armed guard attacks on members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, other First Nations, environmental activists, and other protectors who have bravely participated in protests against the Dakota Access pipeline project.
“Reports of police using pepper spray, military grade equipment, and other military style tactics follow physical attacks on protesters by armed security guards who have who have used dogs in ways reminiscent of assaults on peaceful protesters during the Civil Rights movement, as well as arrests of media covering the protests.
“’This has become a seminal battle over the First Amendment protection of public protest. It is also a challenge for everyone who is concerned about the rights of First Nation people and their sacred sites and water sources, as well as the threat the pipeline poses to environmental degradation, public health, and to accelerating the climate crisis,’ said NNU Co-President Jean Ross, RN
“’NNU, through its Registered Nurse Response Network, a national network of volunteer RNs, has deployed nurse volunteers to assist with first aid needs for the land and water protectors. NNU remains committed to continuing that program in support of the DAPL protests as needed, said Ross.’”
Other unions such as the Amalgamated Transit Union, American Postal Workers, Communications Workers of America, and the Service Employees International Union have taken a similar stand. But they are a vanguard being publicly attacked by mainstream bureaucrats. None of those are more outspoken than Terry O’Sullivan, head honcho of the Laborers International Union.
In an article entitled Labor Boss Slams ‘Bottom Feeding’ Unions Opposing Pipeline, The Hill quotes from a letter brother O’ sent to all of his members,
“The facts are on our side, yet in the past month, we have witnessed vocal opposition from groups, including some self-righteous unions, who know little about the project and have no job equity in it…These unions have sided with THUGS against trade unionists. They are a group of bottom-feeding organizations that are once again trying to destroy our members’ jobs.”
Since we’re not talking about aquariums, the reference to bottom feeders is clearly a slur against low wage workers. That wouldn’t be applicable to the NNU whose members are all health care professionals. But SEIU is justly proud of their efforts to improve the lot of workers at the bottom of the wage scale. And all the “self-righteous” unions have stood with the “THUGS” facing off against O’Sullivan’s representatives, cheering on from the safety of the rear, the rent-a-cops, police, and National Guard carrying out the dirty work of Indian removal for a climate-wrecking corporation.
While O’Sullivan may be the Donald Trump of the labor skates blurting out hateful remarks his views reflect the class collaborationist ideology and practice of much of the union bureaucracy–starting with those other construction unions who are grateful for a few temporary jobs—the Teamsters, Operating Engineers, and Pipefitters. They had sufficient clout to put the entire AFL-CIO on record endorsing DAPL. This principled division in organized labor adds yet another important dimension to a struggle involving multiple crucial issues.
The most prominent climate writer and activist in the USA, Bill McKibben, interrupted his efforts to elect Hillary Clinton to submit a pretty good op-ed piece in the New York Times—Why Dakota Is the New Keystone. He writes,
“The Native Americans are the only people who have inhabited this continent in harmony with nature for centuries. Their traditional wisdom now chimes perfectly with the latest climate science. The only thing missing are the bodies of the rest of us joining in their protest. If we use them wisely, a fresh start is possible.”
McKibben reports on national plans for solidarity,
“In coming weeks, activists will respond to calls from the leaders at Standing Rock by gathering at the offices of banks funding the pipeline, and at the offices of the Army Corps of Engineers, for protest and civil disobedience. Two dozen big banks have lent money to the pipeline project, even though many of them have also adopted elaborate environmental codes. As for the Corps, that’s the agency that helped “expedite” the approval of the pipeline —and must still grant the final few permits.
“The vast movement of people across the country who mobilized to block fossil-fuel projects like the Keystone pipeline and Shell’s plans to drill in the Arctic need to gather once more. This time, their message must be broader still.”
Already, there has been a demonstration of about 1500 in Minneapolis focused on the use of Minnesota Sheriff departments in the attacks on the Dakota protests. As details of future solidarity become available they will be posted on our companion Labor Advocate blog.
Opera at the ESFL
In an early brutal example of Urban Removal, in 1956 the city of St Paul evicted the residents of the 100-year old Swede Hollow community and burned their homes. On the sixtieth anniversary of this scorched earth outrage the East Side Freedom Library is hosting a reprise of an opera memorializing the various native and immigrant residents that had once lived in the Hollow. Details of this special St Paul event are available here.
Regrettably, I have to report the loss of another from the workers’ Greatest Generation. After a short bout of weakness and failing memory Jerry Gordon died from a heart attack in his sleep at home last week. He was 88.
I’m sure many readers encountered this union leader, antiwar coalition builder, Labor Party stalwart, and solidarity mobilizer. It was my privilege to have known and collaborated with Jerry for more than fifty years. I will soon write more in appreciation of his contributions.
So far no plans have been announced for a memorial meeting. Condolences can be sent to his widow Bonnie—Jerry’s partner in every sense of that term–
Due to some pressing writing and speaking commitments, the next WIR will not be published until shortly after the November 8 general election.
That’s all for this week.
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