Monday, December 27, 2010

Resolution: The Environment: Basic principles for Struggling with Conflicts

In August 1997, at the Canadian Autoworkers Constitutional Convention in
Vancouver, BC, the following resolution was agreed upon.


The environment is not an issue involving “others”.

• The environment is first of all a public health issue, affecting the air we
breathe, the water we depend on, the food we eat, the soil our children
play in; it’s about chemicals, poisons and carcinogens in our community.
• It’s about the future resources we leave for the next generation; it’s about
preserving and therefore sharing the beauty of nature.

Environmental issues can’t be separated from the economic
system we live in.

• An economic system that treats humans as commodities, interested
only in their contribution to profits and discarding them at will, is
unlikely to give much priority to our natural environment.

Our economic system divides us regarding our concerns over
jobs vs our concerns over our environment.

• Although the long-term effects of environmental damage will negatively
impact on all our lives, the need to earn a living in uncertain times
pushes workers to focus on the short term, which often means laying
environmental issues aside.
• Somehow we must address both the short-term (jobs) and long-term
(environment) aspects of survival.

We can learn from our experience over health and safety.

• In the early days of the health and safety movement, workers were often
confronted with the choice between trading off health (the work
environment) for profits and competitiveness (i.e., jobs). When we
resisted – with significant success – was this anti-social and a false
•We demanded both a safe environment and decent jobs, and we are
making substantial progress in this area.

Tensions will occur and we must think strategically in dealing
with them.

• The most difficult choices involve jobs that affect a specific group vs
environmental implications that primarily affect a broader and different
group. To deal with this, both sides must think strategically.
• Those who make the environment the centre of their political activities
can’t build a constituency if they’re perceived as being insensitive to jobs
and people’s livelihoods.
•Workers and unions can’t build the broader alliances they need in
today’s times – especially with young people – if we’re cornered into
being seen as insensitive to the wider community and the kind of
environment we will leave for future generations.
•We need public education and will to achieve that campaign goal, unions
and environmentalists need to think and work strategically, but we’re
barely talking to each other.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Syndicalism, Ecology and Feminism: Judi Bari’s Vision

Syndicalism, Ecology and Feminism: Judi Bari’s Vision

Jeff Shantz

According to the late Wobbly organizer and Earth Firster, Judi Bari, a truly biocentric perspective must really challenge the system of industrial capitalism which is founded upon the ‘ownership’ of the earth. Industrial capitalism cannot be reformed since it is founded upon the destruction of nature. The profit drive of capitalism insists that more be taken out than is put back (be it labour or land). Bari extended the Marxist discussion of surplus value to include the elements of nature. She argued that a portion of the profit derived from any capitalist product results from the unilateral (under)valuing, by capital, of resources extracted from nature.

Because of her analysis of the rootedness of ecological destruction in capitalist relations Bari turned her attentions to the everyday activities of working people. Workers would be a potentially crucial ally of environmentalists, she realized, but such an alliance could only come about if environmentalists were willing to educate themselves about workplace concerns. Bari held no naïve notions of workers as privileged historical agents. She simply stressed her belief that for ecology to confront capitalist relations effectively and in a non-authoritarian manner requires the active participation of workers. Likewise, if workers were to assist environmentalists it was reasonable to accept some mutual aid in return from ecology activists.