If We Want to Stop Washington’s Wars, We Have a Lot of Work to Do

The second week of August is a time when peace activists throughout the United States pause to remember the holocaust that our own country visited upon the people of Japan in 1945. It is the right thing to do, to stop and reflect on August 6—the anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima—and August 9—the anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki—and to recommit to the worldwide struggle that a third nuclear weapon will never be used, and for that matter that the people of this earth will put an end to all wars, with any weapons, once and forever.

Nagasaki Day 2017 was different, however. On Tuesday, August 8, the President of the United States, Donald John Trump, threatened to unleash another nuclear holocaust on northeast Asia. The New York Times reported: “ ‘North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,’ Mr. Trump told reporters at his golf club in Bedminster, NJ, where he is spending much of the month on a working vacation. ‘They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.’ ”

Three days later, Trump not only doubled down on his threat to obliterate the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, he warned the people of Venezuela that he was considering a broad range of options to solve “Venezuela’s political crisis” (read: Venezuela’s working people standing up to economic sabotage by the financial elite), including the “military option.”

After only slightly more than a week had elapsed, the President reversed his long-standing opposition to U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and ordered an increase in U.S. troop strength to fight what has often been called the “longest war in U.S. history” (unless one counts the genocidal war on the Native American people).

It was a trifecta of war threats. But the response by the fragmented antiwar movement was woefully inadequate.

No criticism of local antiwar coalitions or their leaders is intended. Many local coalitions organized demonstrations on short notice, reaching out to different organizations and constituencies in their local areas. Of course, many of those citizens who are most active in their opposition to Washington’s war policies had been in the streets just days before in protest of the free pass that President Donald John Trump gave to neo-Nazis and other white supremacists in the aftermath of the shameful “Unite the Right” demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia. As a consequence, fewer people came out to protest Trump’s war threats than should have, even though local activists did the best they could.

The outrages committed by the Trump administration against the working people and against simple common decency have been coming at a frightening pace. Antiwar activists are part of the overall resistance movement against the Trump administration’s policies, standing up to racism, to sexism, for universal healthcare, for a higher minimum wage, for immigrant rights, and for climate and environmental justice, as they must be, especially considering the terrible price that working people pay for war. Spending for death and destruction siphons billions upon billions of dollars away from the social safety net for the poor, the sick, seniors, and children. The dollars spent on killing people could instead be spent on repairing the country’s infrastructure— beginning with the water pipes in Flint, Michigan—which are in a shambles. Such infrastructure spending would put thousands of people to work at good-paying union jobs.

Even though the struggles for jobs, wages, and the social safety net are easy to connect with the struggle against war, the resistance is fragmented. Too many decisions to take action are not made in consultation with others: many demonstrations are called within a short time frame, and even worse, on the same days. Unity in the struggle is not simply a morally good thing: it has practical value on many levels.

The fundamental imperative for unity in the antiwar movement has to do most with bringing into action the social forces that have both the power to end a war and the interest to do so.

The financiers, the 1%, the billionaire class, the ruling class—whatever you wish to call them—dominate the economy and the government and they could stop a war whenever they wished. The fundamental problem is that the wars are fought in their interest. It is for them that politicians send young men and now young women to fight and die, and if a war is being fought for their profits, they are not likely to end it unless it becomes a threat to their wealth and power.

That leads to a force in society that can stop a war: the working class. A Teamster leader named John T. Williams once said it this way: “When students stand up, they arouse the conscience of the nation. When workers sit down, they stop production.” The working people can bring the entire economy to a screeching halt if they use their strike weapon in a unified and organized way. If we were to do so, we could stop much more than a war, to be sure. Even the threat of such strike action could be enough to cause the super-rich to think twice about continuing a war policy that was provoking working people to consider shutting down production.

And there is an additional social force that is actually the one most responsible for ending the Vietnam War over four decades ago: the enlisted soldiers and sailors who are actually doing the fighting. Once it became clear that the Vietnamese were not threatening the United States in any way—a question which faced them because the G.I.’s were well aware of the marches and rallies demanding U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam—the soldiers and sailors began fighting only to stay alive and in some cases taking drastic action against officers who ordered them into combat against an enemy who really was defending his—and, as often as not, her—country from a foreign invader.
The fundamental strategic choice for the peace movement is, therefore, shall it devote its efforts to convincing those in power to do the moral thing and stop war? Or shall it turn its attention to the working people and enlisted military personnel and organize them to act in their own interests—to use their power to force war to stop?

In the United States, where there is no mass labor or socialist party, and where the trade unions have an inconsistent record of opposing Washington’s wars, it is perhaps understandable that broad sections of the peace movement consider it more realistic to try to influence the representatives of the rich and powerful. But to bring the maximum pressure against the warmakers and to create the strong movement that can attract broad sections of labor and even military personnel, unity of all antiwar forces is necessary. How can that be achieved?

The unity that matters—and indeed the only unity that is possible—is unity in action. “We agree to take a particular action together on a particular date in a particular location (or more than one location), for this—or these—particular demand or demands.” Though a majority vote is technically democratic, achieving consensus for a decision is a far better guarantee of unity going forward.

To achieve consensus, people must be ready to compromise. Most people involved will be supporting candidates for public office; in all likelihood, people will be supporting different candidates for public office. Those choices must not be imposed on others. People may feel passionately about a particular issue or struggle other than peace, but it may not be widely understood or supported by others. People need to put the strength of the antiwar mobilization first, to respect differences of opinion, and achieve consensus where it counts. On date X it may be for stopping a war; on date Y it may be for defending the rights of immigrants; on date Z it may be for a higher minimum wage. All are valid. And on date X, all the world must know that the thousands of people who are in the streets are demanding an end to a war.

The key to success is the same as it has always been: involving the working people, whether they have their hands on the machines of production or on the weapons of combat. When working people demonstrating for peace can equal the mobilizations for women’s rights on January 21, 2017, it can force the warmakers in Washington to bring the troops home. It has happened before. It can happen now.

And the process is under way. Initiated by the United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC), a broad coalition of peace movement organizations and individual activists has called for actions against “continuous wars, including drone and mercenary warfare…and…threatening military action against Venezuela, North Korea, Russia, Iran and other countries.” Click here to read the call. The protests are called for the week of October 2–October 8; October 6 is the sixteenth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. The Labor Fightback Network has endorsed this call and will do all it can to make the October demonstrations successful. We will enthusiastically build actions against not only the war in Afghanistan, but the nuclear threats against the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea, the threats against Iran and Venezuela, and all the aggression, both real and threatened, coming from Washington. As we have said, the unity that counts is unity in action. UNAC and many other the groups and individuals have called for the action. It’s up to all of us who are working for peace to respond with the unity.

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Lessons of Hurricane Harvey and Other Climate Disasters

At the date of this writing, over 70 deaths have been attributed to Hurricane Harvey. Thousands have been made homeless and tens of thousands more will be unable to move back into homes destroyed by flooding. The environmental impacts of Harvey are devastating, including the immediate contamination of drinking water systems from sewage and oil and chemical releases. As is always the case, the greatest harm is, and will continue to be, to those who can least afford it, especially communities of color, who are less likely to have insured mortgages and savings from which to rebuild and who live in areas with less protection from flooding and closer to environmental hazards such as chemical plants. Other lower income workers, the disabled, and the elderly often face similar circumstances.

The initial property damage from Harvey is estimated to be around $60 billion, close to Hurricane Sandy though less than half that of Hurricane Katrina. However, the estimated total costs of recovery could reach $190 billion, making Harvey the costliest climate disaster in US history. (Business economists note that a construction boom may offset some of the cost. Sad to say, rebuilding destroyed cities can be profitable.) Since Houston is the center of the US oil industry and the 6th largest import terminal in the world, the disruption of these sectors is sending shock waves into the whole economy.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Irma, the worst hurricane in recorded Atlantic Ocean history, is hitting Florida, and the US Northwest is battling a record number of extreme wildfires. As sea levels and temperatures rise due to global warming, the damage from hurricanes becomes greater. Warmer seawater results in bigger, stronger storms, making extreme amounts of rain and high winds become more likely, especially in the Gulf and Atlantic seaboard states. Higher sea levels make coastal areas more prone to flooding. In contrast, climate change in the Northwest has resulted in more droughts and a devastating increase in dead wood from tree-killing beetles. Even though last winter was the wettest in many years, the result was more grass and brush, which hotter spring and summer temperatures quickly dried out, adding to the fire hazard.

Yet despite the obvious predictability of such crises, the current administration continues to claim climate change is a hoax. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had funds totaling only $1.5 billion, showing that the US government is clearly unprepared for disasters of this magnitude.

In the face of the Harvey disaster, there has been an immediate, bipartisan push to free up money to make it look like the government is going to respond adequately, despite having done virtually nothing to prevent the damage in the first place. The mainstream news media have been praising Trump and moderate Republicans for working with Democrats in Congress to pass a so-called “massive” aid bill. However, this bill will only provide $15.3 billion, a tiny fraction of what is needed right now, let alone in the future, when politicians are less likely to perceive immediate benefits from appearing generous. Ultimately, the federal government provided $110 billion for Katrina response, and most of that never reached the hardest hit victims. Given the importance of Houston and other Texas Gulf Coast cities to corporate bottom lines, we can assume that much of this current aid will go to defray the costs of industries harmed by Harvey rather than to displaced residents.

So, there is nothing much to feel good about in this picture, other than the usual outpouring of support from average people: heroic first responders, neighbors offering up their cars and small boats for rescue efforts, millions sending small donations. As always, union workers are important to this relief effort. Many of us are employed as first responders. We hold key jobs in utilities, transport, health care, social services, and construction. From around the country, union workers are being sent in to help restore power and provide emergency services. Many unions are conducting drives for supplies and cash donations. The Texas AFL-CIO immediately made available a means to donate online to the relief effort, which we encourage you to support: http://www.texasaflcio.org/donate.

All this is well and good—and necessary—and we should all participate to the extent we can, but it begs the question, why do we face such crises in the first place? Why does the government refuse to invest in a massive program for infrastructure repair and improvement? Why don’t we have adequate plans in place to protect those who will be hit the hardest? Why doesn’t relief money go to those who need it most? How can our government deny the threat of climate change and continue to build fossil fuel pipelines when it is clear we need alternative energy development right now? Why do we have a president threatening nuclear war with North Korea while giving only lip service to disaster relief?

Well, you know the answer. Follow the money. The real question is: what are we going to do about it? Though Labor Fightback Network supports—indeed hails—union relief efforts, our mission is to do whatever we can to get the US labor movement to address the underlying issues. The first step is to realize our political and economic system is designed to benefit only the richest layers of our society, and future survival be damned. As long as we vote for their politicians and accept we can do no better, we can’t expect change. Labor Fightback Network’s answer to virtually all issues facing working people is basically the same: labor needs to engage with all communities who are under attack and to build real political power. When it comes to climate disasters, this means uniting with community organizing efforts in the hardest hit sectors and with the environmental movement to promote job-creating clean energy development, to defeat environmental racism, and to address income inequality, lack of affordable housing, and failing infrastructure. As we gain trust with others in common struggle, we must promote political organizing, initially on a local level, accountable to our communities and fully independent of both the Republicans and the Democrats. The corporations have two parties; we need a party of our own.

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Defend DACA! Not One More Deportation!

On September 5, the Trump administration announced that it was ending Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, over the next six months. The president assigned Attorney General Jeff Sessions to make the announcement, apparently trying to separate himself from the move.

DACA, which was enacted through Executive Order by then-President Obama in 2012, places a stay on the deportation of 800,000 immigrant youth who were brought to the United States when they were small children. DACA did not legalize the status of these immigrant youth; it merely gave them temporary (two-year) stays on deportation, renewable at the discretion of the president, along with temporary work permits. The recipients were called “Dreamers” — named after the DREAM Act.

Demonstrations erupted across the country — from Washington, D.C., to both coasts, and in the heartland. Opposition was powerful and swift.

Almost immediately, the AFL-CIO national leadership and many of its statewide and citywide affiliates issued statements denouncing the Trump administration’s decision. In a number of states, the unions went a step further, urging labor activists to take to the streets in protest. One such statement by the San Francisco Labor Council reads, in part:

“The San Francisco Labor Council and all of our friends, families and allies who make up the majority of those in America, stand in firm opposition to this latest demonstration of calculated cruelty at the expense of our immigrant brothers and sisters. We call for: A Moratorium on Deportations! Full protection for All DACA Recipients! An End to the Scapegoating of Immigrant Communities!”

Opposition to ending DACA began to mount before the official announcement from some unlikely voices. Dissension from Trump’s own party came from 18 Republicans, three U.S. senators, and 15 U.S. representatives, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, who said, “I actually don’t think we should do that. This is something that Congress has to fix.”

Top administrators in 100 higher-education institutions in 25 states and the District of Columbia expressed support for passage of the DREAM Act, many with signed letters to federal legislators opposing the president’s move to rescind DACA and urging support for the DREAM Act.

Big business CEOs from over 400 companies signed a letter to the president and Congress to save DACA. Thousands of faith and advocacy group leaders, and all levels of elected government officials, signed DACA support letters. Ending DACA could cost our country $433.4 billion in GDP loss, according to Crains New York Business Journal.

Faith organizations, especially those based in immigrant and people of color communities are speaking out for DACA, including evangelical Christian groups who may take conservative positions on some other social questions, Most vocal are the National Latino Evangelical Coalition; Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the public-policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention; and World Relief, “the humanitarian arm of the National Association of Evangelicals” for its work with refugees and immigrants.

For their part, the immigrant rights activist organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area and other cities across the country are calling to defend DACA, while also demanding an end to all deportations and the legalization of all 11 million undocumented immigrants. Signs demanding “Not One More Deportation!” were visible everywhere at the spontaneous demonstrations that were held the evening of September 5 in cities and college campuses across the Bay Area and beyond.

A number of immigrant rights organizers explained in speeches and radio interviews that DACA was a concession made by Obama to appease the massive immigrant rights movement and to woo the Latino and youth vote in the 2012 presidential election. “While we defend DACA,” stated Quitzia, a leader of Causa Justa, on KPFA (Berkeley) Radio, “we will not forget that Obama was the ‘Deporter-in-Chief,’ as more than 3 million people were deported under his watch.”

A statement by the California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance (CIYJA) summed up the stance of the militant wing of the immigrant rights movement:

“Trump’s decision to rescind DACA is a desperate political stunt to please his white supremacist base.…However, immigrant communities have survived countless attacks through each presidential administration that has continuously scapegoated our people to advance their political agendas.…

“Let us all be reminded that DACA was victoriously achieved through community organizing and base building. We have the power to organize and fight back, not just for the 800,000 DACA beneficiaries, but for all the 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country.”

Labor and community united in mass actions in the streets can make a huge difference over the next six months not only to preserve DACA but to advance the nationwide fight to end all deportations.

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On the Aftermath of Charlottesville, Virginia

As was widely reported, white nationalists gathered on August 19 for a “Unite the Right” march in Charlottesville. The rally was organized in opposition to a plan by local officials to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee, the Confederacy’s top general, from the city’s Emancipation Park. However, it is also clear that the forces behind the Charlottesville rally run much deeper than the removal of statues.

Right-wing extremism, including white nationalism and white supremacy, is on the rise, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. And a string of killings in recent months raised the specter of far-right violence well before that weekend.

While the response to the violence has been both powerful and swift—with tens of thousands of demonstrators surging into the nation’s streets and parks on August 19 to denounce racism, white supremacy and Nazism, the Labor Fightback Network believes that the Labor Movement must play a leading role in responding to the increasing targeting and violence towards vulnerable populations as the Far Right continues to act in a new and emboldened way, with the support of the White House.

It must also be noted that institutionalized racism—such as the continued police killings of Blacks and Latinos, the “New Jim Crow” prison-industrial complex, the cuts in public services that are driving Blacks out of the organized labor force, the redistricting that is gutting Black people’s voting rights, as well as a host of other attacks—continues to divide the Labor Movement, pitting more skilled white workers against Blacks and Latinos. The fight against institutionalized racism, therefore, needs to be championed by organized labor.

It’s not just about the fight against the white supremacists. The problem goes much deeper. For example, just about every right-wing Republican—from Sessions to Ryan to Graham—are denouncing the white supremacists while continuing to advocate cuts in Medicaid (which would affect people of color disproportionately), supporting the mass deportation of so-called “illegal” immigrants, privatizing public services, and more.

The Labor Movement must play a leading role in exposing this hypocrisy, which also involves all-too-many Democrats.

From Counter-Protest Participation to Movement-Building Strategy

Labor unions and their members from throughout the United States participated in the counter-protests but more is needed. The Labor Movement must unite on a national basis and say: “No to the KKK, the Nazis and the White Supremacists.” ILWU Local 10 in the San Francisco Bay Area is an example. Recently, Local 10 passed the following resolution in response to Charlottesville and to a new-Nazi assembly scheduled to take place on August 26:

“Whereas, the fascists, the KKK, Nazis and other white supremacists rallied and marched by torchlight in Charlottesville, whipping up lynch mob terror with racist, anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic slogans, and

“Whereas, that attack resulted in one anti-racist counter-demonstrator murdered and many others injured when one of the fascist bullies ran them down with a car, and

“Whereas, President Trump’s whitewashing this violent, deadly fascist and racist attack saying ‘both sides are to blame,’ and his attacking anti-racists for opposing Confederate statues that honor slavery adds fuel to the fire of racist violence, and

“Whereas, the Klan, Nazis and other racist terrorists represent a deadly threat to African Americans, Latinos and immigrants, as well as Muslims, Jews, LGBTQ people among many others, and directly to members of our union and the labor movement as a whole, and

“Whereas, the fascist ‘Patriot Prayer’ group that staged violent racist provocations in Portland, Oregon and elsewhere, attracting Nazi and other violent white supremacists, has announced it will rally on Crissy Field on Saturday August 26, and

“Whereas, far from a matter of ‘free speech’, the racist and fascist provocations are a deadly menace as shown in Portland on May 26 when a Nazi murdered two men and almost killed a third for defending two young African American women he was menacing; and our sisters and brothers in the Portland labor movement answered racist terror with the power of workers solidarity, mobilizing members of 14 unions against the fascist/racist rally there on June 4, and

“Whereas, ILWU Local 10 has a long and proud history of standing up against racism, fascism and bigotry and using our union power to do so; on May Day 2015 we shut down Bay Area ports and marched followed by thousands to Oscar Grant Plaza demanding an end to police terror against African Americans and others; the San Francisco Bay Area is a union stronghold and we will not allow labor-hating white supremacists to bring their lynch mob terror here,

“Therefore, ILWU Local 10 in the best tradition of our union that fought these right-wingers in the Big Strike of 1934, will not work on that day and instead march to Crissy Field to stop the racist,  fascist intimidation in our hometown and invite all unions and antiracist and antifascist organizations to join us defending unions, racial minorities, immigrants, LGBTQ people, women and all the oppressed.”

Local 10 has set an instructive example in the following ways:

    • ILWU Local 10 is LEADING THE WAY—not waiting for others to do so—or simply participating in a protest planned by others;
    • ILWU Local 10 is issuing a formal resolution on Charlottesville, rather than simply supporting its members’ participation in a protest event;
    • ILWU Local 10 is instituting the power of the STRIKE to directly link its protest of white nationalism with power of working people to withhold their labor in protest of intolerable conditions.

By taking the lead in all of these ways, ILWU Local 10 shows the way forward for building a contemporary mass movement of working people. Just as the rise of the far right is linked to the crisis of U.S. capitalism, the response to the crisis can only be one that successfully builds a labor movement that is democratic and anti-white supremacist.

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The U.S. Labor Movement, the Paris Accord, NEPA, and the Importance for Connecting Social Movement Organizing on the Local and Global Arena

By Eduardo Rosario

Introduction:

When President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris Accord on Thursday, June 1, 2017 it instantaneously became worldwide news. What received essentially no media coverage was what occurred on Monday, June 5, 2017, in the Capitol Building. Assembled at a congressional briefing was a 14-person delegation that came from throughout the U.S. representing the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA) along with representatives from EarthJustice. With the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Accord as the backdrop, this delegation was urging representatives from the various offices of the Senate and House of Representatives its support for a the little known federal legislation that has come under tremendous attack called the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The question here is what does the Paris Accord and NEPA have in common? When you place both the Paris Accord and NEPA, in context of our local, state, and national infrastructure, the two as it turns out have much in common when viewed through the filter of environmental justice, human rights, the workplace, and our communities.

U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Accord and its ramifications

On June 1, 2017, Donald Trump pulls the United States out of the Paris Accord, a commitment of nearly every country in the world to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and which aims to keep the planet’s warming below 2 degrees Celsius. Among the numerous reasons Trump made for pulling out of the Paris Accord was how it and environmental regulation threatened job creation. He went on to further assert how we were paying for other countries that were not paying their fair share — more specifically China and India. This was one of Trump’s major motivations for the US withdrawal from the Paris Accord. This withdrawal is a monumental mistake and represents a complete disregard of some clear facts and economic realities we cannot deny, for example:[1]

  • Innovation in clean technologies and jobs is on the rise.
  • Investing in growing clean energy, clean vehicles, green infrastructure development, and energy efficiency can drive manufacturing growth in the United States.
  • To not take advantage of the tremendous potential of the green economy puts the US at a competitive disadvantage, leaving these benefits for the rest of world to surpass the US as far as the research and development of green technology and a green economy.

Despite Trump taking the nation in a direction that is devoid of logic, commonsense, and stability, a growing number of state and local governments are committed to the goals and aims of the Paris Accord by adopting policies that meet the challenges of global warming by way of greater infrastructure investment using green technology to confront the realities of a future with rising sea levels, higher levels of disease, greater frequency of extreme weather episodes, and a global population that will continue to rise while at the same time having less water to sustain the demands of humanity. In a June 1, 2017, Steven Mufson’s article published in the Washington Post, stated the following:

“Thirty states and scores of companies said Thursday that they would press ahead with their climate policies and pursue lower greenhouse gas emissions, breaking sharply with President Trump’s decision to exit the historic Paris climate accord.”

On Friday, June 2, 2017, the following day after the US withdrawal from the Paris Accord, CBS News released the following statement issued by many state and local governments:

“Mayors, governors, and business leaders from both political parties are signing onto a statement of support that we will submit to the U.N. — and together, we will reach the emission reduction goals the United States made in Paris in 2015,” Bloomberg said in a statement. “Americans will honor and fulfill the Paris Agreement by leading from the bottom up — and there isn’t anything Washington can do to stop us.”

The fact is the “greenhouse” effect caused by carbon emissions is nothing new and science has known of this phenomenon for well over a hundred years taking us back to the time of the Industrial Revolution. In 1896, Svante Arrhenius calculated the effect of doubling atmospheric carbon dioxide has a direct effect on increasing surface temperatures of our planet of 5–6 degrees Celsius.

In reality, what Trump has set out to do is to begin to limit or rather eliminate public discourse on global warming starting with the US withdrawal from the Paris Accord. The facts not being told to the American populace are how the US, which represents 4.34% of the worldwide population[2], is responsible for 15.99% of the total global carbon emissions[3] and the US who has not paid its fair share nor properly begun to address climate change. US economic and foreign policies are exacerbating the environment and economy alike. It is the nations of the global south which tend to be amongst the poorest nations in the world who pay the biggest price for the carbon emissions that originate from the global north — the richest nations of the world. Primarily because they do not possess the resources and infrastructure due to disease, the onslaught of war, and the dislocation of people, due to economic impositions via free trade and austerity measures, free trade policies and austerity measures imposed by the global north.

The truth is the Paris Accord does not go far enough. Scientists have been warning global powers over the decades on where we need to be in order to avoid triggering global environmental tipping points that cannot be reversed with all the money and technology we may possess once set into motion. This ultimately will place humanity as we know, it on the chopping block if we stay the course and do nothing—hence, the gravity and enormity with the decision to withdraw from the Paris Accord. What needs to happen here in the US as a labor movement and nation is to adopt a science-based climate change policy, and break away from global capitol’s market-driven green economy that are based on the failed principles of mass production and the open-market knows best. These are the economic principles and policies that have been embraced for over a century that are largely responsible for the present day global warming crisis. Despite the Paris Accord not going as far as we ultimately need to, it is clearly an important step forward that takes our planet and humanity in the right direction.

Four days later on Monday, June 5, 2017, Trump then dubs the week “Infrastructure Week” for the country. The level of contradiction in the president’s policies is just staggering. Most job creation connected with environmental regulation involves blue-collar jobs. David Foster, executive director of the Blue-Green Alliance, and Leo Girard, president of the United Steelworkers, reported at the “Good Jobs/Green Jobs Conference” held in Washington DC on February 9 – 11, 2014 that infrastructure investment using green technology that provide green jobs with benefits, boost not only the economy and jobs, but begins to set us on a path towards environmental sustainability. It could potentially create 11 million jobs in the U.S. — jobs that would address many of our infrastructure needs, such as replacing antiquated technology and reliance on coal in many schools and communities; repairing of 86,000 defective bridges; building and repair of roads and highways; pipeline infrastructure for our water and sewer systems; improving our public transportation system; and renovating many public buildings. This is the fundamental reason why this is a labor issue and how we must build coalitions with the environmental, as well as with the civil rights movement.

The economic fallout for the US from policies such as Donald Trump withdrawing the US from the Paris Accord may prove insurmountable to overcome if the US stays the course and does not join forces and resources with the global community. This is of particular importance when it comes to addressing climate change in context of the US infrastructure for it will take more than the 30 states who are committed to the goals and aims of the Paris Accord. This demands the entire nation committed to such a proposition that moves us towards adopting a science-based climate change policy. Coalition building is affected by economic and political conditions, but these same economic/political conditions and impositions can be trumped over time by education and lessons learned from the past.[4] This is indisputable when we examine the mass mobilizations of the 1990s such as the international organizing and mobilizing between the labor and environmental movements against the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA), the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI), the Battle of Seattle, or fast-forward to the Blue/Green Alliance here in the US, Occupy Wall Street, and the global mobilization of the Peoples Climate Change March.

Coalition building may seem elusive, but will prove imperative if global capital continues to maintain its current trajectory, a course that will only lead to even greater environmental degradation, in turn, further exacerbating global economic conditions. The trade union principles of justice and dignity are not in conflict with the principles of social movement environmentalism. In unity, these social forces are in a stronger position combating the impositions of global capital than either of them can do alone. Coalition building specifically between the labor and environmental movements has been extensively researched over the years and discussed by academics and trade unionists alike. Regardless of whether one favors a “social movement organizing” model or a servicing/business unionism model, it is long overdue organized labor in the US honestly address the heated debate surrounding the question of “jobs versus the environment”.

We must begin by asking, “What have been the obstacles towards coalition building between these two powerful social movements?” The common enemies of labor and the environmental justice movements are global capital and those they employ. Corporations have effectively framed the jobs versus the environment debate, often dividing the labor and environmental justice movements from uniting their resources. This has been the weapon of choice particularly during times of economic downturn. The jobs versus the environment strategy have effectively driven a wedge between potential allies based on their relationship to capital. Phillip Harvey, and his description of the pace of the economic recovery being “distressingly slow,” only deepens the divisions and hurdles we must overcome in order to consider strategies and objectives concerning climate change and environmental sustainability.[5] But the claims of job loss due to environmental regulation are most often politically motivated and unsupported by economic analyses (Mayer 2009). Most research on the economic effects of environmental regulations suggests a positive impact on overall employment rates.[6] Free trade policies, outsourcing, deregulation, privatization, and when extracting industries have exhausted all the natural resources of a region leaving behind joblessness and a destroyed ecosystem all have had a far greater deleterious effect on jobs than environmental regulation.

Labor’s potential for growth, and its relevance as a social force are enhanced, particularly among youth and for communities in need when it takes up environmental issues. When labor does not take the steps necessary to be inclusive of broader social concerns these same communities are unlikely to view labor unions as a vehicle for improving their living and social conditions. For these reasons many labor activists embrace a social environmental perspective rather than following global capital’s market-based green economy and the business environmental agenda.[7]

The labor movement is beginning to gain a serious understanding of truths outside its familiar terrain, such as those from science, actively engaging in the fight against global warming.[8]  Though the labor movement is far from being crowned the “steward of the planet” or “protector of the environment,” in recent years many unionists have become more receptive to the question of the environment. A good example of labor moving outside its comfort zone was the labor movement’s public support for a socially responsible environmental policy in the 1999 “Battle of Seattle.” A more recent example is the work of the Blue/Green Alliance, a coalition of labor and environmental organizations representing over 15 million workers and supporters, with unions such as the United Steel Workers playing a leadership role, as well as the over 400,000 who marched in the streets of Manhattan in the September 2014 Peoples Climate Change March, and again the over 200,000 who marched in the April 2017 Washington D.C. Peoples Climate Change March.

Not only U.S. unions but also labor organizations across the globe, in both the global north and south are engaging in such coalitions. While advancing trade union rights for collective bargaining, freedom of association and organizing, they are also increasingly working in coalition with environmentalists to address our responsibility to the local, regional and global environment. With the U.S. labor movement beginning to play a larger role on the question of global warming, “green jobs” are becoming an agenda item for creating jobs in renewable energy, making buildings and industry more energy-efficient, as well as jobs that reduce our carbon footprint and greenhouse gas emissions.[9]

This potentially leads to a growing openness towards coalition building with the environmental justice and civil rights movements among rank-and-file workers. Connecting workplace hazards with pervasive environmental hazards that leach into the community, unions and community groups can place increased pressure to embrace labor/environmental concerns. To move beyond the corporate perspective that pits jobs against the environment, workers and environmentalists can find common ground around a political ecology that drives change and does not simply respond to it.[10] Despite the positive efforts of blue/green coalitions, the U.S. labor movement has yet to adopt a science-based climate change policy, unlike many global labor confederations and national unions of other nations.

At a UN investor summit on climate risk, on January 12, 2012, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka was forthright in his statement about climate threat.

“Scientists tell us we are headed ever more swiftly toward irreversible climate change with catastrophic consequences for human civilization. And far from being a threat only in a distant future, climate change is happening now. That demands action! The carbon emissions from coal, from oil and natural gas, agriculture, and so many other human activities have caused global warming, and we have to act to cut those emissions, and act now.”[11]

While the AFL-CIO has gradually accepted the reality of man-made global warming, this call to action represents full recognition of this global problem. Despite such public statements, however, the AFL-CIO still has not endorsed even the minimal targets for carbon reduction proposed by the world’s leading body of climate scientists, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), let alone the reduction of carbon in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million that America’s leading climate scientist, James Hansen, says is necessary to prevent the “catastrophic consequences for human civilization that is looming on the horizon.”[12] The U.S. labor movement adopting a science-based climate change policy and divorcing itself from global capital’s green economy is yet to be fully realized. But a science-based climate change policy can become a reality if the labor movement joins in coalition with the environmental justice and civil rights movements — locally and globally.

Ecological modernization differs from a narrow trust in technological fixes in that it recognizes that environmental problems are serious enough to require conscious strategies to address them – rather than placing our hopes in the invisible hand of the market or on technological breakthroughs.[13]  This runs counter to global capital’s market-driven green economy. Across the nation, many local and state governments are meeting the challenge of making our energy, transportation, and other systems cleaner and more efficient. Millions of people are being put to work in jobs designing, manufacturing, and installing the clean energy technology and infrastructure needed to reduce the pollution that is driving climate change.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) reports[14] that installed renewable energy capacity increased more than 115 percent from 2000 to 2015 and now produce 14 percent of domestic electricity in the country. According to 2017 data recently released by the DOE in its second annual U.S. Energy and Employment Report, no- and low-carbon energy and energy and vehicle efficiency industries currently support approximately 4.5 million American jobs, including:[15]

  • 2 million jobs in energy efficiency;
  • Almost 374,000 jobs in solar energy;
  • Over 700,000 jobs working with fuel efficient and alternative vehicles and their components;
  • 102,000 jobs in wind energy; and
  • 19,745 jobs in smart grid technology.

These are growing industries: in 2016, the solar workforce increased by 25 percent and wind employment increased by 32 percent, while the energy efficiency sector added 133,000 jobs, and expects to grow another 9 percent in 2017. The Solar Foundation Solar Job Census reported solar jobs have nearly tripled since 2010.[16] The American Wind Energy Association estimated that 248,000 workers would have jobs in or supporting the wind industry by 2020.[17]

Building on these investments by leading globally in growing the green economy would mean more of these kinds of jobs here in the United States, and it’s critical that we spend our time working to ensure that existing jobs and those to come are quality, family-sustaining union jobs with benefits in our communities across the nation. Rather than withdrawing from the Paris Accord, the United States should instead lead the world in driving the significant economic growth and job creation that comes from designing, manufacturing, and installing the clean economy.[18]

The National Environmental Policy Act:

Just as we must take responsibility globally and do our fair share as a labor movement, as a civil society, and organize internationally with the labor, social, and human rights movements of other nations, this cannot be divorced on what we must do on a state and local/community level. Just as the labor and social movements of the global north must build bridges with their counterparts in the global south in order to combat global warming. Labor’s bridge building on a state and local/community level with the environmental and civil rights movements, and solidifying such coalitions is critical that we do so if we are to transition our local/global community towards a green economy that is founded upon a science-based climate change policy. One example of how we can begin to build bridges and coalitions is by using an important tool called the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Everyone has heard of a town hall meeting when there’s a proposal for example, to build an incinerator in your community. But the reason why there’s a town hall meeting in the first place is because of NEPA. It provides the mechanism for the general public to be active participants in the decision making process with regards to any proposed project that receives federal funds. NEPA is not perfect but it provides an important opportunity in building environmental justice in the workplace and community, and more specifically, confront environmental racism.

It is more than apropos that we not only speak of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), but also emphasize the importance to protecting NEPA from forces that wish to abrogate it, where in reality NEPA needs to be expanded and not nullified. In each of the last three Congresses, we have seen over 160 bills that undermine NEPA by shortening public comment periods and statutes of limitation, establishing arbitrary deadlines for environmental review, limiting the consideration of better alternatives or waiving the law altogether. We must bring to light and address the allocation of environmental burdens across the United States, and how the brunt of such burdens are disproportionately born by communities of color. Despite such disparate treatment these communities suffer there are solutions and goals that are attainable in order to remedy this crisis. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), is an important piece of legislation that aids in our taking preventative steps in halting with the continuation of policies that relegate many communities as repositories for dumping pollutants and carcinogens in our air and water, killing workers in the workplace, pollutants and carcinogens that fester via underground plumes that poison water tables in the very communities these same workers live and raise families.

As we all know there are numerous international norms and conventions banning racism and discrimination, and here in the United States racism and discrimination is illegal. Yet when we look at where the lion-share of where major pollution producing industries and structures such as incinerators, power plants, pipelines, and toxic waste sites are located, it cannot be ignored or denied how they are established in many Afro-American, Latino, and Native American communities. From a humanitarian perspective the importance of NEPA for many communities in-need here in the US is critical. NEPA is a genuine avenue of recourse in maintaining the checks and balances for protecting our families, our loved ones, our communities, and our land. NEPA also provides an opportunity to advance proposals and campaigns for investment in green technologies and industries instead of dirty energy industries and structures via the “Environmental Impact Statement” process.

Environmental concern is spreading and the problem cannot be dealt with unless we start with the workplace. It is for this reason the words of Tony Mazzocchi leader of the US Labor Party and the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers ring true, “A degraded work environment ultimately affects the general environment”. The fact is the labor movement has a rich history of championing the cause of environmental justice at work and in the community. A history that goes back to the United Steelworkers of America, and the Donora, Pennsylvania, air pollution disaster of 1948. This is why NEPA is important to the labor movement.

The purpose of NEPA is to make the siting of environmentally burdensome facilities more equitable. Because NEPA, through the “Environmental Impact Statement” (EIS) process, mandates taking into account the significant environmental effects of a proposed project, including its cumulative impact, and requires public participation as part of its process, it is a procedural device for considering environmental justice when making a siting decision. To combat the unfair allocation of environmental burdens, decision-makers must infuse distributional factors into existing environmental statutes. NEPA offers applicable precedent for this infusion because it’s environmental impact statements have long included discussions of the socioeconomic effects and disparities of certain proposed government actions. [19]

It is for this reason the National Environmental Policy Act is the “Environmental Bill of Rights”. It is the means by which we attain environmental equity. The Act provides:

The Congress, recognizing the profound impact of man’s activity on the inter-relations of all components of the natural environment, particular the profound influences of population growth, high-density urbanization, industrial expansion, resource exploitation, and new and expanding technological advances, and recognizing further the critical importance of restoring and maintaining environmental quality to the overall welfare and development of man, declares that it is the continuing policy of the Federal Government, in cooperation with State and local governments, and other concerned public and private organizations, to use all practicable means and measures, including financial and technical assistance, in a manner calculated to foster and promote the general welfare, to create and maintain conditions under which man and nature can exist in productive harmony, and fulfill the social, economic, and other requirements of present and future generations of Americans”.[20]

In other words, NEPA, the National Environmental Policy Act, was set-up to balance the welfare of the people against the backlash of industrialization and urbanization. Yet, balance is exactly what is lacking in the siting of environmentally burdensome facilities, for example, hazardous waste sites. According to the “Toxics Wastes and Race” report, conducted by the United Church of Christ’s Commission on Racial Justice, environmental hazards fall disproportionately on low-income and minority communities who have borne the brunt of waste siting decisions. Dr. Benjamin Chavis, former head of the United Church of Christ testified before the House Subcommittee on Transportation and Hazardous Materials stated, “three out of five African Americans and Hispanic Americans live in communities with uncontrolled toxic waste sites”.[21]

NEPA offers a remedy because it mandates a process more likely to consider the concerns of minority and low-income groups, overburdened by industrial polluters whose proposed project seek to establish themselves in one’s community. In accordance with NEPA, an agency is not only required to predict the environmental effects of a proposed action, it is also compelled to involve concerned parties in the decision-making process.[22]

Conclusion:

The labor movement is a concerned party and is a legitimate player on the local and global arena precisely because of the space it occupies in society and the power labor can exact locally and globally. The labor movement has a right to voice its concerns and organize in coalition with the environmental and civil rights movements against both the US withdrawal from the Paris Accord and the attacks against NEPA and the Environmental Impact Statement process. Global capital and in this case the White House openly denying the environmental and economic realities looming on the horizon are an affront to one’s democratic right to live and work in a healthy environment. What the global capitalist class fears the most regarding the discourse on global warming and civil society’s criticism of the fossil fuel industry be it locally or globally is it places into question the capitalist system itself, and where it is leading society.

The withdrawal from the Paris Accord and staying the present course and doing nothing to address global warming is unacceptable for there are no jobs, no economy, or life on a dead planet. The attacks against NEPA is an affront against a community’s democratic right to voice one’s concerns and grievances included in the Environmental Impact Statement process, especially, when we are talking about environmental hazards in one’s own backyard. In particular, when NEPA provides an avenue of recourse to directly confront the intentional relegation of hazardous industries and structures in many communities of color.

The labor movement is completely in its right to continue to build bridges of unity and solidarity in the name of democracy on behalf of all workers union and non-union alike, their families, and their loved ones. Labor and in this case Labor Council for Latin American Advancement is right to say, “Not in My Backyard. The labor movement is here to say not where we live, not where we work, not where we play, and we have a right to protect ourselves in the workplace, the right to defend our families, community, and protect our planet against those forces whose only concern is to make a profit, at the expense of our health, our lives, and our land”.[23]

It is these same private and government forces that fear when the labor movement, environmentalists, and communities, organize against all efforts that seek to silence one’s voice. But that is precisely the response the labor movement must have in solidarity with civil society, and forge forward as one community, with one voice, organizing towards a “just transition” for all workers and the environment.

End Notes

[1] https://www.bluegreenalliance.org/resources/why-withdrawing-from-paris-is-a-monumental-mistake/ (June 24, 2017)

[2] http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/us-population/ (June 25, 2017)

[3] https://www.statista.com/statistics/271748/the-largest-emitters-of-co2-in-the-world/ (June 25, 2017)

[4] Mayer, Brian – Blue-Green Coalitions: Fighting for Safe Workplaces and Healthy Communities; Cornell University Press, 2009, P.48

[5] Phillip Harvey, Back to Work: A public jobs proposal for Economic Recovery, P.1

[6] Mayer, Brian – Blue-Green Coalitions: Fighting safe workplaces and healthy communities; Cornell University Press, 2009, P.5

[7] Dimitris Stevis, Unions and the Environment: Pathways to Global Labor Environmentalism. Working USA: The Journal of Labor and Society, 2011, P. 145

[8] Sean Sweeney, More than Green Jobs: Time for a New Climate Policy for Labor. New Labor Forum, Fall 2009, P.53

[9] Ibid

[10] Sean Sweeney, More than Green Jobs: Time for a New Climate Policy for Labor. New Labor Forum, Fall 2009, P.54

[11] http://www.labor4sustainability.org/articles/1695/, Jeremy Brecher and Brendan Smith, Labor and Environment: Next Steps for Dialogue, Publisher: Labor Network for Sustainability (June 24, 2017)

[12] Ibid

[13] Stevis, Dimitris – Green Jobs? – Just Jobs? Justice all the way down; Colorado State University, Department of Political Science, International Studies Association Annual Convention, New York, February 16, 2009, P.2

[14] http//energy.gov/eere/articles-4-renewable-energy-rise-america

[15] http//energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2017/us energy and jobs report_0.pdf

[16] http://www.solarenergyfoundation.org/national

[17] http//energystorage.org/news/esa-news/over-3-million-now-work-clean-energy

[18] https://www.bluegreenalliance.org/resources/why-withdrawing-from-paris-is-a-monumental-mistake/ (June 24, 2017)

[19] Heather E. Ross, Using NEPA in the Fight for Environmental Justice

[20] Ibid

[21] Ibid

[22] Ibid

[23] https://www.facebook.com/LCLAA/videos/10155283240246678/ (June 26, 2017)

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UNAC Alert!  No to Trump’s Threat of Nuclear War on North Korea!

Today’s more overt U.S. imperial warmonger-in-chief, President Donald Trump, threatened North Korea on August 8 with an apocalyptic nuclear “fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

Within hours, Trump’s imperial threats from his Bedminster, N.J. golf course was backed to the hilt by Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson and Trump’s national security adviser Gen. H. R. McMaster. Both held open the “nuclear option” if the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK/North Korea) refused to terminate its deterrent intercontinental missile and nuclear weapons program. The DPRK has every reason to believe that Trump’s threat to order a pre-emptive military strike is real.

Need we recall that Trump, the candidate, scored President Obama for not bombing Syria to smithereens when Syria was alleged to have crossed Obama’s “red line” with regard to sarin gas? Trump, the president, followed through with his own “red line” pledge to bomb Syria, while 46 of the 47 major U.S. newspapers editorialized in support. Again, no proof was offered to confirm Trump’s sarin gas allegations.

In April, again with hyper warmongering bravado, Trump proclaimed,  “We are sending an armada [to North Korea]. Very powerful. We have submarines. Very powerful, far more powerful than the [USS Carl Vinson] aircraft carrier. That I can tell you.” This was no idle boast. The U.S. Ohio-class Trident submarine is capable of launching 192 nuclear warheads able to simultaneously obliterate/incinerate scores of cities.

Similarly, the U.S. military’s use of its Massive Ordinance Air Blast Bomb (MOAB, nicknamed “Mother of all Bombs”) in Afghanistan was yet another signal that this most powerful U.S. non-nuclear weapon of mass destruction, capable of obliterating everything within a one-mile diameter, was aimed more at intimidating North Korea, if not China and Syria, than it was to destroy underground ISIS tunnels. Indeed, the MOAB was never designed for tunnel destruction.

In recent months, the Trump administration turned its attention to China, demanding that it either pressure the DPRK to cease its missile test or face dire economic consequences as well as another round of unilateral and massive U.S./South Korean coordinated military maneuvers off China’s coastal waters.

Last week’s unanimous United Nations Security Council sanctions against the DPRK reflected this pressure. The unprecedented sanctions are aimed at crippling North Korea’s economy, with its traditional trading partners now banned from purchasing mineral resources and seafood commodities that amount to one-third of its total GDP output. Such sanctions are nothing less than a U.S.-imposed and UN-approved act of war against the North Korean people.

Make no mistake, the demonization of North Korean President Kim Jon-un, as with U.S. imperialism’s demonization of the presidents of Iraq, Libya and Syria, coupled with the invention of various pretexts to justify war and invasion, cannot be dismissed as the idle bluster of a rouge racist, sexist and warmongering president.

Trump is not the first U.S. president to threaten North Korea with nuclear war. Presidents Obama, Clinton and others before them have done the same, albeit with more “diplomatic” or “presidential” language employed to cast a veneer of civility or rationality over U.S. foreign policy as compared to the crude imagery that would-be strongman Trump believes is a requirement when U.S. imperial interests are at stake. And U.S. long-term imperial interests in North Korea, as with Iraq and Libya, are real, with estimates of its vast and largely untapped natural resource and mineral wealth in the range of  $6 to $10 trillion according to the June 29, 2017 Business Insider. (See http://www.businessinsider.com/north-korea-stockpile-minerals-worth-trillions-2017-6?international=true&r=US&IR=T).

Trump, and Obama before him, preside over an unprecedented militarized state, with as many as 1,000 foreign military bases. The U.S. is engaged in simultaneous wars in seven nations as well as covert wars, sanction wars, secret “special operation” wars, and drone wars.

President Obama approved one $trillion to update, over a period of 30 years, the U.S. nuclear weapons program, which already boasts 5,000 nuclear warheads. The annual U.S. war budget exceeds the combined military expenditures of most of the rest of the world.

Today’s Hydrogen or H-bombs have a destructive power that exceeds by a factor of 5,000 the atomic bombs that were exploded by the U.S. over Hiroshima and Nagasaki 72 years ago, almost to the day. Scientists at that time warned that just 10 such bombs, hypothetically launched by the USSR in key urban areas across the U.S., would obliterate the majority of the population, not to mention bring on a life-destroying multiple hundred-years “nuclear winter,” while reducing the country to an uninhabitable radioactive nightmare.

Yet this insanity is today routinely contemplated by U.S. imperialism’s chief representatives, whether they be Bill Clinton, Barack Obama or today, Donald Trump – none of whom have declared that the use of these doomsday weapons is unthinkable.

Indeed, U.S. President Harry Truman, a “civilized” president from middle class lineage, authorized the dropping of the two A-bombs, nick-named “little boy” and “fat man,” on Japan in 1945. 250,000 people, almost all civilians, were incinerated.

What is left out of today’s U.S. warmongering hyperbole is the colonial history of Korea itself, including the U.S. post-WWII occupation where the vast majority of people in what became North and South Korea, opposed the U.S. occupier’s slaughter of the social forces allied with the Korean Communist Party/Workers Party of Korea, who allied with the Soviet Union to defeat the Japanese occupation.

During the Korean war, the U.S. and its allies may have killed as many as one-third of the Korean population and destroyed the bulk of the buildings in the country.

Today, the US maintains a force of tens of thousands of troops in South Korea; it has installed Thaad missiles and conducts joint nuclear-armed military exercises in the region twice a year.  The DPRK justly sees these as practice for a U.S. invasion.

As in Vietnam, where the ten-year U.S. war cost the lives of four million Vietnamese, the U.S. is today threatening yet another genocidal war, this time against North Korea, a nation that has never invaded another country. The United National Antiwar Coalition stands opposed to all U.S. wars and threats of war.

We call upon all peace and social justice groups to organize emergency actions against the U.S. war drive.  Please see a list of actions being organized and add your own action by going here: http://nepajac.org/koreaevents.htm.

UNAC demands:

U.S. Hands Off North Korea!

The Immediate and Total Nuclear Disarmament of the U.S. War Machine as a Prelude to the Abolition of All Nuclear Weapons!

No to U.S. Military Exercises Against North Korea and China!

No to the U.S. Military “Pivot to Asia”!

Remove THAAD Missiles and U.S. Bases from So. Korea!

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FLOC President Baldemar Velasquez Addresses Labor Fightback Network Conference in Cleveland; Denounces Corporate Attacks on FLOC in North Carolina and Calls for Support to Boycott of R.J. Reynolds “Vuse” Electronic Cigarette

Speaking at the opening night session of the Third National Labor Fightback Conference in Cleveland, Ohio, on July 21, Baldemar Velasquez, president of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC, AFL-CIO), denounced the anti-immigrant and anti-worker Farm Bill S615 that was passed by the North Carolina legislature in June and signed into law by Democratic Governor Roy Cooper on July 13.

“S615,” Velasquez explained, “is a shameful abuse of power that takes aim at our union in a blatant attempt to stop farm workers from achieving union collective-bargaining agreements that include wage increases, job security, benefits, and improved working conditions.”

S615 has two parts: (1) It makes it illegal for farmers who have signed union agreements to deduct dues from union members who want to pay dues, thereby seeking to weaken FLOC. “It would be close to impossible for our union staff to go and collect dues from all the worksites in the back woods of North Carolina,” Velasquez told the participants in the Labor Fightback conference.

(2) It makes it illegal for farmworkers to ask growers to sign an agreement with their union as part of settling wage or other legal violations. “With the continuation of Jim Crow-era laws that aim to stop a now almost entirely Latino workforce from organizing, this is an affront to freedom of association and smacks of racism,” Velasquez stated.

But the fight is not over, far from it, Velasquez continued. “We will challenge this unjust law in the courts.…We have faced daunting obstacles before, and we have overcome them. We have beat back the xenophobes and racists who are constantly pummeling migrant workers and immigrants alike. And we will push them back again!”

Velasquez recounted the long history of FLOC’s organizing drives—and victories—since the union formed in the late 1960s. And he informed the Labor Fightback conference participants that FLOC would be convening the union’s 7th Constitutional Convention on September 8–9 in Toledo, Ohio, on the occasion of FLOC’s 50th anniversary.

“Because of the many recent attacks on workers, immigrants and poor people, this convention will be one of the most important yet,” Velasquez stated. “The stakes are higher than ever, and our members are depending on this convention to strategize their self-defense by organizing around collective-bargaining, to educate through marches, hearings and demonstrations in our non-violent tradition.”

Velasquez also announced that the FLOC convention delegates will discuss and vote to launch a boycott of an R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. product —the electronic cigarette “Vuse”—which is sold predominantly at 7-11, Circle K, Kangaroo, and WaWa convenience stores. “We will boycott those stores as long as they carry that product,” Velasquez said.

“We are asking folks to pledge to support this boycott by sending their pledge to FLOC so that we can announce their support at our upcoming convention,” Velasquez continued. “We are also asking supporters to write a letter to British American Tobacco (BAT)—with a copy to North Carolina Governor Cooper—taking issue with this unacceptable power play against one of the most exploited workforces in North Carolina.”

Support pledges to the boycott should be emailed to FLOC at flocoh@floc.com. Letters to British American Tobacco—the new parent corporation of R.J. Reynolds—should be emailed to www.bat.com/contactus. Snail-mail letters can be sent to British American Tobacco p.l.c., Globe House, 4 Temple Place, London, WC2R 2PG. Letters to Governor Roy Cooper should be emailed to: www.governor.nc.gov/contact-governor-cooper. Please send copies of your letters to FLOC.

Velasquez went on to urge Labor Fightback Conference participants to go back to their unions and organizations to help FLOC raise the resources to transport, house, and feed the farmworkers who will come to the FLOC convention as delegates. “We expect 500 delegates from Ohio, North Carolina, South Carolina and Mexico, as well as various special international guests,” Velasquez noted.

The participants at the Cleveland conference raised close to $2,000 at the gathering for FLOC’s convention fund drive. The conference also agreed to make FLOC’s fund drive and its boycott of this R.J. Reynolds product a top priority in the months ahead.

— Approved by Third National Labor Fightback Conference (Cleveland, Ohio — July 21–23, 2017)

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