Supporters of the New South Wales Builders Labourers Federation (BLF) in Sydney in the early 1970s

The scale of the climate crisis has driven a new generation of radical young activists to demand “system change, not climate change”. This is a welcome leftward shift within environmental politics—away from a focus on individual consumption and towards confronting the capitalist system. However, many of those making this demand lack both a coherent analysis of how a system like capitalism might be changed and a strategic orientation toward those who have the power to change it.

You don’t have to be a revolutionary to recognise that addressing climate change entails the total transformation of our society. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—a body not known for hyperbole—argued in a 2018 report on global warming, avoiding ecological catastrophe means implementing “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”.

Faced with this scientifically established existential threat to human society, our rulers appear complacent at best, and at worst—as is the case with the Australian government—they’re actively stoking the flames. Under the guise of taking action, global leaders occasionally interrupt their carbon-intensive pursuit of economic and imperialist interests to attend international conferences, like the upcoming COP26 summit in Glasgow, where they set long-term emissions reduction targets. Meanwhile, as Greta Thunberg argues, “The gap between what needs to be done and what we are actually doing is widening by the minute”.

In recent years, climate activists have attempted to close this gap by making more provocative appeals to politicians and the public. In 2019, Extinction Rebellion (XR) activists attracted international attention by engaging in mass disruptive actions in major cities around the world. While this initial burst of activity gained widespread public support, it was soon pushed back by state repression and mainstream media spin. Around the same time, millions of school-age activists—inspired by Thunberg—flooded city streets in protest, only to be condescended to by politicians, who told them, in effect, to “get over” their anxiety about the future.

Australia ‘world’s third largest emitter’: the long shadow of a global climate criminal

Political progressives eager to appeal to public sentiment on the climate question have adopted Green New Deal (GND) style policies for state-led reform. In a recent interview in Jacobin magazine, Australian Greens leader Adam Bandt celebrated the GND’s growing appeal. “Whether you call it a GND or not, key elements of the proposal are gaining in popularity”, he said. “Even conservatives such as the UK’s prime minister, Boris Johnson, are saying that some form of Green Industrial Revolution will be crucial in the next twenty to thirty years.”

While some of the demands associated with more radical versions of the GND—such as raising corporate tax rates and increasing state investment into renewables—are supportable, the GND “brand” is fast becoming green cover for government stimulus policies designed to bolster the status quo.

US President Joe Biden provides an example. His election campaign website described the GND as “a crucial framework for meeting the climate challenges we face”. And much has been made of the supposedly “green” aspects of his infrastructure plan. But it appears certain now that the majority of that will be junked in negotiations with Republicans, and what’s left will largely be the kind of infrastructure investment (roads, bridges and so on) that will encourage ongoing dependence on fossil fuels. Meanwhile, his administration is presiding over a record pace of approvals of new oil and gas wells on public land.

Talk by the likes of Biden and Boris Johnson of a Green New Deal or a Green Industrial Revolution simply can’t be taken seriously. Thunberg was right when, in a recent speech at the Youth4Climate summit in Milan, she dismissed such rhetoric as just more “blah, blah, blah”—empty words designed to greenwash an ongoing commitment to the status quo of a fossil-fuelled capitalism.

It appears then, that the climate movement is stuck in a bind. Lobbying and the kind of peaceful street marches that the school strikers engage in are ignored. The direct, disruptive action of minorities of committed activists—as with XR—runs-up against the overwhelming repressive and ideological forces at the disposal of the state. And attempts to bring change through state reforms—to the extent that they go beyond merely “on paper” proposals by minor parties like the Greens—are appropriated into the arsenal of rhetoric deployed by those in power to greenwash the status quo.

Given all this, it seems the prospects for any genuine “system change” are dim. For Marxists, however, there’s a way out. The first step is recognising that at the core of the climate crisis—both in terms of what’s driving it, and what can overcome it—is class. In short: it’s the global capitalist ruling class that’s responsible for the climate crisis and for blocking attempts to address it adequately, and it’s the global working class that’s best placed to win the radical change we need.

Addressing the climate crisis means confronting some of the most powerful sectors of global capital. This includes the mere 100 companies that—according to the 2017 CDP Carbon Majors Report—have been responsible for 71 percent of carbon emissions since 1988. The owners of the fossil fuel industry and other carbon-intensive sectors (e.g. steel, chemicals and cement) won’t simply stand by while revolutionary transformations render their business models obsolete.

To pose a real challenge to such powerful and entrenched economic interests—which are connected to the capitalist state by a thousand threads—we need to look outside the spheres of political action that liberal climate activists focus on. And this is where the working class comes in.

Climate summits won’t save us: We need to protest COP26

If workers withdraw our labour, we can bring workplaces and even entire industries to a halt. This kind of action, which cuts off the flow of profits that are the lifeblood of the capitalist system, is vastly more disruptive and hard for the capitalist state to deal with than traditional forms of protest. And not only do workers have the economic power to shut down environmentally destructive industries, but we also share a political interest in pushing back against the destructive “business as usual” of the capitalist system. No member of the working class benefits from the environmental damage wrought by the capitalist class in pursuit of profit. In fact, it’s poor and working-class people who always suffer the worst effects of ecological crises.

If this is the case, however, then why are environmental and working-class politics so commonly pitted against each other?

To answer this question, we have to look at environmentalism’s origins. The rise of the modern environment movement—beginning in the late 70s and early 80s—coincided with a period of historic defeat for the left. The subsequent evolution of environmental politics—away from confronting big business and “the system” and towards a focus on individual consumption—was symptomatic of this defeat.

From the late 1970s onwards, the ruling class unleashed a series of ruthless attacks on workers. Under the guidance of neoliberal economists, those in power gutted living standards and bulldozed working conditions. What followed were decades of wage stagnation, increasing debt, eroding job security and longer working hours.

At the same time, environmentalists began criticising the “hollow materialism” of “consumer society”. Middle-class recriminations about supposed “overconsumption” aligned well with state-driven austerity measures slashing public spending. Whereas working-class politics always aimed to improve overall living standards, many in the modern environment movement promoted individual asceticism to save the planet.

The middle-class elitism implicit in this political framework was made explicit by Rudolph Bahro of the German Greens in a 1984 interview published by New Left Review. “The working class here [in the West] is the richest lower class in the world”, he said, “I must say that the metropolitan working class is the worst exploiting class in history.”

For many activists of the older generation in the Greens and in movements like XR, sentiments like this no doubt retain some currency. Fortunately, however, the new generation of high school and university-aged environmental activists seems largely to have moved past the moralistic focus on the consumption patterns of the “plebs”—on proselytising about carbon footprints, keep-cups and so on. As the evidence for the capitalist roots of the environmental crisis have grown, the need for collective action to disrupt the system has gained new currency.

For this movement to go forward, we must fight for a perspective that sees environmental and working-class politics not as antagonistic, but as inextricably and powerfully linked. Only a mass social movement with a substantial base in the working class has the power to force major concessions from capital. And fortunately for us, one of the best historical examples of this kind of movement happened in our very own backyard.

At its high point in the early 1970s, the New South Wales Builders Labourers Federation (BLF) was easily the most radical union in Australia. The activity of the union, which was led by Communists like BLF secretary Jack Mundey, went well beyond the “bread and butter” issues of wages and conditions. The union sought to act as a tribune of the people, campaigning around a broad range of political issues that impact on the working class—from racism, homophobia, and women’s rights, to public housing and the Vietnam War.

The BLF’s most famous campaign, however, was a series of actions known as the “green bans”. These were bans on union members doing work on any proposed development which was considered socially or environmentally irresponsible by local residents. Interestingly, the term “greenies” was coined by the press at the time to refer to supporters of the bans, only later broadening out to encompass environmentalists in general.

Why Greta Thunberg is cooler than you

Not only did BLF members refuse to work on “green banned” sites, but they also actively defended them against developers by threatening additional strike action on other sites if work went ahead. By 1975, the BLF had managed to block more than $5 billion worth of development—saving parkland, heritage buildings and working-class neighbourhoods all over Sydney.

According to Meredith and Verity Burgmann, authors of Green Bans, Red Union: The saving of a city, the green bans “contained both an environmental element and a social element: they expressed the union’s determination to save open space or valued buildings and to ensure that people in the community had some say in what affected their lives.”

For Jack Mundey, environmentalism was a working-class issue. “It’s not much good winning a 35-hour week,” he argued, “if we’re going to choke to death in planless and polluted cities where rents are too high, and where ordinary people can’t live”. The union didn’t engage in environmental struggles for purely altruistic reasons. As class-conscious workers, they saw the exploitation of the environment and the exploitation of people as two sides of the same coin.

For the BLF, workers’ living conditions—including access to open spaces as well as clean air and water —were as important as wages and working conditions. “Workers had to look further ahead than wages and conditions and ensure that the environment was protected”, Mundey insisted, because “developers would do irreparable damage if they were allowed to go unchecked”.

The green bans movement shows what can be achieved when environmentalism and militant working-class politics walk hand in hand. By arming environmental struggles with industrial power, the BLF helped force concessions from capital that would have otherwise been impossible. As the Burgmanns write, “environmentalists everywhere, and others who had felt powerless to halt destruction, realised that there did exist an organised strength in the trade unions whose help they could invoke to bring effective force to their cause”.

Expecting those at the top of our society to address climate change on our behalf is a death wish. Avoiding ecological catastrophe means pulling the brake on the entire capitalist system. The only force capable of doing this is the working class.

As such, environmental activists must treat climate change as a class issue. In the short term, this means raising class-conscious environmental demands. For example, alongside the necessary demand for a rapid shutdown of the fossil fuel industry, demanding that workers impacted by the closures be given full support to retrain where necessary and find secure jobs in alternative areas. Or foregrounding, when discussing other sustainability measures, things that will result in clear improvements in working-class living standards—such as massively expanded public transport, more green space in cities and so on.

At the same time, we need to fight to rebuild the radical traditions of socially and environmentally engaged unionism exemplified by Jack Mundey and the BLF. Only a class-conscious environment movement, equipped with the industrial strength to confront capital, can actually achieve the “system change” we need. Environmentalists and workers unite: we have a world to win!

Author: Emma Black is an English teacher from Melbourne, Australia. She has a background in continental philosophy and is a member of Socialist Alternative.

Source: Red Flag, October 12, 2021, https://redflag.org.au/article/why-climate-movement-needs-working-class

Workers are Walking Out / by Richard Moser

Photograph Source: legoscia – CC BY 2.0

After decades of retreat, it might just be that workers are coming into their own as a force for social change. Forty years of punishing austerity and a two-tiered labor system pitting new, temporary, or part-time workers against regular workers have finally found the lowest pay and conditions workers will tolerate. The risk of death and illness from COVID was a profound trigger magnifying an already dire situation. The bosses’ “race to the bottom” finally found the bottom.

The working class is cornered but the working class is fighting back.

It’s a two-pronged labor revolt: an organized strike wave and an unorganized but much larger movement in which millions of workers are quitting their damned jobs. The corporate media is calling it the “Great Resignation.” It’s less polite than that — millions have simply walked off without giving notice. They are not looking back.

This is good news. The only way for us to learn how to exercise power is to practice exerting it. The strike wave and the record-setting walkouts are so full of promise because the people are acting on their own behalf — on their own interests — both collective and individual. 

We hope people will see the connection between the two. Will the millions of discontented workers form unions? Will the unions field an army of organizers to help out?

Workers have reached the breaking point but not before inequality reached epic proportions and COVID revealed just how little the bosses cared if we live or die.  Fifty trillion dollars have been redistributed to the 1% since the mid-1970s with the corporate-bought politicians playing bag man. And as teams of scholars studying wealth inequality have suggested, this problem cannot be resolved through normal means.  

The same researchers found that pandemics sometimes redistribute wealth. At first, the covid crises led to a concentration of wealth unprecedented in its speed and scope. Corporations and their political servants saw the pandemic as a business opportunity or a chance to loot the public treasury (see CARES Act) instead of a public health crisis. But what goes up must come down and maybe — just maybe — it’s our turn.

1,600 Strikes Since the Start of the Pandemic

There is nothing better than the power of a good example. Strikes have been on the rise since 2017 and 1,600 strikes have been recorded by Payday Strike Tracker since the pandemic began.

Wildcats strikes and non-union workers were the cutting edge of the initial Covid strike wave. The current strike wave has shifted toward existing unions and national contracts with the rank and file leading the way. Remember, the Deere workers rejected the first UAW contract. 

Bottom-up momentum will intensify internal conflict such as we are already seeing in the Teamsters election, the Carpenter’s struggle over picketing, and the discontent with the IATSE tentative agreement. 

The strike wave will also push conflicts within the ruling class as the liberals push for incremental change while the hard-liners double down demanding even more blood sacrifice. Either way, it’s a strategic difference over the best route to preserving and securing their power and position.

A Tale of Two Tiers*

At Kellogg and Deere workers are rejecting not just low pay but also a system — the two-tiered labor system. The two-tier system has been one of the structural weapons used by bosses to break worker solidarity, weaken unions, and lower wages and benefits. Two-tier systems were innovated by the liberal management of higher education beginning in the mid-1970s when the corporatization of education and austerity kicked in

The evil genius of two-tier systems was that it entices existing workers with minor privileges and short-term benefits while luring new hires with the promise of work experience, or at least survival. The two-tier system makes class traitors out of people by encouraging them to sell out the next generation of workers.

Bill Gates’s big invention was not some smart computer program but the “permatemp”— permanent temporary workers. Amazon relies on millions of seasonal and part-time workers baited by bonuses and then trapped by non-compete contracts. Half of Google’s global workforce is part-time or temporary.  

If workers can break the two-tiered labor system. then we will have a fighting chance to rebuild the labor movement. 

Millions Walk Out

The great walkout is an unorganized yet powerful game-changer for workers because it has altered the labor market. The end of the meager unemployment benefits has not pushed workers back to poverty wages and abusive management.

Even marginal changes to the labor market can have considerable impacts because staffing is already stretched so thin. We are already overworked with millions working multiple jobs. The fear of covid deaths and illness are powerful motivations for staying home or seeking safer jobs. Vaccine mandates, when used by management, as a way of breaking unions or attacking workers will add to the upheaval. The pilots’ union at Southwest put it this way: 

We want to be perfectly clear: SWAPA is not anti-vaccination, but we do believe that…it is our role to represent the health and safety of our Pilots and bring their concerns to the Company….We will not sit idly by while the Company blatantly ignores our legal right to represent you.

The combination of strike wave and walk-off will intensify conflict within the labor movement. Will the loyalty of union officials to the Democratic Party’s weak incrementalism be stronger than their loyalty to their own members and the working class in general? Will class collaboration or class struggle shape negotiation strategies

General Strike or General Election?

There is talk of a general strike again. It is unlikely that a general strike can be organized without a major rank and file upheaval that changes labor leadership. But a general strike will never happen unless we keep the idea alive.

The only time recently even a few labor officials mentioned a general strike was to halt Trump’s‘ “stop the steal” campaign. Well, Jan. 6 came and went and there was no action at all. I can only guess that the specter of independent worker action on the national stage was just too scary to consider for the party bosses that hold sway over labor strategy. For them, it was better to let the ruling class deal with the rioters and to support increased funding for the Capitol Police. 

If some modest concessions can be won in Congress I am all for it. But the strike wave and walk-off are good evidence that it is far better to “vote with your feet” than electing lesser evil politicians and lobbying the trusted servants of the corporate class.

Austerity is not over but it’s possible that we are turning a corner. But, the pandemic and tight labor markets alone will not produce democracy: that must be fought for.

If everyday workers can force the strike weapon and organizing into the center of labor strategy and repurpose the millions funneled to the Democratic Party, then we will see a new form of pressure far stronger than phone banking and GOTV efforts.

Electoral politics may not be a total dead end but it sure as hell is a long winding detour compared to a direct confrontation with the corporations that dominate both the workplace and the electoral process. Why lobby politicians when you can challenge their masters.


*I worked with the contingent faculty movement in higher education for over 15 years where you can still find some of the clearest thinking about two-tiered systems. See Joe Berry and Helena Worthen’s, Power Despite Precarity and Keith Hoeller’s Equality for Contingent Faculty: Overcoming the Two-tiered System

Richard Moser writes at befreedom.co where this article first appeared.

Counterpunch, October 22, 2021, https://www.counterpunch.org/2021/10/22/workers-are-walking-out/

‘Let’s Put a Wrench in Things Now’: Deere Workers Strike as Company Rakes in Record Profits / by Jonah Furman

Members of UAW Local 74 at John Deere’s Ottumwa Works are among 10,000 workers on strike at the farm equipment maker. Photo: Chris Laursen

Ten thousand John Deere workers in Iowa, Illinois, and Kansas launched an open-ended strike October 14.

The strike came after workers overwhelmingly voted down a first tentative agreement negotiated by the Auto Workers (UAW). Among the over 90 percent of members voting, 90 percent voted no.

Members’ frustrations ranged from inadequate wage increases to an end to the pension for new hires, switching to a “Choice Plus” plan that many felt was scant on details. And they feel emboldened by a tight labor market and pandemic-related parts shortages that have made it hard for Deere to build up inventory.

At Deere’s Tractor Cab & Assembly Operations in Waterloo, Iowa, the 8000 tractor line—which workers refer to as the “money-maker”—was already over 800 units behind schedule at the start of the strike, according to Dana Thibadeau, a third-shift steward. That line produces tractors that can cost up to $800,000.

“When you factor in the pandemic, being deemed essential workers, and in our case, having a company turning a record profit, the CEO giving himself a 160 percent raise, and giving a 17 percent dividend raise, we kinda feel like we’re left to kick rocks,” said a UAW member at Iowa’s Davenport Works who asked for anonymity for fear of retaliation.

Deere is in the midst of its most profitable year ever. The farm and construction equipment manufacturer expects to rake in $5.7 to $5.9 billion in net income this year, far exceeding its previous high of $3.5 billion in 2013.

This is the first strike for nearly all current Deere workers, though some recall walking the picket lines with their parents and grandparents during the last Deere strike, a five-month walkout that began in 1986.


A tentative agreement was initially announced October 1, hours after the contract expiration was extended. Members had been expecting to strike that night, and many were frustrated with an agreement that they felt would just allow Deere to build up more inventory before a potential strike.

Workers have long been dissatisfied with the union’s secretive bargaining process. The last contract, in 2015, passed by fewer than 200 votes. Many members were frustrated at the time that they only got to see the details—in a highlights document—during their two-hour ratification meetings.

“Everything is always a damn secret with them,” said Trever Bergeron, an iron pourer with Local 838 at the Waterloo foundry. “We are the last thing they think about.”

Since then, according to Chris Laursen, former president of Local 74 in Ottumwa, Iowa, some local presidents had pushed amendments at the UAW’s Deere Council (made up of all the Deere locals) to guarantee that members would get to see the full contract—not just highlights—well in advance of the vote. Laursen himself put forward a resolution in 2019 to release the contract at least a week before a ratification vote. It failed, but eventually, a motion was passed guaranteeing members would get to see the contract three days ahead.

Members also got to hear the company’s initial offer, which contained a host of concessions, at strike authorization meetings in September. Deere proposed ending the plant closure moratorium, doing away with overtime pay after eight hours, eliminating seniority-based wage progressions, forcing workers to pay 20 percent of their health insurance premiums, and many other draconian concessions.

“That was a slap in the face,” said the Davenport member. “Some company folks were trying to rationalize it: this is just the first offer, you never accept the first offer. If someone were selling a home for $160,000, and your first offer was $40,000, that would break down the good-faith negotiations.”

Members voted 99 percent to authorize a strike.


Deere backed down from most of these concessions at the bargaining table. The agreement members rejected on October 14 would have maintained the current premium-free health insurance plan. It also would have reinstated the cost-of-living adjustment, which was eliminated in the previous contract.

But it introduced a new major concession: no pensions for new hires.

Deere already has two tiers of workers: “pre-97” and “post-97.” In 1997, Deere lowered wages, health care benefits, and pensions for all new hires and eliminated their post-retirement health care. This division of the workforce has for many defined their work experience; the most active hub of rank-and-file communication is the “Post 97” Facebook group. Many of those hired after 1997 have long hoped to win back retiree health care.

The tentative agreement would have created a third tier, a concession many workers are unwilling to accept. “We’ve been fighting against this pre-97, post-97 bullshit for years,” said Thibadeau. “And then we’re going to do it again? To the new hires? What on earth?”


The new tier wasn’t the only clause that got members fired up. The tentative agreement included an 11 percent raise over six years, including a 5 percent raise in year one. In 2022, 2024, and 2026, workers would have received 2 percent lump sums instead of wage increases.

That wasn’t enough for most Deere workers, who are fed up with watching the company’s profits, dividends, and executive pay soar while their own wages stagnate. “Maybe it looks like, ‘Hey, five percent seems somewhat reasonable, but it’s just over a dollar an hour, and it’s comparable to what people in 1997 were making,” said Brad Lake, a 14-year Deere employee with Local 838.



Give $10 a month or more and get our “Fight the Boss, Build the Union” T-shirt.

Under the 2012 contract, pre-1997 hires in the most common pay grade were making a base wage of $20.86. In the current offer, the company is offering post-1997 hires in the same pay grade a base wage of $20.80, nine years later.

At the ratification meeting in Milan, Illinois, Local 79 education chair Dave Parkin emphasized the divergence between the company’s profits and workers’ incomes: “In 1997, Deere reported a net income of $817 million. In 2021, they are projected to make $5.7 billion.” Meanwhile, the starting wage at Deere has gone from just under $15 in 1997 to just over $20 in the current offer. “While Deere profit has grown almost 700 percent since 1997, our buying power has shrunk by 35 percent,” Parkin told members.

In a flyer distributed at the plants just before the strike, headlined “Making the Best Wages BETTER,” Deere claimed that workers typically make $60,000 a year, and that the new contract would bring workers up to almost $72,000 per year. But that figure assumes year-round full-time work—ignoring Deere’s common seasonal layoffs, which can range from weeks to months.

Workers’ compensation is also dependent on a complicated piece-rate system known as the “Continuous Improvement Pay Plan” (CIPP, pronounced “kip”). Deere’s figure assumes that workers are performing at a rate of 120 percent of the target set by management—but many departments are failing to reach their quotas, given parts shortages and the fact that management wants productivity to increase by 2 percent every six months, making targets harder to hit.

One worker shared their annual pay with Labor Notes: they made less than $40,000 in 2020, and have worked at the company for over a decade. For some, CIPP provides big payouts that can take workers past the $60,000 figure. But many see little to no CIPP money at all. “What you can potentially make on paper versus what is guaranteed and what you come home with are three different numbers,” said the Davenport member.


Deere is attempting to run the plants with salaried employees—some engineers but many white-collar office workers as well. According to one of these workers, some had to buy steel-toed boots in preparation for their strikebreaking deployment.

Just hours into the strike, an ambulance had already been called at the Drivetrain Operations in Waterloo. At the Tractor Cab and Assembly Operations across town, a salaried worker crashed a tractor into a pole on the first day. In Coffeyville, Kansas, members on the picket line reported hearing alarms repeatedly going off in the plant, and it was rumored that a salaried employee attempting to operate the furnace had been calling members and retirees for advice.

White-collar Deere workers, who are not union members, have their own gripes. Deere cut hundreds of salaried jobs in 2020 and forced some of the remaining employees into lower pay grades and contractor status, according to salaried workers. Now, hundreds of these workers find themselves working 12-hour days, six days a week, in jobs they are not trained for and did not sign up for. About 650 were reassigned to the Parts Distribution Center in Milan, Illinois.

“If Deere wanted to piss off all of their employees simultaneously, they’ve done a very good job of doing so,” one white-collar worker wrote to Labor Notes.


Since they went on strike, members have been maintaining 24/7 picket lines. Locals have printed shirts that read “DEEMED ESSENTIAL IN 2020. PROVE IT IN 2021. CAN’T BUILD IT FROM HOME.”

On October 18, the strike’s fifth day, several locals made a push for large morning pickets. In Waterloo, members reported a three-hour backup of salaried workers and management employees attempting to cross the line; in Davenport, two and a half hours. A mass “show of force” last night by Local 865 at Deere’s Harvester Works in East Moline, Illinois, drew 1,000 picketers and stretched for 15 blocks, according to one striker’s estimate.

Wall Street sounds worried. Bank of America’s analysis on day one of the strike was headlined, “Deere likely has limited appetite for extended strike.”

Workers were conscious of the financial implications as well. “The fiscal year for Deere ends October 31, so this puts a real cramp on them at the end of the quarter and end of the year.” said Lake. “That was a huge issue of why we wanted to do it now. Because if we give them another extension they’re going to finish out their fiscal year, and this’ll be all on their 2022 books, so let’s put a wrench in things now.”

“The quicker we can put a financial dent on them, the better off we are when it comes to showing them that we mean business,” said the Davenport worker.


The company plans to cut off workers’ health insurance by the end of October. The UAW, which has a $790 million strike fund, is picking up COBRA payments and providing strike pay of $275 per week.

The union and Deere resumed negotiations this week.

The Deere contract is the biggest deal negotiated by the UAW since the resignation of President Gary Jones over corruption charges in November 2019. Former Vice President Norwood Jewell, who led bargaining on the last Deere contract, was sentenced to 15 months in prison for taking illegal payments from Fiat Chrysler. While there’s been no evidence connecting the Deere negotiations to the corruption scandal, many members mistrust the International.

Yesterday, the UAW’s 400,000 active members and 600,000 retirees began voting in a mail-ballot referendum on whether to move to direct elections for the union’s top officers, rather than the delegate system that has maintained one-party control over leadership positions for the past seven decades. Anger over two-tier contracts and secretive bargaining will impact that vote.

UAW members with the Unite All Workers for Democracy reform group, who are pushing for a “yes” vote in the referendum, organized a solidarity fund to bring supplies to the Deere picketers. In the first 24 hours, they raised $45,000 from supporters.

For updates on the strike, follow @JonahFurman on Twitter.

Author: Jonah Furman is a staff writer and organizer for Labor Notes.jonah@labornotes.org

Source: Labor Notes, October, 20, 2021, https://labornotes.org/2021/10/lets-put-wrench-things-now-deere-workers-strike-company-rakes-record-profits

Summer 2021 set global land temperature record / by Zeke Hausfather


More heat records shattered as greenhouse gas levels reach new peak

The year so far has been one of extremes, featuring record-shattering heatwaves, wildfires and flooding, as well as the warmest-ever meteorological summer – June, July and August – in the global land-surface record. As a whole, the world is on track to have its fifth to seventh warmest year on record – depending on the dataset examined and how the last three months of the year play out.

The year had a relatively cool start due to remnants of a La Niña event in late 2020 and early 2021. Warm land temperatures over the past few months have been balanced out by cooler ocean temperatures as La Niña conditions have re-emerged.

This year will not set a new global temperature record – but, even in a warming world, most individual years will not. Temperatures will end up around expected levels given the long-term warming trend over the past 50 years and are consistent with projections from climate models.

The first nine months of the year saw record concentrations of major greenhouse gases – CO2, methane and nitrous oxide – in the atmosphere. Arctic sea ice extent was low for much of the year, but recovered in late summer to set a minimum level on the 12th lowest on record.

Warmest summer on record for Earth’s land areas

The summer of 2021 saw extreme heat events, extreme rainfall and flooding, catastrophic wildfires and other extreme events across the world. With data through to the end of the summer now available, Carbon Brief can now confirm that the meteorological summer of 2021 was the warmest summer on record for the world’s land areas – and the fourth warmest summer on record for the globe as a whole (ocean, land and air).

While global temperatures are a key indicator of climate change, no human experiences the global average. Land regions have, on average, warmed around 50% faster than the world as a whole, with higher latitude land regions warming faster still. The figure below shows summer – June, July and August – temperatures from the Berkeley Earth dataset between 1850 and 2021. Each red dot represents the average temperature over the three summer months.


Summer (June, July, August) average land surface temperatures from Berkeley Earth. Anomalies plotted with respect to a 1850-1900 baseline.

Summer land temperatures were relatively flat until 1975, with only around 0.2C warming up to that point. Today, summer land temperatures are around 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, with around 1.3C of that warming happening in just the past 45 years.

The exceptional temperatures in 2021’s summer were not uniformly hot. Some regions saw records shattered, while others were closer to average – though a few regions also saw cooler-than-average temperatures.

The Northwestern part of North America, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Northern Africa, and Siberia all experienced exceptionally warm summer temperatures. China, sub-Saharan Africa, South America and Australia were modestly above average, while parts of Central America and India were below average. (The average being defined as the 1951-1980 baseline period used by Berkeley Earth).

Cooler than past few years – but still near-record warm

Carbon Brief has analysed records from six different research groups that report global surface temperature records: NASANOAAMet Office Hadley Centre/UEABerkeley EarthCowtan and Way; and Copernicus/ECMWF.

The figure below shows the temperature anomalies – changes relative to the 1981-2010 average temperature – for each year since 1970, along with the average over the first nine months of 2021.

(Note: at the time of writing, September data was not yet available for the Hadley/UEA or Berkeley Earth temperature records, so the average over the first eight months is shown for those datasets.)


Annual global mean surface temperatures from NASA GISTEMPNOAA GlobalTempHadley/UEA HadCRUT5Berkeley Earth and Copernicus/ECMWF (lines), along with 2021 temperatures to-date (January-September, coloured dots). Anomalies plotted with respect to a 1981-2010 baseline.

Surface temperature records have shown around 1C warming since the year 1970, a warming rate of about 0.19C per decade. The results vary a bit across datasets due to different observations used, adjustments for changes in measurement techniques over time, and methods used to fill in gaps between measurements.

The figure below shows how temperatures so far in 2021 (black line) compare to prior years in the NASA GISTEMP dataset. It shows the temperature of the year-to-date for each month of the year, from January through to the full annual average.


Year-to-date temperatures for each month from 2013 to 2021 from NASA GISTEMP. Anomalies plotted with respect to a 1981-2010 baseline. 

So far, 2021 is tied for the 5th warmest to date with 2015 and 2018. It had a cooler start than those years, but warmer temperatures over the past few months have pushed year-to-date values upwards. However, with a growing La Niña event in the tropical Pacific, it remains to be seen whether temperatures will remain relatively warm.

February 2021 was unusually cool for the globe as a whole compared to recent years – clocking in at between the 12th and 16th warmest year on record. February was still warm compared to most prior years, however – all but 15 or so years since records began in the mid-1800s had Februaries that were cooler.

Temperatures notably warmed by June 2021, with each month between June and September being between the 2nd and 6th warmest on record, though no months set a new record in 2021 for the global as a whole.

A growing La Niña 

El Niño and La Niña events – collectively referred to as the El Niño Southern Oscillation, or ENSO – are the main driver of year-to-year variation on top of the long-term surface warming trend. ENSO events are characterised by fluctuations in temperature between the ocean and atmosphere in the tropical Pacific, which help to make some years warmer and some cooler.

El Niño years tend to be warmer than average, while La Niña years tend to be cooler. There is generally a lag of around three months between when ENSO conditions peak in the tropical Pacific and when their effects on global temperatures are most strongly felt.

Late 2020 and early 2021 saw moderate La Niña conditions that contributed to relatively cool global temperatures in the early part of 2021. ENSO conditions were neutral for much of the spring and summer, before returning to modest La Niña conditions in September and October.

Models now forecast that modest-to-moderate La Niña conditions will persist through the first quarter of 2022. This may result in 2022 being a bit cooler than the past few years as well, though it is too early to know for sure.

On track to be 5-7th warmest year on record

Using the data from the first nine months of the year, plus both past and forecast future ENSO conditions, Carbon Brief has produced a prediction of where 2021 temperatures will most likely land for each different surface temperature record. With data for the first three-quarters of the year in, there is virtually no chance that any of the surface temperature records will show 2021 as above the 5th warmest or below the 7th warmest year on record. At the time of publication,

While all three datasets produce similar projections for 2021 annual temperatures, there are slight differences that result in different rankings. This year is most likely to be the 7th warmest on record in the NASA dataset, 6th warmest in NOAA and 5th warmest in Copernicus/ECMWF.

The figure below shows the 2021 to-date temperatures and annual 2021 projected temperatures (with uncertainties) for Copernicus/ECMWF’s ERA5, along with the long-term temperature trend based on data from 1979-2020. While 2021 temperatures will be lower than many of the past few years, they are quite consistent with the longer-term warming trend due to human emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gasses.


Annual global average surface temperature anomalies from Copernicus/ECMWF plotted with respect to a 1981-2010 baseline. To-date 2021 values include January-September. Estimated 2021 annual value based on relationship between the January-September temperatures and annual temperatures between 1979 and 2020. 

With each month of additional data, the uncertainty in the expected 2021 annual temperature shrinks as there are fewer remaining months to change the average.

Current temperature in-line with model projections

Climate models provide physics-based estimates of future warming given different assumptions about future emissions, greenhouse gas concentrations and other climate-influencing factors.

The figure below shows the range of individual models forecasts featured in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) fifth assessment report – known collectively as the CMIP5 models – between 1970 and 2030, with grey shading and the average projection across all the models shown in black. Individual observational temperature records are represented by coloured lines.

In these models, estimates of temperatures prior to 2005 are a “hindcast” using known past climate influences, while temperatures projected after 2005 are a “forecast” based on an estimate of how things might change.


Twelve-month average global average surface temperatures from CMIP5 models and observations between 1970 and 2021. Models use RCP4.5 forcings after 2005. They include sea surface temperatures over oceans and surface air temperatures over land to match what is measured by observations. Anomalies plotted with respect to a 1981-2010 baseline. 

While global temperatures were running a bit below the pace of warming projected by climate models between 2005 and 2014, the last few years have been pretty close to the model average. This is particularly true for globally complete temperature records, such as HadCRUT5, NASA, Berkeley Earth and the Copernicus/ECMWF reanalysis, which include temperature estimates for the whole Arctic.

Greenhouse gas concentrations reach record highs

Greenhouse gas concentrations reached a new high in 2021, driven by human emissions from fossil fuels, land use and agriculture.

Three greenhouse gases – CO2, methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) – are responsible for the bulk of additional heat trapped by human activities. CO2 is by far the largest factor, accounting for roughly 50% of the increase in “radiative forcing” since the year 1750. Methane accounts for 29%, while N2O accounts for around 5%. The remaining 16% comes from other factors including carbon monoxide, black carbon and halocarbons, such as CFCs.

Human emissions of greenhouse gases have increased atmospheric concentrations of CO2, methane and nitrous oxide to their highest levels in at least a few million years – if not longer.

The figure below shows concentrations of these greenhouse gases – in parts per million (ppm) for CO2 and parts per billion (ppb) for methane and nitrous oxide – from the early 1980s through July 2021 (the most recent data currently available).


Global concentrations of CO2, methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O). Based on data from NOAA’s Earth Systems Research Laboratory. Note that the y-axes do not start at zero.

The atmospheric concentration of CH4 began to increase again in 2006 after a plateau from 1999. It further sped up since 2014, with roughly linear growth of 8ppb each year since. Unlike CO2 and N2O, CH4 has a relatively short atmospheric lifetime and does not accumulate in the atmosphere in the long term. This means that – to a first approximation – the level of CH4 in the atmosphere is directly proportional to the level of emissions over the past decade.

If emissions remain flat, atmospheric CH4 will be flat, while increasing emissions will show up as increased atmospheric CH4. If CO2 and N2O emissions remain flat, on the other hand, atmospheric concentrations would continue to increase.

While there are some complications around changes in the ability of the atmosphere to remove CH4 over time (through interactions with the OH molecule), the rise in methane concentrations in recent years strongly suggests that global emissions of CH4 have also been increasing.

Arctic sea ice on low end of historical range

Highly accurate observations of Arctic and Antarctic sea ice have been available since polar-observing satellites became available in the late 1970s. Arctic sea ice extent was at extremely low levels for much of the first half of 2021, setting new records in parts of both June and July.

The summer minimum – which typically occurs in late September – was the 12th lowest on record. Average Arctic sea ice to-date (first 289 days of the year) is the 9th lowest on record. Antarctic sea ice extent was close to the long-term average over the first 10 months of 2021.

The figure below shows both Arctic and Antarctic sea ice extent in 2021 (solid red and blue lines), the historical range in the record between 1979 and 2010 (shaded areas) and the record lows (dotted black line). Unlike global temperature records, sea ice data is collected and updated on a daily basis, allowing sea ice extent to be viewed through to the present.


Arctic and Antarctic daily sea ice extent from the US National Snow and Ice Data Center. The bold lines show daily 2021 values, the shaded area indicates the two standard deviation range in historical values between 1979 and 2010. The dotted black lines show the record lows for each pole. 

However, sea ice extent only tells part of the story. In addition to declining ice extent, the sea ice that remains tends to be younger and thinner than ice that used to cover the region.

Author: Dr. Zeke Hausfather is a climate science contributor for Carbon Brief. Zeke has masters degrees in environmental science from Yale University and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, and a PhD in climate science from the University of California, Berkeley. He has spent the past 10 years working as a data scientist and entrepreneur in the cleantech sector.

Source: CLIMATE & CAPITALISM, October 21, 2010, (Abridged from Carbon Brief, October 19, 2021) https://climateandcapitalism.com/2021/10/21/summer-2021-set-global-land-temperature-record/

‘Climate change is the single biggest health threat facing humanity’ / by Ian Angus

Photo by Rebeka Ryvola, NYC, 2014.

World Health Organization urges ‘rapid and ambitious action to halt and reverse the climate crisis’

On October 11, the World Health Organization published a special report on climate change and health. The Health Argument for Climate Action is being submitted to participants in the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which opens in Glasgow on October 31. During COP26, WHO will hold a Global Conference on Health & Climate Change, with a special focus on climate justice and the healthy and green recovery from Covid-19.

The following is from the report’s introduction. The full report, including detailed resources and case studies for each recommendation, can be downloaded here (PDF 4.7 MB).

The health impacts of climate change

Climate change is the single biggest health threat facing humanity, and health professionals worldwide are already responding to the health harms caused by this unfolding crisis.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has concluded that to avert catastrophic health impacts and prevent millions of climate change-related deaths, the world must limit temperature rise to 1.5°C. Past emissions have already made a certain level of global temperature rise and other changes to the climate inevitable. Global heating of even 1.5°C is not considered safe, however; every additional tenth of a degree of warming will take a serious toll on people’s lives and health.

While no one is safe from these risks, the people whose health is being harmed first and worst by the climate crisis are the people who contribute least to its causes, and who are least able to protect themselves and their families against it — people in low-income and disadvantaged countries and communities.

The climate crisis threatens to undo the last fifty years of progress in development, global health, and poverty reduction, and to further widen existing health inequalities between and within populations. It severely jeopardizes the realization of universal health coverage (UHC) in various ways – including by compounding the existing burden of disease and by exacerbating existing barriers to accessing health services, often at the times when they are most needed. Over 930 million people — around 12% of the world’s population — spend at least 10% of their household budget to pay for health care. With the poorest people largely uninsured, health shocks and stresses already currently push around 100 million people into poverty every year, with the impacts of climate change worsening this trend.

Climate change is already impacting health in a myriad of ways, including by leading to death and illness from increasingly frequent extreme weather events, such as heatwaves, storms and floods, the disruption of food systems, increases in zoonoses and food-, water- and vector-borne diseases, and mental health issues. Furthermore, climate change is undermining many of the social determinants for good health, such as livelihoods, equality and access to health care and social support structures. These climate-sensitive health risks are disproportionately felt by the most vulnerable and disadvantaged, including women, children, ethnic minorities, poor communities, migrants or displaced persons, older populations, and those with underlying health conditions.

Although it is unequivocal that climate change affects human health, it remains challenging to accurately estimate the scale and impact of many climate-sensitive health risks. However, scientific advances progressively allow us to attribute an increase in morbidity and mortality to human-induced warming, and more accurately determine the risks and scale of these health threats.

In the short- to medium-term, the health impacts of climate change will be determined mainly by the vulnerability of populations, their resilience to the current rate of climate change and the extent and pace of adaptation. In the longer-term, the effects will increasingly depend on the extent to which transformational action is taken now to reduce emissions and avoid the breaching of dangerous temperature thresholds and potential irreversible tipping points.

The health argument for climate action

Taking rapid and ambitious action to halt and reverse the climate crisis has the potential to bring many benefits, including for health. Co-benefits are defined as: the positive effects that a policy or measure aimed at one objective might have on other objectives, thereby increasing the total benefits for society or the environment.

The public health benefits resulting from ambitious mitigation efforts would far outweigh their cost. Strengthening resilience and building adaptive capacity to climate change, on the other hand, can also lead to health benefits by protecting vulnerable populations from disease outbreaks and weather-related disasters, by reducing health costs and by promoting social equity. The health co-benefits from climate change actions are well evidenced, offer strong arguments for transformative change, and can be gained across many sectors, including in energy generation, transport, food and agriculture, housing and buildings, industry, and waste management.

For example, many of the same actions that reduce greenhouse gas emissions also improve air quality, and support synergies with many of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Some measures — such as facilitating walking and cycling — improve health through increased physical activity, resulting in reductions in respiratory diseases, cardiovascular diseases, some cancers, diabetes and obesity. Another example is the promotion of urban green spaces, which facilitate climate mitigation and adaptation while also offering health co-benefits, such as reduced exposure to air pollution, local cooling effects, stress relief, and increased recreational space for social interaction and physical activity. A shift to more nutritious plant-based diets in line with WHO recommendations, as a third example, could reduce global emissions significantly, ensure a more resilient food system, and avoid up to 5.1 million diet-related deaths a year by 2050.

Research has shown that climate action aligned with Paris Agreement targets would save millions of lives due to improvements in air quality, diet and physical activity, among other benefits. However, many climate decision-making processes currently do not account for health co-benefits and their economic valuation. The 2021 WHO Health and Climate Change Global Survey of governments found that less than 1 in 5 countries have conducted an assessment of the health co-benefits of national climate mitigation policies, while a 2021 WHO review of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) found just 13% of current NDCs commit to quantifying or monitoring the health co-benefits of climate policies or targets.

While there are significant health co-benefits available for various climate interventions, which can act as important ethical and economic incentives, some climate mitigation and adaptation policies may not maximise health gains or may potentially cause harm. Additionally, several challenges and barriers remain for the comprehensive inclusion of health in the cost assessment of climate policies. It is therefore critical that health and other experts are fully involved in climate decision-making processes at all levels, to ensure health and equity considerations are well understood and accounted for when developing climate policies.

Recommendations for climate change and health

The recommendations outlined in the COP26 Special Report have been developed by health professionals, organizations and stakeholders worldwide, and represent a broad consensus statement by the global health community on the actions that are needed to tackle the climate crisis, restore biodiversity, and protect health.

The recommendations were developed in consultation with over 150 organizations and over 400 experts and health professionals, through a series of consultations and workshops in all six WHO regions. They are intended to inform governments and other stakeholders ahead of the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

COP26 is considered a crucial moment for the world’s governments to commit to collective action on limiting climate change. The conference aims to operationalize the Paris Agreement on climate change, and Parties to the agreement are expected to bring forward national climate plans reflecting their highest possible ambition.

The ten recommendations, and their respective action points, highlight the urgent need and numerous opportunities for governments to prioritise health and equity in the international climate movement and the sustainable development agenda. Each recommendation is accompanied by a selection of resources and case studies to help inspire and guide policymakers and practitioners in implementing the proposed solutions.

Ten Recommendations
(Headlines: See Report for detailed proposals and resources.)

  1. Commit to a healthy recovery.
    Commit to a healthy, green, and just recovery from COVID-19.
  2. Our health is not negotiable.
    Place health and social justice at the heart of the UN climate talks.
  3. Harness the health benefits of climate action.
    Prioritise those climate interventions with the largest health-, social- and economic gains.
  4. Build health resilience to climate risks.
    Build climate-resilient and environmentally sustainable health systems and facilities, and support health adaptation and resilience across sectors.
  5. Create energy systems that protect and improve climate and health.
    Guide a just and inclusive transition to renewable energy to save lives from air pollution, particularly from coal combustion. End energy poverty in households and health care facilities.
  6. Reimagine urban environments, transport, and mobility.
    Promote sustainable, healthy urban design and transport systems, with improved land-use, access to green and blue public space, and priority for walking, cycling and public transport.
  7. Protect and restore nature as the foundation of our health.
    Protect and restore natural systems, the foundations for healthy lives, sustainable food systems and livelihoods.
  8. Promote healthy, sustainable, and resilient food systems.
    Promote sustainable and resilient food production and more affordable, nutritious diets that deliver on both climate and health outcomes.
  9. Finance a healthier, fairer, and greener future to save lives.
    Transition towards a wellbeing economy.
  10. Listen to the health community and prescribe urgent climate action.
    Mobilise and support the health community on climate action.

Author: Ian Angus is a Canadian eco-socialist activist, author and educator. He speaks frequently at conferences on socialist and ecological issues, and his articles have been published in journals and newspapers around the world.

Source: CLIMATE & CAPITAISM, October 12, 2021, https://climateandcapitalism.com/2021/10/12/climate-change-is-the-single-biggest-health-threat-facing-humanity/

COP15 pushes biodiversity crisis to top of agenda before U.N. climate meeting / by John Bachtell

People pass by a floral decoration celebrating the U.N. Biodiversity Conference (COP15) in a park in Kunming, the host city, in southwestern China’s Yunnan province, on Oct. 2, 2021. | Chinatopix via AP

Humanity must urgently act to halt the escalating biological diversity crisis to prevent ecological collapse and begin nature’s recovery. So warned the Global Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15), held on Oct. 11-15 in Kunming, China.

The Convention, gathering under the theme “Making peace with nature is the defining task of the 21st century,” was attended in person and via video by over 2,100 governmental, tribal, and Indigenous leaders, scientists, and environmental justice activists worldwide. Yunnan province, where Kunming is located, was chosen as host because it is one of the most culturally and biologically diverse parts of China.

The biodiversity crisis struck home last month with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s announcement that the Ivory-billed woodpecker, the largest woodpecker in the U.S., was now extinct, along with 23 other species. One million out of the Earth’s eight million other plant and animal species are also threatened with extinction, the fastest vanishing of species in 10 million years. This “Sixth Great Extinction” is directly related to human activity, loss and degradation of natural habitats, and the climate crisis.

The upcoming COP26 U.N. Climate Change Conference in Glasgow overshadows efforts to protect and restore biodiversity. The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and environmentalists view climate and biodiversity as interconnected. Both conferences are critical for mobilizing collective action to save the planet.

“We must solve these twin crises together,” declared Huang Runqui, Minister of Ecology and Environment for the People’s Republic of China. “They are mutually intersecting goals. We either solve them together or don’t do any.”

Asian elephants in a forest in China. The short film “Elephants’ Journey in Yunnan” was premiered at the opening ceremony of the COP15 conference as part of an effort to highlight how human activity is threatening mass species extinctions. | Li Xingyu / People’s Daily /news aktuell via AP

With China as the host country, Huang was elected president of the CBD. The Convention will hold a second session of the gathering in April 2022, also in Kunming.

One hundred ninety-five nations have signed the CBD treaty, with the glaring exception of the United States, even though it helped to get the ball rolling in the 1990s. Adopting a treaty takes 67 votes in the U.S. Senate, and the Republican Party stands in the way, backed by the fierce opposition of U.S. agribusiness and pharmaceutical corporations.

The Kunming conference assessed the U.N. Decade on Biodiversity (2011-2020) and discussed a Post-2020 Framework on Biodiversity, a set of targets to guide governments and civil society so humanity can exist in harmony with nature by 2050.

COP15 will adopt the Framework when it reconvenes next April. The CBD envisions the Framework as a vital companion to the Paris Agreement on climate, which set 1.5 degrees Celsius as the limit for global temperature rise. All countries are developing plans to limit and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to meet the target.

“We must develop global goals for nature that we have for a climate that governments, NGOs, scientific organizations, and communities can unite around,” said Marco Lambertini, director-general of the International Wildlife Fund. “Goals that are ‘crystal clear,’ where we can measure progress and be held accountable.

“A global goal of more nature, not less. This is what science is asking us to do to avoid ecological collapse,” said Lambertini.

Humanity faces a critical decade ahead in this effort, and the conference targeted 2030 as the deadline for halting biodiversity loss and beginning the process of restoration. “Throughout the past two days, we have shared our vision towards building collective action and driving transformative change,” said Elizabeth Maruma Mrena, executive secretary of the CBD. “We have voiced our ideas to reconcile social and economic development with socio-ecological objectives, to reduce the pressure on biodiversity, and to address human inequity.

“We underscored the risks of biodiversity loss, the sectoral shifts needed to move away from unsustainable consumption and production, and the solutions at hand and those that are emerging. Given the deep and critical interconnections, systemic interventions are urgently required from all sectors of society. In essence, our discussions point to the importance of a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach,” said Mrena, a lawyer and environmentalist from Tanzania.

A key target calls for countries to conserve 30% of the land, inland waters, ocean waters, and ecological systems by 2030, known as 30X30. Currently, only 15% of land and 7% of oceans are protected.

Over 50 countries support 30X30, including the United States under the Biden administration. 30X30 is a critical element of Biden’s climate plan to reduce C02 emissions by half by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Large protected areas are needed to preserve biodiversity and, as nature-based carbon sinks, to draw down greenhouse gas levels and reduce emissions in the atmosphere.

A Biden executive order instructed the Interior Department to develop a plan called “Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful” in collaboration with states, tribal governments, communities, and grassroots organizations to identify the key areas and systems and implement them.

Biden’s executive order to reverse Trump’s proclamation stripping Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante of national monument status is part of this protection and expansion of natural areas. Environmentalists and Indigenous communities hailed the step.

“The 30×30 initiative opens the door to a new, more inclusive model of conservation that is science-based, locally driven, and engages all stakeholders, from tribal and Indigenous communities to farmers, ranchers, and outdoors enthusiasts,” notes the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks via video at the U.N. Biodiversity Conference (COP15) in Kunming on Oct 12, 2021. Xi announced that China was pledging $230 million to establish a fund to protect biodiversity in developing countries. | Convention on Biological Diversity via AP

Other key CBD goals include prevention and reduction of invasive species, reducing soil nutrient loss by one-half, pesticide use by two-thirds, and eliminating plastic waste discharge. The CBD calls for eliminating $500 billion in subsidies to fossil fuel and other harmful industries.

The COVID-19 pandemic is another warning of the negative relationship between nature and society. “Over three-quarters of the land surface and two-thirds of the oceans have been altered by human activity, which is ruining the basis for sustainable development, noted Inger Andersen, executive director of the U.N. Environment Program. “Based on current rates, the world is on a path to 2.7 degrees Celsius of heating. It is a race to zero diversity instead of zero carbon emissions.”

“Man and nature need to co-exist in harmony,” said Chinese President Xi Jinping in welcoming remarks. “When we take care to protect nature, nature rewards us generously. When we exploit nature ruthlessly, it punishes us without mercy.”

As part of efforts to build an “ecological civilization,” China has adopted a Master Plan of Major Projects spanning 2021-2035. The plan establishes a national parks system, including an initial set covering 250,000 square kilometers of sensitive bio-diverse areas and eight urban biological gardens. Xi also announced the establishment of a Kunming Investment Fund to help developing countries with biodiversity protection and restoration projects. China is contributing $330 million to the fund.

“If we don’t fail nature, nature will not fail us,” he said.

Author: John Bachtell is president of Long View Publishing Co., the publisher of People’s World. He served as national chair of the Communist Party USA from 2014 to 2019. He is a regular writer for People’s World, and active in electoral, labor, environmental, and social justice struggles. He grew up in Ohio, Pittsburgh, and Albuquerque and attended Antioch College. He currently lives in Chicago where he is an avid swimmer, cyclist, runner, and dabbler in guitar and occasional singer in a community chorus.

Source: People’s World, October 19, 2021, https://wordpress.com/post/cpmaine.org/2704

Opinion: Divisiveness simply isn’t the problem / by Rob Korobkin

Photo: Volunteers with People First Portland ahead of the 2020 election. | via Maine DSA

As Portland comes into the final weeks of the 2021 election season, there’s one word, above all others, that seems to capture how a sizable contingent of local people currently see the town’s political landscape:


There’s corporate attorney Brandon Mazer, who recently told the Portland Press Herald that he’s running for City Council in order “to help end the divisiveness that has emerged in recent years in local politics.”

There’s local conservative columnist Bill Nemitz, who published a piece last week brashly condemning Portland’s progressive leaders, whom I see as having been politely standing up for what they believe in, but whom he sees as having “come down” with “a bad case of lockstep.”

On some level, I can kind of see where people like Mazer and Nemitz are coming from. Nobody likes a jerk, no matter what political stripe. But, where I differ from them is that if you want to score points in my book, you’ve got to do more than simply avoid being divisive. A lot more.

I remember a few years ago, I was over at Portland City Hall when I ran into Nick Mavodones, a longstanding Portland City Councilor whose seat has finally opened up this year. We got to talking, and I asked him how many terms he’d been on council for. He thought for a second and said, “I’ve lost count haha. Seven? Eight?” 

“Oh wow,” I said. “Is there any legislation you’re really eager to work on this year?” And he said, “No. At this point, I’ve seen it all, and frankly, none of it works.”

Was Mavodones’ attitude “civil”? I suppose. 

Mavodones was never overtly, personally insulting. He’d never call anybody out by name. But a lot of the time, he was the dictionary definition of a stick in the mud. 

As I understand what’s gone wrong in local government in Portland over the last few decades, the problem has never been about serious malfeasance or simple corruption. The big problem has been that, year after year, as Portland’s supply of reasonably priced homes has dwindled and the city’s broad racial disparities have widened, local leaders like Mavodones have pretty much just stood by, with their arms all but held across their chests, doing next to nothing.

Mavodones was one of the councilors who in 2013 voted to sell the big park downtown, Congress Square, to private developers who wanted to build a luxury ballroom there for rich folks. Selling public parks is easier, I suppose, than genuinely making life better for the local people who use the park. It was progressives who resisted that and converted the park into the vibrant cultural space it is today.

A few years later, in 2015, Mavodones was one of the councilors who voted against raising the town’s municipal minimum wage up to a mere $10.10 an hour. I guess it’s easier, yet again, to turn a blind eye to local employers paying their staff starvation wages than it is to hold them accountable. It was progressives who passed a municipal referendum last year putting the town on a track to a minimum wage of $15 an hour.

Obviously, Mavodones is not on the ballot this year. But what is on the ballot, and will probably always be on the ballot in Portland, is his style of politics: that easy, non-divisive, quietly complacent approach. It’s that political ethos that says, whenever a potential conflict comes along, don’t mobilize people against the interests of capital, just yield to their greed, again and again.

Challenging that style of governance — calling out racism in places where a lot of white people seem like they would much prefer it go ignored, speaking up for the sorts of folks whose interests often don’t seem to be factoring into municipal decision making — that takes genuine courage. 

Is doing so “divisive”? Maybe. It certainly can be. 

But, in my experience, it’s easy to avoid being divisive. Just don’t say anything. And while nothing gets done, by definition, you aren’t instigating anything. There’s a big difference, however, between not being divisive (which is easy) and actually uniting people together in a way that everybody, or close to everybody, feels listened to (which is hard). 

And yes, unfortunately, all too often standing up for people whose interests would otherwise get pushed to the margins runs the risk of ruffling tail feathers and getting maligned in the local press. 

But I know the people being attacked, and the press has gotten it totally wrong. These people, whom I keep hearing are so unreasonable and intractable, largely working class folks of color, are honestly some of the most open-minded, thoughtful, humble and compassionate people I’ve ever met. They’re doing difficult things, like bringing diverse stakeholders to the table together to discuss how best to handle youth discipline in Portland’s public schools, and they’re doing them remarkably effectively. 

Can they sometimes be divisive? You betcha. And I love and admire them for having the guts and the backbone that it takes to do precisely that.

Author: Rob Korobkin is a writer, musician and person in long term recovery who makes his living helping to operate low-barrier recovery residences across Maine. He lives by a pond in Windham with his wife and baby son.

Source: Maine Beacon, October 18, 2021, https://mainebeacon.com/opinion-divisiveness-simply-isnt-the-problem/

Poor People’s Campaign petitions demand Build Back Better’s passage / by Mark Gruenberg

Poor People’s Campaign: Rev. Angela Martin of the Maryland_PPC challenges Sen JoeManchin directly with the central theme of our campaign: “Which side are you on?” ‘ | Poor People’s Campaign/Twitter

WASHINGTON—Bearing petitions with more than 100,000 names, low-wage and poor women from the Poor People’s Campaign, along with co-chairs Revs. William Barber II and Liz Theoharis and other religious leaders, marched into the Capitol on Oct. 12 to again demand lawmakers pass the entire “bold Build Back Better” package to help lift up the nation’s 140-million-plus low-wage and poor people, many of them classified as “essential” workers.

“Poverty, low wages, racism and exploitation does not have a color or a race,” declared worker Emilee Johnson of Mississippi. Demanding a national solution, she added: “You cannot depend on states like Mississippi. It abolished slavery in 2013,” by finally ratifying the U.S. Constitution’s anti-slavery 13th Amendment, which Congress had passed in 1865.

President Biden’s BBB package, now hung up in congressional fights, would expand Medicare to cover hearing, vision and dental care, make the monthly federal child care tax credit permanent, funnel more money into home care—and mandate higher pay of at least $15 an hour for those workers—and enact other social program expansions. It also could provide a path to citizenship for undocumented people.

The bill’s tax provisions would help pay for those programs by raising taxes on corporations and the 1%, basically repealing the 2017 Trump-GOP tax giveaway to those classes. It also would impose higher taxes on carbon-causing industries such as oil and coal and vastly increase fines for labor law-breaking, while extending them to corporate honchos, boards and companies, along with individual managers.

What type of reception the campaigners got from two petition recipients, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., was to be determined after the campaign’s morning press conference outside the Capitol. Both combine long records of hostility towards social programs and low-wealth people with kowtowing to the 1% and corporations, who are their campaign contributors.

Also to be determined: The reception the campaigners got from a later closed-door session with two Biden White House aides. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., accepted their petition with alacrity.  Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., a member of the House Progressive Caucus, reiterated that group’s enthusiastic backing of the package, and vowed it would pass there.

The petitions are the latest development in the campaign’s long-running mass mobilization nationwide to get Congress to pass the Build Back Better package, officially a budget “reconciliation” bill configured to avoid a McConnell-led Senate GOP filibuster.

But there are problems on the Democratic side with two of the 48 Senate Democrats—Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona— who haven’t endorsed the BBB. And the package needs all 48, plus both independents, plus a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Kamala Harris, to pass over the 50-person Senate GOP opposition.

Pointed comments directed at holdouts

So as a result., some of the most-pointed comments at the press conference were directed at the two holdouts. West Virginian Kaylen Marie Barker told Manchin, for example: “Stop playing kingmaker!”

“This is not about a handout, this is about a hand up!” added West Virginia Poor People’s Campaign co-chair Pam Garrison. “Do your job! Take care of people, not corporations!”

“The real question is not ‘How much does a bold Build Back Better plan cost? But (it is) how much does it cost in lives and hurt NOT to Build Back Better,’’said Barber. Manchin has said the 10-year plan, at an average cost of $350 billion yearly, is too much.

Theoharis’s reply: The figure Manchin dislikes, $3.5 trillion over a decade, “is already a compromise.” To really eradicate poverty would take three times as much, she noted—a far cry below what the U.S. spends on the military.

“We hope the Biden administration does not cower to the whims of a couple of senators,” Theoharis added. Instead, she and other speakers reiterated the campaign’s demand to cut military spending by half and shift the funds to domestic needs.

“My ancestors came to West Virginia to escape abject poverty,” said the West Virginian Barker, who can trace family in the Mountaineer State back for eight generations. “What we got was generational poverty.”

What she did not mention, however, was that the state’s coal barons and corporate elite—often one and the same class–imposed that poverty on the rest of West Virginia.

And it persists, she added. “I drive over rickety bridges. Our roads filled with potholes. We don’t have clean water to drink anywhere in the state because it’s contaminated with radioactive waste.”

“I’ve been caregiving for 50 years, starting when I was 15-and-a-half,” was the message from Phoenix resident Joan Steede for Sinema. Steede’s seen houses with no running water downhill from multimillion-dollar mansions, and must work two or three jobs a day to make ends meet.

When treating veterans “I’ve worked for them for five hours a day, and been paid for two,” by home health care agencies using Medicaid funds. The BBB’s provisions would give her higher pay—at least $15 hourly—and greater guaranteed hours.

Steede’s also treated elderly people, whom the BBB expansion would help and who are destitute. “Yet congressmen are going on vacation and leaving them in their beds to die,” she added.

“Housing is blocked for former felons” like herself, even after they’re rehabilitated, was the message from Lexington, Ky., resident Ariel Downing to McConnell. The BBB includes more funds for housing. “I shouldn’t have to have a pill addiction problem,” which she doesn’t, “to get help.”

Author: Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People’s World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

Source: People’s World, October 12, 2021, https://peoplesworld.org/article/poor-peoples-campaign-petitions-demand-build-back-betters-passage/

Robin DG Kelley on Fighting for Freedom in the Darkness of Capitalist Dystopia / by Maxamillian Alvarez

Detail from the cover art of Beyond Market Dystopia: New Ways of Living, Socialist Register 2020

The world was a very different place when Robin DG Kelley’s renowned book Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination was first published in 2002. As the reality of post-9/11 America and the war on terror hardened into a dystopian, jingoistic consensus, and as the global economy careened towards impending catastrophe, the possibility of a future in which peace, justice, and equality reigned had all but disappeared. And yet, as people in the darkest of times throughout human history have done, many still had the audacity to dream of—and fight for—something better. Now, 20 years later, as we face the reality that unchecked capitalist pillage, endless war, and climate catastrophe have put humanity on a path to mutually assured destruction, the future seems bleaker than ever, and the possibility of averting disaster feels more unattainable than ever. How do we confront the enormity of all this devastation and still keep fighting? How can we keep hope alive that we can save ourselves, humanity, and the planet when the world around us gives us so little cause for hope? As we continue the impossible struggle for a better world, how do we deal with constant failure without succumbing to defeat?

In this special interview, TRNN Editor-in-Chief Maximillian Alvarez and Kelley grapple with these questions and discuss the continued necessity of freedom dreaming—and fighting like hell—in the face of catastrophe. Robin DG Kelley is currently the Distinguished Professor and Gary B. Nash Endowed Chair in US History in the Department of History at the University of California, Los Angeles. His research has explored the history of social movements in the US, the African diaspora, and Africa; Black intellectuals; music and visual culture; surrealism, and Marxism, among other vital topics. His essays have been published in general publications and academic journals across the board, including the Journal of American History, American Historical Review, The Nation, Monthly Review, New York Times, Color Lines, Social Text ,The Black Scholar, Journal of Palestine Studies, and Boston Review. He has authored and edited numerous influential books, including Africa Speaks, America Answers: Modern Jazz in Revolutionary Times; Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original; Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination; Race Rebels: Culture, Politics, and the Black Working Class; and Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression.

Robin D.G. Kelley on 'Black Marxism,' protests, L.A. politics - Los Angeles  Times
Historian/writer Robin D.G. Kelley
(Keith Oshiro / For The Los Angeles Times)

Maximillian Alvarez: Welcome, everyone, to The Real News Network. My name is Maximillian Alvarez. I’m the editor-in-chief here at The Real News, and it’s great to have you all with us. As you all know, here at The Real News we do our best week in, week out to not only report on the people, issues, and struggles that are so often forgotten by corporate media, and we also try to bring you the human voices and deeper context that get lost behind the headlines. From workers organizing in their workplaces, to the victims of the prison-industrial complex, to grassroots efforts by everyday people around the world who are fighting for a better world. But we also try to compliment that coverage with deeper conversations that help us unpack and interrogate the larger complex forces that have shaped our world into what it is, and that also help us do the hard work of imagining something better and getting there together.

We’re going to be bringing y’all more of these deeper conversations moving forward here at The Real News, and I, frankly, could not be more honored to be joined by our guest today to help us kick off that effort. I’m joined today by none other than professor Robin D.G. Kelley, a thinker, scholar, and activist whose work and heart and impact on the world truly need no introduction, but I’m going to do it anyway. So, professor Kelley is currently the distinguished professor and Gary B. Nash Endowed Chair in US History in the Department of History at the University of California, Los Angeles. His research has explored the history of social movements in the US, the African diaspora and Africa, Black intellectuals, music and visual culture, surrealism, Marxism, among other vital topics.

You’d be hard pressed to find publications that have not featured professor Kelley’s work, but his essays have been published in general publications in academic journals across the board, including the Journal of American History, American Historical Review, The Nation, Monthly Review, The New York Times, Color Lines, Social Text, The Black Scholar, The Journal of Palestine Studies, and Boston Review. His authored and edited books are as incredible and invaluable as they are numerous. I won’t embarrass him by reading all of them, but some of the titles include Africa Speaks America Answers: Modern Jazz and Revolutionary Times; Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original; Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination; Race Rebels: Culture, Politics, and the Black Working Class; and Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression. Professor Kelley, Robin, thank you so much for joining me today.

Robin Kelley: Thank you so much. I’m such a big fan, so I’m kind of nervous.

Maximillian Alvarez: So I mean, that’s wild for me to hear, as a tremendous fan of yours who is also very nervous, but it genuinely is an honor to finally get a chance to talk to you. I know we’ve met briefly once in the past, and I feel myself, after things are happening in the world, always wondering what your thoughts would be and going back to your work for clarity. And so I thank you first as we start for all your amazing work, and thank you again for taking time to sit down and chat with me today. Now, I truly have so much that I want to talk to you about and I’ve been wanting to talk to you about for a long time. Folks watching may remember that when the Amazon union drive was happening in Bessemer, Alabama, there was a lot of attention happening there.

I went down to Bessemer to report on that and speak to some of the workers there and the organizers with the union. I know that a lot of people were looking to your past work for clarity and understanding about this struggle and about the history of Black workers’ struggles in Alabama. There was a lot there that I wanted to ask you about then, but as we speak, you have just finished writing a new introduction and epilogue to your world renowned book, Freedom Dreams, which was first published in 2002. And this new intro and epilogue is for the upcoming 20th anniversary edition. Now, Freedom Dreams has been cited and discussed and revered more times than I can count since its original publication, and that actually made it quite interesting for me to go back and look at the original copy that I have, and study the curiously sparse description on the back of the book.

And I guess for people who are watching or listening, here’s what the back of the book in the original edition says. So, it says, “Kelley unearths freedom dreams in this exciting history of renegade intellectuals and artists of the African diaspora in the 20th century. Focusing on the visions of activists from C.L.R. James to Aime Cesaire and Malcolm X, Kelley writes of the hope that communism offered, the mindscapes of surrealism, the transformative potential of radical feminism, and of the 400-year-old dream of reparations for slavery and Jim Crow.” Now, obviously the book is much more, much much more than that. And no back of the cover description can ever really do justice to work like Freedom Dreams. But I guess what made me smile when I was rereading this description was the thought that the book has become so much more itself over the past 18, 19 years.

And of course the context for the book’s reception, the world in which we live and dream, has changed tremendously in that time as well. And I know that it’s often a kind of standard interview question when reprinted editions come out, but given the fact that we just had the 20th anniversary of 9/11, preceded by the Biden administration announcing that it would be ending the 20-year US war in Afghanistan, I found myself really flexing my brain and trying really hard to think about the ways that our lives and our world have changed in that same period. And I know because I had the honor of reading your new introduction and epilogue to Freedom Dreams that you’ve been thinking a lot about this question, too. And so, I guess I wanted to start us off by asking what that process revealed to you, that process of trying to account for the changed worlds in which your book first appeared and is now going to be republished 20 years later.

Robin Kelley: Right, no, that’s a great question. And I need to change that back cover. I mean, I actually, I never, I don’t know if I ever read it, because I don’t write that copy. That’s the editors. But what I will say, though, is that, no, the exact context for writing that book, for pulling the book together, were sort of two events that really framed it. One was the murder and eventual acquittal of the police officers who killed Amadou Diallo. And it was literally participating in that demonstration down Fifth Avenue in February 2000 that inspired the book in the first place. And then you frame that with the election of George W. Bush, the stolen election of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, the Homeland Security which predates the war in Afghanistan. I mean, they were preparing, they were gearing up for that, and then the war.

I finished the book literally after Barbara Lee had made her famous stance against authorization of the war, and the war was happening, bombs raining down in Afghanistan, and I’m writing it literally when this is happening. And it was also post 9/11. The immediate period of post 9/11 into the war was the context of thinking about the last 20 years, essentially from that moment. I always have to remind people that for all the assumptions about my sense of optimism and the sense that Freedom Dreams is simply about ignoring the reality we have and imagining a new one. On the contrary, it’s precisely the reality of war and violence, and would appear to be endless war and this Homeland Security, the war on terror, which of course came home very much in the streets against Muslims, South Asians, the war as it played out in Guantanamo Bay, all that, that’s the context for thinking about Freedom Dreams. Because, again, every one of the stories I focus on are moments in which movements are trying to imagine a different possibility in the midst of some of the worst excesses of racial capitalism.

Whether it’s the Jim Crow period, or the end of Reconstruction where the quest for a Black Homeland itself is a struggle against the, the right wing, or the bourbon Southern [oversold] reconstruction. The worst conditions produce the necessity to imagine something other than what they’re living, but then there’s the other part of it, is how do you make that happen? So if we take the last 20 years, what I’ve seen… I mean, there’s one narrative, which is not the narrative I accept, is we went from George W. Bush to the election of Barack Obama and the fulfillment of the dream. And look where we are now. And all these things have opened up. When, in fact, what we’ve seen is the consolidation of neoliberalism in a war empire overseen by the first Black president.

Every one of the stories I focus on are moments in which movements are trying to imagine a different possibility in the midst of some of the worst excesses of racial capitalism.

But with that comes the eruption of an anti-police, anti-state violence movement, an abolitionist movement under Obama. That’s the comment. That’s not to say it didn’t exist before that, but it erupts in that moment. It erupts in a moment of liberal democracy, a liberal democratic regime. So we have abolition, we have what I would argue is a research and labor movement. We get to the Amazon struggle not because it was magical, not only because of the pandemic, but because of all the organizing that emerged in the first part of the 20th century in spite of some of the AFL-CIO leadership. The fight for $15, for example. The rural workers in the South, the struggle around undocumented workers and the rights of migrant workers, which is a labor struggle. All this is happening in the early 20th century up until where we are now. Plus a continuation of antimilitarism, antiwar, the struggle against the war on terror and all that emerges.

And that’s why we can get to, in the spring of 2020, 26 million people in the streets, not all simply because of the live lynching of George Floyd or the killing of Breonna Taylor, but because of the mobilization that really began anti-Clinton, anti-Bush, and then continue anti-Obama resisting militarism, resisting the war on terror and militarism, and resisting the shrinking of labor rights and to continue upward reorganization of finance capital and tax policy, which then created even more massive inequalities than we had before. And of course, sandwiched in between that, as we know, I don’t have to say it, is Occupy, which was another blow against the neoliberal order. And if anyone says it’s a failure, I would beg to differ because many of the people came out of the Occupy movement went on to do some of this other work.

Maximillian Alvarez: Right. And I mean, I think that the second decade of the 21st century, I think, really does provide an interesting frame for looking at the concept of freedom dreams. That these social movements that have erupted, but as you rightly point out, they didn’t erupt out of nowhere. I mean, there was a lot of deep organizing work that made these things happen, whether that be in the labor movement. Like I think about the Chicago teachers’ strike, and when was that? 2012? That happened because workers in that union said the union leadership isn’t doing crap, so we’re actually going to run for office. And they did, they took over the union, they gave it a more progressive heading, and they organized around that. And that’s what gave them the ability to strike the way that they did when they did.

Same thing goes for, like you said, the other movements against racial capitalism, and the violent police state, and the labor movement as it’s developed over the past 10 years. But in a lot of ways, those movements have emerged out of this horrifying reality, in which people have been forced to confront the reality that the dreams produced by this reality are not good enough for us. And that’s, I guess, to take a step back, that’s where I was sitting with this over the past few days, because it is really hard to put yourself back in the immediate post 9/11 period.

I think for anyone, like for me, as I’ve admitted many, many times before, I grew up very conservative, very Catholic. I saw in the… With the tweet storm and social media storm at the 20 year anniversary of 9/11, a lot of people were saying oh, I never bought into the hype. I was there in the streets and God bless the people who resisted that. I very much bought into it. I was there hook line and sinker, our family had Fox News on all the time. And I’ve talked on my podcast, Working People, and other interviews about our conservative upbringing. But the reason that I bring it up is that there’s always the… Even the concept of Freedom Dreams, right, is not necessarily value-laden either way.

There are very bad freedom dreams that many people have been sold on. And I think of Reagan and the dream of his America and the corporate and political and cultural consensus that built around that after the ’80s, my family was very much swept in that. For my family, for my father who was a Mexican immigrant, grew up dirt poor. I remember he was the first person I ever interviewed on my show Working People where I interview workers and talk to them, write about their lives and their jobs and dreams and struggles. I remember him saying very vividly that his mom died when he was six. He was split up from his siblings when he was eight, and they were brought over the United States separately, took a long time for them to reconnect, which was hard for us to see growing up because our tios and tías were all around, but they had been separate for a long time.

And I remember my dad saying that he was working at a car wash in high school, and he had this realization that he was like, this is not why my mom made my great grandma promise to bring me to the United States. I was meant to do more than this. And so the very first person my dad voted for when he became a citizen was Ronald Reagan. And because Reagan’s freedom dream fused itself to that immigrant dream like this, he was sold like so many people were, on this belief that if we follow this script, it will in fact free more of us to be the people that we want to be, to live the lives that we want to live. And I guess where I’m getting with this is that for me, and even for my dad and the rest of our family, I think that it was in the wake of the great recession that that dream finally crumbled. And the reality of the world that we were living in really started to set in. And I think that for me, at least, but I imagine for a lot of other people, that’s where that need to dream better or dream differently emerged in the second decade of the 21st century.

Robin Kelley: Right. Exactly. And that’s why social movements really matter because that dream could easily slip into another set of dreams. In other words, the crumbling of the economy, the collapse of the housing crisis, the whole mortgage crisis, that could easily translate into greater xenophobia. Arguments about we need better banks, not just bigger banks. In fact, part of the discourse around the subprime mortgage crisis was that it was these people of color who couldn’t afford, who are buying houses that they couldn’t afford. And then this is the explanation. But I think what made a difference is Occupy, for example, had a different language, a different discourse, a different way of framing the crisis. And by simply saying it’s the 1%, we are the 99%, we’re all victims of that, it gave a kind of class language and explanation for something that someone who’s fascist leaning could have easily flipped into a different kind of utopia to respond to it.

And that’s why I think about the second half of the 21st century and all the movements that emerged, some of them have [their] roots in the 90s, but I think not just Black Lives Matter, or groups like the new Poor People’s Campaign, for example, but I think about… I write about Detroit in my epilogue. And in Detroit, you have the Boggs Center to nurture community leadership. You have groups emerging like Eastside Solutionaries and all these different grassroots organizations that are saying look, we have a different understanding of the crisis. And in fact, we’re not going to play the game of only turning to the state for answers and for solutions. We’re going to figure out a way not to avoid the state, but to create those solutions on the ground, to take expertise back.

And so you get another way in which freedom dreams manifest itself. And that’s in the form of community gardens, cooperatives, abolitionist ways of reducing police presence in neighborhoods, certain kinds of community public safety, using community land trust, for example. That’s a state process to be able to take abandoned lands and properties and transform them into community based spaces, whether it’s for farming, housing, or whatever’s needed. And so what you end up getting is a kind of new architecture. And if Freedom Dreams is anything, it’s about actually collectively enacting a vision of society that you think is not just liberatory, but sustainable.

And that to me is where I see that the second half of… The first 20 years of the 21st century is very much about people creating these kinds of liberated zones, these spaces. Whether seasonal through electoral politics like in Jackson, Mississippi, for example, or through other means in Detroit, or through other means in here in LA, where they actually are practicing what they’re saying and giving an example of what it looks like to not have to rely on a fascist, a charismatic leader, elected officials to basically find solutions to these problems. It’s not a new idea because the anti-war, the anti-nuclear organizing in the 1980s was about stripping the Pentagon of expertise, and saying that we know about weapons, weapons are not good, and we’re not going to allow you to use the language of why we need to have peace through nuclear armaments. And we’re going to take that back and make some of these kinds of demands. And it was very effective.

So I think that if we always remember that freedom dreams is always collective, always related to social movements and social struggles, it’s discursive, in a sense. It’s always about trying to take back a narrative that says we have to be dependent on all these forces rather than we be the driver of these forces. That the state that we come to believe is so great.

Sometimes that state, not sometimes, but it’s very much a product of a fascist state, a corporate state, a colonial state. Which leads me to one last thing about this. One of the very exciting things that have happened in the 21st century, it’s not new, but it’s resurgent, and that is the struggle for decolonization. And I write about this as well where you have groups like the Red Nation, for example, which put out this amazing manifesto, the Red Deal, which for me, is one of the richest, most robust examples of what freedom dreams could look like that I’ve ever read and seen in practice. So, decolonization was not something that was always on our radar as something that was even realistic. We thought, okay, we did that. That was back in the ’60s and ’70s.

When of course we didn’t, obviously. So to make the demand in the midst of Jeff Bezos making all this money, in the myths of the Biden-Harris administration waging war on Haitians, and bombing Syria, and doing all this stuff. To say we need to decolonize Turtle Island and give the land back. That’s like, oh, that’s a pipe dream. Oh, no, it’s not. That is to freedom dreams that could open up possibilities for the whole nation, if not the world. And so those are the things I think are worth pursuing because it’s like a giant leap. A giant leap from saying oh, if we can only get the George Floyd Act passed, we can actually reduce harm on part of the police, versus give the land back. What does that mean?

So to me, that’s where I think I’m almost more excited, if not more, I hate hopeful, but I could see a much clearer, broader vision both in decolonization movements in basically gendered movements of nonconforming, non binary, transgender movements that, say, is opening up the possibility of decolonizing the body. I could see all these as real openings that go way beyond, I think, what we were talking about in 2002.

Maximillian Alvarez: Right. And I agree that, I don’t know, whether you wanted to call it hopeful or just a positive development in this direction. That again is another reason why it’s useful to try to think, put yourself back into the shoes of your former self, and try to see yourself outside of yourself to evaluate how you and the world that you live in have changed in that time. When I said it was difficult, I always think about back when I was teaching at the University of Michigan, my students always loved the speech from David Foster Wallace where he gives this famous anecdote about two younger fish swimming in the ocean, an older fish swims past and he says morning boys, how’s the water? And the two younger fish go, they look at each other and they say, what the hell is water?

And there is so much of the reality that we live in that we’re soaked in that just seems like it was always there. And the very fact that you brought up Bessemer, the very fact that labor struggle like that would be international news, was unthinkable to myself in 2001. The very notion. I remember being on a jury where the cop was the one accused and during the voir dire process, the prosecutor asked everyone would you have trouble believing that a cop was lying? And old person after old person said yes, I can’t do it, and so they were kicked off the jury. The fact that more people have at least broken that unquestioned faith in the righteousness and good intentions of the police is significant.

But I wanted to ask what the essential political and even existential function is of that dreaming, because like you said and then you’ve said many times before, like I’m not preaching a wide-eyed optimism that ignores the reality that we’re in. I’m talking about the function that dreaming of a different world serves for people who were being crushed by the world in which they currently exist in. And I think that was a really beautiful example you brought up with Detroit, because I have this book of interviews that I did with workers during the height of the COVID pandemic last winter. And I interviewed this one amazing woman in Detroit, Courtney Smith, who’s originally from Iowa. She moved to Detroit. And I asked her, I was like, why did you move in the middle of a pandemic? She’s a single mom, grew up in poverty, and didn’t have any roots in Detroit.

And she was like, well, what I realized when I went there was that the apocalypse has already happened in Detroit. Capitalism has already destroyed Detroit. And so people there have had to learn to live together out of that rubble, and they’ve learned to rely on each other more than I’ve seen anywhere else in the country. And that really hit me. And it made me reflect on what that relationship is, that life-saving relationship between being amidst the apocalyptic reality in which there seems to be no way out, and dreaming better. I guess, how do you unpack that for folks?

Robin Kelley: Right. Right. That’s a great example. And in fact, if you don’t mind, let me try to unpack it with Detroit because it’s just such a great concrete example. And this is where, again, if there wasn’t a BOK Center, if there wasn’t a Feedom Freedom Growers, which is a collective farm, an amazing space which is not just a farm, but it’s almost like a school community center that’s run by Myrtle Curtis. Anyway, so you have that space. You have all these different spaces where people are trying to figure out how to turn this apocalyptic mass of Detroit dealing with bankruptcy, dealing with capital flight, dealing with just disinvestment in the city since 1967 and turn it into something. So they had to have a vision.

So it wasn’t just that trees just sprouted up through the abandoned buildings, which they did, but it’s like, how do we turn this into something? And that vision required people coming together, and whether it’s creating bookstores, having poetry readings, all of these farms that are basically networks of relationships, music culture, all this stuff is happening within this space. Some of that goes back to Detroit Summer, which was developed by the Boggs in 1992, and a lot of young people came through, there sort of like Freedom Summer from Mississippi, but they would do basic things like clean up, transform the neighborhood, teach young people how to grow food. And right now, the school district in Detroit, I think something like a third or maybe half of the food is organic food that’s grown locally by these farms.

So they figured out how to do this in a way that I think is amazing. You have the Detroit Food Justice Task Force. You also have people, artists, creating windmills that are used for public use. This is not for private use. Creating other forms of energy. Kids in high school coming up with experimental forms of producing energy so that they could be off the grid. And then of course the central story in Detroit has been a struggle around water. And this is where the late Charity Hicks is a very important figure in that she was an organizer. She and the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization and a lot of different movements, I can’t name them all, were at the forefront of fighting the privatization of water both in Detroit, in Flint, in Highland Park.

And in that community organizing work, they were figuring out different ways to make sure that people could have affordable water and to resist privatization. So in doing all that work, they created new relationships with each other, new community, new forms of public safety. And all of this cannot have been done without strategy, without organizing, without collective work. And so for them, freedom dreaming is a practice. As I say, they turned the noun into a verb by putting into practice and figuring out what works and what doesn’t work. And so now a lot of people are moving to Detroit.

The point isn’t that everyone should have a garden. The point is that the work of gardening is a collective work of coming together to produce solutions to the crisis.

The problem is, and here’s the downside, is that as they transformed Detroit and make it sustainable and livable, now they’re fighting gentrification, now they’re fighting actual local policies by the neoliberal mayor who can mobilize the police to accidentally wreck some of the Black-owned collective, Black-run collective farms and then give subsidies to young white urban professionals to have their own farms, have their own gardens, which is not really the point. The point isn’t that everyone should have a garden. The point is that the work of gardening is a collective work of coming together to produce solutions to the crisis. And this whole time to think about how to be sustainable, how to have clean energy, and how to create spaces where people can live in livable homes. And so all that’s happening as we speak, literally, it has been happening even before there was much talk about the impending climate crisis. I mean, they’ve been doing this for 40, 50 years.

Maximillian Alvarez: Right. I mean, I suppose it’s the elephant in the room, but it’s really going to be the elephant in the room for every conversation that we have for the rest of our lifetimes. Right? There is no conversation from which the reality of climate change is absent. And I think that that’s a really important reality for us to all sit with, but it does, especially when I think about climate change and the disastrous future that we are hurtling towards and that in many ways we are already starting to experience. It does make me circle back to that question of the essential political and existential function of dreaming. And I guess I’ll try to explain what I mean by that for viewers and listeners.

Let’s talk about Bessemer for a second, because we brought that up. And I know that it was something that we were all invested in. It was a portal through which we collectively, many of us, were momentarily allowed to dream of what the future could look like if this emerging or emergent behemoth of Amazon had more democratic control, if workers had more collective power and more say over their workplaces, over how the economy is run so on and so forth. And in the wake of the union defeat, which, granted, we now know Amazon did a lot of underhanded and illegal shit, but in a lot of ways, the goal was essentially achieved, to squash that unionization effort.

There was this uncomfortable chorus that emerged after that union defeat by folks in the labor movement or adjacent to the labor movement kind of berating those of us who invested hope in this struggle and the people fighting there in Bessemer, berating us for essentially dreaming too much, for imbuing this struggle with too much, because they feared that the ensuing demoralization after this defeat was going to set us back even farther. And that’s something that I’ve been sitting with quite a lot. I have tons of disagreements with that take, whether it be from Jane McAlevey or others, but I think that it does hinge on something that I myself have preached quite a bit. And I’m trying to thread these things together. Because I tend to believe, even in my most cynical moments, that people do genuinely want to live in a more just and equitable and sustainable society.

And I do believe that is what drives things like the moral outrage that we saw last month when Haitian refugees were being brutalized at the US-Mexico border, when we see images of police terrorizing Black and Brown people around the country, there’s a well of goodness that that outrage comes from. But I think that so many people, especially in the United States, so many people in this country have an aversion to caring more than that and to trying and investing more in the fight to change it. Not because we’re unfeeling, not because we’re callous, but because we’ve been well-trained in how much it hurts to be disappointed by a system that refuses to budge against our pleas. And so, if you see this horror, and you invest in the humanity of the people who are being brutalized by the system, and you desperately want to believe that it can be changed, and the system does what it always does, which is try to push that hope back, try to tell you to shut up and that this is the only way things can be, that hurts. That does demoralize you in a lot of ways.

Just like I can understand the fear that a demoralization after a significant labor defeat could set the labor movement back. But I guess to tie this all together, it does make me think about again, how lifesaving and essential that dreaming is when you are in the midst of something that is so unbearable. I remember this, one of my favorite quotes from Nietzsche, in I think it’s The Gay Science, where he has this quote where he said, “I woke in the midst of this dream, but only to the realization that I myself was dreaming and that I have to go on dreaming lest I perish just like a sleepwalker has to go on dreaming lest he fall.”

I always took, like, a, like, emo, like, Nietzschean understanding of that, right? That everything is a concocted false reality, yada, yada, yada, and that you have to participate in the fiction to live. But I actually now, in the context of everything that we’re discussing, and rereading your book, I actually have a different take on that. Like that to not dream, to have that dreaming beaten out of you is what death looks like. That is when the game is up.

Robin Kelley: That is true. And in fact, could you imagine the alternative scenario that is if the union in Bessemer decided, you know what? Strategically, we’re probably not going to win this so we shouldn’t even try, we wouldn’t be talking about it. But with the world wouldn’t have been mobilizing around this particular campaign even though it might’ve been a loss in the short run. I mean, think about what… Well, just two things: think about what they won, and then secondly, think about what they were up against. So part of what they won was, I don’t think that the Warrior Met mine strike, which involved 1100 mine workers in Tuscaloosa would have… They [wouldn’t] have gone on strike had it not been for the Amazon campaign. I mean, we wouldn’t even know about the Warrior mine strike, which was really an intense struggle at the… They emerged around the same time, because of all the attention that was directed at Bessemer, that part of Alabama.

And I think that’s really, really important. It was a David-Goliath story and if you read C.L.R James enough, you realize that losses are wins as well. But if you think about the struggle in a protracted way, that there were really important lessons that were learned about the capacity of Amazon to spend huge amounts of money to defeat the union. I mean, the union couldn’t have been that weak. If it was that weak, why spend $10,000 a day, right? On consultants and on basically a kind of warfare, which turned out to be illegal. I mean, that’s the thing. They get cited. Amazon gets cited for illegal labor practices in terms of their anti-union activity. So there’s that.

The other thing which I think is really, really important is that this is where politics comes in, and power comes in. It’s really important to be able to dream about the capacity to transform this really oppressive workplace into something that’s useful and helpful. That’s something that’s uplifting, jobs that actually can pay not just a living wage, but not damage the body. These are just basic. These are not like… They’re not even saying we want workers’ control and to own Amazon. That’s another thing. They’re saying, we want decent wages and working conditions. And to say that that’s like a dream, to me is this really tamping down.

But having said that, one of the things that allowed Amazon to win was a history of right-to-work state and anti-union laws that were in the books from 1953. So if you take a long view of the historical context, the Cold War, Cold War repression, Jim Crow, all this stuff made possible an anti-union regime, which is not reflective of the people of Alabama. It’s reflective of those who rule. And that regime with the right wing turn and Trumpism consolidated itself in 2016 by being able to make that law a constitutional amendment.

And so, you basically are going against the hardest nut to crack. Why is that? So, well, we shouldn’t have done that. We should have picked an easier spot. Well, when Dr. King and SCLC decided, we’re going to try to de-segregate the South, we’re gonna go to the hardest nut to crack, that’s Birmingham. And that’s where they went. And they didn’t win immediately, but I tell you one thing, what they won in Birmingham in ’63 may have created the conditions for another emergent labor movement in the ’70s and ’80s, which laid the foundation for what happened at Amazon.

If we think of the struggle, as Vincent Harding would call it, a river, then we have no choice but to imagine where that river is going to go, because if you don’t know, we can’t just let the current take us. We’ve got to navigate it. And when you navigate it, then you’ve got to try to know exactly where you’re going and why are you going there? And I just, I think, to me, this is really fundamental in separating out the new age way of wishing and hoping and dreaming something good happen, and actually figuring out strategically how to make that happen, and why. Because as you take that journey, things start to shift and change.

Maximillian Alvarez: Right. And I think that again, I guess maybe whether we’re talking about the labor movement as such, whether we’re talking about movements for racial justice, movements for decolonization, and movements to deal with, adequately, the reality of climate catastrophe. I suppose the real thing to point out to people is the forces, like you said, the forces that are driving this, they’re happening. Whether we want to talk about, I don’t know, like… Strategy is essential, strategy is not a choice. Because the world is pushing you towards this end, whether you want to or not. So in a lot of ways you have no choice but to fight. You have no choice but to strategize. You have no choice.

Well, I mean, I guess the one choice is between doing that or just yeah, laying down and letting the river take you where it will, but we know where that’s going. It’s speeding up towards the waterfall, so yeah, you can do it if you want. But don’t delude yourself into thinking that the same powers that brought us to this situation are going to somehow craft a solution to it. Whether we’re looking at the police state, whether we’re looking at the reality of climate change, what evidence do you currently have to suggest that, again, that technocratic ruling class that wants you to believe that it has your best interest in mind, and that it will direct society towards where it needs to go, is going to come up with a solution that is going to avert a truly apocalyptic climate catastrophe in our future?

And so this is by way of, I suppose, [rounding this out], I can’t thank you enough for your time, but I know I don’t want to keep you for too long, but in a lot of ways I’ve been building up to asking the main question here. Because it was a question that I had when I was watching your appearances after the Bessemer election. It’s a question that I’ve had ever since. And it’s one that I feel like you’ve studied really in depth and have spoken about very beautifully. But it’s an essential question. This isn’t just a historiography question. This is a question of how do we face up to that task? How do we make it happen? How do we do in the face of that destruction? And I suppose the question, put bluntly, whether it be Bessemer, whether it be the Paris Climate Accords, or a general election, or what have you. How do we deal with failure without succumbing to defeat?

Robin Kelley: So how do we deal with failure without succumbing to defeat? That’s a hard question, and yet the irony in all of this in terms of my answer is that I would turn to the great surrealist writer, Peter Naville, who coined the term ‘revolutionary pessimism.’ Of course, pessimism, the P-word, people don’t associate that with me. In certain ways, the P-word really is not associated with me. That’s another debate. But when he talks about revolutionary pessimism, he’s saying we can’t be fatalistic. And so, part of that sense of defeat is the failures and saying at resignation that there’s no way we can win. We keep losing. There’s no way we can win. Instead, it’s a recognition that winning is really hard, and it’s really hard because we’re up against a catastrophe. So it’s not just Naville, it’s people like Walter Benjamin and others who are dealing with fascism, and they’re like, we see the catastrophe.

But what they were rejecting was two different kinds of optimisms: One that says, look, you just have to… The arc of justice bends. The arc bends towards justice. You just have to keep going and keep electing people. And that this is a social democratic idea that you can elect socialism to power. And so what they’re up against is like the [inaudible] and the social Democrats to say, well, you just have to build the party and keep working at it and get your people in office. And we can do this slowly in the evolutionary way. And they’re like no, that doesn’t work. The second optimism was just the optimism, the Stalinist. Say look, no, we got a social state, we got a five-year plan. In five years, we’re going to basically eliminate unemployment. We’re going to eliminate poverty. We’re going to do this. And they’re like no, that’s an optimism that’s also not democratic, nor is it transformative.

We need a pessimism that says this is a catastrophe so therefore we have no choice but to fight. We have no choice but to fight. It’s not as if we have the luxury to give up. We can’t. It’s like, we’re pushing back against the barriers that are about to crush us. So if we say you know what? We’re defeated. We don’t have a choice. We just don’t. And we’ve been in those situations where… I mean, I don’t know. I’ve been in situations with just a wild dog, and I’m trying to deal with the dog, and I [don’t like] dogs. I was like, I could either stand here and try to fight the dog and try to get control. Or just bite me. Whatever.

We need a pessimism that says this is a catastrophe so therefore we have no choice but to fight.

And I think it’s really important to recognize that once we know that we’re up against catastrophes that will, as you had said before, if we let the river flow, we know where we’re going to end up. We don’t have the luxury for defeat. What we can do though, is celebrate the wins, recognize that winning sometimes doesn’t mean winning a campaign, but it means finding ways to be together and stay together and engage in forms, in what Fred Moten and Stefano Harney called ‘fugitive planning,’ and then we live another day to keep that fight going. Because there’s something about the process that transforms us. It makes us in some ways, both steel, S-T-E-E-L, but also makes us soft, open hearts. Being able to absorb and love and care about one another. And sometimes in the middle of the barricades, your ability to care for another, or care for the community, or be cared for, and to accept that is the greatest victory you’re going to have.

And that to me is, this is how we live our lives. And I’ve seen that before. I see it in all these places I talk about. And I’ve seen in every single one of those movements I write about in Freedom Dreams. The capacity to say look, we may be dealing with the worst of it. We may have lost it by the vote. We may have lost our land. We may be in cages. We may be fighting, fighting, fighting in the middle of a depression, or fighting a war that just seems like it’s endless. But we still find ways to be together and fight the next day knowing that we’re accountable to these movements, we’re accountable to the people that we claim to represent. And if we don’t fight, then who’s going to do it, and what’s going to happen? The outcome. So that’s my answer to the question, which is that it’s what it is.

Maximillian Alvarez: It’s what it is. And again, I could truly talk to you for hours, but I want to be respectful of your time. So that is professor, author, activist, all around incredible person Robin D.G. Kelley. Robin, thank you so much for joining me today.

Robin Kelley: Maximillian, thank you so much. I really appreciate it and I look forward to more conversations.

Maximillian Alvarez: Likewise, brother. And to everyone watching this, Maximillian Alvarez at The Real News Network. Thank you so much for watching. And before you leave, please head on over to therealnews.com/support. Become a sustainer of our work so we can keep bringing you conversations and coverage just like this. Thanks so much for watching.

Source: The Real News Network, October 18, 2021, https://therealnews.com/robin-dg-kelley-on-fighting-for-freedom-in-the-darkness-of-capitalist-dystopia