Interview: Naomi Klein Breaks a Taboo–Capitalism and the Environment

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Naomi Klein (Wikimedia Commons)

The fact that global warming is man-made and poses a grave threat to our future is widely accepted by progressives. Yet, the most commonly proposed solutions emphasize either personal responsibility for a global emergency (buy energy-efficient light bulbs, purchase a Prius), or rely on market-based schemes like cap-and-trade. These responses are not only inadequate, says best-selling author Naomi Klein, but represent a lost opportunity to confront climate change’s root cause: capitalism.

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, Klein’s much-anticipated new book, is both surprisingly hopeful and deeply personal as she deftly weaves in her story of struggling to conceive her first child while researching the potential collapse of the natural world. In the book, Klein challenges everyone who cares about climate change to strive for a seemingly impossible redistribution of political and economic power. This, she argues, is both necessary and offers the prospect of living in a more just and humane society than the one we know today.

John Tarleton: When it comes to the climate crisis, capitalism is often the elephant in the room that goes unacknowledged. Yet you zero in on it, starting with the title of your book. Why?

Naomi Klein: I put the connection between capitalism and climate change up front because the fact that the life support systems of the planet are being destabilized is telling us that there is something fundamentally wrong with our economic system. What our economy needs to function in a capitalist system is continuous growth and continuous depletion of resources, including finite resources. What our planet needs in order to avoid catastrophic warming and other dangerous tipping points is for humans to contract our use of material resources.

The science of climate change has made this fundamental conflict blindingly obvious. By putting that conflict up front, it breaks a taboo. And sometimes when you break a taboo, there’s sort of a relief in just saying it. And that’s what I’ve found so far: This is something that people know. And it’s giving permission to just name it. It’s a good starting point, so now we can have a real discussion. Continue reading

Greening the Union Label: Zero Carbon Future Could Be a Jobs Bonanza

by Steven Wishnia

Illustration: Jose Carmona courtesy The Indypendent

Illustration: Jose Carmona courtesy The Indypendent

From teachers to transit workers, civil servants to electricians, the People’s Climate March will have more organized-labor participation than any environmentalist effort in U.S. history.

More than 50 unions, including some of the city’s biggest, are among the organizations sponsoring the march. The Service Employees International Union, the nation’s second largest, has endorsed it, and its two main New York locals, the health care workers of Local 1199 and the building service workers of Local 32BJ, are heavily involved. Also on board are District Council 37, the city’s largest public employee union; Transport Workers Union Local 100; Local 3 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; the Communications Workers of America, who represent city employees as well as telephone and cable-TV workers; and the city, state and Connecticut affiliates of the American Federation of Teachers.

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AFL-CIO President Trumka Says Labor Must Confront Racism

On Monday, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka spoke to the Missouri AFL-CIO about the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson and the need for labor to address racism and classism. He urges all working people to come together for economic equality and to confront issues of racism in our communities and in the labor movement.

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Trade, Yes. Bad Trade Deals, No!

by Stan Sorscher

My job depends on trade. I’m 100 percent in favor of trade.

By the same token, we can have good trade policies that raise living standards, or bad trade policies that deindustrialize our economy and distort social and political power relationships.

What people hear, when you say “trade deal.”

Two cases in point: the “Trans-Pacific Partnership” (TPP) and the “Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership” (TTIP). Both are variations on NAFTA, a vigorously oversold agreement with Canada and Mexico.

Journalist William Greider explains the origin and intent of one particularly troubling feature of the NAFTA model. NAFTA’s legal process helps global companies enforce certain provisions in the agreement. In full jargon, it is called “investor-state dispute settlement,” or ISDS.

We understand how the US Constitution establishes our legal framework. The Constitution and Bill of Rights were specifically written to protect individuals from tyranny, and balance public interests with private interests. Our courts settle legal disputes by applying Constitutional principles.

NAFTA, as a legal framework, creates a parallel structure at the global level. However, NAFTA and similar deals have a very different design goal. They prioritize corporate investor rights, while pushing public interests to the side.

As the cynical catchphrase goes, under NAFTA, governments can do “whatever they want,” to protect the environment, labor rights, human rights, public health, prudent financial regulation, and internet freedom (for instance), as long as they pay corporations for any lost profit — including potential profit for activities that have not even occurred, yet!
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Lone Socialist Senator in the U.S. Ponders 2016 Presidential Run

by Steve Early

sanders_podium.jpg_1718483346 In U.S. Democratic Party circles, it’s a widespread assumption that ex-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be the Democrats’ leading contender for the presidential nomination in 2016.

While the former “First Lady” remains an unannounced candidate to succeed Barack Obama, she’s been hearing footsteps from a one-time Senatorial colleague who is threatening to run to the left of her. Clinton’s potential challenger is Bernie Sanders, who has, for nearly 25 years, represented Vermont in Congress, first as a member of the House of Representatives and, since 2006, the Senate. Vermont is a small, rural northeastern state with a largely white population of just 640,000.

In ten straight federal races, the 73-year old Sanders has campaigned as an anti-corporate independent, defeating both conservative Republicans and Clinton-like centrist Democrats. Sanders also has the distinction of being the only socialist on Capitol Hill and one of its most ardent supporters of collective bargaining, Social Security, and tax-financed health insurance for all Americans.

As chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Sanders just helped win $15 billion in much-needed new funding for publicly-funded hospitals serving veterans of past U.S. wars, several of which—the disastrous interventions in Vietnam and Iraq–he strongly opposed. In 2007, his office helped facilitate the delivery of discounted home heating oil to hundreds of low-income families and (free of charge) to homeless shelters in Vermont, a humanitarian gesture made possible by Venezuelan-owned CITGO Petroleum.

Recently, Sanders has been barnstorming around the U.S., making stops in Iowa, Wisconsin, and several southern states. There, he has held “town meetings” with potential presidential election voters and given media interviews critical of Democrats like Clinton who favor job-killing “free trade” deals and other Wall Street-friendly policies. This has raised hopes, on the left, that the Vermont senator may enter the 2016 presidential race and liven up the debate about key foreign and domestic policy questions where the difference between Democrats and Republicans can be hard to find.
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Suspenders and Solidarity in Sacramento

by David Roddy,

SunderlandedThe annual Sacramento Central Labor Council Labor Day Picnic on Sept. 1, was divided over the removal of executive secretary Bill Camp, with his supporters wearing suspenders bearing a sticker declaring “L NO!,” in reference to Measure L, the latest attempt by Mayor Kevin Johnson to expand the executive power of the Sacramento Mayor’s office.

The suspenders were worn in solidarity with the recently ousted SCLC executive secretary Bill Camp (known for his folksy attire), whose abrupt firing by a group on the executive board led by council President Lino Pedres of SEIU 1877 is suspected by Camp’s supporters to be due to his opposition to Measure L, having led the effort to defeat a similar bill in 2010. Measure L, an initiative for the November ballot, plans to transition City Hall from a council-manager form of government to a mayor-council form, giving the mayor the power to appoint and unilaterally fire a city manager (now done by the entire council), oversee the creation of the city budget, and the ability to veto any changes to the budget and ordinances passed by the council.

The termination notice, taped to Camp’s door on August 29, has been rescinded after Camp’s union representative–Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 29–protested that Camp’s firing lacked due process. Camp is now on administrative leave and was told not to speak about his firing, which has led OPEIU 29 to file a grievance arguing Camp’s leave is without just cause and the gag order violates his free speech rights. Continue reading

Egyptian Union Organizes with Global Support

by Paul Garver

Mondelez

Update:

Following the reinstatement of all 5 executive members of the Cadbury Alexandria Union under their former conditions, elections were held on August 29 for the executive council of the union.

The leaders were once again elected as the principal officers of the union and supporters of the leadership fill all 9 positions on the executive.

160 members attended the meeting where the elections took place including 48 members from the other Mondelez factory in Alexandria at Burj el Arab. 3 of the elected executive members work at this factory where membership continues to grow.

Background
In July 2012, more than two years ago, the Egyptian division of Mondelez International (previously Kraft Foods International) suspended five members of the executive committee of a union in Alexandria that dared to declare itself independent. The same American-owned and managed global food company also disciplined union activists at Mondelez plants in Tunisia and Pakistan for similar reasons.

In response the IUF (Uniting Food, Farm and Hotel Workers Worldwide) organized a global “Screamdelez” campaign joined by its member unions on every continent. From Pakistan and Tunisia, through North America and Western Europe to Eastern Europe, Mondelez workers and their unions demonstrated to support their Egyptian counterparts. Hundreds of supporters around the world sent protest messages through the LabourStart international website to Irene Rosenthal, Mondelez CEO.

As a result of this campaign, Mondelez agreed to negotiate with the IUF, and following a meeting in Alexandria on July 9th the five executive board members were reinstated to their jobs with full retroactive back pay and benefits. Elections for the new term of the union executive committee at the plant will take place shortly. All five former union executive committee members will be entitled to stand.

In a last effort to avoid reinstating the union officers, local management argued:”But we don’t know how to reinstate them since no company has ever had to do that in Egypt before!” But the Egyptian result may become a precedent for Mondelez workers in other countries. The IUF and Mondelez International jointly stated that:

“This brings the long-running labour conflict in Alexandria to an end. Both local parties have committed to seek to resolve future challenges in a good-faith and constructive manner and, beyond Egypt, Mondelez International and the IUF have agreed “to discuss the lessons learnt from this conflict.”

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One lesson for all trade unionists is the power of global worker solidarity, in winning campaigns that can even transcend sharp national conflicts.  During the Screamdelez campaign delegates at the IUF EECA regional meeting, held in Kyiv {Kiev} on November 4-5, 2013 concluded their discussion on trade union development by a symbolic action in support of the struggling Mondelez workers in Egypt, Pakistan and world-wide. The participants included union leaders and activists from Ukraine, Russia, Moldova, Armenia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

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