Jobs versus Ecology

The question Yoshie raised about the conflicting interests of workers in the auto industry to have a job and the need for society in general to reduce or eliminate the pollution-generated automobile is a critical one. Harvey attempted to come to grips with this question in his latest book, but came up with all the wrong answers.

These conflicting interests can not be resolved within the context of capitalism. Harvey's departure from Marxism in the Rover struggle is the only explanation for his worrying over the ecological impact of automobiles while Western Europe remained capitalist. The Rover struggle was a militant trade union struggle. Its defeat--under any pretext--would be a setback to the workers movement. Each setback delays the possibility of achieving socialist victory. Without such a victory, genuine ecological development is impossible.

The anti-car campaigns that I am familiar with in the United States operate on a parallel path with struggles to save jobs, especially those in the auto industry. Sadly, these efforts came to naught in the 1980s as treacherous UAW bureaucrats caved in to the big three auto manufacturers.

While this union-boss struggle unfolded, a campaign developed in NYC to cut back on private automobile usage in the city. The focus was on Central Park, but generally sought to keep cars out of Manhattan. The group that spearheaded this drive was Transportation Alternatives, founded by an old friend Charles Komanoff. Charlie was also on the board of Tecnica for several years. He headed an energy consulting firm in NYC that provided expert testimony against nuclear power plants. He was involved with various ecological causes and highly respected. Nobody in the UAW in the greater New York area ever viewed the efforts of Transportation Alternatives as a threat to jobs. No matter how hidebound the bureaucrats were, they understood that the real threat came from the bosses themselves, who closed factories because of bottom-line considerations, not because they believed in the need for clean air.

The question really came into sharp focus, however, around the efforts of Earth First activists to protest old growth Redwoods on the Pacific Coast. The logging industry made strong efforts to enlist rank-and-file workers in the anti-green campaign. This passage from David Helvarg's "The War Against the Greens" should indicate that the workers understood that the real enemy was the boss and not the Earth First activists.

Gene Lawhorn, a lumber-mill worker, joined up with the environmentalist movement not long after he noticed Earth First activists picketing with his union during a strike. Originally, an anti-green, he said, "I began to see that they were human, not the ogres we'd been told about. They were reaching out and talking to me and actually blocking the cars of scabs. I went to Portland and debated them on the radio and started seeing that they had a point of view too."

When a company-sponsored rally against the spotted owl was held, Lawhorn and some other lumber workers went down to protest it. They got a lot of play on the radio and TV. He soon learned that worker support for the company was strictly pro forma and relied on subsidies including free transportation, box lunches, etc. Even then, worker support was only lukewarm. The company would sponsor a meeting at the workplace with Ron Arnold, a recent contributor to Heartfield's libertarian rag, and offer to pay $12 for membership in the "Wise Use" group. The company wanted to be able to say that it had 3,000 dues-paying members. Despite the company offers, very few workers joined up. Their class instincts proved formidable. Their is a strong militant unionist tradition in the Pacific Northwest.

When you combine this tradition with the clear-headed economic analysis of Earth First, you can understand why an environmental/trade union alliance is not only feasible, it is absolutely required for the socialist movement to move forward.

From Earth First article, "Zero-Cut: Ending Commercial Logging on Federal Lands," by Mark Hubbard

"The timber industry would have us believe that if logging on federal lands is reduced even slightly, the result will be economic disaster for logging mills, the housing market, and the American economy as a whole. However, the facts indicate otherwise. In 1992, approximately 90 billion board feet of timber was sold from United States forests. Of that 90 billion board feet, only 4.5 billion came from federal lands. This means only five percent of the total timber volume sold in the United States in 1992 came from federal lands. Five percent. This five percent could easily be made up for by recycling lumber and restricting log exports. Last year, in the Pacific Northwest alone, 2 billion board feet of raw logs and minimally processed wood products were shipped overseas instead of being infused into local economies. Additionally, large volumes of lumber and wood products are thrown into our landfills each year instead of being recycled back into the "supply" stream. By just looking at recycling and restrictions on log exports, it would not be hard to find the volume the industry so desperately claims it needs.

"Ending logging on federal lands will mean a loss of some jobs in the timber industry. However, in many instances most of these jobs are on the verge of ending already. The increasing mechanization of the industry has steadily eroded timber jobs around the country. The overcutting on both private and federal lands in many regions has removed much of the sustainable timber base. In the Northwest, for example, most experts agree that the old growth will run out within a decade if logging continued at the rate it is going. And the jobs would have gone with it. Ending commercial logging on federal lands may bring about a loss of some jobs earlier than expected, but they were not long-term sustainable jobs to begin with.

"Sustainable jobs and sustainable economies can be created by ending commercial logging on federal lands. If one takes a medium or long-term economic view, it is clear that there is more money to be found in forest and watershed restoration, fishing, recreation and tourism jobs Q all of which are sustainable Q than there is in the short term jobs logging provides. Economic indicators already show this to be true. In many states where National Forests are present (e.g. Oregon), recreation and tourism industries are on the rise, while the timber industry is on the decline.

"There are other direct economic benefits to ending commercial logging on federal lands. Ending below-cost timber sales and eliminating costly road maintenance will save the federal government, and the taxpayers, millions of dollars. Ending the bloated timber-sale planning bureaucracy in the Forest Service and BLM will save additional millions.

"The economic arguments for ending commercial logging on federal lands are compelling. Many fiscal conservatives may join in the fight to end logging once they realize that taxpayers are being swindled out of millions of dollars to subsidize the destruction of their public lands."

Louis Proyect