«Anarchism possesses the most environmentally conscious writings amongst the revolutionary tradition: Kropotkin’s Conquest of Bread suggests applying the power of the « heat of the sun and the breath of the wind » to human production…»
ABSTRACT: Of significance to the creation of Earthworker is the introduction of market « measures » to reduce carbon pollution: the Labor Government of Kevin Rudd, elected in 2007, was swept to power on the back of substantial public support for governmental schemes to address climate change. At the time, the election led some to proclaim it the first climate change election in the world.12 However, since then, an emergent right-wing populist rhetoric – particularly from talk radio « shock-jocks » and the Murdoch press in Australia, which controls 70 percent of the print media – has led to a marked decrease in support for any proposed « solutions » to climate change, market or otherwise.13 Nonetheless, despite it badly affecting their poll ratings, the government has continued to pursue an Emissions Lrading Scheme, which passed the Senate in late 201 f. [Dave Kerin] argues that following the introduction of the scheme, Australia may « flood with green technologies, » putting Earthworker in an ideal position to capitalize on the changing economic situation. However, in no sense does Kerin perceive market mechanisms as being capable of addressing the present climate disaster unfolding; in fact, the opposite is true – Earthworker has been established to bypass the market system and provide a working example of a participatory democracy producing green technologies.
Here FW Brendan Libertad talks to FW Dave Kerin whose work with the Earthworker cooperative seeks to combat the brown market economy with clean renewable energy developed and utilised via the principles of cooperation and solidarity that underpin Green Syndicalism
The union movement, as Jack Mundey points out, has « been caught in a false dichotomy, where they have been presented with choosing between jobs or the environment. It’s a contradiction that has been fostered by opportunist politicians, corporations or government bureaucracies who try to force people to say, You’ve got to make a decision, it’s either the environment or jobs.’ But we should be able to have both: an environment fit for our children and sustainable, socially useful employment. »1
The Latrobe Valley in rural eastern Victoria, one of Australia’s eastern states, is home to one of the country’s dirtiest energy industries. Large plumes of toxic smoke, visible from a distance, ascend high into the atmosphere much like the sinister black skyscrapers – those Dark Satanic Mills – depicted in William Blake’s Jerusalem. The area has been the scene of significant confrontations over recent years as the plight of the planet has become mainstream discourse, between, on the one hand, environmental protesters attempting to shut down the industry and highlight concerns over an impending ecological disaster, and on the other, the corporations and local police. Unfortunately, all too often the industry unions, and the workers they represent, also oppose the environmental campaigners, for fear of substantial job losses, the likes of which they have seen on occasion previously.
The major corporations that call the valley their home are involved predominantly in brown coal electricity generation, and as the second largest employer in the region, they possess significant political clout, which they wield regularly. Currently they supply 90 percent of the electricity needs of Victoria, Australia’s second most populous state and the fastest growing in the country, with a population of 5.5 million. According to a 1996 study on the nature of energy supply in the Latrobe Valley, the region contains enough coal to power Victoria for another 400 years; more recent research estimates that 50,000 million tons of usable reserves remain.2 It is this fact, amongst others – Australia being the largest coal exporter in the world, and the strength of the coal and mining lobbies – that have led to calls for research into « Clean Coal » technologies.
Carbon Sequestration, or Carbon Capture and Storage, has been heavily vaunted by politicians, the press and big business alike, as the future of a « clean-energy » Australia, and undoubtedly the industry pins their hopes on the viability of such a scheme; scientists and environmental activists, however, have questioned whether coal can ever be « clean » and have instead pushed for solar, wind and other renewable energies to become the mainstay of a carbon-neutral future.3 Whilst the problems of energy use and supply are admittedly multifaceted, the foremost issue in contemporary Australia is one of wealth and power: much as Lewis Mumford identified when considering mankind’s unwillingness to transition from the « neotechnic » phase of energy generation, the problem is « because of the enormous vested interest in coal measures, the cheaper sources of energy have not received sufficient systematic attention upon the part of the inventors. »4
Here in the Latrobe Valley, long-time IWW member Dave Kerin has pioneered what could well be the future of that cleanenergy Australia. Taking into account his own history, in the ground-breaking Builders Labourers Federation, which created the Green Bans movement in the 1970s, Kerin has established the Earthworker Cooperative, with the aim of constructing an alternative economy founded on cooperative workplace principles and clean renewable energy within the very heartland of the Victorian coal industry. The ideological perspective that informs and influences Kerin’s vision of federated cooperatives – ecological and otherwise – can be placed within the same historical milieu of the decentralised and localized anarchist economy emphasized by Kropotkin, Reclus and others.
The Builders Labourers Federation was significant in the creation of the environmental movement, and certainly in the case of the various Green Parties that exist across the developed world. Petra Kelly, the founder of the German Greens (the first national Green Party anywhere in the world), was highly influenced by events taking place in 1970s Australia, where the BLF had allied itself with various community groups to oppose development and developers – particularly in areas deemed ecologically or historically significant – by applying a moratorium on construction at those sites. Between 1971 and 1975, it is estimated that the BLF established 49 separate bans in New South Wales alone, with a value of $5 billion, and many of the locations – like The Rocks in Sydney, have since been Heritage Listed.3 More significantly, it was an ideological convergence of syndicalism, environmentalism and community that gestured toward a new form of collective power: incorporating, from one element, the historic methods and goals of the syndicalist cause, and from another, those of the emergent environmental movement.
Unfortunately, in recent times, Australian unions have often been at the forefront of opposition to progressive and environmental change. In the Australian federal election of 2004, elements of the union movement in Australia allied themselves with the John Howard-led conservative government due to the opposition Labor Party’s willingness to adopt a policy of halting logging in Tasmania’s old growth forests; it led to a tide of reaction from members of the militant Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, with bumper stickers proclaiming « I log and I vote » demonstrating the anger and volatility of forestry workers to long-required environmental measures.6 Historically, the forestry industry has attempted to portray environmental activists as « middle-class city dwellers interfering with honest workers’ livelihoods » and the industry has previously been involved in national advertising campaigns funded towards these aims.7
These campaigns, and those of other big business interests, have led to domestic debate about economic reforms to address climate change being presented, much as they are in the United States, as a dichotomy between jobs, on the one hand, and the environment on the other – as the introductory quote from BLF leader and green syndicalist pioneer Jack Mundey demonstrates. It is important to note that Mundey, although at the time a card-carrying member of the Communist Party of Australia, attributed many BLF tactics and successes to the revolutionary strategic approach of the IWW in the early days of the 20th century8 In the 1970s, as now, the debate has been framed in the same context: choosing the environment equals choosing unemployment, a convenient ruse that serves the interests of employers and politicians alike.
Lhe Latrobe Valley is particularly sensitive to issues of employment: in the 1990s, the radically neo-liberal state government of Jeff Kennett introduced a raft of pro-business reforms, including privatization of almostall major industries, power included. Some 16, 000 jobs in the Valley were lost, and in a region where towns are built and survive on the back of certain industries, this was particularly devastating. Distrust of reform, therefore, is particularly high in the region, and the likelihood of govemmental implementation of measures t0 addrfs uclimate ^ ^ uunllkely given the historical precedent that potential job-losses directly translate to vote-losses. Lhe likelihood that business womd implement similar measures in the interests of « corporate social responsibility » or some other oxymoronic concept, 1S hardly worth addressmg.
It is precisely this dilemma, and the prevailing farce that is political and economic discourse associated with the environment and the economy in Australia, that the Earthworker Cooperative is attempting to redress: August 20 If saw the launch of the f 00,000 Australians campaign, the goal of which was to have f 00,000 Australians buy into the cooperative, at the small fee of $20, with the aim of producing solar hot water systems to be installed in businesses, and eventually, other cooperatives federated with, and potentially funded by, Earthworker. Construction of the solar hot water systems is to take place at Earthworker’s « Eureka’s Future » factory in Morwell; Eureka being the name of a famous uprising of workers in the Australian gold fields in the mid 19th century, its symbolism adopted by the Australian union movement as historically emblematic.
Lhe campaign has been heavily backed by progressive unions , and one of the foremost ways that the systems will become viable and widely utilized will be through unions including them in Enterprise Bargaining Agreements, a testament to the social- capital approach that Kerin and Earth-worker are employing:
In the wage clauses of Enterprise Bargaining Agreements negotiated between unions and employers, workers will have the ability to collectively purchase the goods and services produced by the manufacturing cooperatives, reducing their bills toward zero, creating jobs which never leave our shores and which attach training with a long-term future for our young.10
As further indication of the green syndicalism that Eardiworker embodies, not only will it combine issues of climate change and workplace self-management, but Kerin has also said that funds wouldbeputaside to contribute to various social programs:
We want to put five per cent of the surplus or profit towards social justice and in this project we’ve always talked about youth homelessness and the aged-care waiting list for hospital, dental and optical… We (also) want to make sure a percentage of any intake (of workers) is young Koori kids, so real wealth creating jobs for our indigenous population.11
Of significance to the creation of Earthworker is the introduction of market « measures » to reduce carbon pollution: the Labor Government of Kevin Rudd, elected in 2007, was swept to power on the back of substantial public support for governmental schemes to address climate change. At the time, the election led some to proclaim it the first climate change election in the world.12 However, since then, an emergent right-wing populist rhetoric – particularly from talk radio « shock-jocks » and the Murdoch press in Australia, which controls 70 percent of the print media – has led to a marked decrease in support for any proposed « solutions » to climate change, market or otherwise.13 Nonetheless, despite it badly affecting their poll ratings, the government has continued to pursue an Emissions Lrading Scheme, which passed the Senate in late 201 f. Kerin argues that following the introduction of the scheme, Australia may « flood with green technologies, » putting Earthworker in an ideal position to capitalize on the changing economic situation. However, in no sense does Kerin perceive market mechanisms as being capable of addressing the present climate disaster unfolding; in fact, the opposite is true – Earthworker has been established to bypass the market system and provide a working example of a participatory democracy producing green technologies.
Kerin’s approach in the Earthworker Cooperative is in many ways indicative of his work in applying the ideas of the IWW and anarchist writers in « sow[ing] in the very belly of capitalist society the seeds of the free producer’s groups through which it seems our communist and anarchist ideal must come to pass: »14
While social movement institutions must inevitably go on protesting, our struggles must also mature and begin as rapidly as possible to move toward the new social structures of worker-owned and controlled social enterprises. The participatory democratic option must be modeled, it must be proved. We must move from protest as our primary function towards actual democratic change within the economy15
Indeed, environmental notions can be traced back – within anarchist literature – to the very beginning, and anarchism undoubtedly possesses the most environmentally conscious writings amongst the revolutionary tradition: Kropotkin’s Conquest of Bread suggests applying the power of the « heat of the sun and the breath of the wind » to human production and his Fields, Factories and Workshops contains an unmistakably sustainable perspective.16
Environmentalism cannot be confined to Kropotkin, the natural scientist, alone. Elisée Reclus’ groundbreaking study, The Earth, further demonstrates the green paradigm within which anarchist and syndicalist ideas have historically and theoretically been situated.17 Furthermore, given the scope of the looming ecological emergency and – potentially as concerning – peak oil, anarchism will find itself well equipped to provide the cooperative model for future generations: Kropotkin’s findings in Mutual Aid- that organisms have historically cooperated to survive their environments – is of particular importance.18 If the cooperative movement can provide an embryonic example for a sustainable alternative, where the principles of mutual aid and solidarity – rather than ruthlessness and destruction – are demonstrated, the future for humanity may not be as bleak as it currently appears.
Kerin is optimistic that the Earthworker Cooperative has that capacity to demonstrate the ecological and economical alternative for the future: « At stake is the conflicted heart of capitalism itself. At the moment, on life support, capitalism can continue exhaling its poison until we finally agree that it cannot provide for the basic needs of humankind, and turn off the machine. »19
1. Verity Burgmann, ‘From « Jobs versus Environment » to « Green Jobs,' » Australian Political Studies Association Annual Conference, University of Melbourne, 27-29 September 2010. 2. Sharn Enzinger, « Greenhouse and Latrobe Valley Energy, » Centre for Policy Studies, Monash University, 1995; Barry Hooper, Bill Koppe and Luke Murray, « Clean Brown Coal Utilisation in the Latrobe Valley, » Cooperative Centre for Greenhouse Gas Technologies, 2005 . A federal government White Paper on the issue states that « other than nuclear power, coal offers the only real energy source for electrical power in Australia » and the Victorian Government’s « The Greenhouse Challenge for Energy » claims « brown coal energy is likely to remain the most abundant and low cost primary energy source available to Victoria for some time. » Departmentof Primary Industries, « Latrobe Valley 2100 Coal Resource Project, » July 2005. 3. Terry Macalister, « US Research Paper Questions Viability of Carbon Capture and Storage, » The Guardian, 25 April 2010. 4. Lewis Mumford, Technics andCivilization, Freedom Press, 7. 5. Meredith and Verity Burgmann, Green Bans, Red Union: Environmental Activism and the NSW Builders Labourers Federation, University of New South Wales Press, 2000, 10.
6. Unsurprisingly the Conservatives won the election – to a large degree a result of the forestry policy. In the subsequent term the Howard government – now with a majority in both houses – began an aggressive campaign against the union movement targeting collective bargaining rights. « Labor’s Old Growth Forests Gamble, » The Age, 5 October 2004. 7. Verity Bergmann, Colin McNaughton, Jennifer Penney, Australian Conservation Foundation and Australian Council of Trade Unions, Unions and theEnvironment, ACF, 2002, 4-5.
8. Mundey shares with many other ex-CPA members a belief in the tactical methods and ideology of the IWW. For example, Frank Hardy, famous Australian author and Communist Party member, declared that he was, at heart, a Wobbly, but at the time « there was nowhere else to go. » Verity Burgmann, Revolutionary Industrial Unionism: The Industrial Workers of the World in Australia, Cambridge University Press, 1995, 4. 9. Damien Cahill and Sharon Beder, ‘Regulating the power shift: the state, capital and electricity privatization in Australia,’ Journal of Australian Political Economy 55, June 2005, 5-22.
10. Friends of the EarthAustralia, « Manufacturing Co-op to Work our Way out of Climate Emergency. » http://www.foe.org.au/news/2011/ manufacturing-co-op-to-201cwork-our-way-out-of-the-climateemergency 20IdIl. Jarred Whittaker, « Hot Water to Boostjobs, » Yes to Renewable Energy: Supporting the Development of Renewables in Victoria and Across Australia, August 1 201 1. http://yes2renewables. org/201 1/08/1 1/renewables-jobs- for- the-latrobe- valley/ 12. Verity Burgmann and Hans Baer, « The World’s First Climate Change Election,’ Australian Political Studies Association Annual Conference, University of Melbourne, 27-29 September 2010. 13. Brendan Libertad, « Murdoch, the Miners and the Monopoly on Manipulation, » !Magazine, January 2012. 14. Alexandre Skirda, Facing the Enemy: A History of Anarchist Organization from Proudhon to May 1968, AK Press, 2002,66. 15. Dave Kerin, « Economic Democracy: Our Wealth, Our Work, Our Future, » Earthworker Cooperative, 2011. 16. Peter Kropotkin, The Conquest of Bread, New York University Press, 1972. 17. Graham Purchase, « Green Flame: Kropotkin and the Birth of Ecology, » Anarcho-Syndicalist Review 54, 29-33. 18. Purchase, Ibid., 29-33. 19. Kerin, Op. CU.