one of the things i hope to do on this blog is to keep a running archive of past struggles, and the different Left groups that have taken up eco-struggles.  i think it’s important to note both how groups have fought back, and how different groups have understood those struggles.

i’ve been combing through some of the older issues of Midnight Notes trying to save some of their stuff even if i don’t get the time to read it right away.  one of the articles i did read was from the 1990 publication of their journal on a major strike at a paper mill company in Jay, Maine.  this article on the strike at International Paper (IP) is a must read for union militants and students of working class struggle.

that issue of the journal deals with what they call the ‘new enclosure movement’ by the ruling classes.  they’re referring to the way capitalism and the state has embarked on a process of cannibalizing its own infrastructure and attacking the gains and wages of working class peoples in order to stave off the crisis of falling profits; in a word, neoliberalism.  Midnight Notes is drawing references to the way the first capitalists dispossessed peasants and craftsmen of land rights and the means of production creating both capitalism and the working class — people who must sell their labor power to the bosses in exchange for a wage because they don’t possess the means (tools, land or otherwise) to create commodities or value.

the strike in Jay lasted for over a year and ended in defeat.  it was part of the general attack on unions and working class forms of social solidarity that has occurred under neoliberalism, one of the big ones being Reagan’s crushing of the airtraffic controllers strike, and the breaking of their union.  there are a few points about the strike that i think are important for thinking about ecological struggles.

the first is the way and the form ecological demands were raised during the strike.  in February 1988, half-way through the strike, Jay had to be evacuated because there was a chlorine dioxide spill at the plant.  many of the scabs who were running the plant were not familiar enough with the production process and as a result accidents and poor products were a regular occurrence.  but the paper industry had long been a hazardous one.  most of the water ways in Maine are either owned or operated by the paper industry, and, being central to the production process, most are either dead or dying.  also, the death rate from cancer in Maine was 10% above the national average at the time this article was published.

in response to the spill, many of the women in town who had not worked at the plant, organized a march to the plant against environmental hazards.  they also crafted their own demands for a city ordinance that gave the city government of Jay the right to set and enforce environmental standards. this was important for a couple of reasons.  for one, this ecological demand reinvigorated the movement at a time when it was struggling.

also, coming from outside of the union, this demonstrates how “green” issues can broaden the struggle of industrial workers.  in the case of Jay, this came in the form of a particularly gendered struggle.  the hazards at the industrial workplace were creating hazards in the reproductive workplace – the home.  the capitalist division between the home and the workplace was being torn down by women who no longer wanted to work under those conditions.

Midnight Notes makes a number of other good points.  they argue that in place of the question of how to clean the rivers, they demanded control over the rivers, and, through the ordinance, control community over resources.  they make the points that 1) virtually all the land in the country is controlled by capital, 2) as long as capital controls the land, it controls how the land is used, and 3) the pollution producing aspect of capitalist production cannot be challenged without the working class.

i would also add to point #3 the phrase “vice versa.”  other centers of the struggle need — women, the community, etc. — to organize and be included.

all in all, the article is good for thinking about how future working class and ecological struggles might be conceived.

something else of interest:  there’s a chart in the article breaks down how land mass in the US is used. while most of it – almost 80% – is used in some form of production – agriculture, livestock, wood & paper – only 1.4% is considered populated.  they count this as meaning having 5000 people or more.

it’s amazing how little physical space we take up in comparison to the scale and depth of our geographical interaction with the rest of globe – at least in this country. issues of the town-and-country divide come to mind, but i’ll take these up in another post.

it also hits me how fucking big this country is, and how much ecological and social variation go along with it.  i remember i used to work with a couple guys from Egypt at a gas station near Detroit.  they’d spent some time in NYC before moving to the Detroit area.  when i asked them why they left New York for Detroit they said they thought the whole country was like NYC.  i laughed my ass off!  they did too, and it wasn’t too long before they went back to New York.

here are the numbers from a 2002 report on land use in the US:

  • Forestland:  28.8% (wood & paper production)
  • Grassland Pasture and Range Land:  25.9% (dairy & meat production)
  • Cropland:  19.5% (wheat, corn and other produce)
  • Parks and Wildlife Areas:  13.1%
  • Miscellaneous Other Uses:  10.1%
  • Urban Land:  2.6%