This thematic chapter connects the ever-present “social question” (struggles on remuneration and hours of work, exploitation of wage workers) with the “socio-ecological question”. The “waged jobs vs the environment” trade‐off is a point of tension in the relationship between trade‐unions and green movements. Trade unions need an assurance regarding the jobs that would be lost in a transition away from fossil fuels. However, this chapter questions the myth that working-class people do not care about the environment and health, showing examples in Morocco, Zambia, Italy, Peru, Canada, Colombia, South Africa, Kazakhstan, and Argelia. In mining conflicts, in factories and in plantations, trade unions fought for a long time for the rights of exploited workers in struggles linking grievances on low wages and bad conditions of work with health issues. Much before there was a discussion on Just Transitions, there was a working-class environmentalism on issues of health and safety at work, such as asbestosis.

INTRODUCTION: THE MYTH THAT WORKING-CLASS PEOPLE DO NOT CARE ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENT

Because of the urgency of climate change policies, the so-called Just Transition (JT) has gained presence in the debate in the US. It offers solutions for the ‘environment vs. jobs dilemma’, the conflicting demands of economic production and ecosystem protection. The term JT emerged from the 1970s North American labour movement to become a campaign for a planned energy transition that includes justice and fairness for workers in the fossil fuel industries, thereby avoiding the collision between working-class movements and the environmental movements (Wilgosh et al. 2022). At present, trade unions often feel that they cannot afford to be “green” unless they have an assurance regarding the jobs that would be lost in a transition from coal to other forms of energy. In 2012, the withdrawal of coal subsidies in Spain was followed by a miners’ general strike and the left of the political spectrum still showed their support for this environmentally unfriendly sector whose contribution to employment had shrunk. Employment in coal mining in Europe and the USA has decreased because of use of natural gas in electricity production, and because the techniques had shifted to open cast mining. The identification of the political left with coal-mining trade unions is part of social history of Great Britain and other countries.

Nevertheless, the points of conflict and also the points of coincidence between environmentalism and the trade union movement inside and outside the US are much older. Trade unions have long protected the rights of exploited workers and are protagonists of struggles throughout the world linking grievances on low wages and bad conditions of work to health issues. Much before there was a discussion on JT, there was a working-class environmentalism often centred on issues of health and safety at work, in particular in “company towns” holding mines, plantations and factories. Mining trade unions have fought against black lung (pneumoconiosis, silicosis) (Juan Liu 2021); industrial trade unions have denounced lead poisoning; farmworkers unions have fought against DDT, DBCP, chlordécone, malathion, etc. sometimes with the help of militant scientists, doctors and journalists (Barca 2012; Navas et al. 2022). Throughout this book several relevant instances of working-class environmentalism appear. In Tamil Nadu, we read about the claims against Unilever from workers and neighbours at Kodaikanal because of poisoning with mercury (Chapter 9). We also know the cases of Radio Corporation of America in Taiwan (Chapter 5), the asbestos in Bahia and Goiás, chemical pollution in Cubatao (Sao Paulo), Brumadinho iron ore tailings disaster in Minas Gerais (Chapter 19) and the Mitsui Miike coal mine disaster in Japan (Chapter 2).

In absolute terms, the number of industrial workers has never been larger than today, as also the number of accidents at working time. Related to environmental health conflicts (Navas et al. 2022), there is a vigorous working-class environmentalism evident for decades. In Spanish, the intersection of conditions of wage work, health and environment was recognized p. 450in the provisions for seguridad e higiene in labour regulations or collective contracts, similar to those of other countries. The words “security and hygiene” have an old-fashioned ring but the health risks at work, not only in industrial manufacturing but also in underground mining, plantation agriculture and energy production, have been growing.

This chapter critiques the myth that working-class people do not care about the environment. This is different, however, from saying that the waged working class are the main protagonists of the environmentalism of the poor and the Indigenous. Local environmentalist groups, peasants and Indigenous peoples are more present in socio-ecological conflicts than the trade unions. However, a pioneer of environmental history, Samuel Hays, specialized in urban environmental history and on the links between labour history and damage to health in urban contexts. He was the author of “The Response to Industrialism 1885‒1914” (1995), and of two famous books: “Conservation and the Gospel of Efficiency” and “Beauty, Health and Permanence: Environmental Politics in the United States, 1955‒1985”.

In my own book The Environmentalism of the Poor (2002), some pages describe the working-class and agrarian alliance in Rio Tinto, Andalusia, complaining against the “smoke” from the smelting of copper pyrites that ended with a massacre of workers and peasants on 4 February 1888. It is one of the most salient conflicts against pollution from sulphur dioxide from copper smelting, that brought together mining workers (from an anarcho-syndicalist union), peasants and farmers, as well as their families. The present Rio Tinto company got its name from that investment in Huelva province. A trade union leader who managed to escape to Argentina, was Maximiliano Tornet (Chastagnaret 2017) (Figure 20.1). 1

The street named after the trade union leader Maximiliano Tornet in the village of Rio Tinto, Huelva, Spain (Wikipedia Commons).
Figure 20.1

The street named after the trade union leader Maximiliano Tornet in the village of Rio Tinto, Huelva, Spain

Source:  Wikipedia Commons

This transversal chapter contributes to the research on “working-class environmentalism”, as a sub-variety within the environmentalism of the poor (Guha and Martinez-Alier 1997) as opposed to the so-called “post-materialist” environmentalism identified by Inglehart (1995). The research on working-class environmentalism has grown with authors such as Stefania Barca, Karen Bell (2020, 2021), Silpa Satheesh (2020, 2021) and Grettel Navas et al. (2022), who are sceptical about the “jobs vs environment” dilemma. They research social realities reinforcing “red-green” alliances between radical trade unions and environmental activists. There are hundreds of cases in which mining, industry but also agricultural workers and their families, have remained quiescent for decades while they lived in “company towns” or mono-industrial towns, absorbing large amounts of toxic waste in their bodies, but which have later joined claims for reparations and have been active as environmental defenders. Some types of working-class occupations, such as urban waste pickers who sometimes have formed trade unions, have indeed placed environmentalism at the centre of their grievances and claims.

In this chapter, we shall start with a case of badly exploited labour in a cobalt mine in Morocco, then lead in the blood in La Oroya, in Peru, followed by a clash with a Chinese company in a coal mine in Zambia. Then we shall describe the dilemma of “jobs vs environment” in the ILVA steel making factory in Taranto in Italy, followed by asbestosis in Casalemonferrato, also in Italy and other cases in America, South Africa, Kazakhstan and Algeria.

COBALT MINING IN BOUAZAR AND WORKERS’ STRUGGLE, MOROCCO 2

Cobalt is a metal used in the transition to electricity requiring batteries for storage. Thus, its price has been increasing. R. D. Congo has the largest known cobalt reserves, followed by p. 451China and Canada. Morocco is the twelfth biggest cobalt-exporting country because of its Bouazar (or Bou-Azzer) mine, 120 km south of Ouarzazate in the Sahara Desert. Morocco produced about 2,000 metric tons of the mineral per year in the last few years. In June 2020, the German automaker, BMW, announced its plans to buy cobalt for its electric vehicles from Moroccan mining company Managem in a five-year contract worth around €100 million. This is because of increasing demand and criticism of horrible working conditions in Congo. BMW said the deal would supply a fifth of the cobalt it needs for its electric cars production.

Meanwhile, 1,200 miners are working under very bad conditions in Bouazar, more than 600 m below the surface, without any safeguards against the risk of landslides. The unrest and strikes that took place in 2011 show one of the aspects of environmental justice: recognition of the trade union and participation in whatever collective agreements between the workers and the firm might be agreed upon. Recognition of the trade union is rarely an objective for its own sake – it is instrumental to reinforce the bargaining forces over the economic and environmental distribution of costs and benefits.

The Bouazar Cobalt deposit, situated about 34 km from Taznakht in the Ouarzazate governorate, was discovered in 1928 and 1931 and the exploitation of the mine started in 1942. In addition to cobalt, other secondary minerals including gold are being extracted by Compagnie de Tifnout Tiranimine (CTT), the exploiting company. This royal holding suspended its activity in 1983, resuming it four years later. Workers were offered their former job, this time p. 452through an employment agency, and a cycle of precariousness thus continued. They work in atrocious conditions. Deaths resulting from industrial accidents, landslides or electrocution are reported. The management denies all responsibilities associated with the rights of workers, allegedly manufacturing false certificates concerning the causes of death. In addition, workers do not get any compensation for the risks they are taking. Silicosis, a typical mine disease, is widespread due to lack of proper personal protection. With the complicity of the company's doctors, CTT often rejects the responsibility and refuses to pay the costs of treatment. First, the worker with ill health is assigned work at the surface. When his disease develops further, he is thrown into the street without any compensation. He is also expected not to protest or make any noise about his dismissal.

The careless exploitation of the mine also affects the limited water resources of the region. As a matter of fact, the mine uses (with no charge) vast amounts of water to operate, polluting and depleting the groundwater that is used for drinking, cleaning and irrigation.

As a response to this exploitation, and inspired by the surrounding protests in the region, miners staged a first two-hour strike and a full strike in April 2011. “Such an action was unthinkable”, remembers one of the striking workers, later removed by the company. Sixty workers then launched a new union, affiliated with the Democratic Confederation of Labour (CDT). These miners worked for two subcontracting companies: Top Forage and Agzoumi. As job security is low, workers claimed the right to weekly breaks and paid holidays, compensation for working accidents, registration to social security and stable contracts.

After the new union was launched, the management started a campaign of repression combined with attempts to bribe the leaders, relocating the union activists to new jobs at distant places to separate them. Others were arrested by the police and stopped from entering the mine. In the face of repeated provocations, in May, workers and some trade union activists did a protest outside the headquarters of the Democratic Confederation of Labour, organized a march with the local branch of the CDT and went on several strikes, some lasting 72 hours. In October, almost 300 miners started a strike of 48 hours with occupation of the mine pit as a reaction to the failure to reach an agreement with the mine management. Workers also denounced the firing of 24 miners. With the support of the CDT, a general strike started after the arrest of eight workers, three of whom were condemned to five months in jail and a 5000 Dh fine.

This rebellion went on for about a year and a half, without many results. It ended with small gains: the distribution of protective masks for underground miners and delivery of professional cards. Some miners were suspended, others fired (Figure 20.2).

 “Your Majesty, Our Rights?” (EJAtlas/Green News).
Figure 20.2

“Your Majesty, Our Rights?”

Source:  EJAtlas/Green News

LA OROYA, PERU: LEAD IN THE BLOOD 3

We will now look at two mining conflicts in Peru (Neyra 2020) not included in Chapter 17 in which trade unions have been deeply involved. They also present the dilemma “waged jobs vs environment and health”. These are both cases of “company towns” showing that one cannot disentangle wages and conditions of work from health and other livelihood issues. In Marxist terms, a false development of “forces of production” (more mining and smelting of copper and iron ores, in the two cases under review) accompanies the undermining of what Stefania Barca has called “the forces of reproduction”.p. 453

The Spanish conquerors and friars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries organized campaigns of extirpación de idolatrías (literally, extirpation of idolatry) looking for and destroying remaining sacred images and places (huacas) in Peru. La Oroya and its smelter and chimneys could be a twentieth-century temple to the devils, the supaykuna of the mining industry that Peru built up since the 1920s. It has passed from one transnational company to the other over the decades. Supported by human rights organizations including Amnesty International, the National Platform of People Affected by Toxic Metals in Peru was created in 2017. Yolanda Zurita is a leader of that platform; she is from La Oroya and her own family suffered irreversible health damage. La Oroya is a city of about 33,000 inhabitants, located in the central mountain range in Junin. It is 176 km from Lima and is located at an altitude of 3,750 m.

The La Oroya metallurgical complex was built to process copper extracted from the Peruvian highlands. It began operations in 1922, in charge of the US Cerro de Pasco Mining Company until 1974. Recent owners of the La Oroya complex include Centromin, the state-owned company that operated the smelter from 1974 to 1997, and Doe Run Company, a subsidiary of the US-based Renco Group which faced sharp questioning from the community due to the continuous contamination from the refinery and smelter, slag deposits. La Oroya smelts and exports metal concentrates. Because metallurgical activity has been the main source of employment for a century, they have been exposed to high levels of air pollution from the p. 454toxic emissions, which include lead, cadmium, arsenic and sulphur dioxide. In mid-2000, La Oroya was identified as one of the ten most polluted cities in the world. Studies indicated that most children had elevated levels of lead in their blood. The percentage reaches 100 per cent in La Oroya Antigua, the area of the city closest to the complex. 4

Because both the private company and the Peruvian State failed to comply with their obligations to prevent environmental impacts and respect human rights, in 2005, the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defence and other organizations asked the IACHR for protection measures. In August 2007, the IACHR ordered the State to adopt measures to protect the health, integrity and lives of a group of residents of La Oroya. Some parents of affected children attempted to file a class action lawsuit in the US. The various studies on the effects of metallurgical activity on the health of the inhabitants of La Oroya have been criticized as part of a campaign against the city. Part of the population considered that pollution and gas emissions had already decreased before 2009, defending the company's activity because it was the main source of employment.

In 2009, the government decided to halt operations at the La Oroya metallurgical complex due to financial and environmental non-compliance by Doe Run, which has large environmental liabilities also in the US. In 2013, the company announced that it would stop this smelter, citing rising regulatory costs. Pollution in La Oroya decreased when Doe Run left.

SHOUGANG IRON MINE, MARCONA, PERU: ENTRE EL HIERRO Y EL MAR 5

A documentary film by Maga Zevallos shows the working conditions and environmental conflicts in Marcona, Peru. The Chinese company Shougang operates iron ore deposits located on the southern coast 530 km from Lima, in the province of Nasca in the Ica region. Plans are to increase the volume to 20 million tons of iron concentrates per year. Over the years, strikes have been followed by dismissals of union leaders, protest marches and promises of new industrial but also social investments. It is foreseeable that the site will become a desolate and polluted mining-industrial ruin like so many others. The director of the documentary, Entre el hierro y el mar (Between Iron and Sea), explores the relationship between mining and development, in a country that promotes extractive industries as one of its main economic activities. This is a “company town”: the company is the main source of wages for the men, while the environmental and health damage are suffered by women, men and children. The local fishermen suffer the consequences. The pitiless business of mining for export went on during the Covid pandemic of 2020.

The documentary gives voice to local authorities and the inhabitants, who narrate what it has meant to live with the Shougang mine since the 1990s, with critical issues such as the territorial dispute, housing for workers, health conditions, absence of public policies and the violation of labour rights. The issue of jobs vs. environment appears clearly. This was one of the first Chinese investments in Peru. The documentary highlights Marcona's non-mining potential, such as fishing and the protected natural areas such as San Fernando and Punta San Juan's reserves, home to the largest breeding colony of Humboldt penguins in Peru, but also sea lions, guano birds and the majestic condor.

Shougang operates two projects in Peru, the Cobriza copper mine, the sixth largest in volume in the country, and the Marcona iron ore mine acquired in 1992 for US$ 118 million. p. 455Shougang has appeared in the international press as a dismal example of Chinese corporate behaviour in extractive projects. Shougang Hierro Perú S.A.'s metallurgical mining complex comprises three areas: the mine, from where, after the crushing process, the ore is stacked and then transported to San Nicolás by a conveyor belt approximately 15 km long and with a capacity of 2,000 tons per hour. In this area there is the Crushing Plant and the Magnetic Separation Plant: here the ore continues its grinding and concentration process through cyclones, magnetic separation and flotation, separating the sterile ore from the iron ore, which is then divided into two types of products, one called high grade iron concentrate for sintering and the other used to feed the Pelletization Plant, after going through a filtration process. The pier has a length of approximately 330 m, with the capacity to receive ships of large tonnage in its deep waters. The mining and processing of iron ore leaves large tailings and slag, and also a lot of energy is required for the exported materials. The mining camp and administrative offices are located in San Juan de Marcona, with a population of more than 16,000 inhabitants.

There have been numerous strikes and some strikers were killed by police gunfire. Thus, in 2012, Shougang faced a one-month strike called by the workers’ union, in order to improve wages and working conditions. The union also denounced the poor conditions of waste management, which is discharged into the sea, polluting the waters and endangering marine life and the work of local fishermen.

COLLUM COAL MINE, ZAMBIA 6

Working-class environmentalism by Zambian coal miners was confronted by violence to protect the activity of another Chinese company at the Collum Coal Mine, which was opened in the district of Sinazongwe in 2000. The company is privately owned, run essentially by five brothers of the Xu family from China's Jiangxi Province. Before clashes occurred between miners and owners in 2010 and 2012, the national Environmental Management Agency had issued several citations to Collum for severe air and water sources pollution. The Agency stated that Collum had paid the fines but refused to invest in more environmentally friendly techniques. Reports of labour difficulties and alleged beatings of workers by their local bosses were also made. Strikes had already occurred in 2006 and 2008. In 2009, an outbreak of cholera hit the mine. In 2010, villagers complained that coal effluents had been polluting rivers and lakes. Drinking water was declared unfit for consumption and sanitary conditions at the mines were criticized.

In October, hundreds of miners gathered outside a shaft to protest for higher wages. The situation escalated when the Chinese supervisors started shooting, wounding at least 13 miners. The injured were later paid settlements reaching from US$ 5,000 to 11,000. Charges against the supervisors were then dropped by the government of Zambia. Collum blamed the miners’ union for the violence. The tensions between local miners and Chinese owners persisted and escalated once more when a protest took place in August 2012. During this turmoil, a Chinese manager was killed and 12 miners were taken into custody as suspects by Zambian police. The incidents sparked criticism and bad publicity for Collum. In February 2013, the government of Zambia seized the Collum mine, citing labour and safety violations and tax non-payments. The Zambian government would then operate the mine until a “suitable investor” was found.p. 456

The protests shed light on the safety, environmental and labour conditions at Chinese mines in Zambia deemed to be worse than at other foreign-owned mines according to a 2011 report by Human Rights Watch. Zambian authorities acknowledged that Collum mine had failed to consistently provide employees with protective equipment or have emergency medical treatment facilities underground. Nevertheless, in April 2015, a spokesman for the Zambian presidency declared: “The government has decided to give back the mine to the Chinese firm after assurance that necessary measures have been taken to improve the operations”.

ILVA IN TARANTO, ITALY: AMMAZZA CHE PIAZZA 7

Save jobs or save the environment? Women and unwaged workers might have a different point of view from male waged workers. The company ILVA belongs to the Riva Group and one of its iron and steel plants is based in Taranto ‒ a city that to some extent is a “company town”. The plant is mainly dedicated to the processing and production of steel; it was built in 1960 and entrusted to Italsider for management.

In 1905, a joint venture of the Group Elba, Terni and the Roman family Bondi was signed and the company ILVA was formed. In 1921, the Banca Commerciale Italiana managed to take over the property and ILVA and all previously acquired iron and steel industries became property of the state, with factories in Genova-Cornigliano, Naples-Bagnoli and Taranto. After World War II, following the growing demand for steel, it was necessary to open a new plant in the city of Taranto. The 1980s, however, marked a deep crisis in the steel sector; the Riva family acquired the Taranto plant in 1995, named it ILVA again and led to its complete privatization. The plant became the cause of one of the major Italian environmental conflicts.

It was placed at the centre of a long and controversial debate on the protection of labour and the right to health. The first conviction for violation of the anti-environmental pollution rules came in 2005. In 2012, the Public Prosecutor's Office of Taranto ordered a freeze on all of the Riva family's Italian assets, including bank accounts and family's shares in Alitalia, the Italian airline, worth about €70 million. In addition to seizure of some facilities of the plant, some group managers and politicians were arrested.

The prosecution argued that the plant's level of pollution caused the deaths of thousands of people and unscrupulously contaminated the environment. However, the first order of seizure was followed by the issuance of seven government decrees that stopped the judiciary, although surveys established that all limits for dust and pollutant were exceeded. Epidemiological reports confirmed that the increase of deaths and of cancer was due to the ILVA environmental disaster. The seizure of the plant in July 2012 increased collective awareness with respect to the health risks. However, an internal clash arose; on the one hand, there was the attempt to protect health; on the other hand, the aim was to preserve the waged jobs of so many workers that made up 75 per cent of the economy of Taranto, in terms of jobs and GDP.

Waged work is not synonymous with useful, often unpaid work at people's homes or for the community. Some of these other workers, mainly women, were active in the mobilization some years before. In fact, in 2000, a group of former industrial workers, women, environmentalists and farmers, began to oppose the policies of ILVA. The Comitato Donne per Taranto (Women for Taranto) asked for epidemiological studies and a cancer register. Complaints were lodged and the first demonstrations were organized. The Comitato Altamarea managed p. 457to gather 20,000 citizens who requested clean air and manifested against the inactivity of the mayor of Taranto. The boys and girls of Ammazza che piazza put a lot of effort into cleaning and regenerating the green spaces in the city. Individual activists such as the founder and president of Peacelink asked for the analysis of a piece of cheese and he discovered the high values of dioxin contained in it; an ecologist examined the sea bottom presenting petitions to the Public Prosecutor's Office. Finally, a farmer forced to kill his cattle was able to show that the pollution could only come from the ILVA plant.

Therefore, the case reached national interest. However, the factory owners intimidated workers by threatening redundancies and dismissals due to the possible closure of the plant. Among the workers, some who decided to denounce irregularities and the lack of safety in the factory were fired. The unions did not take a clear position, asking the company to avoid layoffs and the Public Prosecutor's Office to maintain the productivity of the plant. Moreover, in December 2013, the European Commission intervened on the issue, opening an infringement procedure to the directive about industrial emissions.

According to environmental historian Stefania Barca,

nowadays it sounds so familiar, almost natural: the mutually exclusive demands and apparently opposing agendas of labour and the environmentalist movement. But in fact, this artificial division is a crucial neoliberal strategy to divide two of the most powerful social movements of the industrial era, whose alliance could call into question the very essence of the capitalist “treadmill of production”. It is thus essential that […]they become aware of the revolutionary potential of a common political project. (Barca and Leonardi 2018)

THE MARIKANA MASSACRE AT LONMIN PLATINUM MINE, SOUTH AFRICA 8

The platinum mining corporation Lonmin, based in the UK, 25 per cent of which is owned by Glencore, had been denounced for its activities carried out in Marikana, Rustenburg, since 2004. Lonmin's activities exceeded the limits of emission of dust, sulphur dioxide and calcium sulphide and caused water pollution. South Africa is a main producer of platinum.

Lonmin's labour policies and practices had been strongly challenged by mine workers. In August 2012, 3,000 miners went on strike peacefully demanding higher wages. On August 16th, 34 workers were killed and up to 78 were severely injured in clashes involving the South African Police Forces and Lonmin's security guards, in what is often called the Marikana Massacre. It constituted the most lethal use of force against civilians by South African security forces since the end of the Apartheid era. The tensions around the massacre intensified once it was known that many of the victims were shot in the back and far from the centre of the confrontation.

A second strike, the longest in the history of South Africa, took place at the beginning of 2014, pursuing similar demands. This strike ended almost half a year later, when the workers signed a three-year settlement that partially increased the wages of the lowest paid miners. Lonmin had subsidiaries in the British Virgin Islands and Cayman Islands, avoiding taxation and engaged in transfer pricing, which also allows them to evade environmental liabilities and refuse the payment of appropriate wages. This has been tolerated by the government. The deployment of the national police force in the Marikana Massacre also evidenced the support of the government for the mining industry.p. 458

Under national and international public pressure, the government set up the Marikana Commission of Inquiry (Farlam Commission). It sat from August 2012 and only concluded its work in March 2015. Among the participants were the families of the 34 deceased striking miners, together with the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), who presented their testimonies. After three years of proceedings, which included a temporary withdrawal by the representatives of the families, President Zuma received the final report in March 2015. However, he delayed its release, which led to a public campaign to pressure him to do so.

Women in Marikana played a leading role demanding justice for the families affected by the massacre, and, since 2012, took regular actions to evidence the failures of both Lonmin and the government to provide housing and basic services to workers and their families. Members of the community have researched, monitored and publicized the pollution and environmental effects. Women have marched on the police to demand justice, have organized a local crèche and agricultural cooperative, and, in August 2014, organized a site inspection and public speak-out to highlight to the wider public the deplorable living conditions in Marikana.

In a hearing that was held in Geneva in June 2014, the civil-society Permanent People's Tribunal (PPT) listened to the testimonies of Joseph Mathunjwa, President of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union and Primrose Sonti, from the women's organization Sikhala Sonke. The tribunal also documented and recognized the actions of the transnational corporation as another example of violations of human and people's rights. Along the same line, the PPT recognized in this widespread practice the current shortcomings of international law.

By 2019 Lonmin was taken over by Sibanye-Stillwater, one of the biggest gold miners in South Africa. Sibanye-Stillwater also acquired in 2016 Rustenburg Platinum Mines from Anglo American as well as Aquarius South Africa, the owner of Kroondal platinum mine.

ZHANAOZEN OIL STRIKE AND MASSACRE 2011, KAZAKHSTAN 9

The oil fields of western Kazakhstan, where the 2011 strike wave erupted, are the most significant source of the elite's wealth, and an important source of supplies for the international oil market. Kazakhstan is the second-largest oil producer after Russia among former Soviet countries. The state oil company Kazmunaigaz operates the largest oil field, Tengiz, together with American and Russian companies Chevron, ExxonMobil and Lukoil. The huge Kashagan field, offshore in the North Caspian Sea, is being developed jointly by Kazmunaigaz and big European and American companies. Chinese oil corporations play a significant part in onshore projects, and their influence has grown since an oil pipeline to China was completed in 2006. Total (from France) is also present in Kazakhstan. In the strike wave of 2011 in the oil and gas sector, the main theme was not so much “environmental” as the lack of recognition of labour unions.

In May 2011, thousands of workers from Kazakhstan's oil and gas sector started three separate labour strikes at companies operating in the petroleum sector in the western part of Kazakhstan. The strikes were directed against the three big government-owned companies operating in the area ‒ Ersai Caspian Contractor LLC, KarazhanbasMunai JSC and OzenMunaiGas. Strikers were mainly demanding higher wages. The companies declined to examine the workers’ demands. Local courts even declared all three strikes illegal because p. 459of the workers’ alleged failure to comply with national legislation defining the requirements to conduct legal strikes.

Throughout the months of the strikes, more than 2,000 workers were fired altogether. Meanwhile, in Zhanaozen, around two dozen of UzenMunaiGas’ workers also started individual hunger strikes demanding higher pay. The company refused those claims as “unfounded”. Later that year, UzenMunaiGas brought the strike to an end on 16 and 17 December 2011, when clashes broke out between striking workers and police on the central square of Zhanaozen. Shops were looted and several buildings were set on fire. When the police opened fire, there were at least 12 confirmed deaths. A state of emergency was declared in the city and an investigation ordered.

During the next months, oil workers and other supporters who allegedly participated in the unrest were persecuted through criminal charges by governmental forces. In total, by March 2012, 37 oil workers had been tried for charges of organizing or participating in the protests. In June 2012, 34 of the defendants were convicted, of whom 13 were sentenced to prison terms.

ASBESTOS IN CASALE MONFERRATO, ITALY: A CASE OF CORPORATE SOCIAL IRRESPONSIBILITY 10

Asbestos is a set of minerals from the group of inosilicates. The exceptional heat resistance of the fibre favoured a massive spread; it was mainly used to coat or replace flammable materials. In 1901, Ludwig Hatschek patented cement-asbestos that for its high resistance was then named Eternit. A year later, Alois Steinmann, bought the licence for its production and, in 1903, started to produce it in Niederurnen at the Schweizerische Eternitwerke AG factory.

In 1907, the 94,000m2 Eternit plant of Casale Monferrato (between Turin and Milan) was created by Italian engineer Adolfo Mazza. It employed 1,000 people in the 1950s, rose to about 2,000 in 1965 and stabilized at around 1,000 until the 1980s. Everything was done by hand in a highly dusty environment. The struggle of the workers and citizens can be summed up in three phases. The first phase goes back to the 1960s when, facing heavy working conditions, low wages and very few trade union rights, workers reported problems related to the work environment to claim and obtain a higher salary. In 1961, trade union agitation resulted in complete closure of a bridge and clashes with security forces and arrests. Despite this, the company continued to minimize health risks.

The second phase of the struggle took place between the end of the 1960s and 1977. With the “Hot Autumn” of 1969‒70, with many large strikes in the factories of Northern Italy, the engagement of trade unions (especially the CGIL) about the Eternit cases was stronger. In Casale Monferrato, the struggles were oriented to health protection in the face of lung diseases. In 1977, there were the first scientific data on environmental impact and installation of the first vacuum systems with filters to contain the dust and prevent its spreading throughout the territory. In 1981 began one of the most emblematic civil cases, filed by 80 workers. In 1986, all establishments of Eternit on the Italian territory closed down.

A year later, Eternit France proposed to reopen the factory but the Chamber of Labour (supported by medical and environmental groups) strongly opposed this, proposing instead the reparation of damages. The third phase saw the birth of the Association of relatives and victims of asbestos in 1988. These were years of struggle for asbestos ban, large demonstrations p. 460and sit-ins against the institutions. Numerous complaints were made to the Magistrature of Casale in the late 1980s and in the 1990s. Epidemiological investigations were kept in storage for a few years.

It is estimated that there were 23 million tons of materials of asbestos cement disseminated throughout Italy. The diseases caused by the inhalation of asbestos dust are characterized by long latency periods (up to 30 years), and among them are asbestosis, lung cancer and pleural mesothelioma. In Casale Monferrato, there were 3,000 cases of occurrence of asbestosis and pleural mesothelioma among former workers at the Eternit plant and ordinary citizens, and the confirmed victims are 2,200. This was a clear case of “slow murder” or “silent death”.

It took a long time but in March 1992 the state enacted Law 257 prohibiting the extraction, importation, processing, use, marketing, treatment and disposal, as well as the export of asbestos and products containing it in the national territory. The site of Casale Monferrato, with its total population of 85,000 inhabitants, became a very large contaminated area requiring remediation of soil, subsoil and/or surface water and groundwater to avoid environmental and health damage, therefore classified as a Site of National Interest. The project included the reclamation of the so-called polverino, removing covers of cement and asbestos. The remediation measures began in 2000 and were only completed in 2006.

In 2009 began the trial of Stephan Schmidheiny, former chairman of the board, and Louis de Cartier de Marchienne, director of the company in the 1960s. They were held responsible for mesothelioma deaths occurring among employees and citizens of Casale. In February 2012, the Court of Turin sentenced them to 16 years of jail for “intentional permanent environmental disaster” and “voluntary omission of accident prevention”, forcing them to compensate about 3,000 plaintiffs. In June 2013, the punishment was “partially reformed” and increased to 18 years. But, in the appeal of November 2014, Schmidheiny was acquitted. In May 2019, the Turin court sentenced him to four years in prison in one of the asbestos-related death cases in Italy. Schmidheiny, who would deserve a Nobel prize in Greenwashing, was chairman of Anova Holding AG and was named Principal Advisor for Business and Industry to the Secretary General of the 1992 UN “Earth Summit” in Rio de Janeiro. He created the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. The concept of “corporate social irresponsibility” is developed further in Chapter 27.

IN ALGERIA, OIL AND GAS: LABOUR AND CIVIC CONFLICTS WITH SONATRACH 11

Somewhat different from the case of Ain Salah (Chapter 27), where there are water issues for gas fracking in the midst of an oasis in a desert, here the Algerian conflicts are related to opposition to oil and gas exploration and extraction (including fracking), frequently also linked to demands of employment for young people.

Much energy is exported from North Africa (and the Gulf of Guinea, Chapter 14), and there is relatively little employment and local economic benefits in this industry. Moreover, the importing countries welcome such cheap and essential bulk commodities while they prevent human immigration. Oil and gas are welcome and people are not. This tension has geopolitical international dimensions, but there are also local conflicts. One of the places where the oil and gas industry has seen local complaints in Algeria is Hassi R’Mel. This is Algeria's largest natural gas field, discovered in 1956 alongside the Hassi Messaoud oil field, and has been p. 461operated by state-owned company Sonatrach ever since. Production of natural gas started in 1961, and Algeria became the first country to export liquefied natural gas (LNG) in 1964.

Workers and unemployed youth have been largely unsatisfied with the working conditions and practices of Sonatrach in Hassi R’Mel, as well as with their respective company trade unions. Since 2010, they have been protesting their working conditions and the generally high unemployment rate by organizing hunger strikes, blockades and boycotts. In 2010, a group of young unemployed people went on a hunger strike for a week in order to protest unemployment and against favouritism in employment procedures. At the end of 2011, almost 2,000 workers of Sonatrach living in the Hassi R’Mel region went on a hunger strike and decided to boycott all the reunions and activities of their company's trade union. They were demanding a 50 per cent salary raise. After a lot of protests, a salary agreement was finally concluded between the general directorate of Sonatrach but was not enough for workers.

In 2013, another group of Sonatrach workers went on a hunger strike to demand better working conditions. To support their colleagues, more than 400 resident workers of Sonatrach living in Hassi R’Mel staged a protest outside the company's production directorate administrative complex. The conflict between Sonatrach and local resident workers as well as unemployed youth groups continues, as concessions made were deemed to be unsatisfactory.

Algeria is the sixth-largest gas exporter in the world, with more than 90 per cent of its pipeline exports going to Spain (34 per cent), Italy (27 per cent), and other European countries. It is also the third-largest source of gas imports to the EU, accounting for 14 per cent of gas imports and 10 per cent of total consumption. By pushing for long-term exports of gas in a context where the Algerian public is excluded from decision making and benefits are largely reserved for the regime's elite, the EU is pursuing a “gas grab”. As Hamza Hamouchene (2016) puts it in a report for the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation:

Words like “cooperation”, “integration”, as well as expressions such as “tapping Algeria's huge unexploited reserves” and “diplomatic energy action plan” are all euphemisms for the EU's aggressive attempts to grab more Algerian gas while ignoring the Algerian people's will and, in the case of shale gas, their grievances and preoccupations regarding their water and environment.

The geopolitics of gas exports from Russia to Europe make these conflicts still more relevant. It is obvious however that the workers in Sonatrach, and the migrants and their families risking their lives across the Mediterranean, are of a different social class than the directors of Sonatrach and the governments and electrical companies in Europe that burn the gas.

COCA-COLA VIOLATES LABOUR RIGHTS, COLOMBIA 12

Coca-Cola arrived in Colombia in 1940 through several bottling companies jointly under the name Indegasa S.A. This was bought in 1995 by Panamco Beverages Inc., although Coca-Cola kept 25 per cent of the shares. Likewise, in 2003, Panamco was acquired by Coca-Cola Femsa S.A. Through this subsidiary network, as in multinationals of such size, Coca-Cola keeps the property of the brand and the control of production but avoids some responsibilities. Coca-Cola has been the target of a lot of criticism for the environmental impacts of their actions, among which are the waste and contamination of large quantities of water and the high concentrations of sugar in their drinks. But the biggest controversy in Colombia is related to the constant violation of labour rights.p. 462

The workers of Coca-Cola are represented by the union Sinaltrainal, which was founded in 1982 to group the workers of several transnational corporations. By then, Colombia was already considered one of the most dangerous countries for trade unionists, who are often killed. The conflicts between the company and the trade union members started at the beginning of the 1990s. In 1996, violence intensified when the paramilitary entered the headquarters of the union in Carepa and started a fire on the same day that the local general secretary of the union was assassinated in the factory.

The protests of the workers regarding the labour abuses, such as extension of the workday, forced subcontracting or massive layoff of workers, have been answered with assassinations, death threats, illegal detentions and criminalization of members of the union. In conclusion, the objective of the administration of the transnational company has been to prevent union affiliation, for which they have developed campaigns for the stigmatization of the members of Sinaltrainal and have militarized the repression to protest. Here again, there is a case of lack of recognition, previous to the acceptance of claims by the trade union on labour or environmental issues. Nancy Fraser, Alex Honneth (1995, 2001), David Schlosberg (2007, 2013) and others have often remarked that environmental or social justice implies recognition, participation and a fair distribution of different sorts of costs and benefits (environmental, cultural or economic). Recognition of trade unions and participation in negotiations (and respect for signed collective agreements) is instrumental in achieving a more just distribution. Killing trade unionists, breaking up strikes by bringing scabs in, and similar methods for dealing with labour unrest, are direct attacks on recognition and participation in order to avoid the discussions on distribution of stable jobs and better wages.

Coca-Cola benefited from the political instability of Colombia. The transnational not only profits from special Free Economic Zones or favourable accords. For instance, in 2004, with the consent of the Ministry of Labour, the statutes of Sinaltrainal were revoked to impede the affiliation of new workers. The Constitution of Colombia was infringed. Furthermore, the absence of an effectively independent judicial power hindered the prosecution of the crimes committed against workers. In fact, out of the 11 cases of Coca-Cola workers who have lost their lives in the conflict, the perpetrator has been condemned only in one.

Moreover, the deeply rooted armed conflict in which Colombia has been immersed was used by the anti-union sectors. In several instances, the company and the State have blamed the workers for being active in politically illegal activities. This is what in the Philippines goes under the name of “red-tagging”. Coca-Cola supported the State security forces. The workers of Sinaltrainal have had to defend themselves against uncountable accusations, lawsuits, trials and even detentions. In 2001, a lawsuit against Coca-Cola was presented before a judge of the District Court of Miami, US, demanding a compensation of up to US$ 500 million for the assassination of three workers. The Court rejected the lawsuit against The Coca-Cola Company over matters of jurisdiction. Soon after the initial verdict, the union tried to launch a global campaign to boycott the company's products.

On the other hand, both sides of the conflict attempted to involve the International Labour Organization. In 2007, Sinaltrainal presented a complaint to the Committee of Freedom of Association, who gave a series of recommendations to the Government and the company to secure the rights of the workers. More recently, the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights – together with the Colectivo de Abogados José Alvear Restrepo and the Central Unitaria de Trabajadores de Colombia – submitted a Communication to the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court where several cases of the p. 463assassinations of members of Sinaltrainal were included. Furthermore, the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights dictated on numerous occasions precautionary measures to protect some of the union members. In a hearing in Geneva in 2014, the Permanent People's Tribunal (PPT) underlined once again how Coca-Cola systematically violates human and peoples’ rights. Along the same line, the PPT recognized the current shortcoming of international law, namely the impossibility of accessing justice and obtaining a remedy, as well as the need to achieve a binding treaty on transnational corporations, in order to hold them accountable for their actions.

YELLOWKNIFE GOLD MINE AND ARSENIC POLLUTION: INDIGENOUS AND WORKING-CLASS ENVIRONMENTALISM 13

Gold was first discovered by prospectors in 1896 in the Yellowknife region of North West Canada, a bit south of the Arctic Circle. The area was considered inaccessible, until the arrival of commercial aircraft in 1935. The gold boom began. By 1937, Giant Yellowknife Gold Mines Ltd was created, but came to a standstill. World War II meant a shortage of men to work. Soon after the war, Giant Mine officially opened and production moved into full swing. Eventually, production reached seven million ounces of gold. However, this also led to a legacy of contamination, and also to bloody episodes of class struggle in 1992, when several workers were killed by a bomb meant to frighten scabs during a lockout. Royal Oak Mines managed the Yellowknife mine. The trade union of Smelter and Allied Workers refused pay cuts, and also complained of lack of safety. The company locked out the union and flew in strike breakers.

All this took place in a territory originally belonging to the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, who are now active in the attempts to clean up the arsenic trioxide waste. Gold at Giant Mine was found in specific minerals called arsenopyrite ore. To release the gold, the ore had to be roasted at extremely high temperatures, releasing arsenic-rich gas, a highly toxic by-product that in the early days was released directly into the environment. This was partially addressed in 1951, with the installation of a Cold Cottrell Electrostatic Precipitator. Further waste reducing innovation was then added to the site. Scientists and government agencies agreed to store it in underground chambers, as if this was an appropriate, long-term solution. They believed that, when Giant Mine closed permanently, the natural permafrost would re-establish around the storage vaults and seal in the arsenic trioxide.

Giant Mine was in full operation for about 50 years, during which it produced 237,000 tonnes of arsenic trioxide waste. Yellowknife provides an excellent example of delayed working-class environmentalism. “By the 1970s, workers and residents in Yellowknife were increasingly suspicious that the arsenic released as a by-product of gold mining was responsible for the recently perceived rise in local cancer rates. Yet their convictions were dismissed by government officials”. The Yellowknives Dene First Nation became allies in this struggle.

There are very large environmental liabilities. Giant Mine was owned by different companies over the years. In 1997, a technical workshop was held to discuss managing the arsenic trioxide waste stored underground at the mine. By 1999, however, the company went into receivership. The courts transferred Giant Mine to the Government of Canada, represented by Indigenous and Northern Affairs. Ore was no longer processed after 1999. However, in that year, Canada sold the mine's assets to Miramar Giant Mine Ltd. As a condition of the sale, p. 464Canada acknowledged Miramar would not be liable for the existing state of the mine. This meant Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada became a caretaker for the site, including the arsenic trioxide stored underground. Miramar Giant Mine Ltd ended its obligations under the Reclamation Security Agreement in 2005. At that time, Giant Mine officially became an abandoned mine site.

However, the area is still contaminated with arsenic. While the gold produced might have been worth two billion dollars, the costs of the remediation and the compensation to the Yellowknives Dene nation and other victims might be estimated already at one billion dollars. As in many other cases, the environmental liabilities (to the extent that they can be estimated in money terms) are larger than the revenues obtained. The industrial capitalist system is a system of cost-shifting, as K.W. Kapp wrote in 1950 when the Giant Mine was coincidentally getting into full swing.

ESSENTIAL WORKERS: DELHI URBAN WASTE PICKERS’ UNIONS 14

Urban waste pickers (Demaria 2023) are to a large extent self-employed workers, often working indirectly for formal or informal firms that recycle part of the waste collected. Waste pickers have sometimes formed unions to assert their rights to the materials they recycle and to ask for better conditions of work and improved hygiene. In 2020, on Global Waste Picker Day (1 March), a Barcelona Research Group on Informal Recyclers – in collaboration with the EJAtlas, the Global Alliance of Waste Pickers and WIEGO (Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing) – released a thematic map of about 80 socio-environmental conflicts in the global South related to informal recyclers, whose livelihoods are put at greater risk due to a policy shift towards waste management privatization, including incineration that limits their access to recyclable matter. 15 WIEGO is a network focused on empowering the working poor, especially women, in the informal economy.

In the Covid pandemic of 2020‒21, the concept of “essential workers” was used around the world for doctors and nurses, food distribution workers, urban waste disposal workers… not necessarily the best paid or most prestigious occupations. If confinement was required, these workers were entitled to move around to save lives and clean up the waste. In Delhi, a public art mural project was created with the help of communities from the Street art NGO St+Art, The Fearless Collective, Chintan and Engendered Art Gallery. The murals depict images from waste pickers’ daily lives featuring women working across the backdrop of Delhi's monuments (Figure 20.3). Their lives matter.

Waste pickers in Delhi, commensality at a dinner in their honour in Covid times (The Indian Express 2020).
Figure 20.3

Waste pickers in Delhi, commensality at a dinner in their honour in Covid times

Source:  The New Indian Express, 21 October 2020

In 2019, Delhi generated about 11,000 metric tons of garbage every day, from which about 3,000 tons were brought to Ghazipur, and the rest to Okhla (South Delhi), Bhalswa (North Delhi) and a newer landfill in Narela Bawana (North Delhi). In Sukhdev Vihar, near Okhla, residents filed a case in the Delhi high court against the Okhla waste-to-energy plant. The report claimed that an untested and unapproved Chinese incinerator technology was being used. The case was transferred to the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in January 2013. Representatives from the Delhi government failed to appear before the tribunal. The Uttar Pradesh government also objected to the waste-to-energy plant which is running within the 10 km eco-sensitive zone of the Okhla Bird Sanctuary without the approval of the National Board for Wildlife. Waste recyclers grouped in a union were against this incinerator that p. 465would deprive them of the means for their livelihood. There was also a confluence of urban middle-class dwellers concerned about risks of dioxin and nature conservationists.

Metabolic contestations in cities in the global South ‒ and waste conflicts in particular‒ involve struggles over values and livelihood as well as health and well-being (Demaria and Schindler 2015). There has been an increased role for the private sector in the various stages of waste management in cities. Delhi has been at the forefront of this shift and this brought out conflicts over collection and disposal of waste. It was argued that the informal sector should be incorporated into an efficient and equitable waste management system that is also environmentally sustainable and does not damage the recyclers’ health. Instead, the incinerator in Okhla is now in operation.p. 466

The case of Okhla ran in parallel to that of another smaller incinerator in Ghazipur. In India, industrial incineration of urban domestic waste is quite new. On the other hand, the case is also similar to cases in cities in which unions of urban waste recyclers successfully oppose privatization and incineration of waste defending their livelihoods while rightly claiming that their task provides environmental benefits. In Delhi, trade unions have been actively demanding continuing access to urban waste faced with privatization and incineration, such as All India Kabaddi Mazdoor Mahasangh, Safai Sena, Delhi Kabaddi Mazdoor Sangh and Green Flag. These unions organize rallies and demonstrations, and their demands have targeted local officials and private firms. Their effectiveness is however limited.

Demaria and Schindler (2015) quote several comments of waste pickers typically understanding the conflict as a struggle for their livelihood: “Since we don’t have any other work, we are forced to do this filthy work. We are forced to pick up this waste. Still the government is trying to force us out. They want to produce electricity by burning our livelihood”. “The work of the waste‐to‐energy plant is to burn things. They know that [inert and organic] waste never burns. They are trying to burn things [recyclable material] from which we earn our living. Therefore, we are opposing the waste incineration plants”. They know that the “metabolic configuration” of the waste might make incineration more difficult, and how the companies deal with this. Nevertheless, waste‐to‐energy plants are perhaps to become the cornerstone of Delhi's waste management system. Apart from the two operational plants in Okhla and Ghazipur, more are planned. While waste pickers’ main objective is to maintain access to waste, middle-class residents envision a metabolic configuration and waste disposal methods that insulate them from waste and from the risks of incineration.

The NGT heard the Okhla WTE case from 2013 to 2017. During its course, the bench made several observations regarding the risks the plant poses to public health, the environment and the violations in the environmental clearance's terms and conditions. However, the tribunal ruled in favour of the incineration. In other words, who has the power to allow or exclude valuation languages different from cost-benefit analysis or sustainable development? Shouldn’t the precautionary principle prevail? Which is the metric used to compare costs and benefits to different social groups and interests, to different generations, indeed to different species?

CONCLUSION: WORKERS’ TRADE UNIONS AS SOCIO-ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENDERS

In writing this book I am often in known territory, as I have visited a few of the sites of the conflicts and/or I have written or read about them. However, sometimes I find entries that I had never read before or I had forgotten about, and I am shocked at the different forms of violence that they show. One of them is the entry on the Bouazar cobalt mine belonging to the company Managem controlled by the Moroccan royal family's holding company, Al Mada. One senses a lot of structural, slow, daily violence in the available description, and lack of political power from the exploited workers. Trade unions have long fought for recognition, as in several of the conflicts in this chapter (in Algeria, Kazakhstan and elsewhere). Recognition is previous to the substantial claims on distribution, as happens also with peasant and Indigenous communities. Killing trade unionists is a direct attack on recognition and participation in order to avoid the discussions on distribution of stable jobs and better wages.p. 467

Claims for recognition of trade unions and the ad-hoc organizations looking for redress usually occur before reparations are discussed. In the Collum coal mine in Zambia, there was on the contrary a lot of open violence ‒ a sudden explosion of working-class activism that encountered very violent repression. The iron ore mining conflicts of the Shougang company in Marcona, Peru, illustrate sadly well the dilemma “waged jobs vs. the environment and human health” as also the conflict on the steel factory in Taranto. In the asbestosis case in Casale Monferrato the concepts of “silent violence” or “slow murder” are central. Working-class environmental conflicts are often linked to health issues (Navas et al. 2022).

What do we mean by “working-class”? Some categories of participants in environmental conflicts listed in Figure 1.5 (Chapter 1) are clearly “working-class”, though not always waged workers. They are industrial workers, members of trade unions but also landless peasants, farmers, fisherfolk, informal workers, artisanal miners, pastoralists and urban waste pickers. They could be members of social movements and EJOs. Any individual person may belong to more than one such category, perhaps two or three.

Environmentalism has not been a main concern of the waged working class. This is shown in the EJAtlas where peasants, farmers, Indigenous peoples, neighbours and citizens are more frequent. However, history shows abundantly that working-class trade unions, and in general working-class culture, was not and is not only concerned with remuneration of waged work. The role of the CNT (Confederación Nacional del Trabajo) in the short-lived revolution of 1936 in Spain (depicted for instance in some pages in Orwell's Homage to Catalonia) or the role that trade unions still have in the British Labour Party, show that they can and do become involved in all spheres of life, including politics. So, the answer to the question, “Do trade unions and in general the working-class become first-line actors in environmental conflicts on the side of defence of the environment?”, is yes, but only sometimes. In a majority of the conflicts recorded in the EJAtlas, the industrial working class and the trade unions are nearly absent.

In the Fordist period in the West (1945‒75), which was also the period of triumph of the ideology of development in the ex-colonial countries and of consolidation of the Soviet Union, the environmental challenges to “economic growth” were not so crucial as today. The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere was increasing but this was not yet important news until the 1980s. M. King Hubbert had warned about “peak oil” but was disregarded. Rachel Carson had also warned in 1962 about the perils of DDT but this remained a marginal preoccupation. There were no common strategies and actions between environmentalists and labour movements. “Environmentalism” meant the “cult of wilderness”. Of course, there was awareness of risks to health from new chemical technologies and nuclear energy, and alarm at the pressure on emblematic species. But “third world” movements over water use, forest access or pollution burdens and manifestations of “ecologically unequal exchange” only began to see themselves as “environmentalist” in the 1980s and 1990s, with the Environmentalism of the Poor.

Working-class or “blue-collar” environmentalism existed but it was scarcely noticed. “Blue-collar” seems to come from the worker's blue overalls. In Spain, El Mono Azul was the title of a periodical published on the Republican side during the Civil War of 1936‒39 under the auspices of the Alliance of Antifascist Intellectuals for the Defence of Culture. Blue overalls and Red politics came together. Also, Blue and the Red-Black of the anarchist flag came together. Recently, in Canada and the US, there are attempts to organize Blue‒Green Alliances, combatting the widespread notion that environmentalism costs jobs, advertising in favour of “the job-creating potential of environmental solutions”.p. 468

In the proposals on “just transitions” away from fossil fuels, the cooperation of trade unions based on promises of millions of “green jobs” is often sought after. However, working-class people often criticize raising taxes on fuels such as diesel – as with the “yellow vests” in France in 2018‒19. The perceived unfairness led to refusal of such environmental policy by disempowered rural, working-class people. The demonstrators quite often said that they were aware of climate change but the taxation adopted was wrong. In fact, the gilets jaunes held a variety of opinions on the environment.

How to bring together “Blue” and “Green”? One crucial issue is to perceive that capitalist profits do not come only from the exploitation of waged work. They come from the surplus from nature, and from the depredation of nature. They come also from unpaid domestic work. However, the “waged jobs vs the environment” trade‐off is seen as a point of tension in the relationship between trade unions and green movements across the globe. Blue-collar workers do not want to sacrifice jobs to the environment. Can we assume that the rule is that working-class people are concerned with jobs, wages and work conditions, and are uninterested in environmental issues and values? In the EJAtlas quite often claims for reparations for damages to health appear in the cases involving working-class participants (Navas et al. 2022). This is because waged jobs and salaries can be obtained not only at the cost of the natural environment but also at the cost of human health and the necessary material means of life, such as water, air and uncontaminated food. The human bodies of workers and their families are part of nature. The materiality of political ecology includes those bodies, whether healthy or ill.

More cases of working-class environmentalism from Asia (women in textile factories in Bangladesh or workers dangerously dismantling ships on beaches in Asian countries, for instance) could be added. In conclusion, I come back to one of Stefania Barca's articles with the title “Environmentalists and workers of the world, unite!”, 16 inspired in part by her youthful memories of the Italian Communist Party and her own lived experience in the United States, Brazil and Europe. She asks for a common strategy of two of the most powerful movements of the industrial era: the environmentalist movement and the working-class movement. She acknowledges that this alliance is difficult because of the “waged jobs vs. environment” dilemma, but many possibilities are open. And she would certainly agree that Feminism is an even more powerful social movement, and not leave aside peasants and Indigenous peoples. Anti-racist, anti-colonial movements and sexual freedom movements (closely allied to Feminism) also count among “the most powerful of the industrial era”. They are growing.

After 1871 and the Paris Commune, the verses of the International proclaimed (in the original French), C’est la lutte finale / Groupons-nous et demain / L’Internationale / Sera le genre humain. Not only the industrial proletariat, a new and growing social class, but all or most of humankind, le genre humain. The International remains a rousing song but it was a failed political attempt to bring together Marxists (who moreover in 1914‒18 split into social-democrats and Leninists, and other groups), Anarchists (who were expelled) and pro-peasant Russian populists. The workers of the world did not quite unite, particularly because German and French socialists went to war in 1914, killing each other instead of proclaiming an indefinite general strike for peace on the first day of the war. And, outside Europe, many workers were subject to coloniality and racism.

Since the end of the 1980s I have often written about the “environmentalism of the poor”, which I now call more often the “environmentalism of the poor and the indigenous” (Indigenous participants appear in about 40 per cent of the conflicts recorded in the EJAtlas). p. 469The protagonists of the environmentalism of the poor and the Indigenous are not so clear-cut in social class terms as the “proletarians of all lands”. They include many other groups of people apart from the waged (or unemployed) industrial “working class”: peasants and farmers, landless labourers, fishers and pastoralists, urban waste pickers, local and international environmentalists, Indigenous and other ethnically discriminated peoples, local neighbours and citizens, scientists and professionals, and even religious groups.

Notes

1

La Compañía Rio Tinto y la matanza de 1888, Andalucía, España, EJAtlas.

2

Cobalt Mining in Bouazar and workers’ struggle, Morocco (Christophe Maroun), EJAtlas.

Lemaizi, S. (2016). In Morocco, the intense exploitation of miners and the land continues, OrientXXI, 7 November.

Marxist (2011). Morocco: Cobalt miners struggle against exploitation, for the right to organize and for a decent living – They need your support, In Defence of Marxism, 23 May.

3

La Oroya, Perú (Patricia González Toro and Joan Martínez-Alier), EJAtlas.

4

International Federation for Human Rights (2013). Report on the situation in La Oroya: When investor protection threatens human rights, 7 May.

5

Shougang, Marcona, Perú (T. Waldron, Joan Martínez-Alier), EJAtlas.

El Gran Angular (2020). Largometraje ‘Entre el hierro y el mar’ retrata el impacto de la actividad minera en Marcona, 5 February.

La República (2020). Solicitan garantías para la proyección del documental ‘Entre el hierro y el mar de Marcona’, 4 March.

6

Collum Coal Mine, Zambia, EJAtlas.

7

ILVA industry in Taranto, Italy (Erika Agosti ‒ CDCA), EJAtlas.

8

Lonmin platinum mine, South Africa (Global Campaign to Dismantle Corporate Power, Transnational Institute – TNI), EJAtlas.

9

Kashagan Oil Field, Kazakhstan (Yevgeniya Yatsenko), EJAtlas.

10

Asbestos damages in Casale Monferrato by Eternit, Italy (Martina Di Russo and Federica Giunta), EJAtlas.

11

Hassi R’Mel gas field, Algeria, EJAtlas.

Gas grabs, Algeria (Platform London), EJAtlas.

Resistance to fracking projects, Algeria (Antoine Simon, Friends of the Earth France and Lena Weber), EJAtlas.

Hamouchene, H. (2016). The struggle for energy democracy in the Maghreb, Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung.

12

Coca Cola violates labour rights, Colombia (Global Campaign to Dismantle Corporate Power, Transnational Institute – TNI), EJAtlas.

Collingsworth, T. (2006). Another “Classic Coke” move to deny and delay accountability for human rights violations in Colombia, Tactical Media Crew, 6 March.

13

Yellowknife gold mine and arsenic pollution, Canada (Political Ecology students, Vancouver, and Joan Martinez-Alier), EJAtlas.

14

Okhla waste to energy plant, Delhi, India (Swapan Kumar Patra, Federico Demaria and Joan Martínez-Alier), EJAtlas.

15

Waste pickers under threat. New waste management policies undermine the informal recycling sector in the Global South, EJAtlas.

16

Barca, S. (2014). Environmentalists and workers of the world, unite!, ROAR, 3 June.

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