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Jerry Brown: The Wrong Stuff


On Thursday, October 17, 2013, the Blue Green Alliance will award Governor Jerry Brown a “Right Stuff” Award for “catalyzing the clean energy economy”.

The Blue Green Alliance is a coalition of AFL-CIO labor unions and environmental organizations. I am a union worker—a San Francisco ferryboat deckhand –and an environmentalist. You would think I would be supportive of this event. However, I am not.

A member of Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) since 1995, I and two Earth First!ers sparked what became the Blue Green Alliance in the fall of 1998.  We envisioned a coalition of environmentalists fighting to save Headwaters Forest in Humboldt County and steelworkers on strike at Kaiser Aluminum in Washington, Louisiana, and Ohio.

An oddball idea? Not really. The Headwaters Forest was in danger of being mowed down by Maxxam Corporation, a Houston corporate raider, to pay for the debt with which it saddled Pacific Lumber in its takeover. Three years later, Maxxam acquired Kaiser Aluminum in a similar fashion.

At first the alliance continued that spirit. Earth First! activists marched on steelworkers’ picket lines. Steelworkers encouraged nonunion Pacific Lumber workers to organize for better working conditions. The combined forces agreed that an “injury to one is an injury to all”, and “no compromise in defense of Mother Earth!” These efforts spawned the “Teamsters and Turtles” protest at the 1999 WTO meetings.

The Blue Green Alliance, while well meaning, has made far too many compromises to corporations. I support renewable energy, but it must be produced sustainably and deployed in harmony with the environment.  Workers who manufacture, install and maintain the equipment must work under good and safe working conditions. Giving Jerry Brown an award is proof the Blue Green Alliance has lost its way.

Governor Brown is not Green. He is fast-tracking the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP), a pork barrel boondoggle to divert massive quantities of water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta for Big Ag and Big Oil, which will lead to the extinction of many fish species. Brown recently signed SB4 which greenlights “fracking” in California.

Furthermore, Brown has done nothing to regulate overaggressive logging by Sierra Pacific Industries in Sierra Nevada. He has appointed development friendly insiders to the California Department of Conservation. He has promoted the controversial Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation+ (REDD+) program that allows Northern polluters to purchases forest carbon offset credits from the global South, outsourcing pollution to low income communities of color in struggling nations. He is also threatening to weaken the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) for wealthy developers. This doesn’t fit my definition of the word “green”, unless it’s followed by the suffix- “wash”.

Brown is no friend of unions either. While mayor of Oakland, he abetted gutting the public education system by pushing for two charter schools and systemically targeting the teachers unions, who were doing their best to work under impossible conditions. He ordered police to fire wood pellets and rubber bullets at peaceful anti-war demonstrators and ILWU longshore workers in the Port of Oakland, who were protesting Bush’s union busting and war mongering. Finally, he has negotiated a secret deal to gut the California Public Employee pension system.

If Brown is a “friend” of labor, I’d hate to meet its enemy!

It is ludicrous for Blue Green Alliance to give the Governor an award. Attacks on the environment or workers will not save our planet. It has become all too clear that the cause of the environment’s destruction is the ongoing class war by the 1% on the 99%. Enabling the 1% to greedily continue their destructive course is not what the labor-environmental alliance had in mind 15 years ago, and it is certainly not the way forward. Therefore, I am joining a protest outside of the awards ceremony on October 17 in San Francisco, and I encourage others who really care about workers and the environment to join me.

Steve Ongerth is a co-founder of the IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus. More information about them can be found at

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