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Dakota Access Pipeline and the Future of American Labor


Dakota Access Pipeline and the Future of American Labor

Jeremy Brecher

As United States Energy Transfers Partners began building the Dakota Access Pipeline through territory sacred to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, the tribe began an escalating campaign against the pipeline. By this summer nearly 200 tribes around the country had passed resolutions opposing the pipeline and many hundreds of their members joined nonviolent direct action to halt it. Amidst wide public sympathy for the Native American cause, environmental, climate protection, human rights, and many other groups joined the campaign.


It was years ago when I first recognized that Labor Unions were not necessarily on the side of the Environment and would be just as willing to sacrifice it as the Capitalist owner if the exploitation of it provided jobs.

This was way back when people protesting the clear cutting of old growth forest here in BC.

One labor leader stated "A tree is worth nothing until it is cut down".

Now there are certainly peoples in Unions that do not think this way as evidence by the Nurses Union in the USA but the fact remains that the system that puts the means of production into the hands of the Capitalists , which supporters of the same call "the Free market" , surrenders the provision of jobs to the same and will inevitably turn a great chunk of the working class into nominal allies of the Investor class.

With these two groups allied , the environment has little chance which in turn makes those that would act to protect it such as our First nations peoples more important than ever.


I have significant respect for Mr. Brecher's work; I remember using his book Strike! as a basis for student teaching back in 1994. His scholarship and attention to detail is on display in this article as well, which is as accurate as anything I've seen on the DAPL. But I think here, as in many progressive corners of the Internet, the case against the pipeline is more assumed than proven. The pipeline will hardly play a role in expanding petroleum development; Bakken crude has had no problems finding its way to market by rail, itself a more dangerous and carbon-producing mode of transportation. Although the pipeline does pass through land important to the Standing River Sioux, the right-of-way is not part of the reservation. Despite a permit and hearing process stretching well back into 2015, claims of significant cultural resources on the land in question were not made until September 2nd of this year when construction crews were already in the area. A common claim of the pipeline being a threat to water supplies is questionable at best; actual instances of pipelines contaminating water supplies are extraordinarily rare. For further accurate reporting on the issue I would encourage interested parties to seek out the reporting done by NPR, the New York Times, and the Bismarck Tribune, and take Facebook postings with deserved skepticism. While many such posts view the project through the lens of the genocide of Native American populations, it is harder to find the actual harm in this project. If significant cultural resources are in its path, then naturally it should be routed around them.

It is easy to paint the Building Trades as in bed with the oil-and-gas industry, but as a Business Agent within the UA I know that we are under no illusions that we are able to steer the course of oil and gas development. It is as simple as this: if the development is happening, we would like to see those workers be represented by one of our member unions. We would like to provide the API's member companies with as many well-trained, safety-conscious workers as they can take. But in reality in 2016, very few of the workers engaged in oil and gas development are represented by the Building Trades. As Mr. Brecher briefly alludes, but is a much bigger point for the Building Trades, we support many energy projects, including many clean energy projects, and throw considerable lobbying and political influence to make them happen. Which AFL-CIO member unions worked to support concentrated solar installations in the Mojave desert? Which worked to support demolition of coal-fired power plants in Colorado? Which member unions regularly show up to their states' PUC meetings to push for increased pollution controls? Building Trades Unions in all cases. Building energy use exceeds transportation in the U.S. as a source of carbon emissions, and the UA and IBEW have energy efficiency and green building systems programs that lead the industry. The NABTU should be appreciated for all that they have done and continue to do in the interest of efficiency, reducing carbon emissions, and reducing pollution.


Along the same lines as this article, please join the nearly 11,000 people who've have signed Urgent Call on the AFL-CIO: Reverse Support for the Dakota Access Pipeline (below) online at Change [dot] org below:

Urgent Call on the AFL-CIO: Reverse Support for the Dakota Access Pipeline
Labor for Palestine, September 17, 2016

As trade unionists and social justice activists, we urgently call on the AFL-CIO to reverse its disgraceful support for the Dakota Access Pipeline.

DAPL continues more than 500 years of settler-colonialism, dispossession, and genocide against indigenous people in the Americas, who are defending the Earth's vital resources against the same corporate greed, state violence, and repression that violate workers' rights on a daily basis.

Like the Black and Brown Lives, Immigrant Rights, Palestinian, and other freedom struggles, the courageous Sioux resistance at Standing Rock has become a worldwide beacon for all who fight injustice.

In solidarity, numerous trade union bodies -- including the Amalgamated Transit Union; California Faculty Association; Communications Workers of America; Industrial Workers of the World; IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus; National Nurses United; New York State Nurses Association; National Writers Union/UAW Local 1981; United Electrical Workers; SEIU 503 OPEU; Border Agricultural Workers; and the Labor Coalition for Community Action, which includes the A. Phillip Randolph Institute, the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, the Coalition of Labor Union Women, the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, and Pride at Work -- #StandWithStandingRock.

Workers' rights are inseparable from indigenous rights. We need decent union jobs that protect, rather than destroy, the Earth -- there are no jobs on a dead planet.

An injury to one is an injury to all: #NoDAPL!

Labor for Palestine Co-Conveners:

Suzanne Adely, U.S.-MENA Global Labor Solidarity Network; Former Staff, Global Organizing Institute, UAW
Michael Letwin, Former President, Association of Legal Aid Attorneys/UAW Local 2325
Clarence Thomas, Co-Chair, Million Worker March; Executive Board, ILWU Local 10 (retired)
Jaime Veve, Transport Workers Union Local 100, NYC (retired)

See also:
From Standing Rock to Occupied Jerusalem: We Resist Desecration of our Burial Sites and Colonizing our Indigenous Lands (Palestinian BDS National Committee, September 9, 2016)
Open Letter from U.S. Trade Unionists to AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka: Boycott Apartheid Israel (Labor for Palestine, December 4, 2009)


That's really asking for an inter-union labor war, and a whole lot easier for you to say from outside than for union leadership to do on their own. Anyway, who do you propose pays the members' wages while they devote their lives to Solidarity camps? Who should do the nursing, or keep your phone working?

Your points about further investment in a dying industry are well taken, if incomplete.

And then you go to ranting, namecalling, and vague charges of impropriety. Doesn't help anyone.


An important point that I'm afraid Brecher did not even acknowledge, and that may get lost in your somewhat self-serving argument.


There is no future for American Labor if we don't keep fossil fuels in the ground. Those unions supporting the DAPL are experiencing myopia. For the AFL-CIO to remain relevant and increase power in the coming years, it must succeed in building membership by attracting the millennial workers. It will have to abandon their "all of the above" support for fossil fuel projects, and be on the ground floor of creating high paying jobs in green industry, or it will simply wither and die from its failure to attract new blood.


The DAPL has hardly a relationship with keeping fossil fuels in the ground. Bakken crude was flowing out of North Dakota at 1,000,000 barrels a day a few years ago without the pipeline; now its production is about half that and about at the capacity of the pipeline itself. DAPL crude has simply taken the train to market, and will continue to do so, pipeline or not. If you're interested in the AFL-CIO remaining relevant and attracting members, then you should be proud of the Building Trades, which are growing their membership and expanding their apprenticeship programs. Their commitment to green technology is shown in their increased training - particularly with the IBEW and solar technology, the UA and building energy. The Operating Engineers are well represented on wind farm construction. For every Building Trades member involved with the pipeline, there are three or four others upgrading a chiller/boiler plant, running high-voltage lines to a new windmill, or other such projects.


During the past few days, highly-militarized police in North Dakota have escalated brutality and arrests against Native American opponents of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).

To demand an end to this growing repression, defend indigenous rights, and stop DAPL, Labor for Standing Rock has called Union Camp this weekend (October 29-30) at Standing Rock.

To support this historic campaign, please:

*Sign Urgent Call on the AFL-CIO: Reverse Support for the Dakota Access Pipeline on Change.org

*RSVP Union Camp and like Labor for Standing Rock on Facebook

*Contribute to Labor for Standing Rock on Go Fund Me.

For more info: LaborForStandingRock@gmail.com