Environmentalists 'must relate to workers'

Issue 

Environmentalists 'must relate to workers'

By Anthony Benbow

PERTH — Green Left Weekly spoke to Bill Ethell, secretary of the Construction, Mining, Energy, Timberyard, Sawmillers and Woodworkers Union (WA CFMEU) about the woodchipping issue.

There are obviously differences in the CFMEU about the approach to woodchipping and jobs. How do you see the position?

On the whole, people in the union are aware of the problems of unsustainable logging. The union's primary responsibility is to the needs of its membership, most of whom are behind the eight ball because of the general insecurity caused by the threat of unemployment.

Until that is addressed, workers will be able to be seduced or coerced by employers into particular positions, as is happening at the moment.

What practical approaches would help the fight for a sustainable timber industry?

This forestry debate is over one section of capital's demand for state subsidies ahead of other sectors. Such subsidies should go straight to workers in the form of a guaranteed basic wage for all.

People speak of retraining, but a logging worker may not necessarily want to don an apron and serve meals to tourists. If the subsidy the timber companies receive went to workers as a guaranteed wage, job displacement would not be the threat it is.

How can the environmental movement better relate to workers?

The environmental movement has lots of drive and ideas and enthusiasm. The movement needs to bring these ideas to working-class communities, while understanding that they are struggling for their basic survival. If the environment movement cannot attach itself to the labour movement, it will fail.

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