Major roadways, including access to the Swartz Bay ferry terminal on Vancouver Island and the George Massey Tunnel, were blocked off June 13 during the Monday morning commute by Save Old Growth (SOG) protests. These protests are not the first of their kind, with the ongoing logging of old-growth trees facing a series of resistance actions for many years, including the dramatic clashes between police and protesters in defense of the Fairy Creek forest.
While the activists may be new, the tactics largely remain the same: protesters gluing their hands to the roadway, affixing themselves to cement barrels, and parking their cars while locking themselves inside. However, one particularly hazardous technique ended in disaster as a man fell 20 feet to the pavement when the ladder he was balanced on collapsed beneath him after a frustrated commuter tore apart a strut supporting the structure. The protester has now experienced a life-altering injury that will require a week in hospital and several months of rehabilitation. The blockades were removed by police a half hour after they were deployed.
Sowing division instead of solidarity
Climate change is a hot topic on everyone’s minds, and with the B.C. summer smoke approaching, soon to be hot on everyone’s bodies as well. With 78 per cent of British Columbians concerned about the practice of old-growth logging and 74 per cent supporting the doubling of protected land in the province, why do we see conflict between protesters and working class commuters resulting in injuries like these, with no end in sight for the logging of old-growth forests?
“They might not like our tactics, but they want to save old growth,” said protester Sam Nguyen about the impacts the demonstrations are having on commuters. “We’ve tried petitions, we’ve tried to talk to MLAs, it’s been 30 years, nothing’s happened … We don’t want to be on the roads. We don’t want to be stopping these people going to work.”
In spite of the acknowledgement that the government is unable or unwilling to do anything, the demand they present before us according to their website is to “pass legislation to immediately end all old-growth logging in the province of British Columbia.”
So the question arises: why are they doing these blockades in the first place? According to Zain Haq, a spokesman for Save Old Growth: “When you have to force a dialogue onto society, you have to engage in transgressive truth telling.” But what is the truth they are telling with these blockades? And who are they telling it to? People already seem to agree with them on the topic of climate change and the need to prevent old-growth logging.
What is needed is to appeal to the workers who actually have the power to stop this by taking the fight directly to the bosses. As we have explained previously, old-growth logging is a great way for the capitalists to make a quick buck. Sustainable logging practices require foresight and patience, but the bosses need profits now. The slump in profits with the general slowdown in the economy is going to only increase this hunger, and as long as the capitalists decide when, where, and how we produce, the destructive tendencies will win out.
Eventually, under capitalism the logging of old-growth forests will come to an end, but only because there will be no more old-growth trees to log. The lumber workers themselves have a material interest in ceasing the logging of old growth: protecting old growth means protecting their jobs. The working class are the ones with the power to paralyze the industry as a whole, and thus to be in a position to ensure protection for old growth by taking the forests out of the hands of the bosses and into the hands of the working class.
So what do these protesters have to offer the working class other than delays on the much-despised morning commute? What is the “truth” they are “transgressively telling”? What is usually offered to these workers is the false panacea of “retraining”. However, even if tens of thousands of workers could be retrained quickly and find decent jobs thereafter, which is highly unlikely under capitalism in any case, this does not answer the central question of why these practices are being done in the first place: for profit. So long as there is capitalism, the old growth will not be safe.
As working class people drop each other from ladders and drag each other from the roadway to get to work on time and start making profits for their bosses, the ruling class is no doubt howling with laughter at the wedge being slammed between us. The Save Old Growth campaign has since announced that it will cease the traffic blockades. And so the question remains: what is to be done? How can old-growth logging be stopped?
Where is the labour leadership?
What these protesters can certainly claim over the labour leadership is militancy and a fighting spirit. What is fundamentally needed is for the unions to step in to truly set a flame under the feet of the bosses and their cronies in government. Logging truckers refusing to transport old-growth logs, dockworkers refusing to load any lumber to be processed overseas, and the logging and lumber workers themselves refusing to log old-growth forests would push the issue directly by hitting the bosses in their pocketbooks.
Beyond actions like these, the organized working class has the resources and the power to mobilize a mass movement against old-growth logging and to put an end to it once and for all. An overwhelming majority of people in British Columbia want to see something done about old-growth logging, yet as we have pointed out previously, the B.C. environmental movement has not been able to connect that general sentiment with a concrete program that would actively enthuse workers to join actions against old-growth logging. Small groups of activists blocking roads and traffic in an effort to push the issue of stopping old-growth logging perhaps did not have the effect desired by the Save Old Growth campaign. But mass protests and walk-outs of thousands of workers organized by the trade unions would be a different matter entirely. As we have argued previously, unity between the organized working class and the environmental movement will be the key to pushing the struggle against old-growth logging forward. The capitalists have always pitted the need to protect jobs against the need to protect the environment. The truth is that the working class can protect both with a socialist program.
Haq is now facing the risk of deportation for his protest activities. This is exactly the kind of thing that the unions should be mobilizing against: a protester facing deportation for trying to protect the natural world from corporate profits. And still, Haq refuses to surrender the fight. No doubt the leadership is already preparing to question the legality of such a strike should a demand come from the rank and file. But when we compare the resources of a union (strike funds, full-time staff, and hundreds of workers) to the resources of those like Haq facing deportation for their activity, one begins to wonder what the union leadership has to be afraid of at all.
The forests of B.C. and the jobs that they provide deserve protection! The real kind of protection that can only come from the forests being owned by the class that has its long-term health in their interest: the working class.
Protect our jobs! Protect the environment!
Nationalize the forests!