Fellow Workers, Meet Earth First!: An Open Letter to Wobblies Everywhere

By x322339 (Franklin Rosemont) - Industrial Worker, May 1988

Every once in a while a new radical movement arises and illustrates the social firmament so suddenly and so dazzlingly that many people are caught off guard and wonder: “What’s going on here? Who are these new radicals, and what do they want?”

To those who don’t know how to read the signs of the times, such new movements seem to appear unexpectedly and out of nowhere. In every case, however, most of the founders of the new movement prove to have been activists from older, less radical groups who eventually concluded that their former methods weren’t working.

This new movement proceeds to develop new direct-action strategies and tactics—or gives a new twist to old ones—and starts delivering real blows to the power and prestige of the ruling exploiters and their governmental stooges. This in turn inevitably arouses the hostility of the guardians of the status quo—cops, courts, preachers, politicians, and the prostituted press—who raise a hue and cry for the punishment and suppression of the trouble making upstarts.

Such wrathful clamor has a tendency to backfire, however. It focuses attention on the movement under attack, and attracts daring newcomers to its banner. Thus the new movement’s bitterest enemies unwittingly help to build it. “Listen to the fool’s reproach,” William Blake urged us long ago, “it is a kingly title.” Or as the vaudevillians used to say, “Every knock is a boost!”

And so the new movement, with wild songs and high humor, captures the imagination of masses of young rebels, spreads like wildfire, turns up everywhere, gets blamed for everything interesting that happens, and all the while writes page after page in the annals of freedom and justice for all.

This may sound like an outline of IWW history—and it is—but the same process had occurred time and again before this union was founded in 1905, and has occurred many times since.

The abolitionists, the women’s rights movement, the Knights of Labor and the 1880s Chicago anarchists are just a few of the earlier examples, and civil rights, antiwar, student, and women’s movements of the 1960s and 70s are more recent examples of indigenous radical movements that have followed the same trajectory.

Truly remarkable is the extent to which each new radical current seems to subsume into itself the spirit, the theory and practice of its various forerunners, even while elaborating its own specific contributions that it will, in turn, pass on to others. What is new in each new movement, moreover, always enables us to see the older movements in a new way, and this in turn sharpens our perspectives and helps advance the struggle yet again.

The Earth First! movement, which has kept radical environmentalism in the headlines for several years now, and in the process, has done more to save wilderness and wildlife from extermination at the hands of one or another gang of corporate and governmental criminals than all of the conservative and middle-of-the-road environmental organizations together, is an exceptionally interesting case in point.

Uniting the wilderness radicalism of the great “Yosemite Prophet” John Muir and the flamboyant direct-action tactics of the IWW, Earth First! has transformed the most vital current of the old conservation movement into something qualitatively new and incomparably more radical, and at the same time has helped to bring out a new and wilder dimension to the old Wobbly dream of “making this a planet a good place to live.”

Various articles featured in this issue feature several contributions by Wobblies and Earth First!ers exploring the many points in common between the two movements. We hope this material will, at the very least, stimulate some wild dreaming and hard thinking—every good cause needs plenty of both—about the possibilities of expanding and deepening the environmental awareness and activity not only of “organized labor” such as it is, but also and especially of the great majority of workers who belong to no unions at all. With the plutocrats out there mindlessly poisoning the Earth in a million ways and in all directions at once with their new and old drechnologies (sic), the only real hope for the future of this planet is for those who do the world’s work to just say no to the destroyers of the Earth, and to reorganize society in such a way that the Earth can heal itself. Slowly but surely over the past decade labor’s involvement in environmental activism has been increasing, and in the past couple of years it has grown enormously. We have every reason to expect that environmental demands will play a larger and larger role in workers’ struggles in the near future. More and more workers are recognizing the importance of cleaning up our rivers, stopping the clearcutting of our forests, saving endangered species and restoring wilderness. And more and more environmentalists are recognizing that an ecologically-aware working class is the best protection the Earth could have. Something will come of all this, we may be sure.

Meanwhile fellow workers, let’s get better acquainted with the most radical wing of the environmental movement. Let us share with these boisterous activists our own historic and recent experiences in the long hard struggle for a better life. And let us learn, too, as much as we can, from these young folks who, refusing the greedy edicts of the “me first” generation, have already made some fine history of their own simply by putting the Earth First!