Democratic Action by Working People Critical in Today’s Environmental Crisis

By Bonnie Weinstein

The Earth’s environment is reeling from catastrophic forms of energy extraction and use, not only from nuclear power plants, but from coal extraction by mountain-top removal1, which not only poisons the land and ground water, but demolishes pristine mountains. And by gas extraction from hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” which produces the powerful greenhouse gas, methane, and also dumps toxins used in the process into the environment2.

This does not even take into account the weapons of mass destruction the U.S. is producing and unleashing across the globe. Nor does it take into account the massive pollution due to the dependence on fossil fuels by the transportation and all other forms of for-profit industries.

The future of humanity and the planet Earth, at this point in time, is dubious, at best. We are in a crisis of monumental proportions, across all borders, across all industry and across all social and political aspects of human interaction.

Our only hope for survival, as a species, will depend upon a massive worldwide effort by the majority—by working people, scientists and engineers—to reverse the damages already caused, and to prevent new, and worse catastrophes from occurring.

The only way to achieve this is to take control of energy production and industry away from those who put private profit before everything else.

Current nuclear crisis

At Fukushima, TEPCO, the energy company that runs the nuclear power plant, announced that they had a “melt through.3” (A melt down is when the fuel collapses to the bottom of the reactor. A melt through means the fuel has melted through some layers of the containment vessel which could ultimately lead to a “China Syndrome,” a worse case scenario, which occurs when molten reactor core components completely penetrate the containment vessel and building, causing direct contamination of the environment.)

If this isn’t bad enough for Japan, their fast-breeder reactor prototype plant, the Monju, has been in a state of shutdown because a 3.3-ton device crashed into the reactor’s inner vessel cutting off access to the plutonium and uranium fuel rods at its core. The recovery of the device is dangerous because the plant uses large quantities of liquid sodium to cool the nuclear fuel, which is highly flammable.4

And if you think we in the U.S. are immune to the nuclear crisis, think again. Right now, outside of Omaha, Nebraska, the Fort Calhoun reactor is surrounded by floodwaters.5

The problem there is that the river is expected to rise as much as five to seven feet above flood stage and the river has already risen 1.5 feet higher than Fort Calhoun’s 1,004-foot elevation above sea level. And due to the extraordinary amount of snow accumulation, they expect the floodwaters to continue to rise until the middle of August! The only thing protecting the plant is an 8-foot rubber wall outside the reactor building.

And there’s a second Nebraska nuclear plant, the Cooper Power Station, which is also under threat by floodwaters.6

Cleanup know-how for nuclear vs. fossil fuels

The crisis surrounding nuclear energy and weapons production will take a special effort since safe clean-up techniques have yet to be developed.

Think of the dangers and complications of just moving nuclear material from one place to another. What kind of vehicle do you transport it in? And which communities will these vehicles travel through? Obviously these are decisions that involve and effect masses of people. They are the ones who have a right to a say in these decisions since it’s their lives that that are threatened by them.

Pollution due to nuclear energy and weapons transportation and clean-up differs from pollution as a result of fossil fuel production. For the latter, we do have the technological and scientific knowledge to transport the material safely and to clean up the resulting pollution, albeit it’s a drain on profits to do so safely.

If the fossil fuel industry were nationalized and put under the democratic control of workers, technicians and scientists, with complete access to corporate profits—i.e., workers’ control over all corporate profits—cleanup and safety measures could immediately begin to be implemented.

Capitalism fouls everything up

In each of these ongoing environmental catastrophes-in-the-making, the quest for ever-higher profits has been responsible for shortcuts, cover-ups and repeated safety violations. If nothing is done to take the profit out of energy production, these environmental crises will get worse and occur more frequently.

Even without any further catastrophes, the clean-up tasks in the nuclear industry are daunting, and already beyond our current scientific and technological ability to achieve.

It will take a monumental effort—a worldwide democratic collaboration of workers, engineers and scientists—to learn how to handle the nuclear material we are already using and storing; and to discover ways to restore the damage already done to our environment.

This will take a complete overhaul of the scientific and research communities and their dependence on these very corporations that now fund their research and development projects and educational goals.

The scientific community must be nationalized along with industry itself, and be held responsible to the democratic control of workers who work in these industries; and to the general public that relies on them; and not to the corporate profiteers who feed on these short cuts and violations!

To fund such a massive project, the corporate books have to be opened and the vast profits accumulated off the backs of the workers must be made available to correct the problems and to change the practices that led to these environmental disasters in the first place.

Nationalizing these industries and putting them under the democratic control of working people and their allies is the first step and ultimately the only way to ensure the safety and welfare of all people and the environment.

The workers, scientists and engineers at the production sites are the experts. They are the ones who can pinpoint the shortcuts; cover-ups, lies and dangers presented by these for-profit management henchmen. They are the ones who have the best chance of finding ways to make the whole industry safer. And to safely shut it down until they can be sure it is safe to operate.

With access to the vast profits created by their own labor, and through the research and discoveries they could uncover with those resources, workers can make the great leaps of knowledge necessary to solve these currently unsolvable environmental problems. And it would mean there would be no more limits to the development of new, innovative, energy alternatives and safer forms of energy production, distribution, transportation and use.

We need a democratic movement for control over our lives

This is very simple really. It’s about our right and our dire need to have democratic control over all aspects of production—including but not limited to the energy industry.

What we are talking about is turning the social structure of society on its head.

Instead of those at the top of the economic ladder, i.e., the super-rich commanders of capital, having sole control over the decision-making about health and safety issues and control over profits—all these decisions and all profits produced would be placed under the democratic control of the majority of the working people who actually do the work and operate the industries.

What would this new, topsy-turvy society look like?

Removing the profit motive by turning production for profit into democratic production for fulfilling social needs and wants, insures that safety measures can finally have first priority.

Democracy starts at the point of production, spreading to communities and the public educational system, and workers organizations must remain strictly independent of the capitalist parties, the commanders of capital and the police under their direct control.

Workers have the power and the know-how to put safety first and needs before profits

Workers on the job are the best qualified to decide on safety measures; financial compensation; working conditions; on comfort, intensity and hours of labor; on benefits; and on improvements in product, safety, efficiency and production practices.

Doctors, patients and their families and hospital staff are the best qualified to democratically decide on the best patient care; as well as all the other aspects of good working conditions that help to guarantee good patient care.

Teachers, parents and students are best qualified to democratically collaborate to improve every aspect of education.

Construction workers and architects and engineers, are the ones best qualified to collaborate on the rebuilding of our infrastructure and to focus on its energy use, safety and efficiency.

You get the picture. This is a workers democratic model that cuts across all barriers to safety, efficiency and to increased production throughout all industry that will be capable of satisfying the needs of all.

It is the only rational way out of the chaos and poison of capitalist production based upon the accumulation of private profit by a tiny minority at the expense of all else.

1The Fight over Coal Mining is a ‘Fight About Democracy’”, Democracy Now!, May 23, 2011

2 “Coal Seam Gas—Dirtier than Coal, Worse than Shale”, By Renfrey Clarke

GreenLeft, June 4, 2011

3 “Fukushima: It’s Much Worse Than You Think”, By Dahr Jamail, Al Jazeera, June 16, 2011

4 “Japan Strains to Fix a Reactor Damaged Before Quake”, By Hiroki Tabuchi, June 17, 2011

5 “Giant rubber barrier around site; reactor has been shut down since April”, By Josh Funk, The Associated Press, updated 6/17/2011

6 “Second Nebraska Nuclear Plant Threatened By Flooding”, By Ricky Kreitner, June 17, 2011,