Environmental Justice for Whom? Class, New Social Movements, and the Environment: A Case Study of Greenpeace Canada, 1971-2000

By Harter, John-Henry | Labour/Le Travail, Fall 2004 | Go to article overview

Environmental Justice for Whom? Class, New Social Movements, and the Environment: A Case Study of Greenpeace Canada, 1971-2000


Harter, John-Henry, Labour/Le Travail


THE 1970S SAW AN EXPLOSION of new social movement activism. From the break up of the New Left into single issue groups at the end of the 1960s came a multitude of groups representing the peace movement, environmental movement, student movement, women's movement, and gay liberation movement. This explosion of new social movement activism has been heralded as the age of new radical politics. Many theorists and activists saw, and still see, new social movements, and the issues, or identities they represent, as replacing the working class as an agent for progressive social change. This paper examines these claims through a case study of the quintessential new social movement, Greenpeace. This paper explores the history of Greenpeace Canada from 1971 to 2000 and its relationship to the working class. In order to understand the ideology behind Greenpeace, I investigate its structure, personnel, and actions. The case study illustrates important contradictions between new social movement theory and practice and how those contradictions affect the working class. In particular, Greenpeace's actions against the seal hunt, against forestry in British Columbia, and against its own workers in Toronto, demonstrate some of the historic obstacles to working out a common labour and environmental agenda.

LES ANNEES 1970 ONT VU UNE EXPLOSION d'un nouvel activisme des mouvements sociaux. La Nouvelle Gauche, en debacle, a cede la place a une multitude de groupes aux revendications plus ciblees : soit le mouvement pour la paix, le mouvement ecologiste, le mouvement etudiant, le mouvement feministe et le mouvement de liberation des gais et lesbiennes. La febrilite du nouvel activisme des mouvements sociaux a ete presentee comme l'annonce d'une nouvelle ere de radicalisme politique. De nombreux theoriciens et activistes ont vu, et voient encore, ces nouveaux mouvements sociaux, leur identite et les questions auxquelles ils s'adressent, comme une alternative a la classe ouvriere en tant qu'agent de changement social progressiste. Cet article examine ces interpretations par l'intermediaire d'une etude de cas du nouveau mouvement social quintessenciel : Greenpeace. Il explore l'histoire de Greenpeace de 1971 jusqu'en 2000 et ses rapports avec la classe ouvriere. Afin de comprendre l'ideologie qui sous-tend Greenpeace, l'auteur a mene une enquete sur sa structure, son personnel et ses actions. Cette etude de cas met en evidence d'importantes contradictions entre la theorie et la pratique de ce mouvement social et comment ces contradictions affectent la classe ouvriere. Ainsi, les actions de Greenpeace contre la chasse aux phoques, la coupe forestiere en Colombie-Britannique et contre ses propres employes a Toronto, demontrent certains obstacles historiques a l'etablissement d'un programme repondant a la fois aux besoins des travailleurs et de l'environnement.

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ON 30 NOVEMBER 1999, in Seattle, Washington, an explosion of outrage against globalization materialized in protest against the World Trade Organization and its millennial round of talks. (1) While remarkable in its own right, the "Battle in Seattle" was significant for the enormous presence of the organized working class. The working class mobilized in force, with over 50,000 trade unionists coming to the city to protest the WTO. Alongside these unionists were new social movement activists from, among others, the student, environmental, and feminist movements. A popular theme written on one of the thousands of placards was "Teamsters and Turtles together at last," signifying the coming together of workers and environmentalists geographically, if not entirely ideologically. (2) While the majority of the labour march did not converge directly on the WTO site, thousands of workers did and it was the size and scope of the labour presence that helped bring so much attention to the protest. The protest in Seattle demonstrated the power of a convergence of class, environmental, and other new social movement politics, while hinting at the inherent difficulties of such a union. …

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