Atlanta Chapter Report

If it hasn’t been clear before, the latest IPCC report has put the crisis in plain view: life on Earth as we know is threatened, and the window of opportunity to avoid the worst is closing quickly. We have a seemingly vanishing timeframe of only twelve years to halve our carbon emissions compared to the year 2010.

Is all lost? No, not yet! While leaders continue to promote extraction of fossil fuels, or are, at best, reluctant in their actions, the citizens of the world, the people, rise up, demand change, and create change (e.g., Europe, Puerto Rico, and California). It is the people who have the vision and create movements and alliances that ultimately will break up the cultural hegemony, advocated by the current elites, which continues to fuel climate change. Science for the People has drawn attention to how corporations successfully lobby politicians into policies that just serve their profit. Frank Bove, an activists and organizer with SftP in its early days and now a member of the Atlanta chapter, published an article in the Science for the People Magazine in 1979 that exposed how the young technology of solar cells was already under attack by oil lobbies. Decisions around climate change are beholden to corporate profits and a perpetual growth-driven economy, in other words: capitalism.

Science for the People rises with the people, in the streets and at our writing desks, at the front lines to build a better tomorrow–together!

On September 8th 2018 we rose for Climate, Jobs, and Justice. The Science for the People Atlanta chapter co-organized a rally with 350.org Atlanta, Sierra Club Georgia, and 1.5 Degree Patrol, featuring a panel made of several local social justice organizations: Atlanta Jobs with Justice, Georgia Women’s Action for New Directions (W.A.N.D.), Los Vecinos de Buford Highway, The New Georgia Project, and WRFG Labor Forum. We were joined by about 100 people at the Flipper Temple American Methodist Episcopal Church in Southwest Atlanta to talk about capitalism, social justice, and climate change (event in the news).

This event was part of an international climate action arranged by the large coalition People’s Climate Movement. It was organized in response to California Governor Jerry Brown’s Climate Summit and drew attention to the fact that our leaders are not moving fast and bold enough to push back fossil fuel industry and avoid the worst climate scenarios.

(L-R) DeAnna (Dia) Parker (Los Vecinos de Buford Highway), Neil Sardana (Atlanta Jobs with Justice), Lindsay Harper (Georgia W.A.N.D.), Dianne Mathiowetz (WRFG Labor Forum), Billy Michael Honor (The New Georgia Project)
Tom Thrasher from 350.org Atlanta, main event organizer, at the opening of the panel discussion at the Flipper Temple with filled about 100 people.
Dr. Jasmine Clark, scientist, former March for Science Atlanta director, and Representative-Elect from Georgia’s House District 108, speaking to the rally participants.
(L-R) Jordan French, David Hofmann, and Chris Smoot at the Science for the People info table.

On September 22nd, the Atlanta chapter, together with our partner organization, EcoAction, tabled at the Just Energy Summit at Morehouse College. This event featured scholars, social and environmental justice activists, and policy makers discussing strategies to achieve energy justice in the metro Atlanta area. Energy democracy was at the center of the discussion as was the city council’s resolution to transition to 100% clean energy by 2050. Some of our members, including Jordan French, Chris Smoot, Amber Keller, and Frank Bove engaged with the participants and joined the event’s working groups. Our tabling at the Just Energy Summit set in motion steps for SftP Atlanta to become part of Atlanta’s “Just Energy Circle”, a coalition of community and grassroots organizations addressing social and environmental justice issues.

These are examples of our continuous effort to build bridges and establish collaboration with marginalized communities, where we seek to support by providing access to resources through intentional community-based organizing initiatives for a better and more just Atlanta. Both events occurred in Southwest Atlanta’s historically Black district where environmental injustice specifically has been an issue for generations.

To help achieve our goal of collaboration with local groups in Atlanta, our SftP chapter focused its work on the intersection of climate change and social justice beginning in early 2018. As Atlanta’s city council came forth with a resolution in late 2017 to transition to 100% clean energy, our chapter decided to devote our monthly reading and discussion group to this topic to educate ourselves and our community on how to transition in an equitable way. In these reading group sessions we covered theoretical concepts such as Marx and Engels’ concept of the metabolic rift, the cause and impact of climate change on a global scale, and local solutions like energy democracy as a means to achieve an equitable clean energy transition. Energy democracy is a crucial concept to highlight since it prescribes the dissemination of decentralized renewable infrastructure, which will put energy production, and thus power, into the hands of the people, and creates the potential for thousands of well-paid jobs. Energy democracy is a key vehicle for the city of Atlanta’s equitable clean energy transition, as well as, on a federal scale, the “Green New Deal” that was put forward recently by congresswoman-elect Ocasio-Cortez. Finally, we learned technical and political aspects of how to integrate renewables into the existing energy grid which concluded this year’s reading group.

Besides these actions in 2018 we successfully organized and supported several other events: together with the local DSA chapter we picketed a Microsoft store in solidarity with Microsoft’s workforce that joined the #NoTechForICE movement (more here), four of our members joined the Science for the People Puerto Rico solidarity brigade (more here), and finally we supported the organizing of the local March for Science (more here).

These activities have provided a solid foundation for our chapter to grow into the next year, continue developing partnerships and forming alliances with other grassroots organizations. Our goal is to extend the discussion about climate change and advocate for a just transition to renewable energy in Atlanta. Our chapter, currently, has about 10 active members and over 100 subscribers to our listserv.

College Park Chapter Report

The College Park (University of Maryland) chapter of Science for the People is just getting started. This semester, we’ve been hosting biweekly discussion groups as we try to find a core group and gain a better understanding for what important on-campus issues we’d like to work on. So far this semester we’ve discussed issues like how experts should interact with democracy, the science of sex and gender and how it relates to transgender rights, and climate change and ecological economics. At this point, we have 5-6 regular participants who are clearly interested in building a larger, more capable group.

Like any university, Maryland has plenty of issues we could tackle head-on: Vice called the University of Maryland America’s most militarized university; our proximity to DC allows for easy activism on federal politics (Congressional visits, etc); and the university is currently experiencing some political pressure from students who want us to cancel a contract with ICE. We’re looking forward to the spring semester and figuring out exactly how we can move from our regular reading groups to real action.

Ann Arbor Chapter Report

The Ann Arbor chapter of SftP has recently focused on the issues of climate change, reproductive justice, and solidarity strategy.

Actions around climate change have primarily been in collaboration with the Climate Action Movement (CAM) at the University of Michigan to put pressure on the U-M President and administration to develop a plan for carbon neutrality that is aggressive and incorporates the principles of environmental justice. SftP members were instrumental in aggregating data to assess University progress toward climate goals and, with CAM, developed a set of emissions reductions targets in accordance with the the latest IPCC recommendations for limiting warming to 1.5C. SftP and CAM members drafted resolutions based on the recommendations, which were then passed unanimously through student and faculty governments. Current work is focused on garnering a commitment in adherence to these recommendations from the President and Regents of the university, with tactics including official testimony, op-eds in university publications, and organizing direct actions.

We have also been working to introduce those engaged in climate action to a larger critique of the social structures at the root of the climate crisis. Along these lines, we have partnered with the local Marxist Collective to host Jason Moore for several speaking engagements at the University this Spring. Jason Moore is an environmental historian who is known for his books and essays on environmental history, capitalism, and social theory. Furthermore, a subgroup of SftP members are actively advocating to incorporate a course in the core curriculum in the School for Environment and Sustainability at U-M that more adequately incorporates environmental justice, critical analysis and environmental ethics.

SftP members have conducted a number of direct actions in solidarity with larger campaigns. These have included: 1) targeting events hosted by banks responsible for financing environmentally destructive pipelines with blatant disregard of indigenous land and rights; 2) advocating for effective and unbiased local police oversight; 3) debunking pseudo-scientific claims made by an anti-immigrant speaker.

Ann Arbor SftP periodically facilitates Science for Who events with an open discussion between panelists and community members about a specific area of science and its interplay with society-at-large. Our upcoming topic will revolve around reproductive justice, with invited panelists having expertise in the history of eugenics and genetic counseling, women’s studies, and reproductive ethnography. Science for Who has provided an informal setting (over food) to engage with and learn about the deeper implications of a variety of fields and served as the first point of contact with SftP for many members.

East Tennessee Chapter Report

Science for the People East Tennessee research party

The East Tennessee chapter of Science for the People is centered in Knoxville, but the activities of our membership extend to Oak Ridge and into the rural areas of the region. The largest research institutions in the area are the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory – the largest research and development facility for the US Department of Energy. We began to form around the time of the 2017 March for Science. Many of our members had been involved in both labor and environmental activism long before the emergence of SftP or the contemporary science movement in general. So, when it came time to plan and execute the local March for Science, we saw it necessary to strengthen the linkages between our organizing and our jobs as science workers. In building the march and speaker roster, we sought to build unity between the voices of people often marginalized within science, the campus and research workers that make science happen locally, and environmental justice organizations. We felt successful in steering the message of the march towards a distinctly radical tone—advocating the necessity of system change to address climate change, lifting up the struggles of marginalized and oppressed people within science, and promoting these struggle above banal “science advocacy.” Overall, the march helped us understand the balances of forces operating within the local science community and develop strategy for building our chapter over the coming months and years.

It took us some time to get into the rhythm of chapter building. We hosted a screening of the documentary Command & Control, about nuclear weapons accidents in the US, on the UT Knoxville campus in fall 2017, with about ten people showing up to learn more about SftP. This event went okay, but it probably would have done better to focus on SftP itself, rather than the content of the film. So, we reoriented our activities towards engaging with students and science workers we had personal connections with to bring them into to fold of SftP to learn about organizing in general, the struggles within science, and to think more deeply about how to engage in our local community.

We began hosting regular meetings in early 2018, with much of the content centered around discussing topics of organizing practices in general, our personal struggles within education and research, and thinking about how to engage with existing movement work locally. One of the lessons learned from these meetings is just how eager many people in the sciences are to learn about political organizing. A common theme in sharing our experiences in the sciences was how institutionally repressed we were from both engaging in political activism and coming to understand science in political terms. Therefore, the meetings became a space where we were sharing our knowledge and skills with one another, introducing each other to concepts familiar to political organizers but less so to scientists, while discussing how we could put this knowledge to practical use. When sharing our memories of the past year, many of our members felt strongly that this was one of the more useful aspects of our meetings.

Through our discussions, coalition building with other movement forces emerged as a primary goal for our work. In particular, there was real concern that if we weren’t careful, we might duplicate the efforts of existing movement groups operating within the region, which might be seen as pretentious or chauvinistic coming from a group of scientists. We took this concern to heart, so rather than plan our own campaigns, we reached out to existing groups in the area to help them with their already existing work. For instance, our members assisted with data entry for Appalachian Voices to aid with their campaign to build bottom-up membership power within rural electrical co-ops. Our members also turned out to support the longstanding efforts of Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment (SOCM) to hold the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) accountable at hearings for their multitude of failures in the region, especially regarding the 2008 Kingston coal-ash spill. This environmental catastrophe killed over 30 cleanup workers and caused severe illness in several hundreds more of the one thousand workers, due to severe and deliberate negligence on the part of the contractor responsible for the cleanup.

SOCM routinely monitors the permit applications submitted to TDEC for wastewater, hazardous waste, and more. In the fall of 2018, one of the organizers for SOCM approached us concerning a hazardous waste permit application from a chemical plant operated by Dow Chemical subsidiary Rohm & Haas. This plant is located in the heart of Knoxville, in a high density neighborhood where predominantly working class people, people of color, and students live. The plant had racked up a series of wastewater violations in the past due to leakages of volatile organic compounds into the groundwater and nearby stream, so there were major concerns regarding permitting the storage of thousands of gallons worth of hazardous waste on site. As such, there was an opportunity to build coalition between SOCM and SftP and to engage in a shared campaign of awareness raising and to call for a public hearing regarding the plant. According to Tennessee state law, TDEC must comply with requests to host a public hearing regarding any new or renewed permits.

We requested that TDEC host a public hearing and we set ourselves to the task of raising awareness about the plant, and organizing community members and students to attend the hearing. From the outset, we understood that it was probable that the permit would be granted, but we saw this as the first step in long-term organizing for environmental justice in the area that intersected with class and racial dynamics. As such, this was a good chance to grow our collective skills and strengthen our solidarity. To build the coalition, we reached out to a long-standing student environmental group on the UTK campus called Students Promoting Environmental Action in Knoxville. SPEAK allowed us to come to their meeting to talk about this project and SftP in general, and many of the students were very curious about the permitting process and excited to turnout to the hearing. In preparing for the hearing, we hosted a research party to collect information about the history of Rohm & Haas, analyze the details of the application permit, review state and federal environmental law, and to prepare a community briefing document to enable people to make informed comments at the hearing. The research party was undoubtedly one of the most enjoyable and meaningful activities we have done together, as it allowed all of our members to put their scientific knowledge into service.

At the public hearing, we put all of this effort into action. As is typical, the state environmental regulators put forward a canned powerpoint full of assurances regarding their monitoring of the plant. When it came time for our members and coalition partners to comment, we brought the science in a strong and righteous way that demonstrated our prowess as scientists and commitment to serving the people. Each of us comes from different disciplinary backgrounds, including public health and environmental engineering, and our comments showed that our concerns were to be taken seriously. The local press coverage of the hearing reflected this, as they reprinted much of the strong commentary we brought forward. Many of the environmental regulators present expressed in private that they were impressed with our comments afterwards. We learned that, in addition to voicing these concerns at the hearing itself, it helps to prepare a solid written statement in conjunction, as these written statement are reviewed by the state beyond the hearing itself and can have an impact in the decision-making of the regulators. To carry this work forward, we are planning environmental “know your rights” trainings for community members in urban and rural areas to raise awareness and provide education on spotting environmental violations in these environmental, legal rights regarding the environment, how to effectively engage the state regarding these issues, and how to organize for environmental justice in ways that go beyond relying on government agencies.

Overall, we’ve learned a lot over the past year or so in building our chapter and working on our first campaigns. We hope to continue growing our membership base, strengthening our coalition partnerships, and demonstrating our solidarity with everyday people in the region. We also hope to create linkages with other chapters and to share skills and share organizing work to build Science for the People! You can reach out to us at sftpetn@gmail.com.

New York City Chapter Report

For the New York City chapter of Science for the People, the past few months have been defined by newfound potential to mobilize people power and grow our roots within the surrounding activist community. For many of our public appearances, we partnered with activists from organizations such as Democratic Socialists of America, Movimiento Cosecha, and Columbia’s Graduate Worker Union. In these efforts we strove not just to band together at public demonstrations, but to nurture our allyship through ongoing collaboration–giving organizers the floor to present at our bi-weekly chapter meetings, hosting art-build parties at apartments and public spaces, and leading topical discussions that related to the campaigns we’ve supported. Additionally, we’ve forged goodwill with local venues such as Verso Books, Bluestockings, Caveat, and Star Barr, where we hosted and co-hosted panels, fundraisers, film screenings, and even participated in science-themed nightlife events.

During the summer, amid the disturbing reports of the Trump administration’s xenophobic immigration policies, we launched a campaign to implicate the use of scientific developments, specifically in the tech sector, to expand militarism and enable governmental agencies to further violate human rights. As workers at major tech corporations began to demand accountability from their employers, we amplified their message in order to draw attention to the connections between corporate control of technology and human marginalization and de-normalize the practice of prioritizing profit over people. Our campaign started small, with a series of efforts such as: petition sharing, leafleting, picketing, and joining protests with our tech-implicating messaging. By July 31st, the influence of our campaign reached a culmination point, as we mobilized hundreds to take to the streets in heeding Cosecha’s national call for action.

After weeks of planning in collaboration with Cosecha NYC, organizers within our chapter staged a picket, march, and civil disobedience, where we disrupted midtown rush-hour to demonstrate at flagship Microsoft, Salesforce, and Amazon locations in the city. At the brick-and-mortar Amazon on 34th street, we created a booming spectacle with protestors chanting and singing and the Rude Mechanical Orchestra driving the energy with boisterous music. We shut business down with a human blockade that dared to hold the line until put under arrest. Coming out of this action we leveraged our momentum to draft a solidarity letter with tech workers, assist in the establishment of a NYC Tech Workers Coalition chapter, and raise awareness by picking up media attention.

As fall set in, we shifted to strategy and outreach events by supporting academics, authors, and community organizers in the execution of panels, discussions, and rallies. In the spirit of SftP’s legacy of international solidarity work, we supported Scientists for Palestine in executing the Second International Meeting for Science in Palestine, a multi-day conference that brought together academics, students, and scientists from Palestine and the international scientific community to collaborate on implementing concrete plans to bolster the access and achievements of scientific pursuits for Palestinians. Locally, we engaged with the community through Verso’s climate change panel series, where we expanded our network with SftP flyers, merchandise, and newsletter sign-up sheets in tow.

Presently our subscriber list is 300+ strong! Follow our activity on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pg/SFTPNYC and our newly launched website at https://nyc.scienceforthepeople.org.

Boston Chapter Report

The Boston chapter of Science for the People has passed through several stages since the rebirth of the organization on a national level in 2014. Currently, with the incorporation of new members inspired by the national convention in Ann Arbor in February 2018 and by politically oriented science events in Boston, the chapter has more than a dozen active members and many more who occasionally participate in chapter meetings. Most of the active members are associated with five universities around the city as students, post-docs, or faculty and represent a range of disciplines, such as physics, mathematics, oceanic and atmospheric sciences, bioengineering, public health, history and philosophy of science, with a few journalists, editors, and others not affiliated with universities.

The chapter has been consolidating itself through now twice-a-month meetings that include presentations by members and/or discussions of readings. Topics have included biodeterminism (presented by Jonathan Beckwith, one of the original members of Science for the People), the ideology embedded in artificial intelligence, gender/race/caste in science, a chapter on Lysenkoism by Levins and Lewontin, ongoing efforts to increase private-sector involvement in the US space program, and the politics of geoengineering technologies to mitigate climate change.

Boston Science for the People seeks to raise awareness of the political nature of science and technology among academics, STEM workers, and the public. The chapter has raised the profile of Science for the People through organizing or participating in public events such as the 2018 March for Science in Boston, a panel on feminist science in action during the MIT Day of Action, separate events to promote the new books Science for the People: Documents from America’s Movement of Radical Scientists and The Truth is the Whole: Essays in Honor of Richard Levins, and a session on Science for the People at the Solidarity in Action teach-in at UMass-Boston. Possible future projects being considered by the chapter are to organize a public lecture/discussion series at diverse venues around the city and to take responsibility for writing/editing an issue of the new Science for the People magazine.

Twin Cities Chapter Report

Cheers from the Twin Cities chapter! It’s been 6 months since our initial group met with Chris in June, and three months since we kicked off our first public meeting in September. We’re all looking forward to a new year!

As we move forward, it’s good to take stock of where we’ve been. In the beginning, there were just six of us. We began meeting in cafés, inviting friends, and having conversations: not only about SFTP’s history, but what we wanted for our future. This is a process that hasn’t stopped. As our group grew, and continued to lurch toward action, we finally convened ourselves for a four-hour retreat where we laid out our mission statement for the TC Chapter and planned our big public kickoff–where over 30 people attended!

Since then, we’ve been working to develop organizational norms, processes, and governance, all while bringing in more input from our growing membership. Some informal working groups were formed, though coordination has proven a little tricky thus far. As many people who have gotten involved thus far have multiple affiliations and are involved with other like-minded actions, it’s been an open matter of discussion among the organizers about how to best strike a balance between convening (our own events), participating (as an organization in others’ events), and more simply connecting (our members to different organizations and actions that align with interests). As with our many questions before, we’ll undoubtedly converge as a group towards a norm over time.

Here’s a list of some of our highlights thus far:

  • LOTS of workplace lunches, where we share in each other’s joys and struggles
  • Semi-regular book club meetings around the SFTP book chapters
  • Tabling at Rise for Climate, Jobs, and Justice summit organized by the People’s Climate movement
  • Leading Discussion at the Twin Cities Social Justice Education Fair (a branch of the IWW)
  • Drafting and Circulating a letter in support of Dr. Blasey-Ford signed by over 450 scientists and allies
  • Allying with efforts to build an environmental justice movement at the University of Minnesota
  • Collaborating with the Kitty Anderson Youth Science Center (a justice-focused youth science group) at the Science Museum of Minnesota
  • Hosting Sheila and Frank Rosenthal from Indiana, long time SftP members, during a Minnesota trip
  • Supporting efforts by the Agroecology and Rural Economics Research Corp

Things we’re looking forward to:

  • Involvement in resisting Line 3 construction with other activist groups and water protectors
  • Continuing to build solidarity and connections with intersectional organizers in the Twin Cities
  • Developing our norms and structure around governance
  • Setting up our website!

If you know anyone in the Twin Cities or Greater Minnesota, tell them to like our page on Facebook, sign up on our mailing list and share it with anyone they may know! We look forward to getting more involved nationally and getting to know many more of you all very soon. Until then, we leave you…

Occupational Health and the Radical Science Movement

A look back at the archives of Science for the People and its writings on the occupational health and safety movement in the United States.

Gail Robson & Taylor Lampe, Columbia Mailman School of Public Health

Science for the People’s publication began in 1969, and the Occupational Safety and Health Act (also known as OSHA) passed in the United States in 1970. The radical science movement in the US developed alongside the workers’ movement for occupational health and safety, and these early 20 years of collaboration are documented throughout the pages of the Science for the People magazine.

1980, Vol 12 No. 2

OSHA’s establishment in 1971 marked the first US federal legislative protection for workers’ safety, but many on the Left felt that the regulations were vastly insufficient. As argued in OSHA Inspectors, published in 1975, OSHA was merely “a capitalist reform program administered in the interests of the ruling class”, with no power, including money, staff, or enforcement, to force corporations to take the steps necessary to improve safety and health. In a 1974 speech, Midwest Workers Fight for Health and Safety, Carl Carlson detailed how corporations could work around OSHA to avoid providing protections for their workers. Dave Kotelchuck, in 1972 in Industrial Health and the Chemical Worker, called it a law “overwhelmingly biased in favor of management”.

RAISING LEFT CONSCIOUSNESS

The passing of OSHA, combined with increased workers’ calls for safety, coincided with the New Left’s increasing “desire…to relate to workers”, further claimed Kotelchuck. Although workers and unions had a rich history of organizing around occupational health and job safety, the early 1970’s critiques from the American Left marked the beginning of this issues as a ‘hot topic’ for the Left, he claimed. In his 1972 article, Kotelchuck hypothesized that the delay was influenced by the “tired old American myth” that workers were only concerned with wages and fringe benefits, rather than safety and health conditions. This, of course, was never true. As argued by Kotelchuck’s 1975 article, Asbestos: Science for Sale, workers have always been forced into the impossible choice between their jobs and their health. Many continued to choose work to support their families, at the literal costs of their mental health, physical health, and in many cases, lives, after daily exposure to harmful chemicals and unsafe environments.

Frank Mirer, in a 1972 article titled Occupational Health: Time for Us to Get to Work, indicated that the Left saw this issue as one with the “potential for setting people, [especially industrial workers] into motion in a progressive direction”. Occupational health struggles, Kotelchuck also agreed, could serve as “the seed of worker control over the entire work process… and an important transitional step toward restructuring our society”. It was envisioned, in the face of weak legislative protections, that collaborations between radical scientists, workers, and unions could be used to improve objective working conditions, and also aid the entire Left movement in the process. The workers rights avenues created by OSHA could be strategically employed, as explored in Using OSHA, written by Chip Hughes & Len Stanley in 1977.

1972, Vol 4 No. 6

MOBILIZING SCIENCE WORKERS

Until the Left became more engaged with this specific worker’s fight, as Kotelchuck articulated, “previously, [radical scientists] had been no more aware [of occupational health issues]…than most people of similar middle-class background”. Science for the People membership in the 1970s consisted mostly of educated and technically trained, middle class scientists and engineers working in academia and industry. Many coming out of the American scientific education had little formal training on the socio-economic considerations of their technical work, as explored in a 1977 article Brown Lung Blues by Michael Freemark. In 1971, a union-organized gathering of 50 workers and scientists brought these scientists to a chemical plant, which for most, was the first time they came face-to-face with industrial working conditions. It was written that “the conference was an eye-opener”.

This disconnect, between the class and educational experiences of workers and radical scientists, posed challenges and opportunities going forward. Scientists were clearly, according to Mirer,  “Outside the class or cultural background of the constituency they hope to serve”. They needed to, first and foremost, educate themselves. Few had specific training in occupational health. And many of the professional occupational health workers, like those hired by OSHA, were not primarily interested in the well-being of workers, and were not organizing with SFTP.

SFTP & UNION COLLABORATIONS

The SFTP magazine called for radical scientists to educate themselves, then use their technical skills to address this important issue. Scientists could engage in “service projects in this area” or “technical assistance projects” on top of their paid, daily work. A 1975 introduction to a special issue on Occupational Health and Safety made this statement:

“We are aware that as long as capitalism exists workers will be exploited by those who wish to maximize profits, and workplaces will remain unsafe… We urge more of our readers to… participate in the difficult task of finding ways to employ science to serve the health and safety needs of workers.”

The foundation of this work for radical scientists would come from contacts with local unions and workers, both for educational reasons, and for organizing strategic reasons. Kotelchuck, in his 1972 article, claimed that “companies frown on contact between science workers and production workers” because they wanted to keep workers unaware of their health and safety risks. A pamphlet published in 1974, How to Look at Your Plant, empowered workers to cite violations and take action. Then, in collaboration, scientists could provide workshops on physiology, chemical exposures, and safety protections. They could train workers to perform air and temperature tests, set up health clinics, or perform epidemiological studies if little was known about the exposure. Unions and workers could then use this information, and the small workers’ rights offered through OSHA, to document and hold more management accountable to safety and health violations.

1974, Vol. 6 No. 4

As these alliances turned into more formalized coalitions, the COSH movement, or regional coalitions or committees for occupational safety and health, was born in the US. The primary role of COSH groups were for scientists, labor unions, health, and legal professionals to support worker struggles concerning health and safety issues through technical assistance and empowering forms of education. Organizing for Job Safety by Dan Berman in 1980 detailed the history of the movement starting in 1972; Education and Research in Occupational Health in 1982 described the connections of these groups to academics and scientists; Knowing about workplace risk, by Dorothy Nelkin & Michael Brown in 1984, acknowledged the essential role played by COSH groups in knowledge dissemination and education to workers.

OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH OF WOMEN

A theme that emerged throughout the decades of publishing within the realm of occupational health and safety was a focus on the occupational health of women, and the critique of US policies enacted ostensibly to help women workers. Generally, these policies were not enacted to protect the needs of women themselves, rather they protected, or claimed to protect, their reproductive capacity and the babies they could potentially be carrying. For example, the 1980 article Danger: Women’s Work described factories with high levels of toxic exposure banning women of reproductive age from working there at all, rather than insisting on an environment that was safe for everyone. As a result of these policies, many women felt forced to go through sterilization to keep their jobs.

In 1980, Your Body or Your Job, by John and Barbara Beckwith, argued that sexual harassment in the workplace was an essential occupational health issue, and one neglected by the feminist movement. The term “sexual harassment” itself did not exist until 1975 and at the time of publishing this article, the only legal precedents were at district court levels, including a ruling in 1976 that sexual harassment was violation of title VII sex discrimination clause of Civil Right Act. This article acknowledged that Black women were the most vulnerable to sexual harassment, while simultaneously these women often took on leadership positions on the issue and brought forward the greatest number of lawsuits around the US. The writers called for the struggle against capitalism and patriarchy to carry on side by side, since anti-capitalist work alone would not be sufficient to also tackle patriarchal oppression in the workplace.

1980, Vol. 12 No. 2

WORKER RIGHT-TO-KNOW

Another major advocacy activity by SFTP was for workers’ right to know the hazards of substances with which they were working, and pushing for the enactment of state-level right-to-know legislation. In Knowing about Workplace Risks, Dorothy Nelkin and Michael Brown described the complex barriers preventing workers from information around their own safety, and how some workers effectively obtained information in their own workplaces. Mandy Hawes, in Dying for a Job in 1980 documented trends in chronic Benzene exposure and leukemia and put forward suggestions for organizing by documenting health effects in the workplace, and the protection measures that exist, while calling for hazard evaluations and standard-setting at a federal level along with state-level legislation. Asbestos and the chemical sterilizer DBCP were also key issues in right-to-know advocacy in the 80s, as described in the 1982 articles, Keeping Workers in Line, and Asbestos in the Classroom.

Chris Anne Raymond in the 1984 article, Whose Health and Welfare, critiqued the mainstream press as treating disease revelations “like natural disasters, a sudden and unforeseeable accident, to which the industry and government responded wisely and forthrightly” while in reality these risks were embedded in the system of production, and industry and government had no incentive to protect workers without strong union opposition.

FUTURE DIRECTIONS

Science for the People publications ended in 1989, and since then, many of these themes are ongoing today. Work environments and hazards continue to change as industries and technologies develop, and as the labor movement changes, there is a continued need for sustainable collaborations between radical scientists, workers, and unions. Future articles and publications can further engage with the gendered and racialized aspects of occupational health and safety, and reflect on how the field has changed over the past decades.

Authors: Gail Robson and Taylor Lampe, MPH Students at Columbia Mailman School of Public Health

ALL ARTICLES

Vol. 4 No. 3: “Industrial Health and the Chemical Worker” by Dave Kotelchuck (1972)

Vol. 4 No. 6: “Occupational Health: Time for Us to Get to Work” by Frank Mirer (1972)

Vol. 6 No. 4: “Midwest Workers Fight for Health and Safety” (speech 3/16 by Carl Carlson at “Workers’ Forum on Safety and Health” in Chicago, 1974)

Vol. 6 No. 4: “How to Look at Your Plant” (1974)

Vol. 7 No. 5: “About this Issue: Occupational Health and Safety” (1975)

Vol. 7 No. 5: “Asbestos: Science for Sale” by David Kotelchuck (1975)

Vol. 7 No. 5: “OSHA Inspectors” by Anonymous (1975)

Vol. 9 No. 3: “Brown Lung Blues” by Michael Freemark (1977)

Vol. 9 No. 5: “Using OSHA” by Chip Hughes & Len Stanley (1977)

Vol. 12 No. 2: “Dying for a Job” by Mandy Hawes (1980)

Vol. 12 No. 2: “Danger: Women’s Work” by East Bay SFTP (1980)

Vol. 12 No. 4: “Organizing for Job Safety” by Dan Berman (1980)

Vol. 12 No. 4: “Your Body or Your Job” by John Beckwith & Barbara Beckwith (1980)

Vol. 14 No. 1: “Education and Research in Occupational Health” by Luc Desnoyers & Donna Mergler (1982)

Vol. 14 No. 4: “Keeping the Workers in Line” by Heidi Gottfried (1982)

Vol. 14 No. 4: “Asbestos in the Classroom” by Nancy Zimmet (1982)

Vol. 16 No. 1: “Knowing About Workplace Risks: Workers Speak Out About the Safety of Their Jobs” by Dorothy Nelkin & Michael Brown (1984)

Vol. 16 No. 4: “Whose Health and Welfare: The Press and Occupational Health” by Chris Anne Raymond (1984)

Report from the Western Massachusetts Chapter of Science for the People

Members of Western Mass Science for the People in Hennessey Park (Springfield, Massachusetts) participate alongside Arise for Social Justice in a Juneteenth Celebration
Members of Western Mass Science for the People in Hennessey Park (Springfield, Massachusetts) participate alongside Arise for Social Justice in a Juneteenth Celebration

The Science for the People blog periodically publishes reports from our chapters across North America. To find a chapter near you, or to start your own chapter, email sftp.revitalization@gmail.com.

The Western Massachusetts chapter is an eclectic and dynamic group with a core of about ten people who regularly participate and about seventy people on the mailing list. Our greatest strength lies in the diversity of experiences and perspectives we bring to the table, along with the many exciting intersections in our interests. We include community organizers, research scientists, historians of science, teachers, and students/recent alums—and many of us fall into more than one of these categories.

We meet weekly, rotating between the campus of UMass Amherst and the offices of Arise for Social Justice, a grassroots organization in Springfield. This allows us to be plugged into multiple communities and facilitates coalition work, for example with the Springfield Climate Justice Coalition. Public events this year have included a book talk at UMass with political agroecologist Jahi Chappell; a community discussion on mold, housing, and health at Arise; and tabling at two neighborhood gatherings in Springfield.

Many of our meetings include discussion of an article, short story, or video. In addition to reading some of the articles on geoengineering from the new SftP magazine, we often discuss materials related to geology, agro-ecology, space exploration and the militarization of space, and science fiction. We have future plans to continue exploring these and other issues.

Our most sustained campaign to date involves raising awareness and effecting change on the problem of mold, housing, and health—mold is a major factor in the high rate of respiratory illness in Springfield. At the center of this campaign is SftP member Tatiana Cheeks, a Springfield mother who has developed much expertise on the subject as she fights the mold that has caused her son to suffer respiratory illness in their rented apartment. Locating our meetings at Arise has provided many opportunities to learn from community organizers working directly with homeless people and tenants of slum-lords, making our understanding of mold contamination broader and more socially and politically informed.

The other big project that we’ve taken on is a workshop for K-12 teachers on science and social justice, which we hope to offer in the spring. The workshop would provide 15 hours of contact time so that teachers could receive 1 graduate credit and professional development points. We plan to introduce teachers to several conceptual frameworks for seeing the connections among knowledge of self, knowledge of society, and knowledge of nature. These frameworks will help teachers integrate three areas that are often treated separately: STEM, social studies / language arts, and social justice activism. We expect to provide approximately ten practical examples that draw from our diverse areas of expertise, including solidarity science (focusing on the mold campaign), geology in social and political context, agro-ecology and food justice, the ecopolitics of built environments and urban planning, and more.

Our website has recently undergone transformation and better reflects some of the exciting work we’ve been doing: http://westernmass.scienceforthepeople.org. We hope people will come visit us—whether in person or on the web!

Science for the People in support of Microsoft workers’ demand to end contract with ICE

In June, 2018, a wave of tech worker activism grew around the call for several companies, prominently Microsoft, Salesforce, and Amazon, to cancel their contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Their struggle is linked with our mission as Science for the People to fight for equity and justice in our application of science and technology, and as such, several of our chapters organized local actions to offer external support to the tech workers’ efforts. This article offers a brief summary of what happened and informs our next steps in pushing these companies to discontinue support with ICE and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) as one step in a broader movement for worker control over the direction of scientific research, innovation, and application.

New York City

Two events were held in New York City: the first was an after-work picket outside Microsoft’s flagship store on June 30, and the second was part of Movimiento Cosecha’s Day of Action against businesses complicit with ICE on July 31. Around 25 people joined at the former event to leaflet, chant and picket to call attention to Microsoft’s support for agencies that were separating families at the border. By July 31, the family separation component of the ‘zero tolerance’ policy was significantly scaled down, but still many children were and continue to be detained away from their families in private prisons that subject them to forced psychotropic drug consumption and sexual abuse–some never to be reunited.
Meanwhile, worker campaigns continued to grow in momentum, leading the immigrant rights’ group Movimiento Cosecha to put out a call for a day of action making clear that #WeWontBeComplicit with companies that support ICE in order to enhance external pressure in tandem with workers’ campaigns. We built off our initial picket by growing a coalition alongside Movimiento Cosecha, the International Socialist Organization, Rise and Resist and Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM) to organize a march between Microsoft, Salesforce and Amazon downtown with pickets at each location. Outside of Microsoft, tech workers offered their support for our action while finishing their workday.

Outside of the 41 Street Microsoft office as part of the Movimiento Cosecha Day of Action on July 31, 2018
Outside the Bryant Park Salesforce office for the Movimiento Cosecha Day of Action on July 31, 2018

Our movement grew as we marched first to Salesforce, where the Rude Mechanical Orchestra joined to support our chants. On the way to Amazon, we disrupted rush hour foot traffic as by then we were hundreds in size. In the end, six people were arrested outside of Amazon for refusing to allow business as usual while children are imprisoned and tortured in the name of racist immigration policies. Through this action we extended our coalition to include not only scientific workers but also social justice and immigrants rights groups. With continued pressure from both inside and out, we can and will force these companies to #CancelTheContract. And ultimately, we will #AbolishICE.

Atlanta

On Saturday evening, July 14, Science for the People (SftP) Atlanta in coalition with Metro Atlanta DSA rallied its members and allied tech workers in the halls of Lenox Square Mall in front of the Microsoft store in solidarity with migrants and Microsoft workers protesting their company’s contract with ICE.

After SftP and DSA members engaged in one-on-one conversations with Microsoft store employees to inform them about the ongoing petition, explain its demands, and express our organization’s support with the MS workers’ petition, the larger group of activists gathered in front of the store with signs and chants to draw attention to the cause. Flyers with Microsoft workers’ demands and ongoing petitions to end the contract with ICE were passed out to a large crowd that had gathered soon in the hallway around the store. To our surprise, many passerby joined the protest raising their voice in solidarity and chiming into our choir: “No Tech for ICE!”.

Metro Atlanta DSA and Science for the People members with No Tech for ICE signs in front of the Microsoft store at Lenox Square mall.
The protest action at the mall gathered much attention by passerby, many of whom showed interest in the cause and even joined the chants: “What’s disgusting? Family busting! What would be nice? No tech for ICE!” and “No hatred! No fear! Immigrants are welcome here!”

As anticipated, this spectacle was cut short. Police officers from the mall precinct eventually accosted the protesters and hustled the speaker out of the mall as the crowd booed, but they made no arrests. Watch a video recording of the Lenox square mall picket.

As noted also in the report by our allies from the Metro Atlanta DSA, this unfortunately interrupted the team’s plan to observe a moment of silence to reflect on the life of Efrain De La Rosa, who died by suicide the week before the action in ICE custody at Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, GA. Any death in ICE custody is murder, facilitated by Microsoft technology and corporate profiteers. Despite the disrespect shown by Atlanta police, we can take a moment now to express love and solidarity for our Latino brother, Efrain De La Rosa: ¡Presente!

Boston

Coinciding with the Families Belong Together national day of action on June 30, SftP’s Boston chapter organized with Microsoft researchers and the local Solidarity chapter to flyer and make signs outside the Microsoft NERD Center in Cambridge. Thirty activists then marched to meet the main Families Belong Together event on Boston Common and talk to march participants about the link between tech labor and immigration injustice.

On July 11th Science for the People Boston, Tech Workers Coalition, ACLU Massachusetts, and LOGIC magazine hosted a panel discussion at MIT. Panelists were Sasha Costanza-Chock a scholar, activist, media-maker, and current Associate Professor of Civic Media at MIT; Kade Crockford, the director of the Technology for Liberty program at the ACLU of Massachusetts and MIT Media Lab Director’s Fellow; and Valeria Do Vale, the Lead Coordinator at the Student Immigrant Movement and an undergraduate at Northeastern University.

What’s Next?

In early June, Google engineers compelled the company to not renew Project Maven, a contract with the Pentagon using AI to improve drone strike accuracy. The success of their campaign—and recent outrage about human rights abuses by ICE—have inspired similar efforts at Amazon, Microsoft, and, Salesforce.

While these companies have not cancelled their contracts, pressure is growing. Microsoft has released two statements related to their complicity in supporting ICE–the first of which was a direct response to their January blog post proudly proclaiming support for the agency ahead of the outcry over the family separation  policy, and a more recent post largely deflected from the core message of the Microsoft workers’ letters by focusing exclusively on facial recognition technology and the role of government in regulating it–not on the company’s existing ICE contract.

Salesforce also faced immense shame after RAICES, the legal firm responsible for the defense of many detained immigrants, rejected a $250,000 donation from the company while they continue to hold their ICE contract. The letter from RAICES explicitly called on the company to follow its workers’ demands.

Amazon, most shamefully, expressed its pride in serving the police and ICE by providing facial recognition technology. Its workers also face the most severe repression for organizing around this policy and have not gone public with their identities for fear of retaliation. To contextualize what they face, Amazon recently called the police on its own European workers while they were on strike, which led to severe state violence against those workers. Amazon has shown its dedication to profit by any means necessary, but like any historical institution, it is fallible.

That these companies were forced to acknowledge the internal and public outcry around their ICE contracts shows that they feel the pressure. Indeed, workers at several other companies have been successful in calling on their companies to cancel ICE contracts, including the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. For the tech companies we targeted, Science for the People is committed to acting in solidarity with workers at these companies and to building external pressure until they stop supporting ICE and CBP.

Will you join us?