Judi Bari, the IWW and Environmentalism

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As we celebrate Earth Day and enjoy the flush of
spring, it is important to reflect on those who have made
invaluable contributions to the continuing efforts at protecting
our environment and our rights. Judi Bari is one
such individual and tracing some of her history can inspire
all of our continued efforts. Bari’s work with the IWW
helped to forge a relationship between mill workers and
environmentalists to fight their common enemy, corporate
domination of workers and natural resources.
After dropping out of college in the early 1970s, Judi
Bari obtained a job as a clerk in a large grocery store chain.
She soon got involved in a union organizing campaign,
eventually becoming a union shop steward. A few years
later, she got a job as a U.S. postal worker where she continued
her union activism by publishing and distributing a
rank-and-file worker newsletter. Bari also organized a successful
wildcat strike for better working conditions.
In 1979, Bari moved to Northern California. In 1988,
Bari joined the Earth First! Environmental Organization in
Mendocino County, where she helped organize a successful
campaign to blockade logging on public land. In 1989, she
organized an effort to support sawmill workers doused with
toxic chemicals in a Georgia-Pacific Corporation sawmill
accident. Her sense of solidarity with the mill workers led
her to organize sawmill and timber workers into Timber
Workers Local #1 of the Industrial Workers of the World
(IWW). Bari’s efforts contributed significantly to a working
relationship between IWW Local #1 and the Earth First!
environmentalists in fighting against the misdeeds of large
timber corporations. The common cause that Judi Bari used
to unite previously adversarial timber workers and environmentalists
was the demand that timber corporations stop
overcutting forests at an unsustainable rate.
Environmentalists opposed overcutting for
ecological reasons. Timber workers opposed
this practice because it led to the closing of
sawmills and the layoff of workers once the
forests were depleted of trees. Local communities
also supported ending the practice
because they were adversely affected by both
the resultant soil erosion and the loss of
income due to layoffs of timber workers.
Because of the joint efforts, timber corporations
could no longer simply blame environmentalists
for job losses.
After Louisiana Pacific Corporation closed
the sawmill in April 1990 resulting in the loss
of 200 jobs, Bari and a contingent of laid off
workers showed up at a Mendocino County Board Meeting.
The allied labor and environmentalist group demanded that
the County use its imminent domain powers to seize
Louisiana Pacific’s 300,000 acres of forest land and operate
them in the public interest under the control of a worker
owned cooperative. This community demand to seize corporate
property made Bari the target of the timber corporations
with public efforts to smear her reputation, discredit the
Earth First organization and worse. In August 1989, Bari’s car
was rammed from behind by a logging truck, totalling her car
and sending her and her passengers to the hospital. Death
threats received in the mail and by telephone followed. When
Bari reported the death threats to the police and showed them
the written ones, they refused to investigate. On May 24,
1990, a bomb exploded under Bari’s driver’s seat as she was
driving in Oakland, California.
Within a few hours of arriving at a local
hospital’s intensive care unit, Oakland
Police placed Bari under arrest with bail set
at $100,000. The police told the press that
Bari was an “Eco-Terrorist” and that she was
knowingly transporting the bomb to commit
a crime. The FBI continuously delayed
court arraignment and asked the judge
repeatedly for more time to gather evidence.
After 2 months, the District Attorney decided
not to press charges against Bari because
there was no evidence. In May 1991, Bari
filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the
FBI and the Oakland Police Department. As
a result of Bari’s lawsuit, the FBI agent in
charge of the San Francisco office, Richard
Held, resigned. The bomb which nearly killed Bari in Oakland
was shown to closely resemble those made at an FBI
bomb school that trains police to investigate bomb scenes.
In 2002, 5 years after Judi Bari’s death from breast cancer,
a jury in Bari’s federal law suit case exonerated her and
ordered 4 FBI agents and 3 Oakland police officers to pay
a total of $4.4 Million to Bari’s surviving husband and 2
children. On May 20, 2003, the Oakland City Council
unanimously passed a resolution designating May 24 as
Judi Bari Day for her courageous environmental, civil liberties,
and labor organizing work.
If you’d like more information about the IWW or are interested
in organizing your workplace, contact the IWW Central
Illinois General Membership Branch at 217-356-8247.

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