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Climate justice and human rights organizations from around the globe are rallying around prominent Vietnamese environmental lawyer, Mr. Dang Dinh Bach, on the two-year anniversary of his arrest with the launch of the#StandwithBach hunger strike. A public letter was also released today by over 80 organizations worldwide calling for Bach’s immediate release, along with a petition and social media campaign.
Bach was imprisoned for “tax evasion” after leading a campaign to reduce Vietnam’s reliance on coal. He declared that on June 24, 2023 – the second anniversary of his arrest – he will go on a hunger strike to the death in defense of his innocence. In his own spirit of nonviolent and peaceful protest the May 24 – June 24 “relay hunger strike” – in which at least one organization per day will strike in solidarity with Bach – hopes to raise awareness about this extreme injustice and prevent the need for him to risk his own life. Participating groups are from the United States, Indonesia, Brazil, Thailand, Spain, South Korea, Palestine, South Africa, and more countries around the world.
“Bach is a climate champion and should not be punished for his participation in Vietnam’s clean energy transition,” said Meena Jagannath, Coordinator of the Global Network of Movement Lawyers at Movement Law Lab, of which Bach’s organization was a part before being forced to shut down. “It’s crucial for human rights lawyers and environmental defenders to stand up worldwide for our colleague in Vietnam. This kind of solidarity is vitally important for the future of the region and the planet. Right now, we are all concerned for his life.”
As the founder of the Law and Policy of Sustainable Development Research Centre, Bach dedicated his life to protecting communities from harmful pollution, phasing out plastic waste, and supporting the government’s transition to clean energy. He is one of four members of the Vietnam Sustainable Energy Alliance who have been imprisoned in Vietnam, despite playing an instrumental role in the country’s ambitious climate commitments, indicating an ongoing and highly concerning trend. International renowned climate leader and Goldman Environmental Prize winner, Ms. Nguy Thi Khanh, was arrested on similar charges and released this month after serving 16 months in prison.
The imprisonment of climate leaders in Vietnam has ironically all occurred in the wake of the Vietnamese government’s commitment to net zero emissions by 2050 and the $15.5 billion deal announced in December by the U.K., U.S., and other governments to support a Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP) in Vietnam. Right now, the JETP implementation plan is being developed, and the coalition supporting Bach is urging decision-makers to ensure that civil society is welcome to participate meaningfully in this process without the threat of arrest.
“A just energy transition cannot be successful with people like Bach in jail,” said Maureen Harris, Senior Advisory from International Rivers. “The result of such a repressive environment is that civil society is effectively excluded from negotiating spaces and deliberations around energy transition partnerships, programs, and projects, even as they proclaim to be ‘just’”.
Bach was not granted a fair trial. He was not allowed to meet with his lawyer until seven months after he was arrested and his sentence was much harsher than is usual for people accused of tax evasion. United Nations experts suggest that Bach’s prosecution was politically motivated.
Just last week the UN Human Rights Council Working Group on Arbitrary Detention released an opinion regarding Bach’s imprisonment, finding it a “violation of international law” and expressing concerns about a “systemic problem with arbitrary detention” of environmental defenders in Vietnam.
The coalition is urging all governments, multilateral institutions, and others invested in a just energy transition for Vietnam to 1) insist on Bach’s release; and 2) demand that civil society in Vietnam is welcome to participate meaningfully in the just energy transition process.
“I have witnessed so many painful stories of poverty and terrible diseases that weigh on abused communities in Vietnam,” said Bach in a recent statement from prison. “They are deprived of their land and livelihoods and do not have opportunities to speak out for justice and the right to be human in the face of environmental pollution, especially in places with coal-fired power plants across the country. In order to conceal the truth and threaten the voices of people, the Vietnamese authorities have arrested, convicted and unjustly detained environmental and human rights activists in defiance of national and international law.”
International Rivers is an environmental and human rights organization with staff on four continents. For three decades, we have been at the heart of the global struggle to protect rivers and the rights of communities that depend on them.
"Your termination of my employment will not stifle workers' organizing, for when you fire leaders, it only brings more people ignited into the movement," said Jennifer Bates.
Amazon on Friday fired Jennifer Bates, a warehouse worker and lead spokesperson of the unionization campaign in Bessemer, Alabama, without cause.
The Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU) described Bates as the "woman who lit the spark of the current rise of labor activism." Her termination comes as the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) continues to investigate RWDSU's claims that Amazon violated federal labor law in order to vanquish a union drive broadly supported by local residents.
According to RWDSU, the firing of Bates also comes amid a "monthslong worker's compensation nightmare. Bates continues to suffer from crippling injuries received while working at Amazon, which she spoke out about during the unionization effort, and for which has lengthy documentation." The union added that "Bates hit three years of service this May, an ominous number for Amazon workers whose pay scales top out after three years."
"Amazon terminated one of the most public pro-union worker leaders we've seen in a generation over an alleged paperwork issue."
"I went to work for Amazon because I believed in the future world of work, but at Amazon there is no future for workers like me," Bates said in a statement. "I have tirelessly worked for Amazon in Bessemer, Alabama since it opened. Everything hurts and it's permanently changed my life forever, but I stayed because I believe Amazon can be better, and I believe with a union we can build a brighter future for workers across the company."
"I've given my back to Amazon these past three years. I've given my arms and shoulders to Amazon these past three years. And I've given every fiber of my soul into organizing Amazon these past three years," said Bates. "For them to treat me like this is unfathomable."
"But let me be clear, Amazon, your termination of my employment will not stifle workers' organizing, for when you fire leaders, it only brings more people ignited into the movement," she stressed. "We are a movement, we will not be stopped, and I know my union, recognized or not by you, has my back. We will fight this, I will not be silenced, we will not be stopped."
\u201cBREAKING: Jennifer Bates (@Jennife67173021), the lead worker spokeswoman of the @BAmazonUnion drive, received notice she had been terminated by the company amid a several months long workers compensation nightmare. \nFull statement: https://t.co/tom8PZfxmK\u201d— RWDSU (@RWDSU) 1685711494
RWDSU president Stuart Appelbaum lamented that "Amazon terminated one of the most public pro-union worker leaders we've seen in a generation over an alleged paperwork issue, for which there is ample documentation."
The issue "can and should be easily resolved by a human," said Appelbaum. "Instead, Jennifer Bates is being subjected to termination by AI due to a glitch in the company's own software."
"Outrageously, Jennifer's is just one example of horror stories burdening thousands of Amazon workers every day," Appelbaum continued. "Workers suffer from life-altering injuries through their work at Amazon, including repetitive motion injuries and 911 emergencies, which send workers to the hospital regularly, some never to return again. Continually nameless faceless HR is either nowhere to be found or excessively difficult to track down."
"Amazon spared no expense in its union-busting throughout the Bessemer campaign, and today is just another in a litany of examples of how this company will stop at nothing to stifle workers' efforts to unionize," the union leader noted. "Amazon blatantly broke the law throughout the campaign, knowing that any potential penalty would be insignificant. Amazon's goal was to prevent—by any means—its employees from having a collective voice through a union in Bessemer."
"Labor law reform is critical if workers are to find any hope," he added. "Amazon's behavior must not be tolerated."
"Amazon spared no expense in its union-busting throughout the Bessemer campaign, and today is just another in a litany of examples of how this company will stop at nothing to stifle workers' efforts to unionize."
In the spring of 2021, RWDSU came up short during its initial organizing drive at Amazon's BHM1 warehouse in Bessemer—the first union election at one of the e-commerce giant's facilities in United States history.
Afterward, the union filed 23 complaints with the NLRB, accusing Amazon of illegally threatening employees with loss of pay and benefits, installing and surveilling an unlawful ballot collection box, and expelling pro-union workers from captive audience meetings during which management argued against collective bargaining.
The NLRB eventually threw out the results of the first election and supervised a new vote in the spring of 2022. The results of the second election were inconclusive. Although there were 118 more votes against unionization than for it, the final outcome hinges on how the director of the NLRB's Region 10 office decides to count 416 challenged ballots.
Following last year's contested vote, RWDSU lodged 21 objections to Amazon's conduct during the election with the NLRB, accusing the company of yet again interfering with the rights of its employees to organize for better conditions without fear of retaliation.
"Workers at Amazon have endured an insanely and needlessly long and aggressive fight to unionize their workplace; with Amazon doing everything it can to spread misinformation and deceive workers," Appelbaum said Friday. "Today’s news is shockingly just another case of Amazon's misconduct in a growing mountain of [unfair labor practices], objections, and charges against Amazon."
"The company violated the law in the first election and did so again in the re-run election, and now is firing union leaders in the facility to all but extinguish any embers of union support in the facility," said Appelbaum.
"We will continue to hold Amazon accountable and ensure workers' voices are heard," the union leader emphasized. "Amazon's behavior must not go unchallenged, and workers in Bessemer, Alabama must have their rights protected under the law. We urge the NLRB to carefully review Jennifer's case, when it's filed, and the countless other issues at hand to ensure no company, not even with the bottomless pockets of Amazon, is allowed to act above the law."
"Today's decision just isn't enough to give our communities a fighting chance against the climate emergency," said one campaigner.
Climate and environmental protection campaigners welcomed an announcement by the Biden administration on Friday that the U.S. Interior Department is blocking new oil and gas leases in the area surrounding Chaco Canyon in New Mexico, but emphasized that the move will not undo the damage done by President Joe Biden's approval of drilling on other public lands or by years of fossil fuel extraction in the region.
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced that after a public comment period and decades of campaigning by Indigenous rights groups, her agency will block new oil and gas leasing on public lands within a 10-mile radius of the Chaco Canyon National Historical Park.
Existing oil and gas leases on public and private lands within the 10-mile area will not be affected, and Diné C.A.R.E., a group representing Diné, or Navajo, communities affected by environmental issues, noted that the Greater Chaco Region in northwestern New Mexico is suffering the effects of oil and gas drilling, including the formation of a 2,500-square-mile methane cloud over the area.
"Protection of Chaco Canyon is a great first step, but protections for the Greater Chaco Region, where there are living communities of Diné relatives, wildlife, and plant life, including countless sacred sites throughout the region, are just as critical and should be a priority for the Biden administration," said Robyn Jackson, executive director of Diné C.A.R.E. "We cannot ignore the devastating impacts that oil and gas have on our climate, region, culture, living communities, and future generations."
Jackson called on the Biden administration to entirely phase out fossil fuel extraction, as climate scientists and energy experts have said all countries must in order to avoid planetary heating over 2°C above preindustrial levels, and "support a renewable and sustainable economy."
"We will continue to push for an end to oil and gas drilling on all public land in the U.S. so we may all enjoy a healthy, livable future in which our leaders prioritize environmental justice."
"Our Indigenous communities deserve environmental justice," she said.
The Chaco Canyon National Historical Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site and covers roughly 30,000 acres which were integral to Pueblo culture between the ninth and 13th centuries.
The Chaco Canyon Coalition, which includes Indigenous groups and has demanded protections for the park and the surrounding region for years, noted that the Interior Department's own estimates have found the administration's decision will block only a few dozen oil and gas wells, reducing natural gas production in the area by 0.5% and oil production by 2.5%.
"More than 90% of Greater Chaco is already either industrialized by oil and gas extraction or promised to industry for more drilling in the future, even as we recognize this activity's impacts on the area's communities and the climate," said attorney Ally Beasley of the Western Environmental Law Center, a member of the coalition. "We will continue to push for an end to oil and gas drilling on all public land in the U.S. so we may all enjoy a healthy, livable future in which our leaders prioritize environmental justice."
The limited protections for Chaco Canyon are "a welcome first step," said Soni Grant, New Mexico campaigner for the Center for Biological Diversity, on Friday. "But the Biden administration needs to follow up by ending all fossil fuel leasing on public lands and phasing out extraction."
"After holding our entire economy hostage and threatening to trigger a global financial meltdown, Republicans protected wealthy tax cheats and creepy billionaires," said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse.
A preliminary analysis from the Congressional Budget Office released Thursday estimates that the $21.4 billion in IRS funding cuts that Republicans and the Biden White House agreed to enact as part of their debt ceiling agreement would result in $40.4 billion in lost tax revenue—adding to the federal budget deficit.
The CBO provided its estimate to Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), who said in a statement that "after holding our entire economy hostage and threatening to trigger a global financial meltdown, Republicans protected wealthy tax cheats and creepy billionaires."
"Republicans' fealty to their megadonors is on full display, as is the hypocrisy of forcing cuts to the IRS that add $19 billion to the deficit," said Whitehouse, the chair of the Senate Budget Committee. "By contrast, President Biden's budget would have cracked down on wealthy tax cheats while making pro-growth investments in workers, families, and small business—and reduced the deficit by $3 trillion."
"There's a sharp contrast there," the senator added, "and the best explanation is Republican fealty to their dark-money megadonors."
The debt ceiling legislation that is now headed to President Joe Biden's desk after the Senate passed it late Thursday includes $1.4 billion in cuts to IRS funding that was aimed at providing the agency with the resources to pursue rich tax evaders, who cost the federal government tens of billions of dollars in revenue each year.
By itself, the $1.4 billion IRS cut would add $900 million to the deficit over a 10-year period, according to a separate CBO analysis released earlier this week.
But the White House and Republican leaders also reached a tentative side deal to cut $20 billion more from the chronically funding-starved agency over the next two fiscal years and use the money to prevent cuts to other federal spending programs.
"In a fight they claimed was about shrinking the debt, they decided to prioritize rolling back IRS enforcement funding in a move that will actually increase the debt by billions."
Having secured an agreement to slash IRS funding, House Republicans are reportedly planning to introduce a massive tax-cut package later this month that includes provisions the CBO says would add roughly $3.5 trillion to the deficit over the next decade.
"House Republicans have proven once again that there is nothing they care about more than making sure the ultra-rich can avoid paying taxes," Morris Pearl, chair of the Patriotic Millionaires, said in a statement Wednesday. "In a fight they claimed was about shrinking the debt, they decided to prioritize rolling back IRS enforcement funding in a move that will actually increase the debt by billions. They have gone to bat to protect wealthy tax cheats, and won."
The $20 billion in IRS cuts—a quarter of the $80 billion funding boost the agency received under the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA)—aren't a sure thing.
As The American Prospect's David Dayen explains, the debt ceiling legislation headed for President Joe Biden's desk "only creates topline numbers, baselines for future budget appropriations that have yet to be written."
If the spending bills don't pass by January 1, 2024, Dayen notes, "the IRS fund transfer, which is not in the deal and is just presumed as part of the appropriation, would not happen."
Jon Whiten, communications director for the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, wrote in a blog post on Thursday that the funding "is critical to allowing the IRS to do one of its most important jobs: crack down on tax cheating by the extremely wealthy and by big corporations."
"The IRS has had a hard time doing this lately because its enforcement budget was cut by about a fourth between 2010 and 2021," Whiten noted. "This led to 40% fewer revenue agents—the auditors uniquely qualified to examine the returns of high-income individuals and corporations."
"Ironically, for Republican leaders who have spent months clamoring about the deficit," Whiten continued, "these cuts to the IRS will increase the deficit by reducing the revenue the agency is able to collect from those who owe," Whiten continued.
"Perhaps it's less ironic and more on-brand," he added, "given that these same Republican leaders want to quickly pivot to pushing through more big tax cuts that will disproportionately reward wealthy families and corporations."