As humanity barrels towards climate catastrophe, the need to envision and build more ecologically sustainable societies and economies becomes more pressing with each passing day. However, our collective imagination is often so limited that it becomes impossible to envision societies and economies that aren’t organized around the quest for profit and infinite growth. So, what could a “degrowth” economy look like? To some, “degrowth” is a dirty word signaling a future of austerity that would translate to tremendous losses in jobs and economic stability for working people as societies race to cut back economic production to ward off the worst effects of climate change. To others, “degrowth” might mean the reduction of operations in the most environmentally destructive industries like oil and gas while targeting job growth in other areas like building green infrastructure, environmental cleanup efforts, sustainable farming, and so on. But, as is so often the case, you rarely get to hear what working people on the ground have to say about these issues.

For the past year, Max has had the honor of participating in a fellowship program for The Maintainers, “a global research network interested in the concepts of maintenance, infrastructure, repair, and the myriad forms of labor and expertise that sustain our human-built world.” Over the next two episodes, we’re going to introduce you all to some of the work that Max and The Maintainers team have been doing for the fellowship. In today’s episode, you’re going to hear one of the interviews Max conducted as part of the cornerstone group project for the 2022 cohort of Maintainers Movement Fellows.

In a special panel discussion about what a worker-centered transition to a more ecologically sustainable economy could look like, Max speaks with: Megan Milliken Biven, a former federal government employee and founder of True Transition, an organization that focuses on speaking directly to oil and gas workers throughout the United States about their working conditions, their training and compensation needs, their hopes for tomorrow’s industries, and is working to help create the kind of good-paying jobs and get workers the kind of training they need to transition to a sustainable energy future; James Hiatt, who was an oil refinery worker, lab analyst, and operator for a number of years and now works with the Louisiana Bucket Brigade to promote alternative forms of economic development in Louisiana beyond the grip of the fossil fuel industry; and Clarke, a longtime commercial diver who’s done contract work primarily for oil and gas companies in the Gulf of Mexico for over 15 years, but is now transitioning to other forms of commercial diving work.

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  • Jules Taylor, “Working People Theme Song”

Post-Production: Jules Taylor


Maximillian Alvarez:  All right. Welcome, everyone, to another episode of Working People, a podcast about the lives, jobs, dreams, and struggles of the working class today. Brought to you in partnership with In These Times magazine and The Real News Network, produced by Jules Taylor, and made possible by the support of listeners like you. My name is Maximilian Alvarez, and I am very, very excited because this is a special edition of the podcast. As you guys know, it has been a busy year on this end, to say the least, between all the important conversations with workers that we’ve recorded and published here on the podcast, publishing my first book in August, launching my Art of Class War segment at Breaking Points, and of course, all the coverage that we’ve been doing at The Real News Network on the war in Ukraine, the midterm elections, the Brazilian elections, the ongoing crisis on the nation’s railroads, and so much more.

But on top of all that, I’ve also had the tremendous joy and honor to participate in a fellowship program for a really great organization called The Maintainers, and I’ve gotten the chance to work with some really incredible people on the maintainers team, including the other members of the 2022 cohort of Maintainers Movement Fellows. As they describe themselves on The Maintainers website, “The Maintainers is a global research network interested in the concepts of maintenance, infrastructure, repair, and the myriad forms of labor and expertise that sustain our human-built world. Our members come from a variety of backgrounds, including engineers, business leaders, academic historians, social scientists, government, nonprofit agencies, artists, activists, coders, and more. Through collaborative efforts across an interwoven network of communities, we pursue our mission of maintaining self and society through reflection, research, and advocacy in the hopes of achieving a more caring and well-maintained world.”

Now, I’m sure after hearing that description you can probably see why I was so intrigued about the prospect of being a Maintainers Movement Fellow and about the prospect of fusing the work that I do in the realms of media and labor with the mission of The Maintainers. And over the next two episodes, I’m going to introduce you all to some of the work that I’ve been doing for the fellowship, and you’re going to get to meet the rest of The Maintainers team and get an in-depth look into our Cornerstone Group project. And in fact, if you want to join me, the other Maintainers Movement Fellows, and the whole Maintainers team for a live discussion about our project, then mark your calendars and call in for our virtual event on Thursday, Dec. 15, which is taking place from 2:00 to 3:00 PM Eastern Standard Time, and is called Embodying Degrowth: An Event with the Maintainers Movement Fellows.Again, that live event will be on Thursday, Dec. 15 from 2:00 to 3:00 PM Eastern Standard Time, and you can call in remotely, and you can find more details by following the link to the event in the show notes for this episode.

And so in today’s episode, you’re going to hear one of the interviews that I conducted as part of that group project. Now, this interview was one that I’ve, frankly, been wanting to do for the show for a long while, and I was already thinking about putting something together in this vein when I applied to be a Maintainers Movement Fellow this time last year.

And as I actually wrote in my application to the maintainers, “I would be very eager to develop a project that examines contemporary practices of care, repair, and infrastructural maintenance by centering the jobs, voices, and struggles of the flesh and blood human beings whose daily labor is the ultimate force maintaining society as we know it, especially after the world altering experience of COVID-19, workers who were deemed essential as well as people performing essential forms of labor like care work, even if they weren’t given that official essential recognition, have realized perhaps more than ever what it means to be the ones keeping the rest of society from falling apart.

“The project I envision would focus on talking to workers in such positions across different industries, extrapolating from their experiences during the pandemic, and collectively building a practical sense of what an environmentally sustainable society should look like, and what the care and maintenance of social systems within that society by working people would entail on a day-to-day level. I would also like to address the constantly frustrating reality that, when it comes to envisioning environmentally sustainable societies and economies, industry and political leaders almost always limit our collective imagination of the kinds of jobs that would result from such societies and economies to the paradigm of profitable and infinite growth. But questions about, on one side the future of work, and on the other side addressing the climate crisis are not separate from one another. There are virtually endless types of jobs and forms of labor that could be deployed in the service of environmental restoration and social care. If possible, I would like to explore through the Maintainers program what a labor centered and worker centered program for economic degrowth would look like.”

Now, I know that the word “degrowth” gets thrown around a lot, and it can mean wildly different things to different people. To some, it is a dirty word signaling a kind of brute forced austerity that would translate to tremendous losses in jobs and economic stability for working people as societies race to cut back economic production to ward off the worst effects of climate change. To others, degrowth might mean the reduction of operations in the most environmentally destructive industries like oil and gas while targeting job growth in other areas like building green infrastructure, environmental cleanup efforts, sustainable farming, and so on. But what I have found particularly irksome about a lot of these discussions is that, as is so often the case, you rarely get to hear what working people on the ground actually have to say for themselves.

And that is why I was so excited to get the chance to speak to our guests today for this interview about what a worker centered transition to a more ecologically sustainable economy could look like. And I just wanted to thank my incredible guests for making time to speak with me about this, and for all the important work that they do.

First up on the panel we have the great Megan Milliken Biven. Now, Megan used to work for the federal government in the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. Before, as she says, she went rogue and founded the organization True Transition, which everyone should go check out. We’ve included links in the show notes. True Transition focuses on speaking directly to oil and gas workers throughout the United States about their working conditions, their training and compensation needs, their hopes for tomorrow’s industries, and they’re working to help create the kind of good paying jobs and get workers the kind of training they need to transition to a sustainable energy future.

Also joining the panel is James Hiatt, who was himself an oil refinery worker, a lab analyst, and operator for a number of years. Now, James works with the Louisiana Bucket Brigade to promote alternative forms of economic development in Louisiana outside of the grip of the fossil fuel industry.

And last but certainly not least, we got to talk with Clarke, a long-time and dear friend of the show, whom we’ve had on before, and a veteran commercial diver who’s done contract work primarily for oil and gas companies in the Gulf of Mexico for over 15 years, but is now working to transition to other forms of work as a commercial diver. This is their story.

All right, well, welcome, everyone, to another interview for the Maintainers Fellowship. This is Maximilian Alvarez, one of the 2022 Maintainers Fellows, and we are continuing our collective investigation into the question of degrowth. What does it mean? What could it look like? And how vital is it to saving the world and the economy and society in general? So we’ve gotten a couple of great interviews that I’ve gotten to record so far for this series, and I’m exceedingly excited for today’s discussion where we’re going to take a look at what a worker focused, just transition to a more sustainable economy might look like, and what the current economic arrangement that is driving us towards increased climate chaos and inequality and so on and so forth, what that looks like for the working people who maintain our infrastructure and keep the gears of commerce running. So without further ado, let’s go around the table and introduce our incredible guests by having them introduce themselves. So Megan, why don’t we start with you?

Megan Milliken Biven:  Hello, y’all. My name is Megan Milliken Biven. Backstory is I used to be a bureaucrat for the federal government for the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. I have since gone rogue, and I have founded my own organization called True Transition, which focuses on creating the jobs that workers will transition into, and also making sure that the current employment and work is safer and better for the workers that are ensuring that our lights can turn on, that our cars can run, and that our quality of life is good.

James Hiatt:  Sure. I’m James Hiatt. I’m here in Southwest Louisiana where my father was a refinery worker. I was a refinery worker, lab analyst, and operator, and currently my role is with the Louisiana Bucket Brigade to try to promote alternative economic development in Louisiana instead of doubling down on this fossil fuel industry that basically has a stranglehold on our state and really the world. It’s so great to be with you all today.

Clarke:  Hello, my name is Clarke. I’m a 15-year-plus commercial diver that’s worked in the Gulf of Mexico, primarily for oil and gas. In the middle of transitioning, moving my family to Florida to escape the oil patch and find safer employment, still diving, that’s infrastructure based around mostly power plants and stuff now… And that’s about it. I’ve seen the market go up and down a couple times in my 15 years, and the last five was a real struggle for the family, and that’s why we’re deciding to pull the plug and get out good. And all my buddies are doing pretty good right now, but in five years, you just can’t. It fluctuates so bad, and as far as the diving goes, there’s nothing for us. It’s too cool of a job to have them care about giving you benefits, basically. That’s me.

Maximillian Alvarez:  Whew. All right, so let’s dig into this. So before we talk more about the work y’all are doing now and get everyone’s thoughts on charting a path towards a more economically and environmentally sustainable world, and what that would look like for working people like yourselves, let’s get to know a little more about you three and how you came to doing that work and focusing on those questions. So I’m going to go back around the table, and, Megan, however comfortable you are talking about your life as a bureaucrat and the path that led you to go rogue, could you tell us more about your backstory and the work that you do now?

Megan Milliken Biven:  So my backstory is my husband actually was a white collar worker for the industry. He was a naval architect and marine engineer. He installed rigs, he built OSVs, worked at shipyards, worked at a lot of different places in Louisiana, and he had reached his max. We were tired of not seeing him, and he was overworked like everyone else in the over patch. I mean, it’s really unless you’re an owner, everyone is overworked. They’re understaffed, and he needed a break from it. And he switched to diabetes health tech, because he’s a diabetic, and he was doing data science stuff on the side and decided, you know what? I want to do this full time, and so he switched fields, and that’s what brought us over here.

But because of my proximity to him and to other people in the yards and in the industry, one thing that became very apparent to me working at the federal government was that there wasn’t enough attention focused on the actual workers. They were just a number on the page. There was a lot of deference to the companies. Like BESSI, our sister agency, as long as the company had a safety plan that they had, that was it. There really wasn’t any verification. There really wasn’t a lot of oversight ensuring that regular workers were getting their fair due, and it was a question that kept on bugging me until finally it became kind of an obsession.

And the more I talk to people every day, the more I get to know regular people working in the industry, the more that obsession grows, and realizing that the backbone of the United States is completely taken for granted, and it’s something I think a lot of workers don’t like to admit and confront is that they’re taken advantage of. They’re oppressed. And they don’t like that, because it feels icky. And so I think there’s a lot of exciting, interesting, fraught work ahead. I don’t want to monopolize, so onto the next gentleman.

Maximillian Alvarez:  No, that was great. And just to make that point even starker, we are having this conversation less than 24 hours away from the United States’s first potential national rail shutdown since the early ’90s. We won’t go into the background there, but I’ve been reporting on this for The Real News and Working People and running around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to let people know what’s going on. But to your point, Megan, everyone has suddenly realized this week that, oh, shit. Our supply chain depends on the flesh and blood workers running these railroads and other key sources of national infrastructure, and so on and so forth, and they’re being run into the ground. They can barely stand up straight. They never get to see their families. They don’t even get paid sick leave, and they are prepared to strike over that. And it suddenly made everyone realize how dependent our entire economy is on these folks doing their jobs.

So maybe we should actually care about their working conditions and the misery that they are living in, so on and so forth. So I just wanted to emphasize that point. All right, James, let’s toss it to you. Tell us more about yourself, your backstory, and the kind of work that you’ve been doing.

James Hiatt:  Sure. Thanks so much. Yeah, my dad was a refinery operator and lab analyst growing up, and I always imagined myself never getting into that field. We had moved away, moved to New York City. We had my son, and we moved back home to Lake Charles here, and the opportunities for employment, I didn’t have a college degree, basically revolved around the industry. You could work for the plant, you could be a contractor for the plant. If you wanted to have a job that paid good enough that you didn’t need two jobs, the opportunities weren’t there except for in the refinery. So I ended up being a contract operator for several years working on the docks, hooking up all the ships and the barges, and then working in the tank farm climbing these tanks, and eventually I got on with the refinery.

And so for me what was really striking is that when my dad was coming up, they worked eight-hour shifts. And then because Louisiana is a right-to-work state, it had slowly been eroded, the power of the union has slowly been eroded to the point where they decided to switch the shifts up, and so now we work 12-hour shifts, which allows the company to employ less people because you only need two people per day instead of three, and so the workforce, the labor costs can go down because you don’t need as many. And I experienced that working, many times there would not be enough people to cover. Someone would call in sick or need days off, and they had implemented some fatigue policies so that you could only work 13 days and then they’d require you to have a day off, except if that was your regularly scheduled shift. So there was a period of time there where I worked 22 days straight, 12 hours, and one of them was an 18-hour we had to hold over. So the only way we have fuel for cars is because there’s a worker operating this process, and to fuel America.

And so these workers, I don’t think anybody loves the oil company as much as they need a good paying job to support their family, and the thought that the only way we can get that is by extracting and refining oil or gas is just ridiculous, especially when the cost of these industries on our environment, on our health, and really on the safety of these workers is really just… It’s costly. One thing that really there has been some safety improvements over the years in these oil fields. But the truth of the matter is they’ve set up these programs where there’s a safety policy. And so the people at the top, the CEO and the administrators, I’m not sure they really believe that, but they think that the work is being done according to the policy.

And then when you get to the middle managers, they understand that, well, we can’t quite do it that way. We still got to get it done. And then the workers on the ground, the safety culture is questionable. It’s a just get it done kind of culture, and we see that many times people end up getting hurt and then they get blamed for it. It’s the worker’s fault that they got hurt and not the culture or the lack of actual implementation of a policy that’s workable. One time we had a policy or a procedure to do something that was physically impossible to follow the procedure and do, but it’d been that way for a long time, and the work had been getting done because somebody would climb up on a pipe rack and open the valve in a very unsafe manner. But this kind of thing is really pretty prevalent. I still have a lot of friends there, and I don’t hold anything against them for trying to feed their family and enjoy life.

So people work in these jobs because they don’t have other opportunities or this is what’s been promoted as the best paying job for what you can do here and stay local. And the time off you get is good. And the pay is pretty good. You’re not going to find that elsewhere. But at the same time, the other side of that is that we are stuck. We are stuck in this system where we think that this is the only way it is. We have to just put up with the flaring and the spills and the carcinogens that are emitted into the air because this is the way it is. And the truth is it doesn’t have to be that way, and it’s actually killing us and killing the planet. So we definitely have got to move into ways of living and being that are not extractive and exploitative of workers and people’s lives.

Maximillian Alvarez:  Hell yeah, man. Couldn’t have put it better myself. And just to quickly follow up on that, for folks who like myself know jack shit about working at a refinery, on a day-to-day level, what did that look like for you?

James Hiatt:  Well, as an operator, you have to bring in the input, so that’s crude oil, and then it has to be boiled. Basically we boil oil, and it divides into different components. You got diesel and jet and gasoline that can be made out of that. And so these huge towers, these distillation towers are high temperature, high pressure, and that’s how you break out the components of this oil, and then it gets put in these… The refinery I worked at had about 420,000 barrels a day processing. So the oil is held in 100,000 barrel tanks, which is 60-foot tall, huge, is processed in these hundreds of feet tall towers, and then the final product is also put in a tank. And so in order to gauge how much product is in a tank, some person has to physically climb on top of the tank and stick a ruler or a gauge tape into the product to measure what the level is so you can quantify how many barrels are in the tank.

So that’s part of the job that I did was climbing these tanks. Most of the volatile compounds like gasoline are on a floating roof, so it’s not like a fixed roof. The tank, the roof is actually floating on top of the product, so if the tank is empty, it’s still got about seven feet of product in it, and you have to climb down. You have to climb up the tank 40 feet and then you have to climb down 30 feet into this hole, so you can gauge it or sample it or whatever. And so that’s part of it. And then the other part is lining it up, big valves to send this product where it needs to go. So that was a lot of the work is you’re being exposed to these chemicals because you have a hatch open and you’re in a confined space, and that’s part of the plan.

That’s part of the procedure. The procedure says that you’re going to climb the tank. You’re going to bring an explosive meter with you so if there’s a lower explosive level, if there’s too much gasoline in the air that you’ll be able to leave, but the truth of the matter is you have already climbed. You’re going to get the work done. And maybe that’s a safety culture that I was a part of, but I’m sure it’s not unique to that. And then it gets pumped to wherever, to pipelines that go throughout the United States, to barges that get shipped to other ports in America, or to ships, many times, that go overseas or to Florida. Florida doesn’t have any pipelines so all of their gasoline, jet, and diesel come from other Gulf Coast refineries on American vessels with American seamen that transport it to Florida. Hopefully that’s a little primer on what goes on at a refinery.

Maximillian Alvarez:  Man, that was great, and I’m closing my jaw listening to all of this. I got so many thoughts, but I’m just, again, just confronting the reality that guys like you know about on an intimate level, and most of us, we’re able to put this out of sight, out of mind. And there’s a consumer side of this too, because everyone wants low gas prices. That’s really all we care about when we drive into the gas station. We don’t think about the workers who are being constantly put at hazard to bring that product to market, so on and so forth. And [inaudible], that seems like a perfect segue into your backstory and what you do, which is also something that people don’t think about, but without folks like you, we would not have a lot of the stuff that we depend on. So let’s talk about you, your backstory and the kind of work that you do.

Clarke:  All right, thanks, Max. James hit it spot on. I’ve worked for a couple of different companies, and we were all contractors for larger oil companies where you go and buy your gas from. And the main thing, our selling point was always a safety culture and safety programs that we build. Most of the time we follow those rules and work safely but it’s a dangerous job that we do, so that protects you only so far. Being competent, I guess, is the important thing, and then… [phone rings] Oh, my phone is ringing, sorry. Teaching the younger guys and girls coming into the field the dos and don’ts, and, hey, they’re going to say this, but watch your ass. This is what’s really going on down there.

And in the Gulf when I was doing oil and gas it was mostly pipeline work. So it’s the same job that the guys do on land except for we have to do it underwater and it’s in the Gulf of Mexico. You can’t really see anything. You have to learn all this stuff by touch and fee, and really learn about valves and how to ID them with just your hands and some gloves on while you might be freezing your ass off underwater.

I was always the guy in the safety meetings that would mumble something like, safety third, because I know they’d say stuff and I’m just like, man, no one is here bro. You don’t need to punch up your safety. You’re just playing the part they want you to play, dude. They don’t care about that. This is our advertisement for them, and once we get there and check all their boxes that they need and then we make sure we have a couple extra check boxes to make it look safe. You know it is.

But then do a platform demolition where we will take out 600, 700-foot platforms, oil rigs offshore. And they’ll send us out there, and I’ve worked 38 hours before straight, and they’re ain’t no fucking safety in that. And the guys on the barge don’t like us being out there because it’s their barge. But we’re there to hook their crane up to the platform and they want to know why it’s taking so long. It’s 250 feet underwater, dude. It takes a little while to get down there and come back up. And hopefully everything goes the right way and it never does, so it takes a little bit. And they’ll bring out two crews to work a day and a night shift, but that just kind of bleeds all into itself. And next thing you know, all right, I got three hours of sleep but you guys woke me back up to come back out here to work because you needed extra hands because Murphy came along and the plan didn’t work the way that he thought the plan was going to go.

And so we just took that safety, crumbled it up, threw it away, went after getting the job done because the barge is pushing you. Like James said, that our work hours is usually 12 hours. You work on a boat or a ship or maybe a platform, and if you’re doing that you’re doing two twelves, like a day and a night crew, and that’s not too bad. But you’re out there for 30 days or so or longer. I’ve done 160 days stretches before. Great check, but came back to the world and it was like a whole new place. Just seeing trees and stuff was pretty amazing. Seeing people, going to the mall was an exciting thing for me.

Maximillian Alvarez:  Well, and just to expand on that point, for folks who are listening to this, you are a commercial diver, so you’re being sent out to the middle of the fucking ocean. And your workplace is underwater most times, and you’re in full diving gear, you’re down there, you may be underwater welding, you may be clearing debris, but you’re out there for as long as it takes for the job to get done, and you’re not going back home every night to see your family and stuff, right?

Clarke:  Right. Absolutely. You’re living with your fellow workers, and hopefully they’re not complete assholes. They usually are. But after about two weeks, everybody kind of turns into an asshole. The camaraderie is usually pretty good. You got to learn to get along to work along. But right. So then we’ll come home and maybe you get a week off to stay with your family after a couple weeks out there. Maybe they take the crew van to another dock and you guys just get on another boat and go out and do another job with no break. One of the reasons why I left and I’m working inland now is so I can go home to my wife and kid every day, because we had a kid about four years ago, and I was just like, this is not it, man. You can’t be a dad doing this.

And if you’re working twelves and going home, that’s a little something. My wife just came out to visit and I had my kid, and my parents were taking care of the kid, my son, Jude. And she came and stayed for two weeks, and the last three days she’s like, bro, you’re working 14-hour days. I get to see you for two hours and you’re pissed off about work the whole time, so I think we’re just going to go ahead and take the rest of the vacation back to Louisiana and get everything situated and move out here. But this is a good idea. Just every now and then the work schedule hits real hard, and she came in right in the brunt of it. But it was a good taste, and she was like, this is better. We got to go do some Florida amusement parks and stuff, have a little family time. But it’s like, I don’t know, I guess I’ll get more of that working this way than I would offshore.

And then the other time is that sometimes you don’t work for three or four months, and that’s real stressful. Really get to know your partner real well, and you feel the financial strain, because the way it goes now is they like to hire you on as 1099, so there’s a lot of benefits for the company. There are not a lot of benefits for you. Your taxes can work out better under a 1099, but not so much. I’ve seen it go up and down. I came out and started this career right after Katrina, and they were just throwing money at us to go fix the nightmare that the hurricane made offshore. And then I saw them just slowly start to close the valve and make the money machine not bleed quite the way it was.

And then around ’08 or so, the consumer commodity, which would be oil, took a nose dive because I think the land oil fields were really starting to produce a lot more in America, so offshore we take the big hit because it’s a lot more money. You got to pay more guys. You got the boats. Just to go drill it requires a couple of boats to do it, to where on land you just need a guy in a semi-truck to move something for you. I need that guy, and then I need a boat captain and a boat crew, and then you need a bunch of asshole divers that come out there and they take all your money. Yeah, that’s right, right, right, and I’ve just seen it.

So when that consumer to commodity went down, we took a 10% pay cut, and then we took another 10% pay cut, and then in two years we had a 30% pay cut, and I just quit. Went and worked a land job for a couple months, and then I got a buddy that called me and was like, hey, man, I got a barge and they’re paying this. And I was like, well… Like James was saying, I was just trying to make do out in Louisiana, get a normal person job, but I was looking at it, and I was like, dude, I’m going to have to get two jobs to make this work to pay this mortgage, and fuck it, bro. I’m going on this barge. I’m going back diving. Called my wife and said, hey, I got a 45-day hitch. Bank account is going to be big, so you cool with me leaving tomorrow? And she said, yeah, go for it. We need that money.

The one thing that was always a constant struggle with that and chasing that check. And then I quit working for a main company, because they’re still around and they’re doing good, but a lot of the other diving companies have kind of faltered out. They have a couple different ones that just do manning, like temp divers, which just blows my mind, but it’s good for the guys that don’t want to freelance. I just freelanced for five years, and it was like when I’m not at work, I’m on vacation with my wife and kid and I’m making phone calls trying to line up work in a week and hoping to God that everything that I get lined up, those contracts go through so my contract can go through. And then January or so I was chasing those this year, and just nothing was working out for anybody and it was just a real struggle.

So I came inland and started working for a company that’s got more constant work and should usually just be working eight-hour days with a pretty decent check. But work at power plants, and we got to work on their pumps and stuff and they have outages. We’re going into one tonight, so I’m going to be working five weeks of seven twelves a week. But I’m a supervisor now so my 12 is really like a 14 because I got paperwork in the front, paperwork in the back, and I have to handle all the guys and make sure all the guys are good and everything is safe and run all that stuff and do meetings. And really I just like to put helmet on head, blow bubbles, and turn wrench, but here I am. I’ve done it long enough that I can see when guys are having problems and the different attitudes that you come across, good ones, bad ones, and get those guys to work better, bring a safety culture in.

I accidentally told the regional safety manager of this company that their safety culture is a fucking joke, and I don’t really see what it is that you guys… What are you doing? I’m not seeing it bro. You want the guys to come out to the field and it’s my job to teach them the culture, but they should probably have an idea before they get out there what we expect of them, and you’re not doing that to me. Why? You’re in the safety division. Why am I doing your job? I’m here to embrace your job and build it into what it is, but you have to pour some sort of foundation first before I can make you a skyscraper of an employee. Yeah, it’s just safety third.

I see a transition to where all this stuff needs to change. It’s killing our workers. Louisiana, in order to have a good job, like James said, I’m just going to keep beating this, the only way you get a good job in Louisiana is working in the oilfield. And if you don’t have a college degree, that’s the way. And if you do have a college degree, that is also the way. And one way or the other, you’re working for the oil field. Even if you’re working at McDonald’s or you’re a barista, you’re support out there for that. And no one gives Louisiana the credit it deserves for what it provides for the country. And when people talk about it they’re like, oh, you’re from Louisiana? That’s neat. How is it living with electricity and everything?

And I’m like, that’s weird, bro. You’re from Texas. It’s pretty good where I’m at. I don’t know where you’re from. I don’t know. Everyone just thinks it’s New Orleans and [inaudible 00:41:15] to have a good time. But really it’s a bunch of good people out there with culture, and they got these refineries surrounding them that are killing them. They got to work in these refineries to make the wages to pay for their houses and that’s killing them.

But there’s a job transition I believe. All that infrastructure needs to get taken down and removed, and that’s going to take decades to handle all of that. All those pipelines in the Gulf need to be handled. There’s a path forward, and it’s good jobs, and it can be safe jobs, safer jobs than what they are now, because production, it’s production for destruction. And my favorite part is when I go on the field and get to rip stuff out. They want things done at a certain time, but they also understand you’re taking apart something no one really made a real solid plan on, so it can get real sketchy really quick, and if we call all stop on it, they’ll stop and listen and see what’s going on.

Maximillian Alvarez:  Well, let’s talk about that, because this is all –

Clarke:  [inaudible] that at you.

Maximillian Alvarez:  Yeah. This is incredibly helpful. And again, the side of this story that we rarely ever get to hear. But it really underlines what y’all were just saying. The importance of having this discussion and more people thinking about what a just transition away from the fossil fuel economy that, as you said, is not only killing the planet, but is killing workers in the process, and what a just transition away from that would look like that still cares for and attends to the needs of working people who still need to keep a roof over their heads, provide for their families, go home safe every night, so on and so forth.

And I think we know the incentive from the business side. The fossil fuel industry is going to keep squeezing every dollar’s worth of profit it can out of the industry itself. It’s going to do what it can to get as much money as it can, and it has amassed so much power to allow the industry to keep doing that. So we know the financial incentive for not moving away from the fossil fuel economy until there’s nothing left.

But as y’all both mentioned, on the labor side, on the worker side, on the grassroots side, we are coerced into keeping this system going for our livelihoods. And it’s not just the fossil fuel industry, but this is the calculation that is made. In Louisiana, as y’all put it so pointedly, one way or another you’re working for the oil fields, or you’re working for the oil industry, or you’re supporting the surrounding infrastructure that supports the oil industry.

In Alabama, the military-industrial complex is where the good union, blue collar jobs are coming from, and so it’s not like it’s workers’ faults that these industries exist, but if this is where the pay is coming from, and this is how people are providing for their families, what else can they do? So even in West Virginia and coal, it’s like where else are people going to go to provide for themselves, so on and so forth? So –

Megan Milliken Biven:  Well, can I say one thing to… Can I start off the response? Because I want to challenge the premise that the only jobs in Louisiana are oil and gas jobs. I’m not disagreeing, but I am just pointing out that as an employer, the oil and gas industry is… And one side of their mouth, they say to politicians, we are a meaningful employer. If you want good jobs, you have to keep us going. It’s that Faustian deal, that Stockholm syndrome. But when they speak to shareholders, when they speak to their upper management, it’s how do we make this lean? How do we cut the workforce? Because everything these two gentlemen were describing was a matter of having too few workers to do the job. Because that’s their intent, that’s their project.

And you saw that over the last 15 years really aggressively both in the upstream and the downstream, where Louisiana, like I said before we cut off, it’s only 2%, 3% of total employment is from the oil and gas industry. That’s a very small number compared to what the actual employment is coming from. but the jobs in 2005, 2006, we started going onshore, 2008, and the offshore couldn’t compete. But actually, offshore production almost doubled in that time period, but the drilling and exploration jobs fell by 67% for Louisiana. So they were able to extract more with less. They were able to drill more wells with fewer rigs, fewer boats, and fewer people, and they’re going to keep on doing that aggressively.

You look at the lockouts in Beaumont and the refineries’ actions that have happened recently. They were able to keep these plants running with a bulk of their workforce locked out at 70% capacity, and that is a trend that they’ve been doing since the 1950s. This industry does not want to employ people. And sticking with it, doubling down with it, it will not employ people. Their project is to have fewer people. And so for me, the transition starts with first challenging that premise, really aggressively disagreeing with the premise that these are meaningful employers and that continuing to extract oil and gas or refining it and basing our entire energy system, transportation, and economy onto these products is going to create the durable meaningful employment that supports our communities. It doesn’t, but cleanup will.

James Hiatt:  Again, I mean, really that’s a very important point for people to understand. The largest employer in the parish where I live is actually the school board. They are the largest employer, not the two major refineries or all the other petrochem that we have. The school board employs more people, and they employ more people with less money, because these industries do not pay their fair share of property taxes. They get away from… They have such a stranglehold on this narrative that they are… We are the reason why Lake Charles exists. We are the reason why… The truth is Lake Charles was here long before any oil refinery came. And if we continue to double down on fossil fuels and we build out these gas export terminals that only employ about 200 people, this very, very small amount of people, we’re saying that we’ll all be underwater.

There’ll be no place to be working because sea level will rise. And whether you believe that part or not, if you’re not into climate change, if you don’t believe that, that’s fine. One point I’d like to make about these gas export terminals that’s really on my radar now is these huge, liquified natural gas facilities that they’re taking natural gas found from fracking piped over here to South Louisiana and then frozen, which takes a huge amount of energy to freeze it to minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit, to put it on a boat, to ship it overseas, mostly to Asia and to Europe. And when we do that, what we’re doing is making every American, even the manufacturers pay more for their electricity. Methane is used to make fertilizers, so we are seeing food costs increase specifically because we are sending over 20% of the gas that is produced in this country overseas.

And who profits from that? The only people that profit are these big gas companies. And who’s paying for it? Who’s paying for that is every single American. And especially low and fixed income Americans are paying more. And we’ve even seen trade groups who would not really be on the same side as other environmentalists, plastic producers, who are paying so much for their electricity because of this fleecing of America where we take the commodity that we have, our natural resources, the thing that we could, we should leave in the ground, but we could use to help actually fuel a transition, and instead of keeping it here and using it as a bridge, we’re taking it and freezing it and selling it to the highest bidder, these companies are. And they’re making a killing while they’re killing us, and they’re killing our coast, and they’re not providing that many jobs. I think that’s the point.

So instead of doubling down, they want to… We have three in Southwest Louisiana. They want to build eight more facilities along the Gulf Coast. There’s 20 something different gas export facilities that they want to build. This is not the direction to be moving in. The direction to be moving in is toward renewable and sustainable and also efficiency measures. We’ve seen just recently in St. James Parish, which is between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, the same parish council that unanimously approved a huge billion dollar foreign plastic plant, Formosa, just recently put a moratorium on solar farms. So I’m sure that wasn’t the parish council’s idea. I’m sure they had somebody, a little bird in their ear trying to continue our reliance and dependence on fossil fuels. And that’s the problem in Louisiana and probably throughout much of the country is that they have their claws in everything, every aspect of government, and also in the narrative and the mindset of the people is that if you like to have your lights turn on you have to have fossil fuels.

And so to push back against that and to say that this is completely not true, because we can see how this has worked in other countries, and even in Texas through this last heat wave, it was actually renewables that sustained the electricity, not fossil fuels. So without going too deep in the weeds, I think that’s an important point, to know that the jobs that we’re talking about, these abandoned wells that these massive oil companies have sold to smaller companies that go bankrupt, and then now it’s on the taxpayer’s role to clean it up. This is by design. They have done this by design. And so there’s a lot of cleanup to be done, and also there’s a lot that can be done to help bring in renewables if we will incentivize it and not keep giving tax breaks to the companies that don’t need them.

They’re making record profits. It’s absolutely insane to continue down this path when there’s opportunity for transition. And it’ll be economical and it’ll be viable. But we have got to stop listening to the petroleum cartels that keep telling us that [they] are the way forward. No, you’re not. You’re what’s holding us back. So anyway, [inaudible] monopolizing.

Maximillian Alvarez:  Preach, brother. That’s where I was going before, is that this is the coercive direction that we’re constantly pushed in. Whether we’re talking about oil and gas or whether we’re talking about coal, that these are the job creating industries that we need in order to keep constituencies in this or that state employed. That is what we are always told. That is the only time that politicians ever seem to really care about the workers in these industries is when they can make some sort of political hay about it and how they’re creating jobs, yada, yada, yada. So this is where the degrowth question really becomes central. Because people will say, well, what else are people going to do?”

Like you just said, James, we’re told that we need fossil fuels. Fossil fuels aren’t going away. This is where the investment needs to come. This is where the money is going to come from. But what everyone here has kind of brought up is there are tons of potential jobs in reclamation and cleanup. There are tons of potential jobs in renewable energy and the infrastructure building that would need to go into that. There could be a New Deal-style push that puts a lot of people to work, good paying jobs, union jobs that actually address these things, but we’re told the financial incentive isn’t there. So where I’m getting with this is let’s go back around the table and talk a little more for folks about what that could concretely look like. What sort of things do we not even consider when we keep buying into this fictive notion that the fossil fuel economy is the only way to fuel the country, the economy, and to provide jobs for working people?

Megan Milliken Biven:  So there’s no lack of work to do in the United States, right? There’s a ton of delayed maintenance in terms of public infrastructure, in terms of products that we actually need. There is supply chain [inaudible] for things, tangible products that we actually need. There is not a lack of things to do. There is a lack of willingness to pay people to do things. There is a distinction. And my big thing that I’m pushing for as a job employer is not… Because it’s what you said earlier, there’s no incentive. Exactly, because what we need is not market provided. It is fundamentally a market good. I mean, excuse me, a public good that has to be provided for the public by the public.

And one of the big things that I am advocating for is the creation of a new federal agency, the Abandoned Well Administration, that will directly employ oil and gas workers to do that reclamation work, because we don’t need oil and gas companies. We need oil and gas workers. Those skills, those people we need today to do this work. And so the Abandoned Well Administration would be in 30-plus states across the United States, identifying, plugging and abandoning, and monitoring oil and gas wells in perpetuity. Because everyone has probably heard of the bipartisan infrastructure bill from last year, and that created a grant program which is giving federal dollars to state orphan well programs to give to companies like Schlumberger and Halliburton to plug wells.

The thing about a well, an oil and gas well, is that, okay, you can inject cement into a production casing, but what happens with cement? It crumbles eventually. What happens to steel? The casing of these wells, they corrode. There was a very high profile case in Texas of a rancher who had several Chevron plugged wells. They were plugged in the 1990s, which to my old self sounds pretty recent. And they failed. They had a subsurface blowout, and one of those wells plugged by Chevron was fraudulently plugged with several feet of cardboard. We are treating this issue like it’s a temporary thing, like we can plug a well and walk away. But no, it’s more akin to nuclear waste where we need to monitor this forever.

And so the implication is that the cleanup is actually a forever job, that we need this workforce forever. Because even if a tiny percentage of the 10 million-plus wells that have been drilled in the history of the United States onshore, not even counting offshore, fail, leaks, emits methane, causes a blowout, explodes like it has in other places, these old fields where a buildup of gas explodes over a house that unwittingly was built on top of it, we still need a trained workforce ready to respond and replug those wells and ensure that communities are safe. And so that’s the thing I don’t think people really understand is that there is the potential for forever work, because we need it.

And then, of course, we talk about renewable energy. Louisiana and Texas have some of the highest net technical potential for offshore wind capacity in the entire United States. Higher than California, higher than the Eastern Seaboard. Oh, sorry, Florida as well. The potential is massive. If we were just to take advantage of that shallow continental shelf and deploy offshore wind really aggressively, we could bring down carbon emissions. But the problem is that right now, decommissioned in place pipelines, so pipelines that the federal government allowed companies to just leave after their useful life, we have 18,000 miles of those in the Gulf of Mexico.

Well, that’s a job too. We need to move those really quickly. We need to put those boats to work. There’s all these idled offshore supply vessels just sitting there in Louisiana and Texas ports with nothing to do. Well, there’s plenty of work to do. It’s just we have to apply public resources to those and make sure that companies are paying for their fair share, which is all of it, of course. So there’s no small amount of work to do. We just have to be willing to do it.

James Hiatt:  That’s a great point. I think my mom is actually, she was from Kentucky, from coal country in Kentucky. And what we see in the Rust Belt and other areas is after these companies come in, they get what there is to get, and what they leave is despair. The truth is if you do not diversify the economy before the main driver is gone, you are left with nothing. And so the substance abuse, all the other problems that come with people who are in despair because there’s no work available, there’s no… All these things are taken out. We’ve got to look. The oil and gas playbook is not brand new. We’ve seen this in the way that tobacco has promised that, oh, no, it’s good for you. Don’t worry about it. The same kind of thing is what we’re hearing, and like Megan was saying, there’s plenty of work.

The truth is these companies should have had on their permits the cleanup of all of this, all of these deep wells. And the mess that’s left here just, well, I almost cry thinking about this. There was a poor girl in Beauregard Parish just I don’t know if that was last year, but she was playing on basically an abandoned… They had some tanks. It exploded, and she lost her life while she was making a TikTok or shooting a… I mean, whatever it is, that should not happen. That should not happen. I mean, what are we doing? So besides cleaning up, you want to have the lights turn on. And when you flip the switch, if it’s not reliable, it’s no good.

Well, after all these hurricanes, you can’t flip the switch and have the lights turn on when you get hit with a hurricane. So we’ve got to move into this direction that is really the only way forward for our kids and our children, their kids. What are we doing in this moment to continue this idea that we can build more fossil fuel infrastructure, which is what this IRA bill has done and what Joe Manchin is trying to push through with his side deal, his little side deal, is that we’re going to open up for more oil and gas exploration offshore, which is not profitable. It’s more profitable onshore right now for reasons such as fracking, which is also terrible, or putting more pipelines in to continue on this path, and that’s not what we need. What we need is to use the methane in a way that is not… Obviously, we’re all driving cars. We’re not there yet. We’re not to the point. But we’re not even heading in the direction of Louisiana.

75% of the electricity produced in Louisiana is from natural gas power plants, and we see these opportunities to invest in offshore wind, to invest in solar farms, to increase efficiency. There are plenty of jobs. There’s so much work that needs to be done to upgrade the grid. That is a public good even though we are paying a profit-making company to storm surcharges so we can have electricity that they own. Anyway. I’ll get deep in the woods and start talking about hurricane recovery, but there is no sense in continuing to rely and be dependent on fossil fuels or to invest more and more into that instead of transitioning when there’s plenty of jobs if we only quit listening to the narratives pushed by the petroleum cartels. I call them cartels. That might be my own propaganda for them, but the stories they push are just as much propaganda.

Clarke:  I’d double down on what Megan was saying about the pipelines. Thanks, James. They are cartels. I’ll get in on the propaganda with you. So when I worked in the Gulf, I would patch at least six pipes a year usually. We have to go underwater. The pipes are buried three feet, supposedly, at least into the seafloor. So we have to go down and expose the pipeline to find the leak, and then we’d have these thousands of dollars of clamp that we put on them, make tight, and then they put push gas air through it to see if there’s any bubbles, if it’s leaking again, and then they put the pipe back online. The way we find them is they flush the pipe. They turn the oil off, turn the consumer commodity out of it. But when you go down there to find them, there’s a whole bunch of weird, exciting science stuff that happens with oil, and they get this paraffin wax that traps up into the pipe, and that traps in the chemicals that are from the consumer commodities.

Some of it’s NORM, which is naturally radioactive material that’s involved with these pipelines. When I would go down there to find the hole, I’d get the bubbles. Hopefully I don’t expose the bubbles on top of myself which is usually what happens, and I’d get a really bad chemical burn around my neck. This is the only part that’s exposed on my body when I’m diving. But I’m like, hey, I know that there’s the pipes. Stay away from the bubbles. And usually we have some PPE, some cream that we put on, but if you’re down there for three hours it doesn’t really stick around. So that’s in all these pipes, all these old pipes that they’ve abandoned. They’re there, so there’s a gas buildup that can happen, and if you got a leak and someone has a cell phone and they’re doing a TikTok with it, that cell phone, the electricity that it makes could fire off enough of a spark to make something light up.

It’s just not safe and there’s no reason to continue doing that. The Gulf of Mexico, that field is damn near dead, and the oil company is going after fracking to frack gas. It’s a sign that this industry is going out the way whale oil did hundreds of years ago, and we need to be observant to that and start making a change to something that’s going to be better and that’s going to be healthier for us, and then we have to get rid of all of the bad that we’ve done. Unlike the whaling industry, which no one even has a clue about anymore, that was just wooden boats and sailors. We have infrastructure that’s these pipelines that can kill people.

There was an oil spill off out by New Orleans called the Taylor Oil spill that happened. This rig was on a side of an underwater cliff, basically, and a hurricane came through across the mudslide, and the rig toppled over, and the petroleum company had people go out, basically, to say it was impossible to stop this from happening. The rig was buried with 100 feet of mud on top of it, so to actually get to the well and kill it was an impossible task. There’s a company that did go out there and they captured it with a dome, and they were taking that oil and then bringing it back to the beach and reselling it and everything, because they ended up getting the salvage rights on it. The important part though is they stopped that spill.

And the Coast Guard, they were kind of negligent on handling it. They didn’t really get real aggressive until they got a new captain down in the Louisiana area. She aggressively went after it, and there’s got to be a way, looked for some other contractors to stop this. And no one talks about it. That guy did a lot of politicking in Louisiana to get it, to mums it down. And that spill could have been worse than the BP spill, but since it wasn’t really being evaluated, researched, looked at very well, no one was causing a real big stink about it. There’s fuzzy math to kind of figure out what was going on with that.

I was working when the BP oil spill happened, and I got to unfortunately see just huge plumes of oil on top, in the water, underwater. Myself and a bunch of fellow divers, we’ve been covered in it. We had a safety program to address this situation, which was basically you get two guys and a bunch of dawn soap and some brushes and they scrub you down like you’re a bird or some other poor animal that got stuck in it. And we have to go in a hyperbaric chamber for our dives, and you can’t bring in petrochemicals because you’re in an oxygen enriched environment when you’re doing that, and it’s really hard to do when you’re completely fucking covered in BP’s oil, but we did it. I don’t think we had any issues. I don’t want to know what kind of health issues I’m probably going to have from that.

That’s just the nature of the beast. I wore a wetsuit on those dives and kept most of it off of me, but it was definitely a big mess. And putting windmills out there instead, you’re really not going to have that. And tearing all that stuff out, there’s ways to do it in a safe manner that even if you do have spills like that, that you can contain it, because you’re going after it in a way that there might be a spill so you put containment in place before you start to do the removal. When I first started out in the field, we didn’t really do that when we would go cut pipelines, and there were a lot of mistakes made, and oil companies started to realize that, because they take fines and everything. They don’t want to spend any money if they don’t have to.

So we were using a dome over us that catches anything that leaks out, and then we would bring containment for it up in the ship. That’s basically how they stopped that Taylor oil spill in the Gulf, with a huge pollution dome. Yeah, I just kind of went on a tangent there. But those pipelines, they got a lot of bad stuff in them. Even when they say they’re clean, they’re not. And they’re radioactive. Also, I got to take a cool school, a cool class to learn how to use a Geiger counter because when we’re ripping those pipes up, we’d have to check them to see if they were NORM or not, and surprisingly they are. Pipelines are bad.

Maximillian Alvarez:  No, man, not a tangent at all. I mean, again, this is all essential for understanding the reality that we’re in and what it would take to head… Like James said, we’re not even heading in the right direction. But if we could at least get a heading, this is what we need to address on that path. So we’re at an hour. I could talk to you guys about this for five more hours, but I know I got to let you go. So I just wanted to go around the table one more time quickly and ask if you had any final thoughts or things you wanted to share about True Transition, The Louisiana Bucket Brigade, anything else that you want to mention before we wrap this up?

James Hiatt:  I’ll go. Yeah. I think the important thing for people to understand, at least from my perspective here, is that we’ve been kicking the can down the road for a long time, and it appears that the road is about to run out. We’re not there. We’re not jumping off the cliff. We’re not pushed up to the point. We still have the opportunity to do something. This is not a done deal. But we have got to wake up and become active. Everything that we’ve done up to this point has led us here. And globally, we can blame that on the Global North. These massive climate change events, these natural disasters, we can take responsibility for that. And we can also take responsibility for ushering in a new way of being and a new way of cooperative and interconnectedness. That is what can happen when we stop exploiting and thinking of ourselves first.

So what people can do is there’s a website, where people can go, and it’ll let you send a message to representatives in Congress to say that we don’t need more of these fossil fuel gas export terminals in Louisiana or anywhere, really. And also to talk to your neighbor, talk to your friend about what we can do to help globally transition the ways and change the ways that we are being into ways that are more loving and ways that will have a sustainable period, have a livable planet for our future, for our kids, and further generations. And thank y’all so much for doing this and inviting me. Thanks.

Clarke:  For having us, Max. James, it’s good meeting you, and Megan, always a pleasure. I’m glad you’re covering degrowth. I guess I see myself as an environmentalist myself, which is a really weird thing to say coming from an oil field hand, but I am. I went out there seeking adventure and excitement, but I knew I had to dance with the devil to get down there and do the cool stuff, and I learned a lot. And I see the path forward for the world really is in degrowth. This consumer commodity that we have is not infinite. You can say whatever you want. It’s not always going to be there, and at some point in time we need to have a way when that’s gone to keep living the way that we are living. And I think we could probably change a little bit of the way that we’re living to make that a little bit easier, and I definitely think it’s time to start turning the valve and start getting this stuff turned off.

And when there is, there’s going to be a mess that we need to clean up. We can’t just leave it there. It needs to go. Those pipes that are buried three feet in the seafloor, I’ve seen after Hurricane Katrina, they’re ripped up 40 feet up off the seafloor twisted up like pretzels and stuff from the wave actions and everything. You can’t just leave that stuff there. Some of those platforms could probably be changed over to have wind turbines installed on them or some sort of hydro turbine put onto them to change things, and then we just run a really big fucking extension cord. But I think that’s a lot easier to do. They don’t leak, and if they do, they just don’t work, and hopefully not too many fish die from that. No, there’s ways around that, and it’s a lot better than oil.

I think there’s a way to do this. I think the amount of wind power, like Megan was saying, that is available for Louisiana, I think it’s an astronomical number that would feed the energy grid for the Southeast, almost, of all America. It’s a lot there. And then if Texas throws in on it, it’s even more. There’s a different way, but we need to stop looking at profit. The line doesn’t need to always go up. The line can go just horizontal and we’ll be good. The profit is killing our planet, it’s killing us, and it’s killing the workers. They want to have less workers to make more money, and they don’t even pay that much for us. We don’t really get the benefits and stuff like the guys used to in the ’50s.

There was an opportunity to have union divers down in the Gulf of Mexico in the ’90s, and the dive companies came out to the piers where the union organizers were and basically told those guys if they saw them sign a card, they’re going home, and if you talk about it on the boat, hopefully you’re walking home because you might not be able to walk when we’re done. Big time, big time not into unions. Working out in California for certain companies out there on their rigs, because they have a lot of them out there too, and they’re big ones, everybody supporting is union, all the boat crews, the guys in the dock and stuff, but the people working for the oil companies and the subcontractors form no union. No prevailing wage diving when you’re working for the oil company out there. They don’t like that.

And I see this just transition in a way that, like the program that Megan’s pushing for, we can unionize that. It would be better for everybody working wise. And it’s still a hazardous job even when the wells are dead, and it’s a hazard to everybody. We need to turn the spigot off and start taking the lines out, moving to something else. Now another tangent. Thanks, Max.

Megan Milliken Biven:  I think the common theme is that we either allow transnational companies whose activities and efforts benefit just a select few and don’t actually feed us, it doesn’t actually give us clean water, it doesn’t actually power our homes reliably, it doesn’t do any of the things that they’re supposed to do, it makes it all conditional on someone’s exorbitant profit. So the task, whether it’s degrowth or a green industrial revolution, whatever our path is, it requires collective control. It requires democratic socialism. It requires that we actually control the means of doing the work we need to do. Because as it is now, everything is predicated on someone’s private profit. We can’t actually have clean water systems. We can’t actually have public transit. We can’t have anything.

It’s all being held ransom. And so whatever we want to do next requires that we actually control those things again, and that’s a long process… Not long. It’s quick if we just all collectively work together. And I think what happens with the railroad strike will set the tone for the next few years. But our task is to organize the workers and say, hey, you’re getting a bad deal, and you’re going to get a better deal if we go another direction. And so folks who are listening can go to It’s going to be updated soon, I promise, but the idea is that we can’t look at workers as our enemies.

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Ten years ago, I was working 12-hour days as a warehouse temp in Southern California while my family, like millions of others, struggled to stay afloat in the wake of the Great Recession. Eventually, we lost everything, including the house I grew up in. It was in the years that followed, when hope seemed irrevocably lost and help from above seemed impossibly absent, that I realized the life-saving importance of everyday workers coming together, sharing our stories, showing our scars, and reminding one another that we are not alone. Since then, from starting the podcast Working People—where I interview workers about their lives, jobs, dreams, and struggles—to working as Associate Editor at the Chronicle Review and now as Editor-in-Chief at The Real News Network, I have dedicated my life to lifting up the voices and honoring the humanity of our fellow workers.
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