CAW Windsor-area activists join Robert Kennedy Jr. and his Waterkeepers
Water — it courses through our veins and our economy.
Sixty-five per cent of the human body is comprised of water. While approximately 50 per cent of Canada’s economic pursuits cluster the shores of our Great Lakes-St. Lawrence ecosystem, the world’s single largest freshwater ecosystem. Thus our health and our wealth are tied inextricably to that of our national water supply.
Recognizing this truth, members of the Canadian Auto Workers Windsor Regional Environment Council (CAW WREC) are stepping up efforts in the fight for their community’s environment, health and jobs by establishing themselves as one of the Waterkeeper Alliance’s newest Riverkeepers. Ken Cloutier, vice president of CAW WREC and president, Canadian Detroit Riverkeeper explains they have been involved with several other environmental organizations, many of whom “are doing great work, but they are not stopping the tap.”
Now 114 Keepers strong, the Waterkeeper Alliance began in the 1960s with a group of commercial fisherman on New York’s Hudson River, whose livelihoods were jeopardized by the effects of pollution. Robert Kennedy Jr., chief prosecuting attorney for the Hudson Riverkeepers and president of the Waterkeeper Alliance, recounts how the night of their inaugural meeting went from talk of breaking the law to enforcing it. Such was the birth of a unique citizen-based organization dedicated to patrolling our waterways, sleuthing out polluters and seeking restitution. When the polluter refuses to pay, they take them to court. To date, the Hudson Riverkeepers have won 158 lawsuits. More important, fish and people are once again swimming in the lower Hudson River.
Still reeling from health scientists’ revelations that toxins may have been responsible for more than 1,000 excess deaths and 40,000 excess hospitalizations between 1986 and 1992 in the Windsor area, CAW Locals 444 and 200 co-sponsored a public event last fall featuring Robert Kennedy Jr. as their keynote speaker. Some 1,000 people, politicians and employer representatives included, filled Windsor’s Caboto Club.
At the Source
caught up with Kennedy most recently at a Waterkeeper conference in Toronto. At the heart of his message are arguments for the environment as a basic human right and what some refer to as full-costing accounting. Waterways are our “commons,” he says. How we deal with them is “one of the best measures of our democracy.”
Kennedy explains further: “Pollution is a subsidy. You show me a polluter and I’ll show you a fat cat trying to escape the discipline of the free market, expecting communities and workers to bear the costs of production.” If companies were responsible for the toxins they use and subsequent damage they cause, they would be highly motivated to design the toxins out of processes and products, says Kennedy.
Citing the litany of disease and disorders in Windsor he asks, “What does it matter if you are getting $28 an hour when you have a brain tumour? They (CAW) understand the importance of their role. As union leadership they can remind politicians and industrial leadership about the need for long-term investment.”
Back in Windsor interest is high. Cloutier reports 40 individuals have already signed on as committed Riverkeeper supporters, among them educators, biologists, lawyers, and youth. Most pressing though is fundraising. The Waterkeepers Alliance requires them to secure a full-time Keeper and boat within the year.
Undaunted Cloutier is already talking to others “upstream.” Labour health, safety and environmental activists in Chatham, Sarnia and London are also expressing an interest in becoming Keepers he reports.
A full version of this article is available on the Workers Centre web site www.whsc.on.ca. To learn more about the Waterkeeper Alliance be sure to visit www.waterkeeper.org. To volunteer with the Canadian Detroit Riverkeeper or make a donation, drop Ken Cloutier a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.