Building planter advocacy from the ground up
TWIG began in October of 2018, as a small group of planters who were frustrated by the way the planting industry operates; all too familiar with stories of sexual violence, rookie hazing, and illegally endangering activities that permeate an exploitative industry. We met up, strategized how to improve conditions for workers in silviculture, developed the framework for a new organization, wrote grants, and planned out our next steps.
A few months later, on March 9th 2019, we launched the Off-Season Boxfire, our first outreach event with the rest of the planting world. The boxfire was a cultural celebration for planters that was hosted in Montreal. Over 100 planters were in attendance from all over the country, including as far as BC, with many carpooling in from the maritimes. Planter-artists and vendors sold their wares, musicians played, and people danced until 3 am. Our first event was a big success.
Having raised money from the party, and secured grant funding, we launched our campaign for members to officially join TWIG in the summer of 2019. The campaign was called “One Day for Us” The goal was to use our ballooning presence in online spaces (where planters tend to do our organizing, as we’re located all over the country), to ask our fellow planters to donate a day’s wages as an annual membership fee, creating the budget that we could then collectively decide how to best allocate with the aim of building planter advocacy.
Predictably, it was in taking this campaign to social media that we encountered our first opposition, specifically, an administrator for King Kong Reforestation (KKRF), the largest Facebook group for planters, who began censoring and deleting our posts. Our frustrations with the way KKRF responded to our campaign paved the way for the birth of Godzilla Reforestation, a small but growing hub of communication for planters in which open discussion on the difficulties of working conditions are not moderated away, but rather encouraged. Godzilla reforestation aims at providing a democratically moderated forum with transparent rules by and for treeplanters, providing an alternative to the traditional background moderation that arbitrarily shapes planter’s discussion in other spaces.
Our 2019 season was a great success. We raised over $5000 in membership fees, put our grant funding to work by hiring a professional advocacy group to develop a survivor-centered sexual violence policy specifically for planting companies, and organized a campaign that forced the repayment of over $30,000 in stolen wages to rookie planters.
In the 2019/2020 off-season, we reconvened and began planning our year. We developed an organizational structure in which we divided into committees – sexual violence, worker’s rights, communications, event planning, and indigenous solidarity. We collectively decided to lower our membership fee to $150 annually, following discussions of the accessibility of the fee. We launched the second edition of the Boxfire party, but our numbers had grown such that we divided it into two events – an East coast edition (hosted once more in Montreal) and a West coast edition (hosted in Victoria). Both events were successful, gathering hundreds of planters together.
We also aided some of the incredible projects coming out of the planting community, including one called Treehab, a project started by a planter who was formerly an alcoholic in recovery, aiming to run a planting camp as a form of rehabilitation for people recovering from addictions.
Which brings us to the present. It’s been 2 short years since we launched TWIG, and we’ve grown rapidly in this time. That’s been a source of encouragement for all of us, because every planter knows well the absurd levels of exploitation that run wild in this industry, and the desperate need for representation. Whether it be the rampant sexual violence enabled by apathetic management at camps, the truly horrific conditions forced onto marginalized and vulnerable workers that too many of us experience or hear about, or those instances in social media where a critical mass of dissatisfaction is built that explodes into arguments and shitposting; you don’t have to work in this industry for very long to get the sense that planters are getting collectively shafted.
And you need only look at the history of labor movements to know that the only way to address the systemic nature of these issues is to build our own representation – from the ground up. The aim of TWIG is to grow to the point that we will become the official representative body for planters in Canada – sectoral unionization – but there are many objectives leading up to this point. When the big companies convene in their associations to make decisions for the industry – decisions that affect every single one of us – we want a seat at the table. When planters bring up issues to management and have their very real concerns deflected, often nefariously, we want them protected and informed. And when conditions become rampant, unbearable, and unyielding, we want to exercise the most powerful weapon in the arsenal of the worker – the right to strike. Because we don’t answer to the mills, to the government, or to planting company owners; we answer to planters.