A protest demanding the closure of Aberthaw coal-fired power station — and “green jobs now!” — took place on 28 January. It was organised by Reclaim The Power in collaboration with local working-class activists.
Around 150 people of all ages marched around the coal station, with giant red dragons in tow, after opening speeches and live music. It was an incredibly positive, peaceful and fun demonstration, yet extremely surreal. As we got off the minibus, we found ourselves surrounded by beautiful Welsh rolling hills, on a sunny beach looking over the misty blue of the Bristol Channel. Towering over us on the other side, surrounded by razor wire, was the coal power station that not only belches out huge quantities of greenhouse gasses but has caused the premature deaths of over 18,000 people, 400 a year, since it opened 45 years ago.
The European Court of Justice recently fined the UK government over Aberthaw power station, which has for seven years produced more than double the legal amount of nitrogen oxides, the main pollutants responsible for these deaths. It was encouraging that the organisers and most participants recognised the importance of linking investment in green jobs and energy to ending coal — a link sometimes missing in the environmental movement.
One speaker from the PCS civil service union emphasised the importance of tackling climate-change for working-class people, and of working-class and trade-union activism in tackling climate change. Others stressed that for the destructive effects of the power station and the open-cast coal mine in Merthyr Tydfil which supplies it, to be moved elsewhere in the world, and imposed on other communities, would not be a victory. Instead, we need international solidarity in challenging this destructive industry. Another speaker advocated that energy should neither be owned by private corporations nor or the state, but instead by organisations with shares which could be bought up by local people, a perspective I think many listeners agreed with.
However, this is not a good solution. It would exclude those who could not afford shares and is not very democratic. Moreover, those owning energy production, whilst local rather than larger investors, would still be forced to prioritise profit over the needs of the workers, the community, wider society and the environment. If adopted nationally this proposal would not differ greatly from the current situation, and on its own it lacks a strategy to seriously combat the power of the fossil fuel industry.
That renewable energy sources allow a greater level of decentralisation, with energy organised on the scale of communities, may be a good thing, but the approach to bringing this about must be different. Instead we should advocate nationalisation of the energy industry and national grid, run democratically by energy workers, the local community and people who rely on it. This would also be a crucial step towards ending UK carbon emissions and ensuring affordable energy for all.
Workers’ Liberty Students are launching a campaign for such a democratic nationalisation, “Nationalise the Big Six”. Reclaim The Power are planning more actions over the next few months, particularly against fracking.