The 13 energetic days of XR’s “Impossible Rebellion” finished the same day as Hurricane Ida: Saturday 4 September. What’s next in the fight against climate crises?
The priorities vary from city to city, from workplace to workplace, but I note some ideas below.
On Friday 24 September a youth climate strike has been called, globally. Take the day off work if necessary, and go down to the local one. If you can find people organising for it locally, get in touch in advance, help them to build and prepare for it. Invite them to trade union and Labour Party meetings, and even organise a workplace or university delegation or feeder march.
Check out your local XR group — whatever the limits of their politics, they are often quite active and receptive to different ideas. Explore making labour movement connections.
The international climate conference, COP 26, will be taking place in Glasgow 1-12 November. Governments from around the world will come together, and once again fail to make plans which seriously face up to climate change. There will be a range of protests and activities in the run up and on 5-9 November to demand better, in Glasgow and far beyond. Get in contact with the COP 26 Coalition in your area.
Take Workers’ Liberty’s socialist environmentalism to street stalls, and to work, demonstrations, and beyond. Stalls are only becoming more essential with the start of term at universities. We have a petition “Fight climate change — expropriate the banks” , aimed at the TUC, Labour Party, and Green Party. We have a pamphlet on the Vestas wind-turbine factory occupation, a pamphlet collecting many articles on the environment, a climate free-sheet, and environmental content in our other publications — such as this weekly climate column in Solidarity (see workersliberty.org/publications). The petition and Solidarity are a good place to start.
We are starting a roughly monthly socialist environmental reading group — watch this space and come along to help us develop our answers to the environmental challenges, and to deepen your own understanding!
At Workers’ Liberty summer camp this weekend gone, in a session on environmental activism, one participant commented that we don’t have the answers to the profound challenges posed by environmental crises.
Climate breakdown undoubtedly markedly alters the shape, as well as the urgency, of the socialist project. It changes both the world we are fighting for, and the world we are fighting in. But we do have the broad brush-stroke answers. Not all the fleshed out details, of course but much of the big-picture answer.
In capitalism, competing companies relentlessly pursue ever-greater profit. This hard-wired insatiable drive respects no boundaries, human or ecological. In a world of competing nation-states, governments race to the bottom, making their economies as attractive as possible to capital, seeking endless growth. Ecological destruction spans the planet.
To curb catastrophic climate change, we must confront, reign in, and ultimately overthrow and replace capitalism. Many on the environmental left would agree thus far, but stop before making the logical next step: we must confront profit, and capital, at its roots.
Commodities, goods and services which make society run, are made by workers in the workplace. These are stolen by the ruling class for private profit: they give us enough to survive and return to work, while the rest is funnelled back in as capital, to make them even more profit.
To challenge the rule of capital, workers must organise in the workplace. By striking and industrial action, we can cause much greater disruption than the valiant efforts of XR rebels have achieved — a lever to force change. And, at the places where society is remade daily in the interests of capital, workers have the potential power to transform society, to remake it in the interests of our class, the environment, and humanity as a whole.
We aim to fuse the environmental and labour movements on a socialist environmental basis. Only a transformed labour movement, imbued with socialist politics, has the power to end capitalism — and force significant environmental changes short of that.
As I write, food prices globally have risen to close to the highest in a decade, driven in part by climate change. This is particularly acute in Afghanistan, where the second drought in three years laid waste to 40% of crops, a crisis compounded by the Taliban’s seizure of power.
Meanwhile, the environmental movements rebuilding themselves after the lockdowns are mostly not orientated toward the labour movement, and do not recognise its strategic necessity.
From the other side, trade unions and the Labour Party remain bureaucratic and undemocratic, their leaderships putting sectional interests before environmental considerations, and limiting their aims to conservative and defensive battles.
Many, such as Unite, have tolerable climate policy on paper, yet in concrete cases are more often than not on the wrong side. Unite supports Heathrow airport expansion. This conservative stance accepts jobs currently being offered by bosses and the government to their membership. This puts members’ immediate interests before those of our wider class, and fails even them in the medium term. Unite should fight for the bolder, necessary, longer-term answer: vast public investment in green socially useful work.
This harder road would threaten cosy “partnerships” that the union’s leaders and bureaucrats have with their members’ employers. It would require mobilising and organising their membership on an active basis. This would threaten those currently comfortable at the top, not only because they would have to work harder, but because an active and radical membership would confront them.
The situation is similar across other trade unions and the Labour Party. Corbyn’s leadership refused to oppose Heathrow’s third runway, and the comparatively radical policy passed at the 2019 conference we won against the Labour leadership’s scheming. Labour under Starmer is, of course, worse still.
To make the labour movement fight seriously for environmental transition, we must — and can — transform it from bottom to top. Organising in the workplace around environmental issues, bringing new activity and members’ energy into unions, can help.
What is necessary in the urgent fight to limit climate change seems far from the movements of today. It is down to socialist environmentalists to chart and pursue that path.