Climate change will remain a significant ecological and political question for the foreseeable future. Marxists like the AWL believe that the working class is the essential social agent in that struggle. We hope the Campaign against Climate Change trade union conference on 9 February will help the drive to win the labour movement to action on the issue.
For Marxists, climate change is the product of class relations and in particular of capitalist social relations of production. The Marxist account of capitalism centres on the exploitation of waged labour by capital. The same processes that lead to the pumping of surplus value from the working class also lead through the capitalist labour process to the degradation of nature. The generalised production of commodities is the root of both the exploitation of waged labour and the despoliation of eco-systems.
The pursuit of profit by competing capitals is the driving force behind the exhaustive use of fossil fuel energy sources. Accumulation is the goal of capitalism as a whole and takes place regardless of the consequences. This implies: expansion into ever-wider areas of space and their subsumption under the rule of capital, the creation of a constant stream of commodities that permit the realisation of value however wasteful this may be, and the attempt to keep consumption at a level at which this realisation can be assured.
The working class and climate change. The special interest of the working class in preventing climate change is given by the common root of exploitation and environmental degradation. Just as waged workers are the basic exploited class under capitalism, so capitalist relations give rise to environmental damage.
Workers are hardest hit by the effects of climate change. Workers will be expected to pay for market-inspired “solutions” in the form of lower wages, higher prices, higher taxes and other penalties. Preventing climate change is a matter of basic working class solidarity and internationalism.
The working class has the social power to prevent climate change. Workers have the power to strike, to occupy workplaces and to halt production. The working class has the power to substantially modify and partially control the labour process under capitalism, both for its own material well-being and for wider social goals. Workers have the potential to control and limit carbon emissions through collective action.
Workers have the social power to overthrow capitalism and to reorganise production under different imperatives — such as to meet social needs and to respect ecological limits. Workers have the power to control the size and distribution of the surplus product through the common social ownership and control of natural resources and the means of production.
Bourgeois politics on climate change. Mainstream bourgeois politicians argue that climate change can be mitigated profitably, if only the right conditions are established by the state. Such politics are now widely put forward by business and its representatives in government — e.g. the Stern Report 2006. Most assume that mechanisms to create or work with the market (e.g. emissions trading, carbon taxes) are the answer.
It is both characteristic and sickening that capitalism can only deal with a threat to the future of humanity by creating another commodity that can be traded at a profit. This represents the commodification of another sphere of life rather than an adequate approach to reducing greenhouse gases.
We reject carbon trading schemes, regressive taxation and corporate hand outs to tackle climate change. Our general policy is for direct progressive taxation, summed up by the slogan: “Tax the rich”. We should be selective about where we advocate the use of taxation to encourage certain behaviour, on the grounds of effectiveness, equity and how the money raised is used. But we support taxing luxuries and other activities that are particularly polluting — such as driving 4x4s.
The lamentable record of attempts to reduce carbon emissions from the Rio summit in 1992 to the Kyoto agreement in 1997 — as well as the recent talks in Bali — suggest that the global capitalist class does not have the interest or will to seriously tackle the problem.
Local communities supplied by local production? To make this idea the cure-all is equivalent to reversing the whole division of labour and patterns of exchange developed by capitalism and reverting to semi-autarkic production. This response to climate change is both utopian and reactionary and we should oppose it.
For a militant campaign to prevent dangerous climate change. There is no single overarching campaign against climate change in the UK, and not one that is widely backed by the labour movement. We fight for a united, militant campaign to prevent dangerous climate change. Such a campaign should orientate towards the labour movement without being bound by the trade union bureaucracy. It should consist of democratic structures, including elected and representative committees nationally and locally that want to fight. The Campaign against Climate Change (CaCC) may be able to develop into such a campaign.
For a working class programme of action on climate change. To make the labour movement the leading agency for combating climate change involves winning wide sections of the working class to coherent ecological politics.
There has been such a tradition in trade unions, although it has not always been prominent. In Britain, unions were instrumental in effectively banning the pesticide 2,4,5-T (known as Agent Orange) and stopping the dumping of nuclear waste at sea in the 1980s. Shop stewards at Lucas aerospace developed alternative corporate plans in the late 1970s, including for fuel cells, a hybrid car and a road-rail vehicle for integrated public transport.
Environmental measures, including action on climate change, may sometimes cut across the immediate concerns of some unions on jobs and conditions. We should have these debates with workers in industries such as nuclear and aviation. We fight for the bosses to pay for the transition, not workers.
We fight for trade union independence from the bosses and from the government and for the development of an independent working class perspective on climate change. This means winning rank and file militants and organisations to progressive politics on climate change. It means organising workplace and industry-wide committees and caucuses that fight for action on climate change at work and in working class communities.
We fight for the following demands:
• For a 32-hour maximum working week, as a step towards a 4 day week! We fight immediately for shorter hours, longer holidays, more leisure time with no loss of pay, as part of the struggle to secure the material interests of workers during any transition to a low carbon economy.
• Workers’ control of production! Workers’ plans are central to reducing carbon emissions at work and reasserting workers’ right to manage production in all areas of work. Workers’ control is necessary to deal with the shift from wasteful, high emission or polluting production to alternative jobs. Workers’ control is essential for protecting the interests of workers in jobs in existing, often ecologically damaging, forms of production. We fight for the labour movement and workers in the industries affected to discuss and develop ecologically friendly alternatives to existing jobs.
• Open the books! We fight for the right to know about real scale of workplace, industrial and employer greenhouse gas emissions, energy use, transport arrangements, waste etc.
• For energy efficiency at work. Workplaces should be audited by union reps to determine improvements in insulation, lighting, computer use, recycling etc. Financial gains from energy efficiency should be passed onto workers.
• For a crash programme of free insulation and other energy saving measures, starting with social housing, the elderly and low paid workers. High quality home insulation should be made freely available to those who want it.
• For cheap or free public transport! We fight for integrated transport systems to provide a real alternative to the car. For safe cycle routes, separated from traffic and subsidies to encourage cycle use.
• A moratorium on road building and on airport expansion. For a workers’ enquiry into transport, including on domestic flights.
• Massive public investment is a pre-condition for changing present behaviour. Immediately there needs to be R&D and the development of renewable energy and low emissions technology; investment in public transport, expanding rail, bus, tram, light rail and underground networks; and investment in public housing, built to high, energy-efficient standards.
• For public ownership of the energy and transport industries! The privatisation of energy and transport industries over the past 25 years has only benefited the bosses and their lackeys, at the expense of job losses and worse conditions for workers and a worse service for the public. Privately run energy and transport makes the fight to reduce carbon emissions harder. We demand that these firms brought under public ownership and workers’ control.
• For the imposition of high standards of building regulation and minimum fuel consumption requirements on all cars and lorries. We demand stricter regulation of all forms of industrial pollution and stiffer enforcement and penalties against corporate polluters. We want the redesigning towns and cities to improve the environment.
• For international solidarity! For an international treaty to cut greenhouse gas emissions, with the most drastic reductions made by the richest countries. Cancel the debts and remove the trade restrictions on countries that already suffer the effects of dangerous climate change. For subsidies to stop the destruction of the rain forests and to support reforestation. For the massive transfer of wealth to the poorest people of the world to improve their living standards and to help them protect their own environment.
• For a workers’ government! The fight against climate change must be advanced now under capitalism. But a lasting and socially just transition requires the overthrow of capitalist government and the rule of the working class. We fight to build working class parties with the politics, outlook and mass basis in the working class to lead the fight for socialism.