Climate change as a class issue

Submitted by Anon on 22 November, 2008 - 5:10 Author: Robin Sivapalan

The Workers’ Climate Action gathering on 15-16 November was the first meeting of the campaign since the summer’s Climate Camp and an opportunity to take stock of where we are almost a year since activists first started talking about the project. The network has continued to grow with more and more people across the radical environmental movement wanting to approach climate change as a class issue and with trade union activists getting to grips with what it might mean to work for a “just transition”.

The Saturday of the event was for education and debate. Rose briefed activists on the reality of the market-based solutions for carbon-emissions reductions which are widely supported by the union movement, from the Kyoto framework to the ongoing Copenhagen talks. Even the seemingly benign version, Contraction and Convergence, which also accepts the commodification and privatisation of the right to pollute, is stacked in favour of the existing powers and relies on national governments and corporations to deliver justice.

Ewa spoke of her experiences and perspectives from working with the Iraqi oil unions fighting for control of the country’s resources, and the enormous social strength that these unions have where oil is the main source of national wealth.

She argued that the time could come for that union to adopt a “leave it in the ground position”, only on the basis of winning the battle for control over resources in the first instance. This example of workers with considerable class consciousness organising under occupation conditions was contrasted with her time as a Unite organiser at Manchester airport, under conditions of “social peace”. Here, organisers came up against the Unite bureaucracy and partnership politics as well as a workforce fragmented by the vast number of companies operating at the airport and the extent of casualisation.

I focussed on the difficulties of facing both the trade union and climate movements, arguing that without a class perspective and strategy, the way forward would remain unclear, allowing us to be divided and reliant on cross-class coalitions.

I rejected the kinds of arguments common in the environmental movement which weigh the urgent needs of the global south in general with the relatively insignificant interests of frontline workers (in their view), as a way of justifying their actions which take little account of the class-interests they serve.

Over lunch, the inspiring film Rocking the Foundations was screened, which documents the unique struggle to democratise the Builders’ Labourers Federation of New South Wales, Australia. Through doing this and by effectively organising around bread and butter issues — and winning — the newly confident union proceeded to champion broader class struggles and social movements, becoming famous for their Green Bans which halted $6 billion of development projects which would destroy areas of environmental importance and working-class communities.

Dave Elliot, from the Open University, then gave a presentation on the Lucas Plan where workers democratically came up with a comprehensive business plan to transition to socially useful production, to stop redundancy and closures and put an end their labour being used for military ends. He talked of the various technologies developed through a wave of workers’ plans that, if implemented, would have set the UK on a trajectory towards 100% renewables from the 70s.

Paul Hampton then critiqued the politics of the Green New Deal being adopted by the Green Party and “progressives” (see the for article).

Sunday began with excellent facilitation training for consensus decision making. We reviewed and consolidated some of the perspectives we’d set down so far and developed other key aims for the months ahead. We discussed our work within the Climate Camp and assessed where we were at with out work at Heathrow and Kingsnorth. We agreed that some of our decisions on what kind of organisation we wanted to build would flow from our concrete aims, and we finished the day in regional groups, mapping out local work for the coming months. To read a report of our first year, for full minutes of this gathering, and to get involved, e-mail

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