Many environmental groups and much of the environmental and Labour left has talked enthusiastically about a Green New Deal, including for example Alan Simpson (Solidarity 499) and Clive Lewis. The idea is inspired by similar proposals in the USA. But neither there nor here is there a single unified proposal.
Instead, “Green New Deal” refers to the general idea of the USA government organising economic activity on the scale of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” of the 1930s. In the UK, to the extent that “Green New Deal” refers to a particular proposal, it’s the one from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democratic Party Representative — and member of the Democratic Socialists of America — and the associated “Sunrise Movement”. The 14 page document advocates a set of government investments and economic stimuli aiming to tackle climate change, economic inequality, and other “systemic injustices”.
The document recognises the seriousness of anthropogenic climate change, decreasing life expectancy, wage stagnation, and gendered and racial inequalities. It describes those injustices as linked to each other and to anti-working-class and anti-union policies. Noting that Roosevelt’s New Deals had limitations, in nonetheless advocates “a new national, social, industrial, and economic mobilisation on [its] scale”, aiming to create millions of jobs and prosperity, and to tackle systemic injustices, including climate change.
The document calls for investments in infrastructure aiming for zero net carbon emissions in ten years, and for resilience to the effects of climate change. This would involve building or upgrading green energy sources, buildings, manufacturing, transport, and agriculture; smart power grids; and biodiversity supporting programmes. The document is close to as vague as you could conceivably get for any such document, with not much more detail than the paragraph above. Partly, that is because it proposed as a starting point to spur on the Democrats as a whole.
The document advocates “transparent and inclusive consultation, collaboration, and partnership with frontline and vulnerable communities, labor unions, worker cooperatives, civil society groups, academia, and businesses”. This sounds nice, but the complete lack of detail empties it of serious democratic content. Consultations can, and often in practice are, little more than PR exercises. Results get interpreted and ignored or highlighted in line with a preconceived agendas. What is necessary is democratic control. And by whom? How can you seriously work in partnership with such divergent interests as trade unions and businesses?
This contradiction underlines the emptiness of the quoted statement, and the importance of calling for workers’ democratic control. The question of who shapes a new deal is linked to the question of who drives it. Roosevelt’s New Deal was introduced in response to the Great Depression, aiming to save capitalism from the backlash of its worst excesses. Much bolder programmes should have been pushed for, but even the limited gains actually made came through pressure from the labour movement.
The document does recognise the importance of strengthening workers’ rights at work, and also when organising: “strengthening and protecting the right of all workers to organise, unionise, and collectively bargain free of coercion, intimidation, and harassment”. The document aims for zero net carbon emissions within ten years, and calls for “providing and leveraging… adequate capital [for] the Green New Deal”. That compares well with Labour’s meagre commitments in the “Green Transformation” document. On the other hand, the document makes no reference to expropriation or even taking industries into public control with compensation.
Public ownership is necessary to bring about the urgently needed changes at the pace necessary. “Ensuring a commercial environment where every business person is free from unfair competition and domination by domestic or international monopolies”, presumably rules out widespread nationalisations. In terms of raising the labour movement’s horizons, the Green New Deal is a step forward. As a proposal in its own right, it falls far short of the kind of socialist environmental policy that is needed.