Climate change is not simply a question of carbon emissions. The depletion of water, soil and mineral resources and decimation of biodiversity and ecosystems now being experienced across the planet are the result of an utter bankruptcy in the relationship between human economic activity and the rest of life on earth. It is now clear that if this relationship is not drastically altered in the coming years the consequences will be, to say the least, disastrous.
What is this borne of? The very language we use and metaphors we draw upon to describe the ecological crisis; that of exhaustion, degradation and exploitation are all familiar to us as trade unionists and working class activists. The world over, workers are subject to overwork and exploitation to the point of physical and mental collapse. The reality we face now is that the planet itself faces such a collapse. The force that drives the stripping of rainforests and the poisoning of the atmosphere is the same that drives the exploitation of one human being by another; the logic that profit should be the basic imperative of human activity, the logic of capitalism. We should draw no distinctions between its willingness to wreck human life or that of any other living thing. Capitalism is and will always be hostile to all life.
We are creative and dynamic enough to be able to build a society that does not put itself in a state of perpetual warfare with the other living things we share a planet with. But right now we are not the ones in control to our own creativity or dynamism; our capacity to produce. The basic question of who decides what people’s work and efforts are applied towards is the key to understanding environmental damage. Wresting back the control of our own work from the class of bosses who have squandered and wasted generation upon generation of both people and resources must be fought for with a fire and passion that reflects the knowledge of the fact that in this struggle, everything is at stake. Revolutionary change and the adoption of a new set of imperatives for our labours is needed to create any sort of genuine sustainability.
So what? It is easy enough to say that you won’t ever get a sustainable capitalist society. We cannot be part of a movement that is happy to say ‘we’ll sort out the environment after the revolution,’ no. This counter posing of the two is just as philistine as those who say ‘forget the revolution; we need to save the planet.’ Any analysis of both the already happening and likely future impact of climate change makes it clear that more and more, it will start to have massive implications for the daily lives of huge sections of the world’s population.
Examples of how this might begin to play out are everywhere. Last year there were riots in Mexico, Morocco and the Philippines over a jump in food prices caused almost entirely by increased global use of biofuels. The great hidden factor behind recent conflicts in Somalia and Darfur has been the vast reduction in the areas of arable land as a result of water shortage and desertification. The centrality of winning control of remaining reserves of oil to the recent wars of the great imperialist powers is well documented. When we think of both the forces that have generated this disaster and more to the point, the people who will be the ones to pay the consequences of it the class divisions are exposed openly. It will not be those with the money and technology to either move from the worst affected areas or pay for measures to adapt. The worst affected will be those who now bear the least responsibility, those without economic or social power.
Perhaps the most worrying potential impact of climate change is the responses that political systems willing to place on group of people above anther. We have already seen the rhetoric and reality of security politics and national preservation come to the fore. The Indian state is currently undertaking to build a perimeter fence around its entire border with Bangladesh, a country more at risk than almost any other from the devastating consequences of rising sea levels. The measure has been talked of explicitly as a barrier to migration. What will happen to the Bangladeshi people, trapped inside this ring, if sea levels rise and they are driven from their homes?
The British National Party give very serious attention to questions of environmental damage, peak oil, famine and food supply. For fascists like them climate change provides the perfect opportunity try and argue their view of the world that humanity consists of races and nations in constant conflict and competition. The response of Nazi Germany to food shortages in World War II was to launch a program of mass starvation targeted at ‘inferior races’. What these people might advocate in the face of the affects of climate change does not bear thinking about.
Reactionary responses are by no means confined to the far right. Many have sought to explain climate change as a problem of ‘overpopulation’. This is a discourse that effectively places the blame for climate change at the feet of, either explicitly or implicitly, poor [often black] people for simply having to much sex. It is not that there are too many people in the world, it is that a tiny proportion of those people control what the rest of us spend our lives doing,
and they are doing so for their own benefit with no regard for the consequences for future generations.
It is clear that ecological destruction and the results of it are and will increasingly become a point of real, live class struggle. When polled young CWU (Communication Workers’ Union) members said that in terms of concerns and worries for the future, climate change came second only to housing. There is no better example of the complete bankruptcy of capitalism as a way of organising our society for its long term survival and benefit than the fact that it now threatens the very ability of the planets ecosystems to support complex life such as ourselves.
Workers Climate Action
WCA is a network of socialists, anarchists, trade unionists and other working class activists brought together by an understanding of climate change along the lines set out above. We met each other, largely, and have been active in, the Camp for Climate Action and have been part of its mobilisations against the building of a third runway at Heathrow and the proposed new coal fire power station at Kingsnorth. We have helped build and contributed to these campaigns against two projects that stand as testament to the willingness of our ruling class to court climactic disaster for the sake of profit. The basic principle is that in all instances you make solidarity with the oppressed; in the case of an environmentally damaging industry therefore there is a contradiction to be grappled with. While the short term economist interest of the workers is for the expansion and continuation of that industry, the wider interest of the working class and of the world is that their skills are applied to another role. The only principle that can break through this problem is that of solidarity, solidarity with people and planet regardless of any distinction. The main areas in which WCA has been active are as follows:
– Hands Off Kingsnorth, Hands off Heathrow
We aim to build support amongst the trade union movement against the building of these two mega projects but with the firm demand that there should be provision of skilled, well paid green collar jobs in place of the coal fired station within a broader framework of a demand for a nationalized construction and energy industry to carry out public works to build a sustainable infrastructure.
– Solidarity with migrant workers
We have supported the struggle for decent conditions and legal regularisation of migrant cleaners from Colombia, Ecuador and Nigeria who were forced here as a result of the economic and environmental catastrophes wrought on their countries by British and other western multinational companies. Their story of displacement at home, then rampant exploitation in the country where they have sought refuge is a summary like no other of the integration of how globalised capitalism exploits ‘developing nations’, trashes their ecology and how both of these are rooted in the basic relationship of exploiting boss against worker, of boss against any restriction to their profit.
– Solidarity with public transport workers
The role of transport workers in the struggle of the working class as a whole for dignity and decent conditions has always been central. We have supported workers on the buses and railways and made the point that the industry should be brought under collective control and go on to provide not only a decent standard of living for its workforce but also mass training for that workforce and a free network of public transport for everyone.
– Oppose chauvinism and nationalism
When the ‘British Jobs for British Workers’ dispute blew up we were quick to oppose this as an orientation for struggle against the bosses’ crisis. By the same ticket we were quick to get down to the protests on the Isle of Grain to make a basic solidarity on the basis that the dispute there was first and foremost a trade union issue but that any working class resistance must be on a basis of internationalism. The narrow chauvinist logic that justifies or attempts to create complicity by British workers in the exploitation of other nations and migrant workers bears a striking resemblance to the trade union beauracrats backing the runway at Heathrow or new coal fired power stations that will be catastrophic environmentally, for the sake of ‘job creation.’
– Solidarity with workers in the car industry
The current crisis has shown that the big multinational car companies are intent on winding up manufacturing in this country in order to move production to areas of the world where they can get away with lower wages. WCA activists took part in and have supported the occupations and struggles of Ford Visteon workers, as an act of solidarity and working-class defence against another bosses’ attempt to make us pay for their crisis. But also we have been making the argument that, no we don’t want to defend these industries so they can carry on churning out cars. The skills and capabilities of the car industry should be reapplied to producing the technology we need to fight climate change. Workers should control their own industries and work for the benefit of society.
Workers of the world unite! Save it!