Big march shows battle continues against Edmonton incinerator

Posted on: January 16th, 2022 by Charlie No Comments
Protesters against the Edmonton incinerator with a long yellow banner in Turkish

The protest drew in a wide range of groups (Pic: Socialist Worker)

Over 500 activists rallied and marched through the streets of north London on Sunday to stop the development of a polluting incinerator. 

The North London Waste Authority (NLWA) plans to expand and enlarge the Edmonton incinerator. Currently, seven different north London boroughs send their waste to Edmonton. 

But residents say that the pollution and emissions the incinerator pumps out will harm people and the planetIt is estimated that the project could produce around 700,000 tonnes of CO2 a year. Contracts that finalise the plans for the incinerator are due to be signed on Tuesday, but activists say that they’ll keep fighting until the project is stopped.  

Vicky has been involved with the campaign for two years. She told Socialist Worker, “We’ve written to councillors. We went to meetings where the incinerator was discussed. We’ve asked councils questions. But we get nowhere.”

“The bottom ash, which is the byproduct of burning waste, is toxic. We want to know what the NLWA is going to do with it. We don’t want it dumped in rivers. 

“The consultation with residents about the project was completely inadequate,” she added. 

John, who has lived in the Edmonton area for over 30 years said the future of his children and grandchildren motivated him to attend the protest.  “This project is all about money and not about health. Those in charge don’t care about how the air is poisoning us. They don’t even see us working people as humans. 

“All those in the council who agreed and supported this project are criminals,” he said. 

Activists met outside Edmonton Green station and then blocked and marched down the street. Hundreds of people showed their support for the marchers by taking leaflets and cheering. 

Linda from Stop the Edmonton Incinerator Now campaign told Socialist Worker that organising high profile marches and actions have raised the profile of the campaign. 

“When we started we were blocking entrances to the incinerator with just five people, now we can get hundreds out in support. We go out leafleting, and there’s a lot of interest in the campaign. Every shop in the area wanted to put our posters in their window,” she said. 

Linda added that bringing together several different campaigns helped the campaign grow. “Joining with the Enfield Black Lives Matter group and Extinction Rebellion (XR) has really strengthened the campaign,” she added. 

The protest heard speakers from the local Kurdish community, the Stop the Silvertown Tunnel campaign and more. 

The NLWA has tried to present the project as much more green than it is, even calling the site the Edmonton EcoPark. But as activist Malcolm told the crowd that NLWA’s green promises are unachievable. 

“The NLWA say they’ll use carbon capture technology to offset emissions,” he said.

“But really the targets they say they’ll stick to are overly ambitious and near impossible to achieve.” Banners read, “Stop the burn, let us breathe” and “Reduce, reuse, recycle.” 

Several trade unionists brought their banners to the demonstration, including members of  Unite, CWU and the NEU unions. But disgracefully the GMB union is cheering on the incinerator expansion. And most Labour councils back it.

One of the largest banners on the march read “Stop environmental racism”, and activists drew links between environmental struggle, poverty and racism. 

Student Ilsu, who lives in the area, told Socialist Worker that she was only recently made aware of the Edmonton incinerator development.  After attending protests, she says she wants to get more involved in the climate movement. 

“The incinerator is being developed in an area that is 65 percent black, Asian and other ethnic minorities,” she said. 

“The council doesn’t want to listen to us. Those in power think working class people are stupid,” she added. “But protests like this show them we know exactly what they are doing.”  

As many speakers pointed out, an incinerator probably wouldn’t be built in a more affluent area. 

The campaign to stop the Edmonton incinerator is an impressive campaign. Activists are determined not to give up.

Russia and China jump to exploit Kazakhstan’s crisis

Posted on: January 16th, 2022 by Sam No Comments
Protesters assemble in Central Square, Aktobe in west Kazakhstan.

Protesters assemble in Central Square, Aktobe in west Kazakhstan (Esetok)

Some Russian troops began pulling out of Kazakhstan last week and others may have left the central Asian country by the end of the month.

Russia sent in its army after Kazakhstan’s president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev needed help to prop up the state amid massive protests against the country’s authoritarian leaders. 

Some 10,000 people have been detained in connection with the unrest. At least 164 people were killed in repression of protests, sparked by a sharp rise in gas prices. 

Tokayev, who issued a shoot to kill order, has repeated his claim that his country had been attacked by terrorists trained overseas who had hijacked peaceful protests.

There is no evidence for this. Tokayev, whose entire government resigned during the protest, mentioned and criticised Nurgultan Nazarbayev, the former president who retains the title “leader of the nation”, for the first time since the start of the protests.

Tokayev admitted that one of the triggers of the protests was the government’s failure to tackle poverty. He said the country’s biggest companies would be forced to make payments into a fund that would help develop health and education. 

He also nominated Alikhan Smailov as prime minister. Smailov was the first deputy prime minister in the previous government. 

So not exactly fundamental change. And the statement is unlikely to be followed with any meaningful action. 

Nazarbayev, has not been seen or heard from this year and rumours are swirling that he could have fled the country or be dead. Kazakhstan is a part of the Russian-Chinese struggle for influence in Central Asia. Both countries are deeply involved in the country and its government. 

Nazarbayev, sought to carve out a level of independence from Russia and tilted a bit to economic cooperation with China. 

Even after stepping aside his family kept control of a large chunk of the country’s fortunes, and he retained power over the security services.

Kazakhstan mines 40 percent of the world’s uranium and supplies one fifth of China’s gas imports. When China shut down Bitcoin mining much of it moved to Kazakhstan. The Nazarbayev family duly profited on all this.

But now Nazarbayev has been relieved of his security responsibilities.

Then there is Karim Masimov, who is the personification of the state of Kazakhstan’s official politics. He was a former KGB officer who learnt Mandarin spying in China. 

He was the head of the Secret Service. He was also a former prime minister. He has been arrested on treason charges.

So Russia has moved to reassert its influence. But it is important to emphasise that this came as a response to the revolt, rather than what caused it.

The demonstrations were an expression of discontent with the politics of Kazakhstan.

The scale of the protests shows an outpouring of real anger inside an authoritarian regime. It’s significant that oil workers struck in large numbers for the first time since a strike was crushed by killing 14 of them in 2011. 

This was no compliant group manipulated from above for a coup.

But it is clear Russia, China and wings of the oligarchy in Kazakhstan have all jumped to exploit the crisis.

China saw Kazakh rulers as too sympathetic to the oppressed Uyghurs across the border in Xinjiang. This may be why they are being patient with Russia throwing its weight about.

The elites look to their powerful neighbours and feather their own nests. The demonstrators on the streets showed the potential for people to look to themselves to change things.

It would be a tragedy if the revolt was left in the hands of competing big powers and repressive and corrupt rulers.

Power on the picket lines—strikes at Chep and Wincanton B&Q

Posted on: January 16th, 2022 by Sophie No Comments
Workers stand on the picket line, some have Unite union flags, story on Chep and Wincanton strikes

On the picket line outside Wincanton B&Q ­(Picture: Socialist Worker)

Two all-out strikes are showing how collective action changes working class peoples’ ideas. These Unite union strikes in Manchester and Worksop have allowed workers to come together as a workforce rather than be divided.

And with attacks coming on working people’s living standards, pay is a central issue. Escalating a strike to all-out action is an important tactic to give workers the best chance of beating the boss. Other strikes should follow this lead.

Workers from Wincanton B&Q ­warehouse in Worksop are on an all-out strike to win a six percent pay rise, and to battle victimisation of their rep Pat McGrath. It’s their first strike in 16 years.

At the end of November, 475 ­workers struck on a bi-weekly cycle of strikes ­followed by an overtime ban.

But the strikers quickly realised that going back in for a week gave the company a chance to build stock and prepare for the upcoming week. 

Workers

“It was not having a massive impact,” rep Pat explained to Socialist Worker. “We made preparations for another ballot, and since 27 December we’ve been on continuous strike.”

Pat said unity between workers has been high. Before the strike, this was not always the case.

“For some of the strikers, English is not always the first spoken language—we have a lot of eastern European workers.

“It’s a diverse workforce, but a lot of solidarity has been shown. There’s a relationship building up with people—they may only have crossed paths on shift changes.

“And the workforce isn’t male dominant. It’s about 40 percent female.”

The effect of being out on strike has brought workers together, who had been divided particularly over issues of race.

“I’ve heard a bit of resentment, that ‘taking all our jobs’ nonsense. There has been some bigotry and ignorance. This kind of thing comes from the right wing press. I’d say in response people only migrate when it’s a ­necessity.

“They’re not paid with gold, instead they’re exploited by landlords and cheap labour over the years.

“But now people are stood together shoulder to shoulder—a relationship has been built. I’m proud of them all—there’s no racial element now.

Dividends

“They see each other as comrades and not the enemy—now the enemy is Wincanton.

“Solidarity between the eastern and western European workers is really, really good.” B&Q is owned by parent company Kingfisher, which also owns other companies such as ­Screwfix. Dividends for shareholders are up 40 ­percent, and profits are up by 60 ­percent.

“When you’re paying dividends to shareholders you can afford to pay workers a decent wage,” Pat argued.

With living costs rising, Pat said the strikers are “hellbent on winning” a wage rise.

“People have had enough, especially of in-work poverty. It shouldn’t be there,” he added. “We have members facing evictions, using foodbanks and having problems with Universal Credit.

“We’ll keep fighting for inflation plus. The company has accused us of moving the goal post. We’re not moving the goal post, inflation is.”

The all-out escalation also means workload has spiralled, putting bosses on the back foot. Agency workers cannot cover the additional work.

“Some 95 percent of the workforce is in the union, so the company is really struggling,” Pat explained.

“They’re getting about 50 loads out a week—that’s not even 20 percent of the normal rate. They thought they might get away with it.”

Cambuslang, Scotland, is the location of the second national B&Q distribution centre.

GXO lorry drivers have voted to strike also over a below inflation pay offer. HGV drivers employed on behalf of B&Q by GXO are also ­considering pay strikes at another nationwide ­distribution centre in Doncaster.

The strike has had a lot of local support, with people bringing hot food and drinks to the picketers and not ­wanting to cross the picket line.

Others have set up stalls at the front of the site to leaflet.

Threatening

Anti-trade union laws place limits on how pickets can run, including how many people can be outside the ­workplace. The legal maximum is six.

“But we’ve had hundreds down there,” Pat said. “And the company has sent all the strikers threatening letters about the size of the picket and saying it’s in breach of their contracts.”

These threats won’t stop the determined strikers. Plans are even being made for a demonstration at the B&Q head office.

Pat added, “We’re out at half four every morning. It’s cold and wet. Pickets are on for 18 hours.

“Between 11 am-12 pm there’s hundreds down there waving flags and they’re proud to be there.

“They’re not hiding and thinking ‘don’t let the ­managers see me’. They know we’ll ­protect them.”


‘We can remember this as a life changing experience’

Workers on the Chep picket lines in Manchester (Socialist Worker)

In Manchester workers at Chep UK, who repair and supply pallets, are striking. 
 
They originally called four days of strikes at the beginning of December and have been all-out since 17 December.
 
Gary Walker is a union rep and striker, as well as a lead picket supervisor. He told Socialist Worker the 24 hours pickets have been “unbelievable”.  “I like to cross over with the other shifts, seeing others I don’t usually see. It’s brilliant.
 
“On the pickets morale is high, we stand on the gate stopping waggons going in. I didn’t expect people tuning up like they have.”
 
Local trade unionists from unions such as Unison, PCS and RMT have been on the pickets with banners to show their support.
 
“On nights we try to keep morale high, it’s cold, dark and quiet,” Gary said. “In the day, standing on the main road, you get traffic going past beeping and visits from different unions.
 
“We have a camaraderie, plus management is in so we give them a good booing.”
 
Before going out on strike, a manager commented that the strikers wouldn’t last a month.
 
“They walked across the car park and we rubbed it in their face, showing we’re not weak and divided like they thought we were. We’re going to stick it out.”
 
Meanwhile, the effect of the all-out strike means the yards are full of pallets that need repairing, and the storage room on the site is running out.
 
On one shift normally covered by 20 workers, only three are left. And forklift truck drivers are also striking. Across all three shifts Gary reckons no more than 15 workers are working in total.
 
The Chep strikers worked throughout the pandemic. Pay talks focused on uncertainty and waiting until the worse had passed.
“But the rewards don’t match the way they sung our praises,” Gary said. “It’s frustrating.
 
“There’s a lack of respect. A letter was sent out last week scaremongering to strike fear and hoping to target weaker individuals—there isn’t any now.
 
Retracted
 
Gary said the strikers “won’t go below five percent” after the initial offers of 1.5 and two percent last year. “Most are talking about seven and eight percent.”
 
Pay talks originally included pay backdated to July when annual pay talks begin—an offer the company has now retracted. 
 
With the momentum behind the strike, Gary is confident of a win. He has also been in contact with a rep from the Chep plant in Pontefract, organised by the GMB union, to bring workers together.
 
“We can remember this as a life changing experience,” he said. “It’s not an easy decision to go on strike—and it’s been difficult getting to this point. The depot was divided as part of the company’s divide and rule.”
 
Gary explained how the company limits the time union reps get with workers. “Chep has been very clever over the years,” he said. “It’s been difficult but it’s worth it.”
 
The shift patterns—two days and one night—also made it hard for workers and reps to organise together.
 
Before Gary became a rep, he explained clashes occurred because reps were stuck in their ways.
 
Clashes
 
Gary wanted to bring a “fresh approach”. “It got to the point we had to make a change—the union was not working well within the depot.
“It was very difficult to get the lads on board. If you told me three years ago, I wouldn’t have thought we could do this.”
 
After bringing in new reps and other changes, “The lads saw the reps weren’t going to bend to management. They knew they had people fighting for them.”
 
Having never been out on strike before Gary said he didn’t know what to expect. “I now realise us doing this is important to other unions and workers—it’s important we’re successful so it can spur others to do the same.”
 
Gary hopes this includes other Chep workers who see how well the Trafford Park strike is doing, and “they’ll start believing ‘we can do this as well’.”
 
“In future if other workers around here are on strike we’ll be going down there to see if they need anything, from any advice to funds,” he added.
 
“People are annoyed with the world, the government and Covid. All of a sudden they’re driving down the road and see us cheering. It can have an impact.”
 
As for Chep, Gary says it could give the strikers what they want. But going forward it will be dealing with workers who have gained a lot of experience.
 
“Now they’re realising we will not bend to their will. It is inspiring to see working class people standing up.

“We’re not going anywhere—no chance.”


Breaking down the barriers

Strikes and collective action raise workers’ consciousness. That means divisions such as racism and sexism can be overcome when workers take action. 
 
Striking can be transformative—not just to a workers’ economic situation, but also their ideas.
 
The experience of class unity creates an understanding of who the enemy under capitalism is and where workers’ strength lies.
We need more of the example set by workers in Manchester and Worksop to overcome divisions pushed from the top.
 
Workers fighting over pay, better conditions or fire and rehire should take inspiration from these strikes.
 
They must especially look to replicate how workers have decided to launch all‑out strikes. In many cases, strikes can only win when they escalate. 
 

Strikes that change people’s ideas are great, but strikes that change ideas and win are even better.


How you can back the strikes

To support the strikes, donate to the strike funds and send messages of solidarity to the strikers.
 
Send donations to the Wincanton strike fund to Unite East Midlands. Sort code 60-83-01, Account 20173975. Give the online reference “Wincanton”. Tweet messages of solidarity to @uniteEastMids.
 
Tweet messages of support to the Chep strike to @unite_northwest Donations to Unity Bank NW/1 Strike Fund. Sort code 60-83-01 Account 20217873

On the march in London to Kill the Bill

Posted on: January 16th, 2022 by Charlie No Comments

Thousands march to kill the police bill and other Tory attacks

Posted on: January 15th, 2022 by Charlie No Comments
Dense crowd with banner "We will not be silenced"

Opposition to the police bill on the streets of London (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Some 5,000 protesters took to the streets of central London on Saturday for a Kill the Bill protest. 

The Tories’ brutal Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts bill is currently in the House of Lords. If it passes through the Lords, it only requires royal assent to become law. 

Activists were also marching against the racist Nationality and Borders Bill, which is also in the House of Lords. 

Marchers linked the Tories’ hypocrisy and Boris Johnson’s multiple parties with the fight against the bill—branding him a “liar”. 

Protester Ellie told Socialist Worker that she’s determined to fight to “kill the bill”. 

“We have to keep fighting until the end, and make it clear that we don’t accept this bill. It’s not just protesting that’s at risk, it’s people’s rights too,” she said.

Jack added that without protest movements opposition to the Tories’ divisive strategy will be weakened with the new laws. 

“Stopping people from having a voice means the Tories can get away with whatever they want,“ he said. “How can we put pressure on and demand change when they take our voices away?”

Jack also pointed to the importance of the Colston Four victory. “It’s great that those activists were found not guilty. Hopefully it’ll give people confidence to resist,” he said.

The march, organised by a coalition of Black Lives Matter groups and Extinction Rebellion, met in Lincoln’s Inn fields, and marched to Parliament Square. 

It had the biggest impact when it hit Strand—a central road in London—and disrupted traffic. 

Protesters made a determined effort to be noisy, annoying and to cause a disturbance—all acts that could be illegal if the bill passes. The march felt angriest when people took over the chanting and hit Whitehall. 

Chants included, “No justice, no peace”, “Kill, kill, kill the bill”, “Acab all cops are bastards,” and, “Tories out.”

Dense crowd of protesters with placards against Boris Johnson

Protesters linked the bill to Johnson’s crimes (Pic: Guy Smallman)

The presence of climate activists, anti-racists, trans rights activists, pro-Palestinian groups and many others show that the bill has brought together a wide range of groups. 

Placards read, “Protesting for the right to protest”, “Protect people not statues,” “It’s one rule for them,” and, “Put the pigs back in their pens.” 

There can be no reliance on the House of Lords to beat the bill. It needs to be defied if it passes. The movement gathered during the campaign has to support whoever becomes the bill’s target.

There were very few trade union branches on Saturday’s march in London.

Liz Wheatley, branch secretary of Camden Unison union branch, was on the march with a banner because as a trade unionists she opposes both the police bill and the borders bill. 

“The Tories are organising an attack on working class people,” she said. They target right to protest, the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community and the rights of refugees. 

“We have to organise resistances and get trade unions involved against both bills.”

Liz’s message to trade unionists who weren’t on the demo was “get involved”.

Other protests included several thousand on a Kill The Bill protest in Bristol, over 1,000 on a Kill The Bill protest in Manchester and 200 in Nottingham on a demonstration calling for Tories Out plus opposition to the police bill and the borders bill.

There were 250 on a Kill The Bill protest in Cardiff, and 150 in Plymouth and Colchester against the police bill. Other protests took place in Stoke, Brighton, Lowestoft and Newcastle.

In Exeter, Dave Clinch reports, “About 250 people gathered at Bedford Square for a Kill the Bill demonstration organised by a coalition of groups including Stop the War, Amnesty, the RMT union and the SWP. 

“There were eloquent and passionate speeches, including several from young people about the curbs on the right to protest and the general attack on our civil liberties planned by this government in the police bill and also the nationality and borders bill. 

“Another demonstration has been set for Saturday 19 February in Bedford Square from 11.30am.”

In Huddersfield, reports Roger Keely,  “a demonstration of about 80 took place against the police bill.  It was mostly organised by Huddersfield Friends of the Earth, Amnesty and Green Party supporters but supported by a fair number of socialists and trade unionists too.

“Speakers emphasised the threat to Gypsy. Roma and Traveller people, climate campaigns and the BLM campaign to bring down statues.”

30 people outside Downing Street with large banner "Johnson must go, he lied while thousands died"

Protesters called for Boris Johnson and the Tories to go (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Meanwhile a group of people descended on Downing Street in central London to demand the resignation of disgraced prime minister, Boris Johnson.

The emergency protest, called by People Before Profit, comes off the back of a multidimensional crisis facing Johnson.

Protester Carol, a member of the RMT union, told Socialist Worker, “On 20 May when Boris was partying, I was at home speaking to my friend on the phone.

“She lost her mother and brother and couldn’t go to her mum’s funeral as it was in Spain.”

Carol added that even if Johnson goes the fight must continue and “we need more unity” to kick all the Tories out.

Camden and Soas Unison members attended and supported the demonstration, along with Islington and Ealing NEU. 

Protest organisers demanded that all Covid-19 related fines were recalled and outlined the hypocrisy of the Metropolitan police who refuse to investigate the parties.

Sian, an activist from west London told Socialist Worker, “I’m so sick of Boris Johnson, prince Andrew and the whole state.

“With Keir Starmer there’s no opposition—I’m incredibly pissed off at Labour, but protesters aren’t hopeless, we represent millions of angry people,” she added.

The angriest resistance possible is what is needed to beat the Tories. 

How can we stop capitalism’s climate cop-outs?  

Posted on: January 15th, 2022 by TTE No Comments
A sea of people on the protest against Cop26. They're holding banners and home-made placards

100,000 march on the Cop26 conference in Glasgow last year (Picture: Andrew McGowan)

Beyond a handful of billionaires and their political acolytes, few people had much good to say about Cop26.

But, despite most activists’ lack of expectations, the utter failure of the summit continues to raise important questions in the movement for the coming year. How should we organise and mobilise now to achieve climate justice and prevent catastrophic environmental collapse? And questions around anti-capitalism run through these debates.

Activists are not the only people having these discussions. In the Annual Review of Environment and Resources journal, 23 climate scientists ask, “Why haven’t we bent the global emissions curve?”, despite three decades of the Cop26 process.

The authors, including Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, draw interesting conclusions. They have close parallels with what socialists and climate activists might say. For instance, they write, “Dominant economic and political interests are invested in the status quo and work hard against change.

“Causes are also deeply embedded in wider economic and geopolitical divisions, including the historical backdrop of colonialism, imperialism, and other systemic injustices.”

The scientists go on to argue that their analysis “brings to the fore questions highly challenging to the dominant” model “of ‘progress’”. “The almost uncritical pursuit of economic growth, piecemeal politics, and a narrow, techno-economic rationality are fundamental characteristics.”  And “worldviews and perspectives that offer alternatives” have “tended to be marginalised, undermined or otherwise ignored”.

The vested interests pushing back against action on climate change go far beyond the “usual suspects”, such as the fossil fuel industry. Rather, the problem is structural—and “can no longer be reconciled with a massaged form of the status quo”. “In a real sense, a critical tipping point has emerged,” the scientists write. “Whatever direction is chosen, the future will be a radical departure from the present.”

Societies “may decide to instigate rapid and radical changes in their emissions at rates and in ways incompatible” with the status quo. The other outcome is that “climate change will impose sufficiently chaotic impacts that are also beyond the stability” of the system.

The Annual Review article is important, because it shows that environmental scientists are increasingly drawing conclusions that point in an anti-capitalist direction. The environmental movement itself must also take notice of this.

There has been a strong—and growing—element of anti-capitalism to the environmental movement over the last decade. This is shown by the popular slogan, “System Change not Climate Change.” It was first raised outside the Cop conference in 2009 and is regularly seen on placards and banners carried on climate protests around the world.

But there are questions about what system change means and how to achieve it. The dominant strategies put forward in the climate movement remain “reformist”. By this, I mean that they do not try to challenge the capitalist system itself, but try to make the system more sustainable.

These might include planting vast numbers of trees, rewilding huge areas or a transition to sustainable energy. These plans are well intentioned. But none of them challenge the fundamental problems of an economic system that continues to pump vast, and increasing, amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Capitalism, driven forward by competition between rival firms, subordinates everything to profit maximisation. And reformist strategies do not break with this logic of capital accumulation.

The other problem with these reformist strategies is that they don’t confront the legacy of colonialism, or contemporary imperialism, that underlie ecological crises and social injustice.

Other, smaller sections of the movement are drawing different conclusions. In his provocative and widely read book How to Blow Up a Pipeline, Andreas Malm argues for mass, militant, violent confrontation against fossil fuel infrastructure. Other groups, such as Insulate Britain, use non-violent, direct action by small numbers of activists to cause disruption— for instance, blocking roads to highlight their demands.

But in many ways, these two wings of the movement are linked.

Malm rails against the governments and corporations that have blocked progress on climate change. He explores the systemic nature of capitalism that drives ecological disaster and keeps the fossil fuel industry at its heart. It is this frustration with the system, and the movement’s failure to win more action from conferences like Cop26, that has inspired many into more radical action. We saw this with the mass mobilisations of Extinction Rebellion, and now Insulate Britain’s much smaller actions.

Malm is highly critical of those that argue for a non-violent movement. He rightly points out that some in the movement, such as the leadership of Extinction Rebellion, idolise non-violence. This is rooted in a misreading of how social movements have won change in the past.

Malm points out that the struggles against slavery and South African apartheid and for Civil Rights and universal suffrage often combined violent action against property with mass non-violence. And that’s precisely because they were confronting forces that were happy to use the violence of the state to prevent social change.

But Malm then says that to stop the systemic problem of fossil fuel action we need to accelerate violence against property to make the fossil fuel industry unviable. As he argues in Pipeline, “So here is what the movement of millions should do, for a start: announce and enforce the prohibition [on fossil fuels]. Damage and destroy new CO2-emitting devices.

“Put them out of commission, pick them apart, demolish them, burn them, blow them up. Let the capitalists who keep on investing in the fire know that their properties will be trashed… If we can’t get a prohibition, we can impose a de facto one with our bodies and any other means necessary.”

Action against the fossil fuel industry can stop its expansion. But the most powerful campaigns have involved mass protests, not groups of individuals destroying infrastructure. The movements against pipelines, fracking wells and other infrastructure— that radical writer Naomi Klein called “Blockadia”—have been most successful when they combined mass movements and direct action.

When Shell pulled out of the Cambo oil field, their press release acknowledged the “economic case for investment in this project is not strong enough at this time.” And that there was “the potential for delay”.

This announcement was made immediately after at least 100,000 people protested in Scotland during Cop26. The anticipated delays that worried Shell would come from environment groups gearing up to protest over Cambo in the aftermath of the summit.

The moratorium on fracking in England, announced by the Tory government in 2019, came out of a mass campaign. It combined protests at fracking sites and blocking vehicles with mass protests and demonstrations. Crucially, much of the trade union movement was opposed to fracking.  Activists successfully argued that there were alternatives, which would provide more jobs without resorting to dirty fossil fuels. 

At its most successful, the US campaign in Standing Rock against the Dakota Access Pipeline involved mass protests. They were led by indigenous people and supported by environmental activists, workers and even veteran groups.

The protest camp at Standing Rock had 15,000 participants at its peak. Similarly, the movement that stopped the Keystone XL pipeline involved direct action combined with mass protests, such as the tens of thousands of people who marched to the White House. Under huge pressure, then president Barack Obama blocked the plans. While Trump gave the go ahead again, incumbent Joe Biden revoked permission on his first day in office. And TC Energy, the corporation behind Keystone XL, gave up the project.

These examples show that fossil fuel expansion can be stopped. But it takes mass movements combining militant tactics at specific targets, such as blockades and pickets, with mass demonstrations aimed at creating pressure on corporations and politicians. 

The larger the movements, the more likely they are to pull in wider social forces that can be won to oppose fossil fuel corporations. Winning the trade union movement to an anti-fracking position meant creating a big protest movement with demonstrations and other actions which workers could participate in.

At the same time, we had to show there were alternatives that could create jobs and protect communities. In turn, the participation of trade unions gave confidence and solidarity to the environmental movement. It also raised questions about the potential power of workers—because they are the source of profits—to challenge the system.

In contrast, small groups of militant activists can be easily isolated from the wider community. In the 1990s, for instance, Earth First! was campaigning against logging, which was destroying habitats in the Pacific North West of the US. The government and timber bosses turned the debate into “jobs vs the environment”.

It was common to see car bumper stickers with slogans like, “Save a logger, Eat an Owl.” In turn, some environmental activists lumped workers together with the bosses. They failed to find common ground with workers who had the potential to be a significant force fighting for jobs and the environment.

Malm’s strategy for disruption of fossil fuel industry is attractive to those frustrated by the ongoing activities of the oil, gas and coal barons and the lack of action from governments. But it won’t work out the way he claims.

Malm underestimates the scale of repression the state will be prepared to use against activists. At least ten environmental activists spent Christmas behind bars after being given sentences of up to four months for blocking roads.

Even more draconian punishments against protesters are possible. We saw that with the 14 year sentence given to Ryan Roberts after his involvement in a Kill the Bill protest in Bristol in March 2021.

Capitalist states have never been afraid of using violence and the threat of heavy custodial sentences to protect the profits of business. And tragically it has frequently been the fossil fuel industry that has benefited from such capitalist support.

We need only remember the Ogoni Nine, a group of indigenous environmental activists executed by the Nigerian state in 1995. They had been fighting the destruction of their homeland by Shell.

The ability of the capitalist state to unleash repression against individuals who are confronting the system is the biggest barrier to this strategy. It’s one that relies on groups of people—no matter how large they are—to try to stop the fossil fuel industry solely by targeting their infrastructure.

Socialists do not side with the state against those blocking roads, shutting down oil wells, or trying to put fossil fuel infrastructure out of commission. But we must also argue that such strategies cannot bring about fundamental social and economic change.

For instance, despite Malm’s radicalism, his strategy also ends up with reformist conclusions. Writing in the Guardian in the aftermath of Cop26 he said, “We can observe that slowing down the climate catastrophe means, by definition, the destruction of fossil capital—there can be no more profiting from fossil fuels.

“And if governments are incapable of initiating this work, because they take their orders from the top floors, then others should do so. Not because activists can accomplish the abolition of fossil fuels—only states have that potential—but because their role is to ratchet up the pressure for it.”

In other words, for Malm, the movement even in its most radical form is subordinated toward encouraging the capitalist system to transition away from fossil fuels. 

Where does this leave the climate movement after Cop26? Firstly, we must celebrate the scale and radicalism of the movement that developed around Glasgow. It was a mass movement that worked hard to increase participation from groups that are usually underrepresented.

A focus on climate justice helped ensure that anti-racist campaigns, refugee and migrants organisations and groups fighting for solidarity with the Global South were in the leadership. We need to continue to develop the links between environmental campaigns and those organising against global injustice.  

The breadth of our movement is also important because we must ensure that everyone can find their space. We cannot have a situation where mass protests are contrasted to separate direct action. Instead our movement must incorporate a plethora of tactics. But it must also have a strategic focus on challenging capitalist power and give confidence to the force in society that can overthrow capitalism, the working class.

We need to ensure that our mass movement continues to reach out and engage with wider social forces—in particular workers’ organisations.

In Britain, there are sharp debates inside the trade union movement over climate action. 

The TUC union federation conference passed a motion that backed nuclear power and gas production. It did call for a “just transition”. Yet it heavily implied that action on climate change posed a danger to workers, meaning unions had to fight “to protect British goods and jobs”.

But it was good to see trade union participation on the global day of action during Cop26, helped by national trade union support for the Cop26 Coalition.

In Glasgow, the council’s cleansing department strikers joined the climate strike, led by Greta Thunberg, on Friday 5 November. They marched on the mass mobilisation the following day, calling for “Climate justice and social justice as one”. They are GMB members, a union that backed the backward TUC motion.

We need more of this, and socialists have to push to make sure that workers link the fight for their own jobs and conditions to the wider environmental struggle. The arguments put in the Million Climate Jobs report are an excellent explanation of how the fight for workplace justice and a zero-carbon future are closely linked.

But the participation of workers’ organisations is also important because of the central role of the working class in capitalist society. Ultimately, it is only because of workers that the system functions at all. Who kept key services running during the pandemic? Why were the Tories and bosses so keen to herd people back to work before it was safe? To get profits flowing again.

This means workers have immense “social weight” to shut down the system that’s driving climate change. It is the potentially revolutionary role of workers, through their strategic power within capitalist society, that is missing from Malm’s strategy.  

This doesn’t mean workers automatically unite with the climate movement. But as climate change wreaks devastation across the world, there is a potential to link struggles over social and climate justice. 

This is why socialist organisation is so important to wider struggles. Without a focus on workers’ power, especially the economic power they have through strikes, movements risk being drawn into a “substitutionist” radicalism. This is based on a few individuals doing it on our behalf and can easily be snuffed out by the state. The stronger and larger socialist organisation is, the easier it is to draw links between different movements and to articulate an anti-capitalist vision of a sustainable future.

It is through workers’ power that we can build a society based on rational, democratic organisations of production. It would be production for human need, not profit. We can see an embryonic form of workers’ power in strikes. 

Such a new, socialist, society will do away with the irrational, chaotic, and profit-driven nature of capitalist society. That requires a revolution, where ordinary people assert their power and take control. 

This is the vision that must inform our strategic discussions as we look forward to a re-energised environmental movement in 2022.

Tory party, cops, media and royals—a British establishment in crisis

Posted on: January 15th, 2022 by TTE No Comments
Tory party PM Boris Johnson stares into the distance at a Downing Street briefing

Tories say it’s only a matter of time before Boris Johnson leaves Downing Street (Picture: No10/Flickr)

There is a very deep crisis of the Tories and other crucial elements of the ruling elite.

Boris Johnson seems unlikely to last long. His attempts to make non-apology apologies and to claim that parties were “work events” appease virtually nobody.

One cabinet minister told the Financial Times newspaper, “The government is now roughly divided into two camps. Those who think he will go now, and those who think he will go later.” 

One longtime supporter of Johnson said, “He’s done, it’s over. He’s truly done for.” And they added that trust was slipping away among MPs as the excuses for the parties “don’t cut the mustard”.

Some Tories think that he can survive by sacking subordinates and trying to shift the political agenda to announcements about temporarily limiting energy price rises. 

Reports last weekend suggested Johnson planned to launch Operation Red Meat that would include handing control of blocking Channel crossings to the military. And there will be no accusations of breaching the remaining Covid restrictions because they are all set to go on 26 January.

But only his most infatuated inner circle believe this will take Johnson past May, when local elections are expected to be disastrous based on present polling.

This means a wider crisis for the Tories. They are facing a period when they are committed to putting up taxes, presiding over roaring inflation, and cutting benefits, wages and pensions in real terms. They are implementing wider poverty but with a fractured and discredited government.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak, widely tipped to succeed Johnson, was popular with some when he was handing out money to subsidise wages and save companies. He won’t be a hero when he’s crushing people’s incomes. 

The police are in the firing line too. Metropolitan Police commissioner Dame Cressida Dick is carrying out an establishment stitch-up. The force has refused to investigate Downing Street parties during lockdown even when the evidence is staring them in the face.

Did the ranks of cops that protect Number 10 see nothing? Is there no CCTV in the area? Did cabinet ministers’ close protection officers and special branch operatives know nothing?

Police in England handed out 118,149 fines for breaking lockdown regulations between March 2020 and October 2021. Over 17,700 of these were in London, but the Tories escape.

Johnson strongly supported Dick to stay as head of the Met despite intense criticism of her role in the assaults on women remembering the murder of Sarah Everard. 

Jamie Klingler was the organiser of a Reclaim These Streets vigil for Everard last year on Clapham Common, south London. It was broken up by the Met, allegedly for breaching coronavirus restrictions. The vigil took place in March, a month before the 16 April Downing Street parties.

“Fury and rage doesn’t begin to convey my feelings at the hypocrisy of the Met, who don’t serve the women of London,” Klingler said.

The Met says it is now waiting to see if new evidence emerges from an investigation into the parties by senior civil servant Sue Gray. But why should Gray be the gatekeeper to charging Johnson and his pals?

And in any case Gray was appointed by Johnson himself and given a highly restricted remit.

Sections of the media are also directly implicated in the cover-ups. One of the parties held in the run up to prince Philip’s funeral was a leaving event for the departing head of communications, James Slack. 

He went on to become the deputy editor of the Sun newspaper. So that newspaper, and probably many others, knew about all these rule-breaking parties from personal experience. Yet they covered them up.

Slack’s party merged with another leaving event held the same evening for one of Johnson’s personal photographers. 

According to one party-goer, a staff member was sent with a suitcase to a nearby Co-op store on Strand. They returned with the case filled with bottles of wine.

Both groups reportedly moved outside at about midnight, with drinking carrying on into the early hours of the morning. In the garden one person broke a swing belonging to Johnson’s infant son, Wilfred. This would usually have been lapped up by the Sun, fodder for a series of front pages and raucous denunciations. 

Slack must have known about this. He stayed silent to protect the Tories, or if he did whisper the truth, then higher authorities at the Sun decided to suppress it.

Meanwhile, the royal family has been rocked by Andrew facing court. He has to answer Virginia Giuffre’s claims of abuse and links to the sexual exploitation by paedophile Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell.

The queen was forced this week to strip Andrew of the His Royal Highness title and his military links.

Prime minister, Tory party, cops, right wing media and the royals are all in crisis. But the missing element is mobilisation on a large scale by the left.

It’s criminal that the trade union leaders sit on their hands. There’s no call for protests, no push for big strikes, no effort to say that in these times the rules about ballots and observing anti-union laws don’t apply.

And Keir Starmer’s Labour benefits in the polls from the Tory crisis, but advances no programme for action.

Such failures mean the Tories have hopes of recovery under a different leader. And it even encourages far right elements who think they can falsely claim to be the opposition to the Tories. 

It was good to see the Kill The Bill protests on Saturday, a refreshing glimpse of the return of people onto the streets. But much more is needed.

In the absence of the traditional left forces, it’s up to everyone to fight hard to raise the level of struggle and put forward socialist solutions. 

Will a new left party challenge Keir Starmer?

Posted on: January 14th, 2022 by Sam No Comments
Jeremy Corbyn launches the Peace and Justice project in December, 2020. (Photo, Peace and Justice Project)

Jeremy Corbyn launches the Peace and Justice project in December, 2020. (Photo, Peace and Justice Project)

 

For the first time since Jeremy Corbyn was booted out of Labour last year, there is now at least some talk about the idea of setting up some sort of alternative.

Reports in the Telegraph newspaper said Corbyn was considering turning his think tank and charity, the Peace and Justice Project, into a party.  

There was a lot of ­excitement from some of Corbyn’s supporters—and a lot of anxiety from the left still in Labour.

Those hoping for ­something new recognise Labour is rotten. Many of them learned this as Labour members. Now they want to try something different.

In contrast, those ­determined to remain inside are still trapped by its ­thinking. For them parliament is the only place to win fundamental change, and Labour is the vehicle to do it.

 So, Labour left group Momentum warned its supporters that “our broken electoral system means that ­setting up a new party won’t work”. 

This reasoning is why it’s unlikely that left wing MPs such as John McDonnell or Zarah Sultana would leave Labour to join Corbyn. 

It’s also why they’re unlikely to support Corbyn to be re-elected as an independent if he hasn’t been reinstated. If supporting Corbyn against a Labour candidate means risking expulsion, will the left abandon him?

 If Corbyn beat Labour’s ­candidate, it would be a blow to Starmer and the right—and cheer up every socialist.

 But the Labour left are tied to the party—and so also tied to the right wing politicians who dominate it.

That’s what makes leaving Labour in search of an ­alternative a positive step. It doesn’t just mean breaking from the right. 

It also cuts against the idea that the demands of ­parliament and winning elections should determine how socialists organise.

 And it inevitably throws up a whole raft of questions. What was wrong with Labour? Was it, or could it ever have been, socialist in the first place? How would a new party avoid the same problems?

Those are all vital questions. But simply asking them doesn’t make a new organisation a good alternative to Labour. How it answers them matters a great deal.  

For instance, George Galloway’s Workers Party of Britain ate into some of Labour’s vote in the Batley and Spen by‑election last year. 

But its critique of Labour is that it’s too “woke”, and goes on to attack LGBT+ rights and anti-racism. This offers nothing for working class people.

So how would a Peace and Justice Party answer these ­questions instead?

For many of Corbyn’s ­supporters, it would be a sort of re-founded version of the Labour Party. They want to try Corbynism without the right wing MPs to sabotage him.

Yet in the short term at least, this would still mean dependence on Labour due to the limitations and necessities that the focus on parliament demands.

Presumably a Peace and Justice party would try to put pressure on Labour by ­standing candidates in elections. But it would come under pressure to stand aside for Labour’s left candidates, or in places the Tories might win. 

Then its MPs, if it wins any, would have to decide their attitude to Labour in parliament.

Is their aim to join Labour as a junior partner in some sort of coalition? Or would they try to stay independent?

In either case, they would feel enormous pressure to vote with Labour to stop a Tory victory.

 

They could end up tailing Labour in parliament—even if the aim is to ultimately replace it.

 Ditching Labour means ditching Labourism. That means breaking from the idea that working class demands can best be won through parliament.

Labourism fails because it means trying to fit those demands into a parliamentary system designed to thwart them. 

For a start, even getting elected means appealing for votes from all sections of society—left and right—and all classes. Not only that, any party that wants to govern has to prove itself “responsible” enough to keep the system profitable for big business. 

This produces in Labour a majority of right wing MPs eager to do just that, and a minority of left wing MPs who reluctantly make concessions.

The history of Labour is littered with leaders who’ve turned on their working class supporters and left wing challenges that surrender in the name of party unity.

Yet despite this history of betrayal, Labourism has largely been resilient.

It owes its survival to the strength in society of what revolutionary socialists usually call reformist consciousness. 

For most working class people, the experience of life under capitalism means we constantly need improvements to our lives and working ­conditions, or have to ­protect them.

We work in jobs where our bosses always try to squeeze more out of us. And we always carry the weight of any number of crushing pressures—from the rocketing cost of living, to oppression, to the looming threat of climate catastrophe.

All of this pushes us to want to transform society, and yet at the same time can also leave us feeling isolated, weak or powerless.

So for most people most of the time, it only seems realistic to hope for changes within the limits of the system. For just over a century, Labour has been the main organised expression of this. 

This is down to its claims to represent workers and its real connection to them through the trade union leaders that formed and sustain the party.

 Yet it’s true that for the past three decades, Labour’s support among working class people has eroded. 

The more Labour committed itself to push unrestrained free market policies, the less it could claim to represent ­working class interests.

Boris Johnson’s Tories have been the most recent beneficiaries of this. But the ­connection between Labour and the ­working class is far from severed.

Many may return to Labour as revulsion grows over Johnson’s lies. But some could also look further rightwards.

For the left to gain it must prove itself as a real ­alternative to both Labour and Labourism that can deliver the ­transformation that people need.

The best way it can do this is by championing struggle—the demonstrations, strikes and occupations that show ordinary people they have the power to win change themselves.

Labour was founded as an alternative to that struggle—and has often acted as an obstacle to it. It’s always been riddled with MPs who detest the “illegitimacy” of any attempt to win change outside parliament.

And at crucial moments, its union leader supporters have reined in workers’ struggles in the interests of securing a Labour government.

An alternative to Labour would have to do the opposite. Rather than denouncing struggle, its MPs would have to denounce the corrupt parliamentary machine that serves the rule of the rich.

Everything they do would be geared towards supporting, amplifying and building the movements outside.

And rather than be ­contained by union leaders, its ­connection to the ­working class should be through a movement of struggle prepared to defy them.

The crucial thing is that struggle—not ­parliament—comes first.

Even alternative parties that grew out of workers’ struggle and social movements—such as Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain—crashed because they put parliament first.

Various attempts at ­similar projects in Britain and France also ran into difficulties, essentially arising out of the tensions in the ­relationship between parliament and struggle.

But without struggle, any parliamentary alternative to Labour is doomed to fail. And yet—despite a great crisis for the Tories and the system—there’s very little struggle.

The left can’t intervene through Labour. But, along with the trade union leaders, it has failed to call a significant demonstration to make sure ordinary people force Johnson out.

Without that, the left is nowhere to be seen or heard. Building struggle is a more urgent dilemma for the left than building a new parliamentary party.