by Richie Venton, SSP national workplace organiser · As we live through the molten heat, thunder and lightning, floods and general climate chaos of recent weeks, new reports on the catastrophic impact of global warming highlight the urgency of action.
And plans are in motion for the biggest global protest action so far, on 20 September, with striking school students appealing to workers to join them in ‘a climate general strike’.
A new Australian academic study warns of “a high likelihood of human civilisation coming to an end” by 2050!
Even at the less apocalyptic end of the scale, there is widespread agreement that unless the impact of relentless plundering of the planet by the likes of Shell, BP and the banking sector that finances their environmental rampages for profit is reversed, the world’s poorest will suffer most—and devastatingly.
Flooding, mudslides, raging fires, homes wiped out, loss of clean water and destruction of farming land are already happening, and could be joined by escalated wars and conflict.
No wonder tens of thousands of young people have decided enough is enough; started the Fridays for Future school strikes; staged bold, eye-catching direct-action protests—and called for a global ‘climate general strike’ on 20 September.
That call, that appeal to workers to join the school students’ protests, is a very welcome glimmering of recognition of the potential role and power of collective workers’ action to challenge the climate crisis.
Climate is a workers’ issue
This battle highlights several critical points of general significance: the utter inability of capitalism to secure jobs and a future for the next generation; the power of organised workers to effect change, because of their role in the economy (in contrast to pleading with remote politicians for solutions); the central role of the working class in the struggle to utterly change the system.
Only this can protect the environment from the rapacious destruction by profit-hunting capitalist owners, whose only concern is short-term maximisation of profit margins; and the equally pivotal solution of democratic public ownership in order to protect people and planet alike.
Harland and Wolff (see report, Voice 523, page 8) workers have skills they want to utilise and pass on to the next generation. They are rightly demanding nationalisation to achieve that.
They have already diversified use of their skills to an extent, but the entirely piecemeal nature and appallingly limited (in fact, declining) rate of investment by governments and big business in clean, renewable energy means the potential for the yard in these fields has been totally untapped, leaving workers looking into the abyss.
They are demanding some of the substantial Royal Navy contracts should go to Belfast, and their decisive action could embarrass Johnson into conceding that.
In itself that would be a victory for collective union action—and would buy time to campaign for urgent diversification of production into the likes of marine engineering for offshore energy production, as part of a publicly owned green energy industry.
BiFab and the Caley
Meantime in Scotland, two groups of workers face devastation that could easily be averted, and transformed into secure, expanded, socially useful production, if the Scottish Government had the political ideology and will to take them into public ownership: the BiFab yards in Methil and Burntisland, and the Caley railway workshop in Springburn.
Workers were in tears of rage and sadness as they rallied at the Caley on the day it shut down, after 163 years of rail manufacturing.
That is industrial vandalism, by the capitalist owners since privatisation, and by the SNP government who spurned the unions’ calls for nationalisation.
It could be an integral part of a public rail and transport network, building and repairing rolling stock for a vastly expanded and improved rail service.
And as the SSP has pioneered and fought for over the years, a fare-free public transport system would slash car use, combat poverty and pollution—a radical and immediate contribution to tackling climate change.
An example of workers’ jobs, skills and livelihoods being vastly improved whilst reversing the destruction of the planet wreaked by capitalism.
At BiFab, the Fife yards are to be awarded production of a paltry 8 out of the total 54 turbine jackets ordered for the massive, £2billion Neart Na Gaoithe (NnG) offshore wind project, just off the same Fife coast. The promise is of this saving “up to 200 jobs”.
That’s up to 200 more jobs than would have existed if there hadn’t been a vigorous campaign by the unions and local communities.
But it’s still an insult; the other 46 jackets will not be built a few miles from the offshore windfarm, but in Indonesia!
Built by cheap labour, then shipped across the globe and up the Fife coast by diesel-burning barges. So much for the boasts by the Scottish Government of Scotland pioneering green energy!
Full and democratic public ownership of all forms of energy, transport, construction, shipyards and the banks is at the heart of a solution to pollution.
To have a just transition from fossil fuels to clean green energy, but with guarantees that all the jobs and conditions of today’s workers in the energy sector are protected and transferred by agreement with their unions into a green public energy company.
To deploy the skills of workers in the shipyards, railway workshops and others to build the new ferries and the fleets of buses, trains and trams to create a world-class, free, integrated public transport network.
To create 100,000s of well-paid, unionised jobs and apprenticeships in a Green New Deal for the working class.
To resurrect the social housing sector, building at least 100,000 new homes for rent a year, built to the highest environmental standards, combating fuel poverty and the housing crisis as well as creating vast numbers of decent, fulfilling jobs.
With local authorities, local cooperatives and the Scottish Government aided in funding these projects by a state bank, instead of the current scandal of banks helping BP, Shell and other multinationals desecrate the planet for profit.
These links between local workers’ struggles and the need for socialist change in how the economy is owned and run in order to tackle the climate crisis need to be discussed and popularised in the run up to the 20 September action, and beyond.
It would be fatal if the courageous young people who have electrified the awareness of the climate emergency did not get the support of workers, young and older.
It would be disastrous if the young protestors began to blame older workers for a crisis that has been created by a tiny, fabulously rich minority of the population, through the very nature of capitalist production for profit.
It’s the capitalist minority who plundered and polluted the earth, not older workers. It’s not a generational issue, it’s a class issue!
Action on 20 September
Achieving a genuine general strike on 20 September is a tall order. And it’s a demand that should not be light-mindedly thrown around without thinking through the almighty preparations it would take, at workplace level, especially in the teeth of anti-union laws.
But that should not prevent trade unions organising for maximum solidarity and participation in some forms of protest—armed with some of the policies described above, to help convince working class people that we can be far, far better off by taking drastic measures to tackle climate change—rather than being asked to pay for a crisis we didn’t create, through jobs being slaughtered and services slashed.
Local union organising meetings are being held to discuss practical protest actions. Workplace meetings should be called to discuss the issues and solutions, as well as action. And the UCU union has proposed a Motion to the TUC Congress in early September, calling for a 30-minute strike to be called by the TUC on 20 September.
Young people have lit a fire underneath the backsides of those in power. Workers are beginning to take action in some areas in their own self-defence, in ways that would and should be linked to expansion of ‘green’ jobs that would help reverse the tsunami of destruction caused by capitalist ownership and production.
The power of the working class, united with the power of protest by young people demanding a future, needs to be wielded to ensure we have a world to live in.
And socialism—collective, sustainable production for the democratically decided needs of people, not profit—is the increasingly urgent need of the hour.