Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Class, Labour and Climate Change: Workers of the world unite! Save it!

Climate change is not a question of carbon emissions. The depletion of water, soil and mineral resources and the decimation of biodiversity and ecosystems now being experienced across the planet – primarily in marginalised and poorer areas – 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 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 exploitation has increased in so many different ways 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 force 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.

We are creative and dynamic enough to be able to build societies that do not put themselves in a state of perpetual warfare with the other beings and living things that we share a planet with. We can see evidence of this in local and indigenous communities across the world that do not respond to the logic of profit. But right now we are not the ones in control of 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.

The movement against environmental racism, which started with people of colour in the U.S. struggling against environmental injustices, confronted the racial discrimination in environmental decision-making. Later on, it started to be identified as not only a race struggle but also as a class struggle, since regulations and laws (international treaties in this case) were being enforced with a deliberate impact on marginalized communities in terms of toxic waste disposal, implementation of heavily polluting industries, or mega projects that produce ‘clean’ energy for someone else.

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,' nor '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 – and of course, the first and worst hit will be the poorest sections of every society.

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. When we think of both the forces that have generated this disaster and more to the point, the people who will pay the consequences of it, the class divisions are openly exposed. It will not be those with the money and technology to 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.

It is clear that ecological destruction and the results of it are and will increasingly become a central point of real class struggle. 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 planet's ecosystems to support complex life such as ourselves.

The basic principle of Workers Climate Action 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 economic need 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.