Extinction Rebellion action opens up divisions on how to stop climate change
Clare Wilkins, Nottingham Socialist Party
The attempt by an Extinction Rebellion (XR) protester to superglue himself to a tube train at Canning Town station on 17 October proved to be a 'tipping point' in a way that no one expected.
The tense atmosphere of the morning commute unfortunately spilled over into an attack on the protester which was stopped by tube staff and other passengers. The man was pulled down off the train by another man shouting 'I need to get to work! I need to feed my kids!'
XR has been successful in mobilising thousands of people and we absolutely defend the right to protest. Socialist Party members were out protesting when XR events in London were banned.
XR has limited demands that rely on capitalist companies and governments to 'do the right thing' and save the planet. XR spokespeople talk in terms of 'tipping points.They say that the involvement of 3.5% of the population (2.32 million in Britain) and a certain number of arrests will lead to the change that they ask for. They cite the Suffragettes and the US Civil Rights Movement in particular .
The success of campaigns, however, cannot be reduced to arithmetic, cherry picking elements from or misunderstanding historical movements, nor can it be divorced from involvement of the working class, democratic organisation and a programme capable of winning.
XR say that they are 'apolitical'. They do not want socialist ideas or proposals for a democratically elected and accountable leadership raised at meetings, as Socialist Party members have discovered.
They exploit the disillusion with mainstream politics to organise on the basis of self- appointed, top down leaders with small 'affinity' groups organising action autonomously 'in the spirit of non-violence'.
The backlash against what happened at Canning Town has brought all the disquiet and divisions in XR to the fore. Some supporters are upset about the targeting of workers trying to get to work.
The first task of supporters proposed by XR for the latest 'rebellion' was to take two weeks off work! This shows a complete lack of understanding of the nature of work for working-class people.
Making someone on a zero-hour contract, shift work or in precarious work even minutes late for work would lead to loss of pay or even losing their job.
XR's initial official statement after the incident showed how out of touch their leaders are. They pointed out that the protester was a clergyman, another a solicitor and a third a Buddhist. They said that workers needed to remember that this is a climate emergency and that they are protesting for 'everyone'.
The tactic of deliberately seeking arrest shows no understanding of working-class and especially, black people's experience of the police.
There is no doubting the enthusiasm and energy of XR supporters, but the tactics of some groups can alienate the working class and give the capitalists and the mainstream media another excuse to practice 'divide and rule'.
The climate crisis is urgent. 100 companies cause 71% of climate emissions. Capitalists will not take the measures necessary to make a sustainable planet. There is not an 'apolitical' way to bring about change. We need an effective programme and a democratic and accountable campaign.
Trade unions, workers and communities all need to be part of it. Fighting austerity and all the immediate issues facing the working class and the poor have to be addressed. We need a socialist transformation to solve climate change.
In The Socialist 23 October 2019:
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