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13 October 2021

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Build a mass working-class climate movement with socialist policies

Climate change protest in London on 12.4.19, photo Mary Finch

Climate change protest in London on 12.4.19, photo Mary Finch   (Click to enlarge)

Matt Dobson, Socialist Party Scotland

The COP26 UN climate summit in Glasgow is now only weeks away.

30,000 official participants, including US president Joe Biden, UK prime minster Boris Johnson, president Emmanuel Macron of France and a legion of 'elite' politicians, lobbyists, big business, including fossil fuel industry representatives, charities and NGOs as well as the capitalist media will attend. No expense is being spared, including, ironically, an enormous amount of carbon emissions produced by private jets to fly in this elite.

Capitalist leaders are busy making speeches about their concern for the planet, Boris Johnson included. But they all defend the economic system of profit - capitalism - that is responsible for the climate destruction in the first place.

Meanwhile, working-class and young people in Glasgow, Scotland and internationally coming to protest at COP26 will face an exclusion zone around the conference venue by the Clyde. Protesters will be kept away by state forces, including armed police. This was agreed by not just the Tory UK government, but the Scottish National Party (SNP) government as well.

Letting polluters off hook

For the climate movement, the task should be to expose COP26 as an attempt at 'greenwashing' capitalism. Talk of a 'just transition' and a 'green new deal' means little in practice if the same big business polluters remain the private owners - and therefore in control - of production, distribution and energy.

An effective mass protest movement, including building for walkouts from schools and colleges and strike action by workers during the course of the summit, is essential. As is the movement as a whole putting forward a sustainable alternative to capitalist production methods - the root cause of global warming - which means fighting for socialism.

How can this be done? What are the most effective methods and slogans to raise to achieve a mass movement and force our demands onto the agenda?

It is not just Socialist Party Scotland and the Socialist Party in England and Wales - both affiliated to the Committee for a Workers' International (CWI) - raising these questions. They will be in the minds of thousands of workers and youth looking to protest and force real change at the summit.

The recent international climate strike in September was called under the radical slogan 'uproot the system'. We completely agree that the capitalist system must be 'uprooted'.

And many have raised the slogan of 'system change'. But the concrete question is what system will replace capitalism?

The capitalists' short-term utter reliance on profit is not capable of implementing any 'just transition' to an economy that will not cause environmental destruction. The Socialist Party has raised the slogan 'socialist change to end climate change' at the climate strikes, and will do at COP26 as well.

Socialism means nationalising the major companies, industries and banks, including the fossil fuel polluters, under democratic working-class control internationally. A socialist transition would see the skills of workers in the fossil fuel industries utilised in the renewable energy sector, as part of a socialist plan based on meeting the needs of the majority in society.

We believe this programme has the potential to reach wide numbers of people, including the vital task of mobilising the most powerful force in society - the organised working class - which is capable of halting production and thereby the bosses' profits.

  (Click to enlarge)

Unfortunately, the recent climate strikes here attracted far smaller numbers than the tens of thousands of mainly school students who were mobilised in 2019. The COP26 coalition has appointed itself the main organiser of the protests in November. It has completely and wrongly changed its approach to mobilising for Glasgow.

In early summer, it was calling for a full turnout internationally to Glasgow. But now, citing the continued pandemic, and also the exclusionary nature of COP26, it is wrongly calling for "decentralised mass mobilisations".

Local protests are now being called, and the numbers coming to Glasgow are being effectively demobilised. While the pandemic has had an understandable effect on the movement, this is not the main reason.

The size of the recent climate strike in Glasgow, of around 300, contrasts quite dramatically with the scale of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests that drew thousands in Glasgow in summer 2020. The BLM movement erupted despite lockdown and attempts of politicians, including the SNP and Greens, to actively discourage youth from protesting.

Mass turnout in Glasgow

If the organisational resources of the workers' movement, environmental groups and student unions were effectively mobilised, it would be perfectly possible to get a mass turnout for protests in Glasgow for COP26. The examples of environmental destruction over the summer can feed into a fighting mood.

The retreat from a full mobilisation for the Glasgow protests was done without any real democratic discussion. It clearly had a disorientating effect on the turnout for the strike on the 24 September.

A Socialist Party Scotland representative attended the COP26 coalition online Zoom meeting on 13 September, which attracted hundreds of activists. Unfortunately, the meeting was organised in a top-down manner, with selected speakers reporting on decisions that seemed to have already been made about the mobilisation being 'decentralised' away from Glasgow. Attendees could only comment using the chat function.

One reason given was that official summit participants and activists from the neocolonial world are being excluded from being able to travel to Glasgow - low vaccination rates in their countries are preventing them from obtaining visas.

It was even reported that a section of the coalition had argued for boycotting the summit completely without any protests. The UN has no intention of cancelling the summit, and such a boycott would have severely weakened the climate movement, allowing the capitalist governments to greenwash unchallenged.

The correct strategy is to go for the biggest mobilisation possible for Glasgow - with a programme that can unite all those angry and fearful about the environmental crisis, and workers and young people fighting for their future - while putting out an international call for simultaneous mass action of workers and youth not able to attend. The political weakness of the COP26 coalition, which includes pro-capitalist politicians and NGOs, is evident in this retreat.

The system

A central COP26 coalition slogan for Glasgow is 'rewire the system'. This trend is towards reinforcing illusions that the existing capitalist system - based on private ownership of the means of production for profit - can be altered and reformed to save the planet.

With energy giants sponsoring and lobbying the summit, capitalist greenwashing is a concrete issue. Fundamentally, the interests of workers, young people and the majority of the planet's population are diametrically opposed to the interests of the corporations. To say their grip on the economy can be 'rewired' is utterly utopian, and can only weaken the climate movement.

Many of the leading politicians of Green parties internationally defend capitalism and participate in governments that attack the working class and the poor. The Scottish Greens have joined a coalition government with the SNP, a party tied historically to big oil.

In the Republic of Ireland, the Greens are coalition partners in a vicious anti-working-class government. It looks likely that in Germany the Greens will be part of the new ruling government that will seek to make the working class pay for the crisis of capitalism - as they have done in Germany in the past.

Scottish Green MSPs recently voted against an extremely limited proposal from Scottish Labour for a public energy company. Nowhere in the SNP-Green programme for government is there any mention of nationalisation of the energy sector, or even any wealth tax on the big polluters.

Nationalise

The SNP and Greens, despite planning to place Scotland's railways under state ownership, are cutting rail workers' jobs and hundreds of rail services, bringing them into conflict with the trade unions. There is no mention by the COP26 coalition of the need to support and link up with the struggle of workers who may be on strike during the summit, including Scotrail workers and council workers.

Demands for the nationalisation of the energy sector would have mass appeal with the ongoing crisis in the supply of fuel, and with millions of working-class people worried about how they are going to pay rising bills.

In Glasgow, currently, the trade unions and local residents are in conflict with the SNP council - whose budgets are supported by the Greens - over a mounting waste crisis caused by decades of cuts to cleansing. Disgracefully, SNP council leader Susan Aitken has repeatedly blamed residents and workers. When questioned about graffiti near the summit venue, she attacked Glasgow young people as "wee neds".

This shows the need not just to expose the greenwashing of Biden, Boris, Macron and the other international capitalist politicians, but also that of Green parties and the Scottish government.

Unfortunately, the actions of some environmental groups, such as Extinction Rebellion (XR) and Insulate Britain, who have disrupted transport networks, can have had the opposite effect. Similar actions are planned in Glasgow.

There is a real danger that workers can become alienated from the climate movement, unless they fight under a programme that puts working-class interests centre stage. Groups like XR and Insulate Britain substitute activity of small groups for what is actually needed - mass working-class action, including demos, strikes, walkouts and occupations to confront capitalism.

It's important that the movement opposes Priti Patel using these mistaken methods as an excuse to further attack the right to protest. The capitalist class know they face growing anger given their inability to solve any of the multiple crises descending on the working class. Tory repression will not prevent action taking place, but every attempt will be made to frustrate and weaken it.

A new network

A fighting democratic network of school, college and university committees, with an elected leadership, mobilising the full potential power of the movement can be a more effective tool than the top-down approach of many of the COP26 coalitions. This would have to be linked to bringing to bear the power of the trade unions to halt capitalist production.

A mass movement around and beyond COP26 that mobilised youth strikes and walkouts could not just expose the climate wreckers, but could demand a massive publicly funded job-creation programme to solve the threat of unemployment.

Demands for a sustainable council house building programme, and a worker-controlled socialist transition that protects jobs and wages for workers in the energy sector, would be capable of galvanising much wider support from the working class.

Walkout

COP26 is still likely to mobilise tens of thousands to Glasgow to protest. As well as the mass demonstration on the 6 November in Glasgow, Socialist Party Scotland is calling for walkouts against the climate wreckers from every school and college on Friday 5 November.

We have distributed thousands of leaflets with these demands around universities, colleges and schools. We will ensure that the banner of 'socialist change to end climate change' is to the fore in Glasgow in November.

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Article dated 13 October 2021

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