Building movements and solidarity at Endgames? Capitalism and the climate emergency

The last year or so have seen a dramatic shift in the way that both the left and the broader public understand climate change in Western countries. Climate crisis and biodiversity loss are now not just threats for the future – they are happening as we speak. Millions worldwide have been inspired by activists demanding urgent action, such as young people involved in school strikes and campaigners from Extinction Rebellion (XR) taking part in non-violent direct action. On 26 October, rs21 hosted a day of discussions in London about the politics that can take the movement forward, and how we can connect up climate politics with a Marxist understanding of the world and how to fight for change. Over 120 people attended, heard from a genuinely diverse range of speakers, and took part in lively debate. 

Photo: Steve Eason

The final session of the day heard from climate activists from several groups with reports about actions over the past year, and plans as to how to move forward. The lively and hopeful session was an appropriate end to a day of discussion with a consensus that climate struggle is class struggle.

Clara Paillard from Red Green Labour stressed that we need both class struggle and climate struggle – capitalism is our enemy in both cases. For too long an opposition has been posed between the climate movement and jobs – for example, Unite still supports the planned Heathrow expansion. One Million Climate Jobs has tried to get over this. There is a need for dialogue, though this can be difficult. The climate movement must act in solidarity with the Global South and with black and brown people, and also with trade unionists. Red Green Labour have linked workplace issues with climate issues in practice, for example at the National Gallery and the Tate– both venues sponsored by oil companies. The group have got involved in protests over climate, which have attracted people to join unions. The numbers involved in this joint struggle are small so far, but are increasing – we are moving towards a tipping point.

Hannah Barker from Extinction Rebellion summarised XR’s three demands: governments must act now to stop climate change and biodiversity loss; they must tell the truth about what’s happening, and mass activity through citizens’ assemblies are the way to make change happen. XR stresses the possibility of individuals being involved and sees people’s assemblies as a form of participation. Peaceful civil disobedience is also key to participation, and also a decentralised and specialised structure. XR acknowledges the importance of emotional wellbeing – the grief and anger which people have in us and need to take account of. Lots of critique and debate goes on in XR – all of the issues raised today around XR are also raised inside the organisation. For example, there is a debate about the concern that XR is a privileged, white and middle-class organisation Solidarity with other organisation, including rs21, can hopefully help XR address this. There is also within XR discussion of a fourth demand, around climate justice.

Junayd Islam from YouthStrike4Climate and CND recalled how a huge peace movement was built in the 1960s in response to the threat of nuclear war. This and later protests put pressure on politicians to sign disarmament treaties. However, by 1997, the newly-elected Labour government not talking about nuclear weapons or about climate – and now, in the twenty-first century, we see the effects in terms of climate change and climate refugees. But we also see protests like the school strike this year. Cambridge Student CND took their banner to the Cambridge Council offices on the day of the strike – they wondered if anyone else would come. Hundreds of school students joined them. People are talking about climate now, but not about socialism or peace. Yet people like Trump both destroy the climate and foment war. We need a peace movement more than ever. Climate, peace and socialist movements must work together.

Willie Black from Scot.E3 wrapped up the day by calling on everyone to draw inspiration from the past struggles of workers and such high points as 1917 and the early 70s. People have to be active where we are, around issues like pay, housing and food. We have to start talking about a just transition. Workers can be won to cooperate. Willie’s train down from Scotland was cancelled, so all the passengers had to get on a second train which was already full. People shared seats, standing for a time then swapping over. People can act collectively, and workers have power. There has been a lot of discussion of XR activists climbing on the tube train Canning Town – XR should have talked to the tube driver. People in Chile and Iraq are fighting back, though they have suffered terribly, far worse than us. We can start to fight back too.

Photo: Steve Eason

Finally, Willie highlighted the next two big events for the climate movement:

  • May 2020 will see the next major wave of climate protests – start organising now!
  • COP26, the next UN Climate Change summit, takes place in Glasgow in November 2020 – there will be major protests and Glasgow activists will host as many people as they can

You can find reports on other sessions of the day here, here and here.

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