Discussion document submitted to Labor for Our Revolution (LFOR):
This memorandum proposes an analysis and provisional framework around which to construct an ambitious and effective agenda for progressive labor to respond to the converging environmental crises, and to pursue a rapid, inclusive approach to energy transition and social justice.
Last week, on February 22, 2017, water protectors at the Oceti Sakowin camp, the primary camp of Standing Rock, were evicted by the Army Corps of Engineers in a military style takeover. A peaceful resistance that began with a sacred fire lit on April 1, 2016, ended in a blaze as some of the protectors, in a final act of defiance, set some of the camp’s structures on fire.
The millions of people around the world who have stood in solidarity and empathy with Standing Rock now stand in disbelief and grief, but the forced closure of the encampment is simply the latest chapter in a violent, 500-year-old history of colonization against the First Nations. It is also the latest chapter in the battle between an extractive capitalist model and the possibility of a post-capitalist world.
Of course, the ongoing struggle will not go down in the flames at Oceti Sakowin. We should take this opportunity to remember the enduring lessons of this movement, and prepare ourselves for what is to come next.
Left Renewal is a group of left-leaning rank and file members of the NSW Greens party that caused a stir amongst the broader Australian Greens, when they announced their presence in December last year and declared their anti-capitalist agenda
The arrival of this socialist group has posed a challenge to the mainstream Greens as a whole, as they’ve always stated that there are no factions within the party ranks. The party line has always been that they’re self-governing and their policies are based on a consensus model.
However, Left Renewal tend to differ on these points. They believe the Greens have strayed from their more radical roots. And that today, the party doesn’t formulate all of their policies democratically and some of the party leaders aren’t elected.
Calling themselves a tendency, as the term faction has negative connotations, Left Renewal base their ideology on the four pillars that the Australian Greens were founded upon. These are ecological sustainability, grassroots democracy, social justice, and peace and non-violence.
Donald Trump and his congressional Republican allies have taken control of the U.S. government. The result threatens to be devastating for both labor and the climate — not to mention immigrants, African Americans, Muslims, women, children, the elderly, the disabled, LGBTQ people, and many others.
The Trump regime is potentially vulnerable because it only represents the interests of the top 1% of the top 1%. But it has a potentially winning strategy to rule nonetheless: keep those who might stand up in the interest of the 99.9 percent divided and therefore powerless. While Trump has played black against white, Latino against Anglo, women against men, gay against straight, and exploited many other divisions, his “trump card” may well be his ability to divide labor and climate advocates.
The Trump ascendancy creates a new context for addressing long-standing tensions between organized labor and the environmental movement, between workers’ job concerns and everyone’s need to protect the climate. Trump and his congressional Republican allies intend to exploit these tensions to the max. But their threat to workers, the earth’s climate, and society as a whole make cooperation against them imperative for both organized labor and the climate protection movement. Forging a force that can effectively counter Trumpism requires change that will involve tension within each movement as well as between them, but that may be necessary if either is to have a future. The alternative is most likely decimation of both movements and of everything they are fighting for.
On Nov. 18, the Obama administration banned oil and gas drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans for the next five years, while allowing drilling projects to go forward in the Cook Inlet (southwest of Anchorage, Alaska) and in the Gulf of Mexico. The media have noted the strong possibility that when Donald Trump assumes office, his administration would try to rewrite this blueprint in order to ramp up off-shore oil drilling even more.
Back in the 1970s, with unemployment rising and British industry contracting, workers at the arms company Lucas Aerospace came up with a pioneering plan to retain jobs by proposing alternative, socially-useful applications of the company’s technology and their own skills. The ‘Lucas Plan’ remains one of the most radical and forward thinking attempts ever made by workers to take the steering wheel and directly drive the direction of change.
Forty years later, we are facing a convergence of crises: militarism and nuclear weapons, climate chaos and the destruction of jobs by new technologies and automation. These crises mean we have to start thinking about technology as political, as the Lucas Aerospace workers did, and reopen the debate about industrial conversion and economic democracy.
‘What so inspires me about the Lucas Plan is the democratic egalitarianism which runs through its every part – the work processes, the products and even the very technology they propose.’
This egalitarian ethic inspired Laurence Hall to make the Lucas Plan the focus of a recent national gathering of Young Quakers in Lancaster, up the line from the Trident nuclear submarine yards in Barrow. Eurig Scandrett from the Scottish Green Party made it the theme for Green Party trade unionists because ‘it is the most inspiring example of workers on the shop floor who get self-organised and demand to make what humanity needs.’
The fact that the plan was defeated has not diluted its capacity to inspire. For Eurig Scandrett, its defeat demonstrated that ‘it is the vested interests of the military-industrial machine which is the problem, and that workers liberating their collective brain is where the solution lies.’
The broad outline of the Lucas Aerospace workers’ story was familiar enough in the mid-1970s. Workers faced redundancies, got organised, resisted and insisted that their skills and machinery were not redundant. But here they went further. They drew together alternative ideas with those of supportive academics and, with the encouragement of Tony Benn (then industry secretary in the Labour government), produced their ‘Alternative Corporate Plan for Socially Useful Production’, illustrated with prototypes. Management refused to negotiate. The government, under pressure from the CBI and the City, made gestures of a willingness to talk, but would not move against management. The plan was never implemented, or even seriously considered, although commercial companies elsewhere picked up some of the ideas.
So what are the lessons we can draw from this past experience of ‘ordinary’ people organising and sharing their practical knowledge and skills to illustrate in the present the changes of which we dream? Some of the main ones are discussed below.
Election night put most progressives into a state of shock and disbelief – a metaphysical body blow to all the values and ideals to which we are committed. Even though we knew intellectually that Trump might win, we didn’t really believe it would happen. The pollsters said it would not happen. Most of the corporate media said it would not happen. Most of the power structure was committed to preventing it. Who imagined that a crude narcissistic loud-mouthed bigot could win a national election for the highest office in the land! But that’s what happened.
The day after, the enormity of what had happened started to sink in. Trump’s promised Supreme Court appointments alone could reverse decades of hard fought victories, most especially in relation to human rights and civil liberties. Agencies like the NLRB, EPA, FDA and more could be gutted and regulatory protections they were established to enforce evaporate overnight. He’s already said he intends to move forward to deport two to three million immigrants. Racists, bigots and reactionaries of all sorts have been emboldened and attacks on Muslims, immigrants and people of color have escalated. Trump’s retrograde climate denial and commitment to his fossil fuel industry backers puts the population of the entire planet into peril as a consequence of unchecked global warming.
Trump, a man with a world-sized ego but virtually no experience in foreign relations or governing, will turn running the country over to a band of neocons and social reactionaries – like Vice President Mike Pence – who now see the opportunity to complete the revolution they started when George W. Bush held office. (Imagine a cabinet composed entirely of Dick Cheney clones.) It’s the stuff nightmares are made of.
With all three branches of government in the hands of the GOP, Trump will seek to dismantle the funding restrictions imposed by the Budget Control Act of 2011 that capped spending and requires that any increases in military spending be matched by equivalent increases in domestic funding. Once that is accomplished, the sluice gate between the Treasury and Pentagon will be lifted. Domestic programs that provide what’s left of a social safety net and social programs that serve working people and the poor will be drained into the swamp of the military-industrial complex.
As dire as the threats that Trump represents are, for me they have a ring of familiarity. Although the politics, social composition and economics of the U.S. are dramatically changed, I hear an echo of an earlier era – one of which an overwhelming majority of those who voted this month have no memory.
I am a child of the Cold War, born on the early side of the baby boom generation in 1944. I am just old enough to remember the McCarthy era of the 1950s. Living in Milwaukee, for my family the witch hunts of Senator Joseph McCarthy were very real. Because my father was a leader in the Wisconsin Communist Party, the FBI was a haunting presence in my family’s life. “Better dead than red” characterized the political climate in which the left strived to remain true to its progressive values. Being labeled a “red” meant being fired, blacklisted, threatened, harassed, and in some cases physically assaulted.
Then came Tricky Dick Nixon, an arch reactionary who made his reputation as one of the Cold War’s ugliest witch hunters. On the day that Nixon was elected, alarm bells sounded not unlike those that are ringing now. There was once again the sniff of fascism in the air.
They rang again when Ronald Reagan, former president of the Screen Actors Guild who led the purge of the left in his union, took office. Prior to switching from B-films to politics, he had appeared weekly on TV as the huckster for General Electric, one of the most prominent and powerful advocates for militarism and an aggressive foreign policy throughout the Cold War.
In the darkest days of the McCarthy era, it was hard to imagine that within a decade we would see the birth of new civil rights, women’s and antiwar movements that would transform the social order and the popular culture of the nation. On the morning after the Nixon and Reagan elections, the future looked grim and threatening. The prospect for progressive change appeared to be fading from the horizon.
I can recall how frightened people were at the prospect of what lay ahead for themselves, their family, community and the nation. Those were decades in which the arms race and threat of all out nuclear war stoked fears of global annihilation. With the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki still fresh in the collective memory of the country, the fear of a nuclear holocaust was very real.
But there is an important lesson embedded in that history. Most of the American people actually believe in democracy, freedom, justice and fairness. As dark and threatening as conditions might have appeared in the moment, the fundamental instinct for goodness of a majority of people ultimately surfaced.
The 22nd meeting of the United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP22) in Marrakesh Morrocco concluded on November 18, having made dogged progress despite the looming spectre of President Donald Trump . (see “7 things you missed at COP22 while Trump hogged the headlines“). 150 trade union members from 50 countries comprised a delegation led by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).
The Paris Agreement required the 196 Parties to the UN Climate Convention to limit temperature increases to 2° or 1.5°C below preindustrial levels. While COP21 benefitted from a high degree of mobilization linked to the adoption of an international agreement, COP 22 on the other hand has received rather less attention.
Yet the stakes remain significant.
In its haste, COP 22, being called the “action COP” or the “agriculture COP”, is in danger of adopting various misguided solutions for agriculture. Last May at the Climate Convention HQ in Bonn, discussion on this sector was a source of tension between countries. They studiously avoided the key question of differentiating between agricultural models according to their impact on climate change and their ability to provide food sovereignty to people. At the same time, and outside official negotiating channels, voluntary initiatives, especially in the private sector, have expanded and may well become incorporated in countries’ future public policies.
Although 94% of countries mention agriculture in their strategies for combating climate change, the Paris Agreement fails to mention the word “agriculture” even once. You have to read between the lines to understand what is really at stake.
It is really the highly political subject of agriculture that hides behind the use of the expression “carbon sink”. It is true that the soil plays an important role in sequestering CO2 (carbon dioxide), turning it into a genuine “carbon sink”, like forests. Yet that is not soil’s only role, particularly if farming land that is central to food sovereignty is involved. Unfortunately its use (employing the expression “land use”) in combating climate change represents a huge opportunity currently for those promoting misguided solutions and serves as an excuse for public inaction.
In searching for a balance between emissions and absorption by greenhouse gas sinks, the Paris Agreement enshrined the principle of compensation in dealing with the climate crisis. This notion does not mean that emissions actually have to decrease but that emissions and absorption can cancel each other out. This approach has already begun with forests through the highly controversial REDD+ mechanism and, to an increasing degree, is now targeting farming land, the new carbon Eldorado.
We must remember that unlike avoided emissions, natural carbon sequestration is reversible and has a limited lifetime. So rather than attempting to reduce greenhouse gas emissions drastically, agriculture is becoming a unit of accounting permitting emissions to continue or even increase. Consequently, though roundly condemned by civil society and social movements, various initiatives have arisen around climate discussions that appear to many to be misguided solutions. This is the case with climate-smart agriculture and its global alliance (GACSA) which, in the absence of clear criteria, does a balancing act between promoting agroecology and the use of GM seeds and their herbicides. Moreover, 60% of GACSA’s private sector members are companies in the pesticide and agricultural input sector.
This alliance and its concept are nothing more than an empty shell that agro-industrial multinationals can hide in to continue the industrialization of agriculture, to the detriment of smallholders.
Similarly, the 4 per 1000 initiative fails to make clear choices in promoting transition in farming systems. Its scattergun approach to the problem fails to take account of considerations beyond carbon sequestration such as the use of herbicides for example.
Unless there is a real re-examination of agro-industrial models that are highly dependent on chemical inputs and based on exports, such initiatives have absolutely no place in the list of solutions.
Quite apart from the question of the agricultural model there is also the danger of pressure on land and the financialization of natural resources. Therefore by putting a value, through compensation, on farming land as a tool in combating climate change, you increase the pressure on it. So the small scale farmers who were already the first victims of climate change become doubly threatened. If we are to encourage investment in agriculture to sequester more carbon, especially from private sources, much greater expanses of land will be needed with an increased risk of land grabbing. This danger would be multiplied if the race for land were accompanied by mechanisms linked to carbon finance. Numerous studies on similar mechanisms developed for forests (like REDD+) have already demonstrated the dangers of an approach that pays scant consideration to protecting human rights. This approach to combating climate change opens the door ever wider to endangering small scale farmers’ rights and their acquired knowledge, food sovereignty and ecosystem integrity.
Our organisations deprecate this rush towards compensation to tackle the climate crisis. Only immediate, drastic reduction of greenhouse gases will prevent a dramatic increase in the impact of this crisis even though it will still only limit it. Farming land cannot become an accounting tool for managing the climate crisis. It is fundamental to around a billion people in the world who are working towards food sovereignty, an inalienable right of people who have already been harmed enough. We support the continued existence of agriculture suited to meeting the agricultural challenges already magnified by the climate crisis. Such farming methods, based on peasant agroecology which, in addition to a store of good practice, imply socially- and ecologically-based farming rooted in its home territory and a rejection of the financialization of Nature.