Originally posted at Slaney St. – a Birmingham Based News Cooperative by Sean Farmelo on January 18, 2015.
By Sean Farmelo
In December 2015 the next important iteration in the circus of international climate negotiations, COP21 will be in held in Paris. The COP is a defunct process, which has achieved no real commitments from its constituent nations, much less compelled any nations to undertake any activity that is likely to prevent climate change. The process is based on consensus of participating states and given the corporate take over of states such as Canada, USA, Australia to name a few, we are incredibly unlikely to see results in Paris that match the scale of the unfolding climate crisis. There is no option as people, campaigns, or civil society organisations to engage in the negotiations process from a lobbying perspective. Many will say that instead the objective for radical groups should be to engage in actions that attempt to shut down or prevent talks from occurring, a la Seattle or Copenhagen. The idea that demonstrators could prevent the talks is idealistic to say the least; the talks will occur even if thousands of batons need to be smashed down on our heads. It is also a misguided idea, to begin with it reinforces the power relationship in which states are the ones who make decisions for us. Secondly decisions about the climate are made in board rooms not in international climate talks. And decisions made in the board room are made on the basis of profit, not climate change, indigenous rights or deforestation.
The focus of our involvement in the COP should not be on the COP at all. We should instead focus on building a social strike, causing economic disruption to prevent accumulation of the corporations who are causing this crisis. Many of us will be in Paris, and that is positive, it is a chance for the climate movement to come together, but we should not make the mistake of participating in the customary occupy camp and protests at the gates of the conference centre in Le Bourget. Instead we should work towards a transnational climate strike.
There is a reason that those who hop between summits protesting and lobbying haven’t yet achieved their goals, and many are right to be cynical when I suggest that we should be working towards something which piggybacks off of an international process, however I think that it will be come clear I’m arguing for something quite different.
What would a Climate Strike mean?
A climate strike would inherently be different from a conventional strike, not many of us are in a position to withdraw our labour from those who are destroying the climate. In practice we need disrupt extraction sites, production sites and transportation systems of corporations and the states that support them across the continent. Where possible we should work with workers who are prepared to go on strike, however climate change has been defined by automation, the nature of work in the extraction industry has changed with workers becoming harder to organise as a result. Additionally the legal terrain for this form of action is yet uncharted and seems unlikely to be voted through by many rank and file meaning that at least in Europe extraction and production are unlikely to be stopped by strike action in December. We need to incorporate other conceptions of what a strike can be.
The social strike is an idea that has arisen as a result of the increase in precarious work and the shift in how people are reproduced for employment. For those involved in the work of social reproduction the strike as the simple withdrawal of labour from the factory line has become more and more an elusive prospect, both employed and unemployed. Capitalism views the destruction of the environment in the same way it does unwaged labour, nothing more than a negative externality to its profiteering. A climate strike, if executed in a worthwhile manner, would aim to combine the ideas behind a social strike waged by communities, with the conventional strike of the unions to disrupt both production and reproduction in society at large.
You might be thinking why the COP? Are there not many other causes and events that warrant a social strike? Many of us are involved in vital struggles that don’t immediately link to the issues which spring to mind when talking about climate change, however the direct links are all to easy to tease out. Europe, the home of industrial capitalism, is constantly creating reasons for us to take up the fight against climate change – and these reasons often intersect with struggles against other aspects of the same system.
The issues of racism and anti immigration populist rhetoric will be hugely impacted by rising temperatures. The walls of Fortress Europe have been built to stop the swelling tide of people being made to migrate north and as sub-Saharan Africa gets increasingly ravaged by agricultural collapse even more people will be forced to become climate refugees. Likewise the rising costs and insecurity of our food and energy supplies will amplify the issues of those who are already struggling to afford to live through austerity. As has already been exampled by the plight of indigenous peoples across the world, those who already face oppression are those who will bear the brunt of the effects of climate change and this will continue to be the case.
Many of these issues can be directly related to EU policy and the policies of states, the targets could be lobbyists and elected representatives across Europe and in Brussels. Other issues can be related to the international financial system with its home in London, further to that the issues of European austerity and restructuring could be targeted at the European Central Bank in Frankfurt. Transport is another key sector that can be targeted from the heart of Europe with the centre of the international logistics system being based in Rotterdam and Hamburg. Extraction, where many radical climate campaigns are focussed has no end of targets in Europe with fracking sites in the U.K, Europe’s largest open pit coal mine by Cologne and Rosia Montana mining project in Bulgaria to name a few active campaigns. To state the obvious, the problem is not a lack of issues to campaign against in Europe, instead it is a cohesive banner to pull campaigns under and a reason to do it, I believe that inadvertently COP21 could provide a moment in time to begin creating this link between radical campaigns.
Who would be involved?
If we understand that the fight against patriarchal capitalism, racist capitalism and queerphobic capitalism is also the struggle against fossil fuel capitalism, then we should be looking to work together with organisations focussed on these issues. The goal of the Climate Strike should be to reach beyond the boundaries of those normally involved in the climate movement and have organisations being involved in the strike on the basis of their already existent campaigning. Anti capitalist campaigns can tackle many issues but fundamentally those that aim to destabilise the system are ones which will support the fight for ecological sustainability. However it should be done on an organised and strategic basis.
Instead of decentralised action by networks of individuals we should be looking to work closely with organisations such as Blockupy who already have a focus on transnational action against austerity in organising. The climate strike should amount to far more than a call for action or throwing out a hash tag action along the lines of Occupy or UK Uncut. People will be mobilising because of the COP and if we resort to a decentralised call out style action and neglect to strengthen organisational ties the platform created by the already planned COP mobilisations will swiftly evaporate and we will be left with something very similar to the disjointed campaigns we already have. Rather is should mean putting serious effort throughout 2015 into engaging with organisations who are working on strategically planning their actions and understanding the reasons that previous iterations of struggle haven’t succeeded. We should work with them to see how their struggles can be positively linked to those of the climate strike, and attempt to put forward some sort of united front in action in December and beyond.
A wide variety of organisations NGOs, campaigns have previously been embroiled in the COP process and will probably participate in lobbying around it. In the UK Reclaim The Power, who haven’t formally engaged in the COP process have a national meeting in February to determine the nature of their participation and although it is likely that Reclaim The Power will attend they should focus on using their knowledge of organising to set up a direct action camp for people form across Europe who are interested in taking collective strike action. Being in Paris needn’t mean actions planned at a camp should occur in Paris, but we should opportunity of a whole host of people, many who are engaged in the NGO process and frustrated with its lack of results and inability to undertake large scale action and draw those people in. Reclaim The Power should also help to organise a daily paper news bulletin for those in and around Paris. There is generally a total lack of communication at COPs for those without accreditation for the conference meaning that those who wish to take their action elsewhere are left out of the loop and unable to communicate with others who feel similarly.
The idea of the social strike has been discussed by Plan C at the 2014 Fast Forward Festival – where there is support for the idea of a strike that reaches beyond the confines of the workplace. Plan C is also a participant in the Beyond Europe Project and interested in Blockupy. Instead of travelling to Paris, Plan C should look to build a coalition of revolutionary groups in the U.K. These could then participate in the climate strike in December, to take action against austerity and international finance. Plan C should also work in Europe to build the idea of a Climate Strike and argue Blockupy should once again make the ECB its target in December.
The COP is going to happen and climate change is a key issue in the struggle against capitalism, we should use this moment to change the trajectory of fragmented single issue campaigns in Europe and strike for the climate. See you on the streets and the runways and in the power stations.