Saving the planet needs the support of the working class

December 15, 2006

With the advent of the industrial revolution society underwent significant changes. The age of steam had arrived and a huge new source of energy was unleashed upon society. The immediate effect of this new source of energy was to bring about a qualitative change in the productive forces. The method of production became social in character.

In a short period of time, new industries sprang up employing thousands of workers. There was a revolution in methods of transport. Railways and steam-driven ships provided a new type of service for both goods and people across land and sea.

The demand for steam as a new source of energy brought about the further expansion of coal mines, the search for new oil deposits, iron ore and other mineral deposits.

These changes in the methods of production brought, not only a significant increase in the exploitation of labour but also increased the exploitation of the planet.

Steam driven power was unleashing greenhouse-gas emissions into the Earth's atmosphere and polluting the rivers and waterways with untreated industrial waste. The population of the earth grew exponentially. New cities were established without proper planning or consideration for the needs of society as a whole.

As industry developed and expanded and production of goods increased, new markets had to be found and for the first time planet Earth was confronting the beginning of a new crisis — a crisis of the environment.

The driving force behind this massive expansion of development was the drive for maximum profit by the captains of industry.

Exploitation increases

Since the onset of the industrial revolution the world has undergone significant changes and today, as a result of the scientific and technological revolution, the level of exploitation affecting both workers and the environment has substantially increased.

The major causes of environmental damage have been the deliberate policies of governments to privatise public utilities, to place the services of essential industries in the hands of the corporate captains. Opposition to privatisation of any and all public utilities is a major concern for both the environmental and trade union movement, as privatisation of the people's assets can only lead to further exploitation of workers and the planet.

Every environmental struggle, on the job or in the community, comes up against the corporation that owns the mine, the oilwell, the utility, the factory or the forest. This ownership gives the corporation the power to oppose changes in the direction of a better environment. That is why there are such inadequate efforts to reduce and repair the effects of environmental damage.

Issues for unity

The decision of the Howard government to radically change industrial relations laws and to refuse to sign up to the Kyoto Protocol has given the corporate captains the almost unfettered right to exploit both the working class and the environment to the maximum extent possible.

The signing of the Kyoto agreement and the dismantling of Howard's IR laws are issues that both environmentalists and the trade unions should be demanding and campaigning for — not separately, but jointly.

The trade union movement is clearly supportive of the environmental movement's broad aims and goals. The Australian Council of Trade Unions has publicly called on the Howard government to sign the Kyoto agreement. Bob Brown, the leader of the Greens, spoke at the recent ACTU national day of action in opposition to Howard's IR laws.

The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union's mining and energy division has released a discussion paper calling on the Howard government to sign the Kyoto agreement and, equally importantly, advocating policies for agriculture and land use, climate-change adaptation, renewable energy and ongoing community engagement, all of which would be applauded by the broad environmental movement.

Both unions and environmentalists have common aims and goals. The missing link has been the failure to seek discussion and supportive action around their common causes.

Fundamental change is needed if we are to avert the planetary crises that we now face. Fundamental change means new directions, politics and alliances. The corporate ruling class exploits both workers and the environment. For the future of the planet they cannot be allowed to put profits before humanity.

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