We have a planet to win

May 30, 2009

Dick Nichols is a national co-convenor of the Socialist Alliance. This article is based on a talk to the April World at a Crossroads conference.

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What are the challenges for building a real "red-green" anti-capitalist movement in Australia today?

We must get beyond writing manifestos about capitalism and the environment and on to building the movement. We must expand anti-systemic sentiment and knowledge as powerful arguments in the campaign for sustainability and against the crimes of the polluters.

We need a much stronger red-green detachment on the Australian political battlefield.

A whole chain of events has to take place before a mass red-green anti-capitalist current emerges. Much will depend on how quickly working-class support for state and federal ALP governments declines; on how political tensions in the Greens are resolved, and on whether the Socialist Alliance and others can pass some critical thresholds of unity and political visibility.

Encouraging signs keep emerging. Last year's Victorian municipal elections confirmed that socialists can win high votes when they properly give voice to worker and community concerns.

The May 16 Fremantle by-election saw Greens candidate Adele Carles win a seat that had been Labor's for more than 80 years. Union and community resistance to the Rudd government continuing with former PM John Howard's industrial policies remains.

Importantly, the emergence of a new environmental force, the climate action movement, is shaking up environmental politics and creating new openings — and responsibilities — for the red-green, anti-capitalist cause.

The January Climate Action Summit in Canberra launched this new phase. After three days of passionate debate, it equipped the movement with an adequate target for atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration; set a goal of 100% renewable energy by 2020; came out against the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS); provisionally adopted policy for the transition to climate sustainability; started work on designing a national network, and adopted four major action initiatives for 2009.

We now have the serious beginnings of a serious movement, one
the Socialist Alliance will do its utmost to develop.

Our basic challenge

Our basic challenge is to build a worker-environmentalist-community alliance for climate sustainability, while the major parties are either trying to tear it apart or set up a caricature of it.

The Coalition knows it must win some working-class support.

One powerful weapon for the Coalition has been greenie-bashing. "Greenies", parodied as loopy bludgers sitting in forests and indifferent to "ordinary" people's lives, have been a useful scapegoat.

The tactic's greatest success was the Coalition's 2004 federal election victories in Tasmanian timber industry seats. Then, the timber division of the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union abandoned Labor because of its pact with the Greens to save sections of Tasmanian old-growth forest.

Now the Coalition is looking to repeat the exercise on an expanded scale, visiting the seats where the most carbon-polluting industries are and telling the workers the CPRS will wipe out their jobs.

The Rudd government feels increasingly vulnerable on this score, as shown by the even greater concessions to the greenhouse mafia in the CPRS Mark 2.

The battle for a safe climate can only be won if the mass of working people are on our side. Really on our side, not just with good union resolutions.

This won't come about by propaganda, but by real experience of struggle and through increasing the influence of activists with a "red-green" perspective in the working-class and environment movements.

The tragedy of the Tasmanian old-growth forest fight was that there was no alternative message for the timber workers coming from within their union. Individual workers saw that the union's supporting industry bosses like Gunns was a road to nowhere, but they kept their heads down.

We can already glimpse a different relation between the worlds of work and environmental defence. In places like the La Trobe Valley — victim of the double trauma of thousands of job losses from electricity industry privatisation and massive carbon pollution from brown coal-fired power stations — the union movement is committed to developing plans for industry conversion to sustainability and "green jobs".

A few clues

How can the climate action movement help such "green shoots" to grow quicker?

First, by being aware of imitations. The language of "just transitions" and "green jobs" is rapidly becoming a jargon spouted by all.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions says it supports green jobs and just transitions, but just not yet.

Its version of a "Green New Deal" involves (sometimes grumbling) acceptance of what the Rudd government feels it can deliver, as in its endorsement of CPRS Mark 2.

Here are six tests to help detect the difference between this Clayton's transition to sustainability and the real product. The real thing:

•won't yield on science-based demands like 100% renewables by 2020;
•will build the movement as broadly, democratically and locally as possible;
•won't leave climate sustainability to the market but support a publicly directed and democratically planned effort to cut carbon emissions at the rate dictated by science;
•will abide by the polluter-pays principle, and support working people in defence of their rights and living standards;
•will develop concrete, science-based proposals, and support policies like adequate feed-in tariffs, which have already been proven in practice; and
•will strive to build the biggest possible demonstrations and protests.

There is no more urgent cause than the struggle for climate safety. Get involved in the Socialist Alliance and the climate action movement. We all have nothing to lose but the planet, and we have a planet to win!

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