Despite all the talk about ‘humanity’ as a whole being responsible for climate change, the world is class-divided. Inevitably, the ‘carbon footprint’ of the rich folk at the top of each national pyramid is far larger than the rest of the population.
In the US emissions from the richest 10% of households are more than five times bigger than the whole of the bottom 50%! (It’s the same ratio for the UK even though the richest 10% account for ‘only’ half the amount of CO2 emissions as their US cousins.)1 It’s the same the whole world over. The richest people in the world don’t need to think twice about paying higher energy bills, frequent flyer supplements, fuel price hikes, heating more than one home, or anything else. And in fact, the richest people in the world are responsible for an increasing share of carbon emissions.2
Yet governments are busy dreaming up new ways of imposing carbon taxes which inevitably hit those who can least afford to pay hardest, and who are among the lowest carbon emitters. Unsurprisingly the “we’re all in this together” approach (à la Cameron as his government imposed social spending cuts in the wake of the 2007-8 financial crash) is wearing thin. EU governments especially have not forgotten the Yellow Vest (Gilet Jaunes) protests in France sparked by a ‘green’ tax hike on fuel prices in Spring 2018, which forced Macron to back down.
Protests against price rises — ‘green’ or otherwise — and government measures which exacerbate social injustice, are instructive and reflect the wider crisis capitalism is facing everywhere. But radical reformism, much less ‘green’ demands for a blanket restriction on ‘growth’, is not the road to abolishing the system of production for profit. Meanwhile ‘levelling-up’ is utopian at this stage in capitalism’s existence when wage workers’ share of GDP has been declining everywhere since the post-war boom ended in the 1970s. As for changing personal consumption patterns, capitalism remains capitalism, and profits are still profits (derived from the value of all the hours workers put in over and above their wages) whether or not cars are petrol or battery powered, whether or not we choose to eat meat or vegetables…
This is what makes the strategies of those like Greta Thunberg or Extinction Rebellion, who think that they can ‘lobby’ the existing power structures into adopting a ‘greener agenda’, so futile. Their protests do not even begin to scratch the surface of the issue, since governments answer to far richer and more powerful capitalist lobbies. This has led some in the environmental movement like George Monbiot to recognise that the real problem is capitalism itself. What they fail to tell us is how a new social ‘model’ can come about.
This is the key. In order to save the planet it must be saved from capitalism, first of all by abolishing the whole economic and political machinery which props up those who profit from workers’ unpaid labour. Only the world working class can do this. They remain humanity’s last hope even after decades of retreat in the face of capitalist attacks. One thing is certain: even beyond the Covid pandemic, the climate emergency coincides with an even deeper crisis for capitalism: the crisis of profitability for which it has no answer except to ramp up productivity, drive down wages, tighten borders and call for more sacrifices.
Workers throughout the world are being attacked on all fronts: aside from the millions of jobs lost due to Covid, wages are being ‘frozen’ or blatantly reduced as the price of daily necessities goes up, sometimes a direct result of ‘green’ policies and fuel tariffs imposed by governments. It’s the 21st century yet public services are either declining (in the ‘advanced’ states) or remain non-existent ... while profiteering and speculation are on the rise everywhere.
In the UK the prospect of a massive rise in fuel bills, never mind wider price rises, the end of furlough (the job retention scheme for workers laid off due to Covid) and the £20 per week uplift to measly universal credit are all combining in a perfect storm of attacks on the whole working class. The situation demands a mass class response and more than union rituals: a serious fight-back of everyone under attack, irrespective of employment and workplace divisions.
Workers in Iran: a Beacon
Here, wage workers in Iran are an inspiration to us all. Largely ignored by the world’s media, in the face of an extremely vicious state where Covid is rampant, over 100,000 oil workers in Iran have been on strike from 19 June. Despite the news boycott, they are fighting on many fronts: from pay to appalling living conditions in barrack-style run-down hostels. They are organising for themselves across employment and contractual divisions, electing their own spokesmen and issuing regular struggle bulletins. All the time they are coming up against brutal state manoeuvres, from the arrest and torture of militants to attempts to install ‘Islamic Councils’ to take over the running of the oil sites under control of the military. They have resisted them all as the workers’ bulletin explains:
"With our strike we have warned them that we are no longer willing to continue to work in humiliating conditions of slavery, with contractual and temporary contracts in the oil fields. To a great degree, we have been able to weaken the contractors' position and have imposed our demands on them. Now ... we can go further, march on in strength and in step until all our demands are met. Holding a General Assembly and relying on collective council decisions and exercising the will of the workers, electing real workers' representatives and establishing a third pillar [of a] workers' assembly of representatives of all refineries is the practical way of organising." (Council for Organising Protests by Oil Contract Workers, 2 September 2021)3
No wonder the capitalist press is ignoring what’s going on. This kind of workers’ self-organisation is not just a threat to the Islamic Republic, implicitly it also poses a threat to capitalism itself. They have already inspired other workers in Iran (like teachers) and the call for workers’ councils (shuras) to take control of and unite all the struggles is already circulating.
The Road Ahead
But the implicit needs to become explicit. World working class revolution will only come about when workers have created a political organisation to unite them internationally. This is not some new government in waiting but a point of reference for all workers who wish to end a system which increasingly endangers all life itself. Once capitalism is overthrown, when wage labour, money and production for profit are replaced by a world of freely associated producers (without national boundaries) who decide for themselves how and what to produce for the greatest benefit of the community as a whole… then we can legitimately talk about ‘humanity’ and our responsibility to take care of the natural world on which our life ultimately depends. In the meantime workers everywhere need to fight on their own account and revolutionaries need to stand with them to win their confidence that they have the ultimate power to remake the world.
The above article is taken from the current edition (No. 57) of Aurora, bulletin of the Communist Workers’ Organisation.
- 1Information drawn from ‘Climate Change is Becoming Less a Battle of Nations than Rich vs Poor’ by Stefan Wagstyl in the Financial Times, Wealth and Money section 21.5.21. Figures are taken from G20 and Oxfam.