Ratcliffe-on-Soar climate swoop: Building alliances with power workers

Submitted by Newcastle on 8 October, 2009 - 7:10 Author: By Daniel Randall

In the run up to the “Climate Swoop” at the Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station, due to take place on 17 October, Workers’ Climate Action supporters in Nottinghamshire have been writing and distributing a bulletin for Ratcliffe workers.

The bulletin the purpose and perspective of the Swoop, and argues that there are links between exploitation of the planet and exploitation of workers by the power station’s owners, e.on.

Despite e.on bosses pocketing massive salaries, workers at Ratcliffe have been offered a derisory 1% pay increase this year. The bulletin promises support and solidarity from the environmental movement if Ratcliffe workers take action over pay.

Historically, the annual Camp for Climate Action (“Climate Camp”) has taken place alongside a mass direct action against a particular target (Drax, Heathrow and Kingsnorth); this year’s separation of the action from the Camp is a new, potentially risky, strategy.

There have also been some political problems surrounding the Ratcliffe-on-Soar action that have not been fully overcome. Initially the action focused on “shutting down” the power station’s operation for a given period, but as activists raised concerns about the political legitimacy of group of environmental activists unilaterally shutting down someone else’s workplace, emphasis shifted towards “blockading” the plant, and terms such as “convergence.” Activists are now being asked to attach themselves to one of several “blocs”, each of which has a different mission.

This diversity of tactics is positive, as it means the action is still accessible to anyone who is uncomfortable with the “shut down” approach, but such diversity can also allow some to avoid having the tough arguments about whether such a “shut down” is the right thing to do politically.

But the Swoop is an important action. The environmental movement is increasingly the primary pole of attraction for radicalised young people interested in broadly anti-capitalist ideas, and the instinct to target, in a public and high profile way, an exploitative multinational corporation such as e.on, is a good one and one that revolutionary socialists share entirely.

Another positive aspect of the Swoop is the work that has been done around “worker engagement”. The idea that relating to the struggles of workers in frontline industries should now be a key issue for the environmental movement is gaining a real grip — thanks in no small part to the work of Workers’ Liberty members involved in Climate Camp and to the work of the Workers’ Climate Action network. Worker engagement is no longer treated as an afterthought, and increasingly is seen as something more fundamental than more general “outreach” or “public relations” strategies.

While it would be fantastically optimistic to expect a similar outcome from WCA leafleting at Ratcliffe to the one from WCA leafleting at Vestas, such workplace-based agitation is essential if a genuine and lasting alliance between the climate movement and energy sector workers — that is, the people fundamentally capable of taking control of and restructuring the most polluting industries — is to be built and maintained.

•www.workersclimateaction.com/ 2009/09/29/wca-the-great-climate-swoop (the text of the WCA bulletin)

www.climatecamp.org.uk/actions/climate-swoop-2009 (the Swoop website)

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