Cop15: The Politics Behind the Demonstrations

Submitted by danrawnsley on 23 December, 2009 - 11:01 Author: Dan Rawnsley

The Danish government had dubbed their project ‘Hopenhagen’ and billboards extolling this branding were placed all over the city with garish lighting displays and expensive statues. Slightly more sickening to anyone involved in recent workers’ struggles were the Vestas billboards informing onlookers that it was time for world leaders to come forward and reach a conclusive deal on climate change. Few of us had any hope for Copenhagen, before the internal wrangling and conference floor drama, before the leaked documents and obvious double-dealing most activists were aware that the Cop15 talks would not come close to resolving climate change.

The movement that built around Copenhagen in England was mostly represented by the Climate Camp and involved all of the issues we have come to expect working in and alongside this grouping. An action on the 13th of December called by Climate Justice Action, an international network to which Climate Camp is affiliated, aimed to shut down Copenhagen harbour for a day, independent of any co-operation with the workers there. CJA also centred a lot of attention on what I thought was, at times, a politically troubled attitude towards the global south, poorer developing nations. It is vital to bring campaigning groups, social movements and community and workers’ organisations from the global south in to the movement against climate change, these people often are at the coal face in terms of capitalism’s assaults on the global working class and human race as a whole. They are also already suffering from climate change on a scale rarely seen in developed nations. However, CJA makes little of the class distinctions in these countries, sometimes championing their leaders as much as the oppressed peoples of these regions.

On Wednesday 16th December, the day activists attempted to break in to the Bella Centre where the Cop15 conference was being held, a part of the plan was to have delegates walk out of the conference centre to meet us. It was brought to light in a meeting before the action that delegates from two South American nations would walk out in order to take part, but for security reasons their identities could not be revealed. What if these people had been representatives of the Perónist Partido Justicialista of Argentina or worse, representatives of Hugo Chavez’s Bonapartist Venezuelan regime? There was little effort to pick apart class distinctions or understand the global south as anything more than a homogeonus bloc by CJA in this case which can only lead to an underdeveloped engagement with movements in the global south and an intensely patronizing attitude towards these movements.

There are reasons why these things happen, a kind of popular frontist approach to fighting climate change, which sees something like ‘people power’ as the necessary force for combatting climate change. A look over the goals of CJA will demonstrate this.

•To promote and strengthen the rights and voices of Indigenous and affected peoples (including workers) in confronting the climate crisis. To support reparations and the repayment of ecological debt to the Global South by industrialized rich countries
•To build a global movement for climate justice that encourages urgent action to avoid catastrophic climate change.
•To highlight the critical role of biodiversity in weathering the climate crisis, and to defend the existence of all species.
•To expose the roles of false and market-based climate “solutions” as well as corporate domination of climate negotiations in worsening the climate crisis.
•To advance alternatives that can provide real and just solutions to the climate crisis.
•To both sharpen our understanding of, and to address, the root social, ecological, political and economic causes of the climate crisis toward a total systemic transformation of our society.
•Our network is committed to working with respect, trust and unity towards these goals.

The inclusion of workers in the first point illustrates the positive role class-conscious activists have played in this movement so far in groups like Workers Climate Action which has continued to fight for class based activism in ecological politics. The aim to ‘expose the roles of false and market-based climate “solutions”’ also demonstrates a basic understanding of the root cause of climate change being capitalism though it is not a very developed understanding at all. A ‘total systemic transformation of our society’ approaches this, but is by and large wordplay. I could experience a total systemic change of my breakfast from cooked to cold and it would still be breakfast. A total systemic transformation of capitalism could involve more centralised government control over energy production; it would still be capitalism, only this time state-owned. It could, of course, mean something much worse like primitivism.

CJA does not call on any specific force or agency to carry out these demands beyond itself and the governments it puts pressure on. For example, the advancing of ‘alternatives that can provide real and just solutions’ could be done in a way which accentuates workers’ agency and illustrates a new progressive society, workers taking control of their workplaces to carry out changes which make them socially useful and ecologically sustainable. Equally, this process could be carried out in a very top down way in which government research creates new technologies that are implemented without the involvement or consent of those working with these new technologies.

CJA’s tactics of uniting as broad a movement as possible has the aim of uniting as many people to face the threat of climate change. It is easy to see why this response is reached by so many activists; climate change is an immediate and catastrophic threat to all life on earth and the left, especially in Britain, has been slow to answer it. The workers’ movement is weak and cannot fight strongly enough for a working class ecological perspective. It is taken that everyone, regardless of political views, must band together to face this threat, something we have characterised as ‘the revolution coming after climate change has been dealt with’. To us, however, the socialist revolution and the movement necessary to bring it about are not divisible from one another. The emancipation of the working class, even its emancipation from the destruction of its land, homes and lives by capitalist created climate change, must be the act of the working class itself. Our task as socialists therefore remains the advocating of these ideas in the ecological movement through involvement in groups like Workers Climate Action.

Though the politics of the ecological movement are still broad and in some cases contradictory there is still a lot of good to be taken away from Copenhagen for our movement. CJA’s acknowledgement of workers as a separate political entity can be seen as a small step forward. Furthermore the declarations of the people’s assembly held outside the Bella Centre, though quickly put together and a hodgepodge of difficult and at times contradictory politics, raised solidarity as a guiding principle. Furthermore a representative from the Canadian Union of Postal Workers gave an impassioned and well received speech to the assembly calling for more union banners on the march and setting this as a challenge to activists. The kind of conference hopping activism that inevitably comes to the fore at these events is important to be involved in; it is a good thing when wherever the leaders of capitalist governments meet on such a scale they are met with mass demonstrations and civil disobedience. Activists can return home with new international links, new ideas and new tactics. However it is now in the day-to-day political work we do that we can begin to mount an effective attack on climate change and the capitalist system that causes it. This fight is engaged in through things like solidarity with Heathrow airport workers, through agitation around workplaces like Vestas and through our continued involvement in and arguments with the ecological movement.

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