England, Wales and Scotland section of International Socialist Alternative

Extinction Rebellion protests should be first step toward a new, mass climate movement

By Jack Yarlett

The war in Ukraine and the cost of living crisis have, for the time being, pushed the climate crisis from the forefront of public attention. But there is no doubt that this existential crisis is by far the gravest threat out of the multiple crises now unfolding around the globe. Climate change will drive wars, soaring food prices, pandemics, and mass displacement of people over the coming decades. 

We urgently need to rebuild a fighting climate movement, going even further than the inspiring struggle which spread worldwide in 2019, forcing the climate emergency onto the agenda of governments around the world. We need to be able to force concrete victories out of them. This will mean linking the climate struggle with the fight against fuel poverty and falling living standards. Such a movement could organise alongside striking rail workers to renationalise the railways and for free public transport. It could support cost of living campaigns such as Enough Is Enough in the struggle to renationalise the energy companies, and could fight for a mass programme of home insulation. 

At the beginning of this year, Extinction Rebellion announced a shift away from their original tactics of causing disruption by blocking roads, public transport, and entrances to buildings in order to build larger turnouts for mass demonstrations. In particular, they have announced The Big One – several days of mass protests in Westminister from 21-24 April. 

This is a positive step towards mass action with the potential for a big turnout from ordinary working-class people, and a turn away from exclusionary tactics carried out by a relatively narrow base of activists. XR have rightly pointed to the mass strikes of the last year as a powerful force for change. 

The previous approach of these movements, of ‘locking on’ and road blockages, have often limited participation to activists who can afford to risk arrest, and have given the capitalist press ammunition to attack the movement as ‘disruptive’ to the wider public. 

But the failure of this approach to budge the government and emission-producing corporations lies in the very fact that they are not nearly disruptive enough. The government won’t take the radical action needed just because of a few traffic jams, the whole system has to be overturned. 

The only way to build a movement strong enough to accomplish change on the scale we need is through the inclusion of the masses of the working class. Especially workers organised in unions. Trade unions committing themselves to building for the April protests could bring out hundreds of thousands of people. They should call for affordable energy to be provided through mass investment in green and renewable energy sources and for the creation of well paid, unionised jobs in a massively expanded green sector. 

Socialist Alternative will be actively supporting these protests, putting forward the call for a general strike. One that aims to force out the Tory government and take control of the big corporations that continue to sacrifice working class people and the planet for the sake of profit. Only a socialist planned economy can pave the way for a green transition that can defend our jobs and living conditions as well as the environment, by nationalising the industries responsible for climate change; energy, transport, agri-business, and creating a sustainable model for meeting the needs of all. 


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