Labor & the Climate Crisis

by Jon Bekken, ASR 78 (Winter 2020)

Global warming is big business. Twenty giant oil companies are directly responsible for one-third of all carbon emissions since 1965. The U.S.’s largest banks have financed $1.9 trillion in fossil fuel projects since 2016. Those who run the global economy are not ignoring climate change – they are actively working to make it worse. Why? Because there are quick profits to be made, and the long-term costs will fall to the rest of us.

It’s not that nothing is being done. Wind turbines, solar panels and electric vehicles (the latter hardly harbingers of a green economy) are spreading quickly. But this growth in clean energy isn’t nearly fast enough to limit global warming according to the International Energy Agency’s annual World Energy Outlook. Despite the growth of renewables, the burning of fossil fuels is growing even faster and global greenhouse gas emissions are on track to continue rising for the next 20 years.

Ultimately the climate crisis is a workers’ issue. It is workers  the whole world over who will pay the price if we allow the bosses to destroy our planet, and at least as importantly it is workers who have the ability to take decisive action to address the crisis.

Too often the business unions have bought into a false debate between saving the environment and saving jobs, instead of asking what sort of jobs we want and what sort of world we want to live in. It is true, of course, that there are in the short term jobs to be had clear cutting the world’s forests, strip mining the earth for coal, and burning fossil fuels. But once the devastation is complete these jobs will be gone, and only the profits will remain.

There could also be jobs in reforesting, converting to renewable energy, retrofitting inefficient buildings and industrial practices, rebuilding public transit systems, and cleaning up the industrial wastelands that litter the world. Unlike the jobs to be had destroying the planet, these jobs are not only useful – they have a future. (Of course, there would also be new jobs if we allow the planet wreckers to proceed on their merry way – jobs building dikes to hold the seas back, as mercenaries protecting the fat cats trying to hold the desperate hordes at bay, scavenging the submerged wreckage, fighting fires and cleaning up toxic debris.)

The politicians hold fancy conventions around the world while the planet burns. Meanwhile, the plutocrats plunder the planet as quickly as they can, raking in the profits while the looting is good. What do they care if they kill off millions and consign the rest of us to misery and privation for generations to come, so long as they can keep accumulating their blood-soaked money?

The question is not whether this vandalism of ecosystems across the planet will eventually be brought to a halt. It will. The question is how much destruction we will allow to be done in the meantime. There is still time to limit the scope of global warming and rising sea levels. Even if we are unsuccessful in winning the full decarbonization that is so urgently needed, we could still mitigate the devastation. We can afford neither to succumb to despair, nor to the hope (against the evidence of decades of dithering) that our rulers will act before it is too late.

What can workers do in the face of bosses and politicians determined to speed climate change? On the one hand, they rely on us to carry out the destruction from which they profit. They are only able to strip-mine the mountains, lay pipelines across our waterways, replace vibrant ecosystems with dying monocultures, and pollute our skies and water because workers not only carry out this destructive labor at their behest, but also supply a wide array of support services to make it possible. Power workers could refuse not only to operate facilities that worsen the climate emergency, they could refuse service to particularly egregious polluters. Transport workers could refuse to haul the means of mass destruction. Construction workers could refuse the demolition and building activity that makes this destruction possible. Workers could refuse to manufacture or service equipment that does not meet environmental standards or is destined for those who are destroying our future.

There are precedents for this sort of conscientious refusal of planet-killing and anti-social work. Building laborers in Melbourne  implemented a series of Green Bans in the 1970s to prevent the destruction of wilderness areas and affordable housing. For many years Australian dockworkers refused to handle US warships that might be carrying nuclear weapons. British mechanics refused to repair aircraft engines for the Chilean military junta, grounding most of its air force. Just this year furniture workers in the United States engaged in a short strike to protest their employer’s sale of furniture to the ICE concentration camps. In Europe, dockworkers  have refused to handle shipments of military equipment to Saudi Arabia for use in its brutal war in Yemen. As workers, we have enormous power in our hands, should we organize and resolve to use it.

We are told that we cannot address the climate crisis because it would hurt coal workers. (It’s hard to drum up sympathy for the coal barons.) But the coal miners have quite different interests than their bosses, who have proven time and again that they do not care whether the miners live or die.

In 1968, after a mine disaster that killed 78 coal miners, rank-and-file miner Jock Yablonski decided to challenge United Mine Workers President Tony Boyle. As Yablonski asked, “What good is a union that reduces coal dust in the mines only to have miners and their families breathe pollutants in the air, drink pollutants in the water, and eat contaminated commodities?” Yablonski lost a close election, and was murdered by Boyle’s hit men. A year later, tens of thousands of miners joined wildcat strikes for better safety and marched to demand protections against black lung disease.

Miners continue to be killed by coal mine collapses and explosions, and new cases of Black Lung Disease have skyrocketed in recent years. As coal consumption has declines, the mine owners have looted their companies, abandoning their commitments to workers’ pensions and health care (and, increasingly, even their wages). Coal miners have fought for a host of measures to protect themselves and their communities from the coal barons, and this is no time to be toadying to the bosses to keep them afloat.

In the 1980s, Tony Mazzocchi, a leader in the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers International Union, argued for winding down industries that harmed workers, environment and society while taking steps to safeguard their workers – proposing a revived GI Bill for atomic workers who would be left unemployed by nuclear disarmament and a Superfund for fossil fuel workers. The Labor Network for Sustainability and others are pressing unions to take up these issues once again, but too many union officials are so accustomed to accepting “managerial rights” in all spheres of our existence that they can not even conceive of demanding a different kind of economy – one in which we are no longer offered a bitter choice between eating today or breathing tomorrow.

Solidarity for our Future

There have been countless examples over the years of workers honoring picket lines in solidarity with workers on strike or who were being denied the right to organize. Millions of workers have refused unsafe work, individually and through their unions. Logging workers have demanded sustainable forestry methods (which mean more jobs, as well as protecting ecosystems), farmworkers have fought agains pesticides which poison our food and the land (and the workers). Before pollution is spewed into the environment it is poisoning workers on the job.

In recent years there has been an upsurge in unions raising demands that not only benefit their own members, but also the broader public. Teachers have demanded support systems, improved facilities, and adequate school funding. Nurses have campaigned for safe staffing levels in the face of speed-ups that endanger hospital staff and patients alike. Public transit and other service workers have fought privatization schemes and service cutbacks, pointing out that these are an attack on the entire working class.

There is no reason that this approach could not be expanded. Coal miners and steelworkers have been ill-served by alliances with the bosses to preserve profits under the guise of protecting jobs. The jobs are vanishing, the workers have been stiffed, the number of black lung victims is rising, local communities are dying, and so are the rest of us. Would it not make more sense to negotiate for a rapid transition – one that would phase out coal production, secure and remediate the mines, support retirees and black lung victims, and help workers and their communities build sustainable local economies?

Instead of taking whatever work is on offer, no matter how destructive, building trades unions could demand that new construction be more sustainable and campaign for policies requiring environmental retrofitting of existing facilities. They could actively campaign for solar and other renewable energy projects, and organize those who are doing this work, often for significantly lower wages.

Just as Lucas Aerospace workers developed plans in the 1970s and 1980s to convert their facilities from manufacturing weapons to socially useful production, so too could workers engaged in manufacturing gas guzzling vehicles that destroy our planet while clogging our streets.

The Lucas workers developed their plans through their unions’ coordination committee, based on suggestions from the rank and file. They were not implemented because the company was unwilling to negotiate such matters, and the workers lacked the will (and likely the broader public support that would have been needed) to seize their factories, show the managers the door, and start running them themselves – working to meet urgent social needs instead of quarterly earnings targets. And so Lucas gradually disintegrated, some bits sold off to other companies, and most of the operations simply shut down.

The bosses lack the imagination and the sense of urgency needed to resolve this crisis. Leaving them in charge can only lead to mass unemployment, ecological catastrophe, abandoned facilities, and a landscape littered with toxic waste.

We need rapid action to slash greenhouse gases and remediate (to the extent possible) the damage that has already been done. Climate action shouldn’t mean lost jobs – done right, with unions and community organizations in the lead, it can mean better work for most people than what’s on offer today. A just transition to a sustainable economy would transform work more broadly, increasing the power of all workers.

We would decide what work needs to be done, drawing upon our experience and our knowledge of our workplaces and our communities to create solutions that slash pollution and waste – enriching our lives and our communities in the process.

But this will only happen if workers fight for it. The future that the bosses and politicians are stumbling toward is bleak indeed.

Global Warming: Get Rid of Capitalism!

by Bangladesh Anarcho Syndicalist Federation, ASR 78 (Winter 2020)

As the climate warms, it changes the nature of global rainfall, evaporation, snow, stream flow and other factors that affect water supply and quality. Specific impacts include: Warmer water temperatures affect water quality and accelerate water pollution.

A World Bank report released a few months ago, “Shock Waves: Managing the Impact of Climate Change on Poverty,” predicts that global warming will push 100 million more people into extreme poverty over the next decade and a half. … This would add a hundred million to the roughly 700 million people earning $1.90 a day or less, or what the World Bank defines as “extreme poverty.”

The people of the poorest countries are the most threatened, especially the people of Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. According to the report, climate change will have terrible consequences for agriculture and health of the poor parts of the world. Crop yields will be reduced by 5 percent by 2030. This will cause food costs to rise for the poorest people. Natural disasters, like flooding, will become more frequent. And diseases will become more widespread among the poorest parts of the world.

In 2015, 195 countries signed up to the Paris Agreement, a non-binding treaty aiming to keep the global average temperature rise to “well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels.” The signatories commissioned the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to produce a report comparing the probable impacts of a 1.5°C global warming with 2°C and assessing what it would take to keep to the lower level. The report came out in October 2018 and synthesizes all published research to 15th May 2018. However, the official version is not as written by the scientists who authored it. The final wording is the outcome of political negotiations and is heavily redacted. We know from leaks that the US was one of the governments intent on watering it down.

The full report makes it clear that the consequences will be severe even if the 1.5°C target is met. It also states that, “there is a very high likelihood that under current emission trajectories and current national pledges the Earth will warm more than 1.5 degrees above targets set in Paris…” This was cut from the final report. Also omitted was the verdict that if countries make the cuts they say they will then the world is on course for a 3°C warming by 2100. And if they don’t, global warming could go as high as 7°C!

This latest IPCC report only confirms the complete inadequacy of the Paris Agreement and the huge gap between words and necessary action if the planet is going to be able to sustain human civilization or any life at all. That Agreement fails on all four counts that scientists and environmental groups agree need to be met, namely:

1. Catalyze immediate, urgent and drastic emission reductions

These cuts, or “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions” (INDCs) were drawn up by governments, based on what they were prepared to deliver, not on what scientists think is needed. They go nowhere near far enough. For instance, aviation and shipping emissions, which are as large as the emissions of Britain and Germany combined, were not even included. Meanwhile, Australia’s blatant refusal to phase out coal by 2050 to keep emissions within the Paris target highlights the absurdity of expecting each capitalist power to put the survival of the globe before its own national (profit-making) interest. The world’s biggest coal exporter said it would be “irresponsible” to comply with the IPCC recommendation to stop using coal to generate electricity. Instead the government’s priority is to cut domestic electricity prices, not greenhouse gas emissions, which have risen for four consecutive years! Coal generates two-thirds of Australia’s electricity and earned it a record A$61bn in exports in the 2017-18 financial year. In China, slowing ‘economic growth’ has led the government to withdraw emission curbs on heavy industries only recently introduced to reduce disastrous levels of air pollution. Can’t let difficulty breathing affect profit-making.

2. Provide adequate support to “developing nations” for transformation

According to the International Energy Agency, transformation to a fossil-free world will require $1,000bn per year by 2020. Around two-thirds of this, $670bn, will need to be spent in “developing nations,” requiring a significant transfer of finance from North to South. The big capitalist countries hold just 10% of the world’s population but produce around 60% of the greenhouse gases currently in the atmosphere.

However, the Paris Agreement only commits to “mobilizing” $100bn per year by 2020, to cover not just emission cuts but also adaptation. The definition of “mobilize” is deliberately broad, to include loans, private finance, grants with strings attached, and re-allocation of aid budgets. There is even talk of calling money sent home by migrants working in richer countries a form of climate finance, and counting it in the total “mobilized” by the US, France, Germany, etc. In short, the proposed funding is totally inadequate, when it’s not a complete fiction. It is totally dwarfed by the estimated $5,300bn a year governments spend on direct and indirect subsidies to fossil fuels.

3. Deliver justice for impacted people

According to the UN Environment Programme, on top of an annual $670bn needed for emissions cuts by 2020, vulnerable countries will need another $150bn per year for adaptation measures to protect them from the worst impact of climate change. The UN’s $100 billion put forward represents less than 15% of what is formally needed!

The large capitalist powers are the biggest polluters but the idea that they should make a commensurate contribution to a solution has been watered down at the behest of the US and others. The Paris deal just says that “developed countries” should “take the lead” on providing finance, as part of a “shared effort” by all parties.

4. Focus on genuine, effective action rather than false solutions

The Paris agreement aims to reduce anthropogenic emissions by the second half of this century, yet a 1.5° target requires a definitive end to fossil fuel use by 2050! Plus, the deal allows for continued fossil-fuel burning “offset” by “removals” via dubious carbon capture, geo-engineering or forestry schemes. Regulations to rein in destructive industries, halt deforestation and stop mining fossil fuels are not even hinted at. And the agreement has no precedence over existing or new trade agreements, allowing firms to overturn environmental regulations when profits are threatened. In short, it is more a PR exercise than a serious plan to reduce emissions. When Trump withdrew the United States from the ‘deal’ just over a year ago, it was of little consequence. Its goals are far too little too late.

Capitalism is killing the planet. Even where a price might be put on it, the cost of cleaning up the environment is greater than the value of economic growth as measured by GDP. (Hence the agreement’s blurring over how to pay for its feeble recommendations.) The disappearance of species, toxins in food, water, air, land, indicate capitalism’s ravaging of the planet. The profits capitalism makes from exploiting the working class would be negated if they had to include environmental cost in their production. No amount of climate accords, spurious recycling schemes, or whatever can reconcile capitalism’s pursuit of profit with Marx’s insight on the need to hand the globe down to succeeding generations in an improved condition. The answer should be staring every environmentalist in the face: Get rid of capitalism!

Interestingly, a recent poll showed that concern about climate change reflects the global class structure. The poorer countries, with Africa and Latin America leading the pack, say climate change is of “grave concern.” By contrast, even though climate change is recognize as a real problem by international institutions of Empire, less than half of the people polled in the United States see climate change as a serious problem. …

Revolution [is not] the [inevitable] consequence of class struggle. There is another possibility: our common ruin. This is the reality that humanity faces. Global capitalism is pushing our planet, our common home, to its limits. The First World culture of consumption and waste is pushing the environment to a breaking point. The majority of humanity, the global poor, the proletariat suffers. A minority, the global rich, the bourgeoisie consume more and more, waste more and more.

If we are to avoid our common ruin, if there is to be a future for our children and their children, we must awaken. We are the vast majority. We are the only ones who can stop this madness. Time is running out. Now is the time to raise the banner of the Global People’s Struggle for Anarcho-Syndicalism. Ruin or revolution?

Building a Sustainable Economy Before Capitalism Kills Us All

ASR 75

Capitalism is quite literally killing the planet.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports that if greenhouse gas emissions continue at the current rate, the atmosphere will warm by as much as 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit above preindustrial levels by 2040, inundating coastlines and intensifying droughts and poverty. The Paris Agreement calls for limiting warming to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, but it is now clear that even if the bosses succeed in this effort (and there’s little evidence that they’re trying) the results of this “success” would be catastrophic.

The world is already more than halfway to the 2.7-degree mark. At current rates of warming, we will cross this threshold sometime between 2030 and 2052. Arctic regions are warming at twice the global average, melting sea ice, enabling toxic algae blooms and sparking extreme weather events across the planet. To avoid ecological catastrophe, greenhouse pollution must be reduced by 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, and virtually eliminated by 2050. Otherwise, the IPPC forecasts a world of worsening food shortages, wildfires, massive flooding and environmental collapse. If temperatures rise to the 3.6 degree target politicians are failing to meet, the results will be far more devastating.

Animal and insect populations are already plummeting. Since 1970, the numbers of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles have dropped by an average of 60 percent, according to the World Wildlife Federation. The world’s largest king penguin colony shrunk by 88 percent, more than 97 percent of the bluefin tuna that once lived in the ocean are gone. Habitat destruction, overfishing and hunting, and plundering of resources are combining with climate change to destroy the web of life upon which human society depends for clean air, water and everything else.

Insect populations are plummeting, as are the territories where they live, in what the New York Times Magazine refers to an “insect apocalypse.” The number of monarch butterflies has fallen by 90 percent in the last 20 years. A German study found that, measured by weight, the presence of flying insects in nature reserves is down by 75 percent over the last 27 years. Ornithologists report that birds that rely on insects for food are in deep trouble: eight in 10 partridges are gone from French farmlands, and half of all farmland birds in Europe disappeared over the last three decades. Earthworm populations are also collapsing, as our manufactured ecosystem loses the capacity to sustain life.

Famine and misery are everywhere on the rise. The United Nations refugee agency reports that there are more than 68.5 million refugees and displaced persons – many directly forced from their homes by climate change; others fleeing conflicts sparked by environmental devastation (and of course there are the countless victims of nationalism and repression and the routine workings of a system that values only power and profit). The World Bank predicts another 140 million climate refugees if global warming continues at its current rate.

These are not natural events. Just 100 companies have been the source of more than 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1988, according to the Carbon Majors Report. Scientists have been warning of the dangers for 40 years, but the capitalists and the states they control have continued their reckless despoliation of our planet. In December, several pension funds, insurers and investment firms called on governments to take action, recognizing that ecocide will, over the long term, be bad for profits.

The IPPC says avoiding this catastrophe requires transforming the world economy at a speed that has “no documented historic precedent.” It is still technically possible to slow the pace of global warming, but they acknowledge that it is politically unlikely. Why? Everyone knows that urgent action is needed, but capitalism is an economic system built on pillage and short-term thinking; as long as they are left in charge there will always be plenty of bosses eager to score a quick million no matter the long-term cost.

This ecological crisis is coupled with a social crisis that is equally urgent, if only because it is preventing us from stopping those who are murdering our planet. Outright fascists are now in government in several countries, and governments now openly flaunt their crimes. Full-scale genocide is underway in Myanmar, U.S. authorities continue caging child refugees, and several governments openly deploy death squads in the streets. Militaries are expanding as the plutocrats pursue their futile dreams of holding the desperate hordes at bay. While the wealthy have never been more prosperous, workers endure economic stagnation and decline. In 2017, United States life expectancy fell for the third straight year – relentlessly driven down by diseases of despair.

And so the bosses are looking for new ways to live with (and profit from) a ruined planet. One researcher published an entire book (the misnamed Atmosphere of Hope) calling on governments to ameliorate climate change through geo-engineering, such as polluting the atmosphere with billions of tiny metallic particles to block the sun’s rays from reaching the earth. Physicist/futurist Michio Kaku proposes massive investments in space exploration so we (more likely a handful of the rich and a cadre of servants) can escape a dying earth. In Holland, researchers are trying to create robotic bees to take over pollination once capitalism’s relentless war on the environment forces bees into extinction. In China, shortages of insect pollinators have led farmers to hire human workers to replace bees, pollinating apple blossoms by hand. Buildings and roadways are being elevated, giant seawalls proposed.

Even as the ice melts at the North and South poles, business looks to profit off the destruction. Cruise ships take advantage of open waters to bring tourists ever closer to what remains of the ice shelf. Cargo firms are running giant ships through waters once covered in ice, speeding the melting of what remains.

The bosses would have us believe that there is no alternative to barbarism – that our very survival requires that we cage our dreams and fight our fellow workers for the crumbs that remain.

In a way they’re right. If we leave the bosses and politicians in charge, we can be sure that they will continue their reign of plunder. We cannot resolve the ecological and social crisis that confronts us without ridding ourselves of those who created these conditions – and who will continue to sacrifice our future to their avarice if left in a position to do so.

What is needed is organization in our communities and in our workplaces to demand a different economy – one based not on plunder and destruction, but on sustaining us and the world we live in. We need direct action to shut down polluters, whether through blockades or strike action (including refusals to deliver supplies). We need to mobilize and campaign for a sustainable economy – renewable energy, mass transit, shorter working hours, reforestation, environmental remediation and the like. We urgently need conversations with our fellow workers in the fossil fuel industries about the need for a very rapid transition, and to invite them to develop plans to make that a reality. In short, we need to dump the bosses off our backs before they kill us all, and organize a new, sustainable society that works to meet the needs of all.

Sources:

Brooke Jarvis, The Insect Apocalypse is Here, New York Times Magazine, Nov. 27, 2018.

Damian Carrington, Humanity has wiped out 60% of animal populations since 1970, report finds. The Guardian, Oct. 29, 2018.

George Monbiot, The Earth is in a death spiral. The Guardian, Nov. 14.

Tess Riley, Just 100 companies responsible for 71% of global emissions, study says.  The Guardian, July 10, 2017

Daniel Boffey, “Robotic bees could pollinate plants in case of insect apocalypse,” The Guardian, Oct. 9, 2018.

The “Green New Deal”

Indigenous, Labor, Environmental Alliances in Washington State

by Jeff Shantz, ASR 75

A compelling coalition of labor, environmental and Indigenous activists has developed in Washington State around a campaign for social, economic and environmental justice. The Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy brings together dozens of groups working on these issues. Recognizing the disproportionately negative impacts of ecological crises on racialized communities, the alliance includes around 60 organizations addressing economic and political issues in communities of color that have formed a coalition called Front and Centered.

The focus of the alliance is the Protect Washington Act, or ballot initiative 1631, an effort to legislatively address issues of climate crisis and economic injustice in the state. Workers see the prospect of creating tens of thousands of new jobs with very high labor standards, and healthier environments, written right into the terms of investment. Indigenous communities see possibilities for support for pressing environmental protection work.

A Green New Deal?

The ballot initiative is supported by an economic assessment from the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts. It calls for large scale reductions in CO2 emissions of 20 million tons per year. By 2035, CO2 emissions would be 40 percent lower than they were in 2014.

Beyond this, the initiative would place a carbon-emissions fee on major polluters, and would use the billions of dollars in revenue collected for a series of investments in clean energy and water. The proposal would see that money directed to employers with a high-wage, labor-protection model. Significantly, money would be earmarked to be spent on the economic, environmental and health-care restoration of those communities most negatively impacted and threatened by global climate change. Some examples of programs would include low-income energy assistance programs; there would also be job retraining and wage and benefit protections for workers in fossil-fuel-reliant industries over the course of a generation while those industries are phased out.*

There will also be resources made available for Indigenous communities deeply feeling impacts of ecological crises and dealing with pressing impacts from climate change. As one example, the Quinault Indian Nation, on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula coast, is seeing its historic burial grounds and sacred sites inundated with sea water rises. Portions of its ancestral lands around the coastal villages of Taholah and Queets are already becoming uninhabitable. If ballot initiative 1631 passes, there will be more resources and funds available to protect habitat and develop greater resilience.

Supporters are calling this a Green New Deal. The idea is to use money raised through the $15 per ton fee on CO2 emissions to create so-called glide paths to full retirement for workers in fossil fuel industries within five years of retiring. For workers who had worked in these industries for between one and five years, there would be a year of guaranteed income, health care and retirement contributions for every year worked by that worker. Workers who had worked in the fossil fuel industry for more than five years would be covered with a wage insurance program for up to five years to make up for any income difference between their wages in the fossil fuel industry and the new wages in a non-fossil fuel industry. The aim is to have a just transition to new work rather than simply retraining.

The Western States Petroleum Association and conservative PACs are lining up to throw millions behind a “No on 1631” campaign. So clearly some of them see some initial costs.

Promise and Problems

The main positive aspects of this sort of campaign are educational and relational. First, they can be educational in developing knowledge, practical awareness and tactical insights for workers and environmentalists that their struggles are shared as a step in moving beyond the still potent “jobs versus environment” false choice promoted by capital and politicians (as in the pipeline debates in Canada currently). They can teach workers and environmentalists about shared points of interest and intersections of issues. They can also offer potentially important opportunities for all to learn about Indigenous communities, struggles for sovereignty, and land defense, among others.

Second, these campaigns have a potentially significant relational aspects as workers, environmentalists and Indigenous people (recognizing these are not mutually exclusive) organize together and build real relationships in shared campaign work.

These first two benefits are only realized where the work goes beyond the ballot perspectives and where that specific campaign is seen for being as limited as it is. That is, the campaign cannot be viewed as a real solution to ecological crises.

From a green syndicalist perspective, workers, environmentalists and Indigenous people working together, strategizing together, is a positive development. It can lead to more radical, thoroughgoing approaches to stop ecological destruction.

But addressing ecological crises (beyond climate crisis) must challenge relations of ownership, control, production, and exchange. Otherwise, the planet and labor will continue to be used as resources, commodities, for exploitation and accumulation. And ecological crises will be extended by new means.

Worker, community control and Indigenous land struggles challenge the fundamental relations of ownership, control, production in which ecological crises are rooted and reproduced.

Moving Forward

Initiatives like this campaign also take real power out of and away from its source and put it in the hands of a mediator – the state – that is never neutral and in issues like this always acts on behalf of capital and capitalist conditions of exploitation and profit. These do nothing to change property relations, labor relations, production regimes, decision-making hierarchies.

Like the original “New Deal” from which this initiative takes its nickname, such statist projects are about the preservation of capitalism from crises of its own making, rather than an end, or even a phase-out, of capitalism. So this will likely be another mechanism for state capitalist regulation and management – for accumulation and reintegration of labor for exploitation. Moreover, the original New Deal work projects served to break down and replace local, community-based mutual aid efforts and substitute statist projects.

It is not clear what real impact such legislation will have on what it is trying to address. Companies can lobby to recoup these costs with other means (such as taxation). And, as we have seen in Canada, subsequent governments can simply cancel or modify such legislation – as happened with carbon pricing in Ontario, cancelled by Doug Ford’s class war Conservative government.

If the coalition can evolve its alliances in directions suggestive of autonomy, solidarity and self-determining action, which it still could, then there are real possibilities here. At the very least the prospects of something more (coordinated action building workplace and community power and controls) might move beyond the limitations of the ballot campaign as those become clear.

*The description of initiative 1631 is informed by Sasha Abramsky, “This Washington State Ballot Measure Fights for Both Jobs and Climate Justice” in The Nation, August 13-20, 2018.

Defeating Capital to Save the Planet

by James Herod, ASR 69

How can we defeat capitalists quickly? Why quickly? Because we have run out of time. Capitalists are on the verge of killing most life on earth, including humans, with global warming. This essay presents some exploratory thoughts on the dire situation we find ourselves in, especially with regard to our anti-capitalist struggles, our hopes for anarchy, and our prospects for cooling the earth. This is only a sketch; it will take a lot of work to flesh it out, probably more than I will be able to do.

We are way past the time when getting off fossil fuels could have alleviated global warming. If a determined, concerted effort had been made forty years ago by the governments of the world when James Hansen first alerted the president and Congress of the United States of the dangers of the excessive buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, getting off fossil fuels would probably have averted the severe crisis we now face.1 But now? Our only option now is to find ways to remove carbon dioxide and other green house gases from the atmosphere. This has to be done now, immediately, and fast, because there is already enough CO2 in the atmosphere to melt the frozen Arctic.

It is estimated that there are 1,700 gigatons (a gigaton is a billion tons) of methane stored in the shallow Arctic continental shelf, and another 1,750 gigatons trapped in the frozen tundra all across Siberia and northern Canada.2 There are at present only 5 gigatons of methane in the atmosphere. The unfrozen methane is already being released. A few years ago Scandinavian and Russian teams studying this found several plumes a few hundred feet wide bubbling up along the Siberian Arctic coast. Now the plumes are one kilometer wide, and there are hundreds of them. Some scientists are fearful that 50 gigatons could be released rather quickly in the near future, much of it perhaps even in a great burp, which would warm the earth further, causing the release of even more methane in a self-reinforcing feedback loop. The earth could become very hot within just two or three decades. Eventually, the atmosphere could even become poisonous to life, like the atmosphere of Venus, although that is probably down the road a bit.3

A poisoned atmosphere is the most serious of the imminent threats to life from global warming. Another very serious one is the acidification and warming of the oceans, which is killing marine life. Forty percent of the plankton is already gone. The ocean is losing its oxygen. A dead ocean is probably incompatible with the continuation of life on earth. Many climate scientists do not see our situation as quite as dire as I do, but they may be underestimating the methane threat. I have been following the reports of the scientists studying the Arctic methane. They are all quite alarmed.

So here is the absolutely terrible bind we are in. Almost every proposal for cooling the earth would require massive, coordinated, global efforts by most governments of the world. Yet these governments are mostly controlled by capitalists. Capitalists are causing global warming. They put profit ahead of life. As a result governments have failed for forty years to take any effective action to halt or reduce global warming.

For example, one proposal for removing CO2 from the atmosphere, suggested years ago, is reforestation. For this to be effective, it would have to be a massive, planet-spanning, international campaign. Instead, the remaining forests are being cut down at a rapid clip. It might be possible to build a factory that could remove CO2 from the air (much more than is used to build and run the factory). These factories could then be installed all over the planet. This would take enormous resources. Under present arrangements, only governments could undertake such a campaign. Similarly a proposal advanced more recently would shift to organic, small-scale, sustainable agriculture to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. This would require the defeat of global agribusiness and industrial agriculture. Paul Beckwith, the eminent Canadian climate scientist, has proposed setting off carefully designed and controlled hydrogen bomb explosions in deserts to create enormous dust clouds, like huge volcano eruptions do, to cool the earth for two or three years. Then set off more explosions, at intervals. This would give us some time to try to cool the earth more permanently using other strategies. (But what about radioactive dust?)

There are many such proposals for cooling the earth. The point is, though, that they would all take global cooperation. How can that happen as long as capitalists control governments? They couldn’t even agree to phase out fossil fuels. Nevertheless, it seems that in terms of saving ourselves and the earth by cooling the earth, especially given the brief time left which we have to do this, however much we are committed to abolishing capitalism and states, we are stuck with them for now. This is a dismal thought.

Is there a way out of this bind? Remember, if we could suddenly abolish capitalism and states (they are thoroughly intermeshed, one system), we would die, or millions or billions of us would, because the essentials we need to live are currently available only through these institutions (for most of us for most essentials). It would take decades to re-establish an autonomous, self-sufficient existence independent of capitalists and states. [This is why syndicalists work to build revolutionary unions which can effectively fight the bosses today while building the capacity for administering a future free society. eds.] We must at least face up to the vast reorganization of social life that would be necessary if we did defeat them.

We must also acknowledge the failure of the three historical strategies for defeating capitalists: (a) seizing the state through elections and using it to destroy capitalists and get to communism (no state/anarchy) – that is, social democracy; (b) seizing the state with an armed revolution and using the state to destroy capitalists and get to communism – that is, Leninism; (c) seizing the means of production, establishing workers councils, federating the councils into a dual power structure in order to defeat capitalists, dismantle the state and get to communism (no state/anarchy) – that is, anarcho-syndicalism. These strategies did not work, and will not. [Obviously, we disagree about anarcho-syndicalism’s potential. eds.] It would be a huge mistake to try to rebuild such parties and unions to try again. And even if we did try again, it could not be done soon enough to save the earth. Given the urgency of the situation, however, this does not mean that we should stop asking the existing parties and unions for whatever help they can offer.

So where does this leave us? In dire straits, that’s for sure. But where else? We must find ways to weaken capitalists, and their grip on national governments, enough so that the governments, perhaps even with the help of a small minority of capitalists, both under tremendous pressure from below from globally organized citizens, could undertake the massive campaigns needed to cool the earth. Is this even possible? I’m not sure. It doesn’t much look like it is.

Perhaps if we consider new and different ways to attack capitalists we could weaken them enough to deal with global warming. I’m suggesting that we shift the focus of anti-capitalist struggles to the entire contemporary international financial system, that is, to money: interest, debt, rent, stocks, dividends, stock markets, banks, taxes, but also to where money comes from, who controls it, and its role in the historical evolution of capitalism and its current functioning. Capitalists use money in various ways to enslave us. If we could take money away from them, perhaps this would be a step toward saving the earth, and toward our own liberation as well.4

Interest. Let’s start with interest. We could launch a campaign to discredit the very idea of interest and to agitate for its abolition. There is something to build on: the laws against usury in the Middle Ages. Although usury eventually came to refer only to excessive interest, originally it condemned all interest. Isn’t it obviously ridiculous that anyone should be able to make any money just by loaning money? It is especially ridiculous for governments to borrow money from rich people and then pay interest on it, when they could simply print the money themselves. Yet this practice is quite central to capitalism, and has been from its earliest days. Giovanni Arrighi, in his magisterial history of capitalism,5 demonstrates that from the earliest days of capitalism in northern Italy in the 15th century, rich people helped finance governments – for a price, of course. Stopping this practice would be a serious blow to capitalists. So we need to be thinking of ways to do this.

We might also consider getting rid of loans as such. Even interest-free loans are still debts. All wealth is socially created. If it were also socially controlled then communities could decide whether to finance a project or not, and absorb the loss if it didn’t pan out. In a cooperative anarchist society, loans, debt and taxes could be dispensed with completely and forever.

Debt. In recent decades capitalists have enslaved the world with debt (debt peonage) to an extent never seen before – national debt, mortgage debt, student debt, medical debt, credit card debt, automobile debt, business debt. For a brief period after Occupy Wall Street it looked like an attack on debt might get under way, but it didn’t. Yet debt is a great target. It resonates with people.

Debt and global warming, are two current crises around which it might be possible to build a massive anti-capitalist movement. These affect everyone. They are global. More and more people should be able to connect the dots between these crises and capitalism. Whole countries are being destroyed by using debt as a weapon.6

We could organize debt strikes. Just refuse to repay the loans. If these strikes were massive enough it would seriously harm capitalists and disrupt and undermine their system.

Rent. Rent is one of the most egregious forms of capitalist exploitation, especially housing rent. I’ve always been puzzled by the paucity of leftist interest in housing. It is a huge issue for most people, especially those who have to rent. Why would anti-capitalists pay so much attention to the wealth stolen from wage-slaves at work but neglect the wealth stolen from them through housing (owned or rented)? Rent is another great target that affects billions of people. A campaign against rent, including rent strikes, would resonate with them. Such a campaign would involve theoretical and practical attacks on the property laws upon which rent is based.

Stocks, Dividends, Stock Markets. How strange it is, and totally unjustified, that someone can buy stock (or shares) in a corporation and then receive dividends without doing anything. It is just money making money. Dividends are profits from the corporation, that is, the appropriated surplus wealth that has been created by, but seized from, the direct producers. Or most of the profit. A large chunk now goes to bloated salaries for the executive officers. Stocks are traded in stock markets (although a great deal of trading now takes place in so-called over-the-counter or off-exchange trading). It shouldn’t be hard to discredit these practices and institutions as immoral, unjust and exploitative. But this radical critique would need to be infused into an effective strategy for attacking these capitalist oddities. What if thousands of angry protesters occupied the stock markets of the world? What if every shareholder meeting was picketed, occupied and disrupted, with demands to abolish stocks, dividends and stock markets? Ultimately, it would mean abolishing property rights, which rest at the core of capitalism. But some intermediate blows to this aspect of the system could be found, if we searched for them. At present, anti-capitalists are hardly even broaching this issue.

Banks. Banks create money by making loans, with the interest attached of course. They can be public or private: public, meaning government-owned; private, meaning corporate-owned. In the United States, most banks are private, especially the big banks including the Federal Reserve Bank. The exceptions are the government-owned Bank of North Dakota, and member-owned cooperative banks and consumer credit unions. Some countries have many cooperative banks, but they are relatively powerless, compared to central banks. We need to focus on the power of the international network of national central banks. They practically run global capitalism. They control the money supply and interest rates. They are enormously destructive. Their power must be broken.

The European Central Bank is illustrative in this regard. The European Central Bank floats above any national sovereignty. The European Union is not a true federation, with political sovereignty. It is a monetary union that adopted a common currency, the Euro, controlled by the European Central Bank. The European Parliament has no power. The EU member states retained political sovereignty but gave up their national currencies by adopting the Euro, thus losing control over fiscal policy. It turns out that the establishment of the European Union was a neoliberal capitalist coup. The ECB has been pursuing the current capitalist offensive (neoliberalism) of impoverishing its weaker members (such as Greece) by first indebting them and then seizing their assets to repay the loans, as capitalists have been doing throughout the global south for decades.

The European Union is a special case, though. Most central banks are still national banks, although they are networked internationally, and work in tandem with the other big banks to fleece nations. The five biggest U.S. banks, for example – JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citibank, Goldman Sachs – simply seized the U.S. Treasury and stole trillions (22, it is estimated) to cover their losses from bad loans, with a little assistance from the Federal Reserve Bank. I saw a sign at an Occupy Wall Street rally: “Give It Back,” it read, referring to the trillions of dollars stolen to bail out the banks.

IMF and World Bank. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank were set up to enslave the weaker nations of the world to debt, and then to strip these nations of their wealth to repay the loans. It has been a fabulously successful strategy and has enormously enriched the ruling classes of the core countries, and also the smaller, local, ruling classes of the targeted nations. These institutions absolutely must be abolished. It is not nearly enough to demand that the unpayable debts be forgiven (a jubilee), or at least reduced to what can be repaid. No, the whole idea of loans with interest must be overthrown. The trouble is, ruling classes have the power to inflict devastating punishment on any nation which default and refuse to pay. But this is the way to go. This is what Greece should have done, what Argentina tried to do but backed off, what Iceland did. Multiple national debt strikes are what is needed to help break the power of the international financial oligarchy – one of the things. Why aren’t anti-capitalists trying to organize such strikes?

Money and Wage-Slavery. Isn’t it strange that the money (wage) part of wage-slavery receives so little attention from anti-capitalists? The focus is always mostly on the extraction of surplus value from the workers. Yet from the wage-slave’s point of view the wages are certainly of paramount importance. To get money is why they work, in order to buy the necessities for survival.

How did this happen? Capitalists have been destroying relatively self-sufficient peasant societies for centuries; today peasants are approaching extinction. Peasants have been, and are still being, driven off their lands, billions of them over the centuries, and forced to look for jobs, in order to get money, in order to live. They were forced to become wage-slaves.

How weird it is actually, and how recent historically, that one has to have a job in order to live. Why isn’t this totally unnatural relation under constant attack? Isn’t it obvious that in order to escape capitalism the link between jobs and income has to be broken? Why are so many leftists still clamoring for “full employment,” which accepts as a given that we have to have jobs to live? Nor are the revived proposals for a “guaranteed annual income” via the government a solution, especially at a time when ruling classes are dismantling the welfare state everywhere.

We could only get out of wage-slavery by shifting to cooperative labor. But we don’t have time for that now. I mention this here only to show how central money has been to capitalists, embedded as it is in one of their most essential social creations – wage-slavery. An attack on money therefore might actually prove to be helpful in abolishing wage-slavery.

Taxes. Taxes are debt. Everyone who is a “citizen” of a state is automatically placed in debt. The state says: “You owe us.” This practice goes back to antiquity and to the first formation of states. Taxes are the income of states. You would think that anarchists, at least, who want to abolish states, would have thought a lot about how to deprive states of this income. But they haven’t. And now, we need national governments to help cool the earth. I doubt that it could be done without them. So, sadly, anarchy is off the agenda for the time being. After the earth is cooled we can take up our attack on states once again. A fight against taxation might be a part of that struggle.

Corporations.  Can we tie in an attack on corporations per se to our attack on money? It seems it would be a good idea. Publicly traded corporations issue stocks, pay dividends, typically use credit, and are otherwise integrated into the financial system. What we are dealing with now is a global capitalist ruling class. So why don’t we start with the 147 transnational corporations that control 40% of the global economy?7 How could we abolish even one of these corporations? We can’t seize their factories and offices – they are scattered all over the world. We can’t outlaw them in just one country – they exist elsewhere. They are wealthier than most countries. They are defended by armies. Can we discredit their very existence? We have thousands of anti-capitalist books. Just asking.

Attacking Capital to Save the World

So what weapons can we bring to this fight? (a) Intellectual ones, at least. Pound them relentlessly with critiques. Expose their destructive practices. Discredit them. A lot of work has already been done. It needs to be expanded and promoted. We need more media. For these critiques to have a serious impact, however, they would have to be backed by a powerful mass movement, and we don’t have that (yet?). Sadly, many of the most prominent global warming activists are not anti-capitalist.

(b) Mass marches and rallies, although 400,000 people marching through New York City on September 21, 2014, in the People’s Climate March doesn’t seem to have accomplished much. Maybe a lot of people were encouraged to get active. It boosted spirits. We obviously need a lot more than mass demonstrations.

(c) Occupation of buildings. Which ones? Corporate headquarters? Governmental buildings? (d) Occupation of public squares. That didn’t go anywhere, did it?

(e) Picketing of persons and corporations. This tactic is often effective in raising awareness and attracting attention to especially egregious offenders of the common good.

(f) Strikes – debt and rent strikes, everywhere.

(g) Organizations. We have lots of organizations, dealing with dozens of important issues. They could coalesce into a mass anti-capitalist movement, one which is also linked to cooling the earth, but they aren’t, so far: transition towns, new economy movement, slow food, reviving the commons, solidarity economy, organic agriculture, eco-villages, urban gardening, cooperatives, participatory budgeting, permaculture, local currencies, co-housing, clean energy, and so forth. What would it take to radicalize these movements?

Just this brief survey of the left’s standard tactics shows how hopelessly inadequate they are for the task at hand. We need more, much more: more militancy, more mass, more organizations, more critiques, more media, more agitation, more strikes, more disruption, more insurgencies, more occupations, more anger. Perhaps if we make a big enough stink we can force some changes. I wish the World Social Forum would become more militant and start concentrating more on global warming.

One good thing: after the Paris climate accords at the Conference of Parties last year (COP 21), the climate justice movement has been finally moving to organize outside the United Nation’s framework. This should have been done after COP 15 in Copenhagen in 2009. But it seems to be getting underway now, thankfully – a global alliance to try to stop global warming. Perhaps this movement will bypass not only the United Nations but also the United States, which has sabotaged the UN’s efforts to deal with climate change from the original Rio treaty in 1992 on down through COPs 1 through 21. Several countries are less hostile to addressing global warming than the United States. Perhaps the number of such countries will increase.

What I would like to see is a new international anti-capitalist organization that focuses specifically on money, debt and the entire international financial system, and the oligarchs who run it. It is obscene that the Rothschild family and other historical banking families still have such inordinate power over the peoples of the earth.

Notes:

1. James Hansen recounts his efforts to alert the government in Chapters 1-3 in his book, Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth about the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity. New York: Bloomsbury, 2009. 

2. These figures are taken from Paul Beckwith’s Fall 2016 YouTube videos on global warming, the recent six-part summary of the scientific evidence, “Rapid Climate Change & Impacts for Environmental Assessment.” Part 1 begins at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=C1Pr_tAKs6E. Beckwith is a Canadian climate scientist.

3. See Chapter 10, “The Venus Syndrome,” in Hansen, Storms of My Grandchildren. 

4. The two best studies of the international financial system are: Michael Hudson, Super Imperialism: The Origin and Fundamentals of U.S. World Dominance. Pluto Press, 1972, new edition in 2003; and Michel Chossudovsky, The Globalisation of Poverty: Impacts of IMF and World Bank Reforms. Zed Books, 1998. Second edition, 2003. See also James Herod, “Abolishing Money: A Proposed Research Project, with Bibliography,” 2008, at: www.jamesherod.info/index.php?sec=blog&id=31.

5. Giovanni Arrighi, The Long Twentieth Century: Money, Power, and the Origins of Our Times. London: Verso, 1994, 2nd edition with an added 15-page postscript, 2010. 

6. See Michael Hudson, Killing the Host: How Financial Parasites and Debt Destroy the Global Economy. ISLET-Verlag, 2015. Hudson proposes ten reforms to reign in the financial oligarchy. See Chapter 29, “The Fight for the 21st Century.” Two more of his recent books are: Finance Capitalism and Its Discontents; and The Bubble and Beyond: Fictitious Capital, Debt Deflation, and Global Crisis. 

7. “The network of global corporate control,” by Stefania Vitali1, James B. Glattfelder1 and Stefano Battiston, on the web at: https://arxiv.org/PS_cache/arxiv/pdf/1107/1107.5728v2.pdf.