Towards Workers' Climate Action
Publisher: Against the Current
Year Published: 2016
Resource Type: Article
Cx Number: CX19036
A review of a book and a pamphlet by Paul Hampton, both on the urgent need for workers' action on climate change.
While unions have been weakened during the neoliberal period, Hampton posits waged workers and organized labor as the essential starting point for developing a climate counter-power, a working class based movement to fight for a "just transition" to an ecologically sustainable society.
He argues that the international working class has the social power to overthrow capitalism and to reorganize production under different imperatives -- such as to meet social needs and to respect ecological limits.
The shorter pamphlet For Workers' Climate Action urges the left to reach out to climate activists to explain the limits of green politics, to make the case that being "anti-capitalist" is important but not enough.
We should be arguing for working-class agency and an orientation to workers' organizations and struggles. It advocates that "climate activists could make alliances and join coalitions with organised labour to form a working-class based climate movement. This would be a social movement with workers’ self-activity at its core."
While Hampton writes that it is highly unlikely that climate change will be tackled at all adequately, or at least in an equitable way without socialism -- a systematic, democratic, collective, planned alternative to capitalism -- he chooses not to use the term ecosocialism as he sees it as a "fudge" that fails to clarify confusion over the social forces for socialism.
For example, he critiques Naomi Klein:
"Klein does see organised labour as an agent in this climate movement, but only as one actor among many. Indigenous struggles are far the most prominent in the book, yet her writing is testimony to the weaknesses of most indigenous communities opposing capital. Of course indigenous fighters are valuable allies in the climate struggle, but they are neither sufficiently universal nor sufficiently powerful to constitute the fulcrum of a revived climate campaign… This is the role of the global workers' movement. It is organised labour, shorn of its own business unionism and bureaucratic structures, which can coalesce a new climate movement."
While recognizing the oppression and market coercion of exploited groups such as indigenous peoples, peasants and the self-employed, Paul's view is that the location of working class within capitalist relations of production makes it the agent with both the power and the interest to modify and stop capitalist production, ultimately to overthrow it, to supersede the waged labor-capital relation, and create the political and organizational structures to replace capitalism. This defines the role of socialists -- to put socialist climate answers at the heart of the reviving climate movement.