Two enemies, one fight: climate disaster and frightful energy bills

May 16, 2022

Two clouds darken the sky. A close-up one: gas and electricity bills have shot up since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and millions of families are struggling to pay. And a bigger, darker, higher one: the climate disaster, and politicians’ refusal to tackle it.

Ultimately, both these threats have a single cause: fossil fuels and the systems of wealth and power that depend on them. We need social movements to link the fight to protect families from unaffordable bills with the fight to move beyond fossil fuels, and in that way turn back global warming.

Here I suggest ways to develop such a movement in the UK, starting by demanding action on home heating.

Two linked crises

Since the government lifted the price cap on energy bills on 1 April, the average energy bill for 18 million households on standard tariffs rose to £1971 per year, from £1277. Another 4.5 million households on pre-payment schemes are paying an average of £2017 per year. And in October, bills could well rise above £3000.

There are now 6.3 million UK households (including 2.5 million with children) in fuel poverty, meaning that they are unable to heat their home to an adequate temperature. The End Fuel Poverty Coalition says that could rise to 8.5 million by the end of this year.

The main fuels for UK homes are gas, and electricity produced from gas and nuclear power. Retail prices have been driven up by a rise in gas, oil and coal prices on world markets – which started rising last year, as economies recovered from the pandemic, but shot upwards faster from March, after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The war, and sanctions on Russia by western powers, could keep fossil fuel prices high for years. They have also driven global food prices upwards. This is the biggest bout of inflation worldwide since the 1970s.

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The ‘energy security’ strategy that promises more oil and gas

May 16, 2022

In this guest post, PETER SOMERVILLE examines the UK government’s “energy security strategy”

The UK government’s energy security strategy avoids bold measures to decarbonise the economy. Its claimed aims are to “build a British energy system that is much more self-sufficient” (page 6), and specifically to “reduce our dependence on imported oil and gas” (page 5) – but it will not even do that effectively, either.

Broadly, the strategy, published last month, fails in four ways:

Firstly, the strategy provides insufficient support for the development of renewable energy, given the urgency of the climate and energy crisis.

XR Scientists demonstrate at the Shell headquarters in London, 6 April

In comparison, its support for so-called “low carbon” development looks both disproportionate and less certain of achieving the immediate progress that is now required. Taken together with its support for new gas projects, this is difficult to explain except in terms of the power of the nuclear and fossil fuel lobbies, which effectively remains unchallenged. The strategy doesn’t even begin to get to grips with nature-based solutions.

Secondly, the strategy has very little to say about reducing energy demand, e.g. from retrofitting, by reducing car use, by stopping airport expansion, and so on. It doesn’t mention increasing carbon tax on industry as one means to encourage a shift towards using renewable energy instead of fossil fuels.

Even that would not be enough, however. More radical ways forward need to be considered, such as new forms of public and community ownership; rapid, binding targets for phasing down and phasing out fossil fuels, cap and share schemes,[1] and much more.

Energy rationing may sound drastic but it would be a clear way forward and may well become necessary in time. In the meantime, a windfall tax on the big energy companies and a wealth tax would be useful for meeting people’s immediate needs.

Thirdly, the strategy has nothing to say about how the impending climate crisis will affect energy security, e.g. droughts and floods affecting energy generation and supply.

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White or Black Power? The choice before Extinction Rebellion

April 30, 2022

This article by ROB CALLENDER of Jubilee Climate has been discussed widely among Extinction Rebellion (XR) members. It starts with a message responding to a facebook post by Roger Hallam, one of the founders of XR. It is published here with Rob’s permission. Answers to the question at the end – “what do you think?” – are welcome.

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Dear Roger, Just stop using white power narratives and white power tactics with a white power vision of how to tackle a crisis that was made by white power. It will fail. Again. We can’t afford to keep failing. It is likely to make things worse for many many people, if not for you, and that is horrifying to have on your hands. Yes, your hands. We need to do the hard work. You’re distracting and dividing people. Hang up your ego and get involved. Love, Rob

WHITE POWER FORGETS

Many within environmental movements like Extinction Rebellion are unconscious of how white power has characterised these movements’ tactics and strategies. It is why we are failing, and why we will continue to fail unless we learn and evolve.

If oil is stopped, then what? The climate crisis will not have gone away. We are struggling against a monstrous hydra with many many vicious heads, all destroying ecosystems and the liveable climate. We need to strike at the root, the heart of the monster, not at one single element. Greenpeace has had many campaigns, some daring and with success. But Greenpeace is now 50 years old. We don’t have 50 more years. After oil, then what?

Demonstrators in London demanding reparations to the global south for ecocide and genocide (maangamizi) by rich countries. Photo by Andrea Domeniconi/Alamy Live News

After every action, movement and rebellion, some fill the pause with strategising. Every time a single conversation that dominates others has gone something like this: “we haven’t got the narrative right, it’s not appealing to ‘the people’, because we’re using leftist jargon and talking about ‘justice’. We need to have a vision of what the future will look like for ordinary people – a nation they can buy into and want to build – it needs a sense of let’s all come together now to fix the climate for our children and grandchildren”. Sound good?

This is white power. People shaped by white power live in a loop in which they believe that their vision, this time, must succeed, if only everyone got behind it. Their conviction comes from the privileged lived experience of whiteness which brings them closer to the establishment and a reformist mindset (despite what they say and the vehemence of the tactics they employ) and farther from communities outside of the establishment. The powerful conviction coming from the individual person creates obliviousness, forgetfulness – amnesia.

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‘The deeper we go into war, the more Putin stands to lose’

April 27, 2022

An Open Letter to my Brazilian friends and colleagues about the invasion of Ukraine, by FRANÇOIS CHESNAIS 

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In this letter I would like to explain to Brazilian friends and colleagues my position on the war in Ukraine, namely that it is a unilateral aggression by Russia. I received a message from a friend in which I detected the idea that the war can be understood as a legitimate response to a situation created by NATO. This “campist” position is encouraged by the fact that four Latin American countries that are at the forefront of the fight against the United States – Cuba, Nicaragua, Bolivia and El Salvador – abstained in the vote in the UN General Assembly resolution condemning “aggression against Ukraine”. A dozen formerly colonial African countries did the same. The pro-Russia stance taken by the Monthly Review may also encourage the “anti-imperialist/anti-US camp” position.

Members of the independent miners union at the front, 12 April. Photo from the Confederation of Free Trade Unions

A deep hostility towards US imperialism (nurtured by more than a century of history dating back to the invasion of Cuba under President McKinley in 1898), which is shared with many militants of the South American left, risks making some of my friends and colleagues agnostic about, or even tolerant of, the invasion; unclear about its aims; and indifferent to the methods of warfare directed against civilian populations that are employed by the Russian military. Named a “special operation” by Vladimir Putin and his ministers, it is an aggression on the part of Russia with the aim of ousting the Volodymyr Zelensky government from power; perpetuating the separation of the Donbas regions in the east of the country; vassalising the central and western part of the country; and bringing the whole population to heel.

I recognise that my position is shaped by the fact that Russia falls within my geopolitical framework of thought as a European. The Stalinisation of the Comintern at the turn of the 1930s, and the international influence of Stalinism through the vassalisation of the countries of Eastern Europe, meant that revolutionaries in France, as in Italy and Spain, had to deal with powerful Communist Parties bound by the foreign policy of the USSR.

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Solidarity with the Ukrainian resistance. Six questions

April 19, 2022

People & Nature today publishes a discussion article about the Ukrainian resistance and international solidarity with it, here. It is structured around these six questions. Please read and share.

1. What does the “national question” mean, if anything, in the 21st century, and specifically with respect to the “Maidan revolution”?

2. What is the character of Russian imperialism, and of the Russian political elite around Putin?

3. What has been the character of the Russian wars of the 21st century, and of the forces against which Russia has fought? What is the character of Ukraine’s defensive war now?

4. What is the place of this war in the crisis of capital internationally?

5. How do we understand the danger of a wider war, arising e.g. from the western powers’ involvement in the conflict?

6. What to do?

To read more, go here.

London, 26 February. Photo by Steve Eason

Russian soldiers killed that family, just … because

April 7, 2022

By ANATOLY DUBOVIK in Dnipro, eastern Ukraine

On social media people are arguing about the reasons for the massacres at Bucha, Irpen and other places in Kyiv region. They are not asking why, so much as “for what reason”, with what aim? I have my opinion, as follows.

At the beginning of March, I heard a woman, who had been able to get out of occupied Melitopol with her family, talk about it. I’ll tell the story, as I remember it – so it’s not a documented record, of course, but my re-telling, albeit directly from the witness. As far as I understood, she lived somewhere in the suburbs of the city, in a private house.

The Russian army arrived in Melitopol on 26 February. There was no battle for the city. For several days we sat at home and watched an endless stream of Russian military vehicles. It was too frightening to go out – and there was no reason to: the Russians had looted all the shops on the first day.

And then [so, on 1 or 2 March, AD] our neighbours for some reason set out for their allotment, to plant something. One of the military vehicles stopped. Two Russian soldiers got out and killed the whole family, our neighbours. Husband, wife and two children. Then the soldiers got back into their vehicle and left.

After this we had no doubt. We collected all the things we could, and half an hour later left the city in our car. It took 24 hours to get to Zaporozhya [it is a 133 kilometre journey, AD]. There were Russian checkpoints all along the way. We were constantly stopped, they examined the car, and searched us. But all the same, we made it.

What are the explanations? Why, for what reason, was that family killed?

This was right at the start. The Russians who killed that family had only been on Ukrainian territory for a day or two. Melitopol was already in the rear, from their standpoint. So it’s highly unlikely that these soldiers had been in a firefight or lost close colleagues. Furthermore, there was practically no battle for Melitopol: the Ukrainian army had left the city. So it was not revenge.

Refugees in Lviv

And it did not seem like they were carrying out orders, either. In the case of an order to “kill civilians”, even “under such-and-such circumstances”, things would not have been limited to killing one family, who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. This was not carrying out an order; it was the “living creativity of the Russian masses”.

The murdered parents, of course, could have had pro-Ukrainian views. Or they could even have been signed up to a territorial defence unit. But none of this was known to the Russians who shot them. It was not even known to their neighbours. What’s more: underaged children, murdered together with their parents, could not possibly have been in a territorial defence unit.

Moreover, this was not the result of a breach of curfew rules or anything of that kind. These people were literally in front of their home, in their own country, in broad daylight, no kind of threat to anyone at all.

But they were killed.

Isn’t it really obvious, that these murders had no purpose whatever? That the Russians killed that family not “for a reason”, but just … because.

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UK trade unions make ‘solidarity with Ukraine’ call

April 7, 2022

UK trade unions will demonstrate in London on Saturday, calling for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine.

“We send solidarity to the trade unionists of Ukraine who have been engaged in humanitarian assistance and resistance to the invasion”, the organisers say. “We will support in whatever way we can the brave people demonstrating in Russia for an end to the war.

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“We call on the UK government to welcome refugees seeking to come to the UK without imposing any restrictions.”

The demonstration, which assembles at Parliament Square in London at 12.0 noon, is backed by the GMB general union, one of the UK’s largest, as well as unions representing civil servants (PCS), rail workers (ASLEF), communication workers (CWU), bakers and food workers (BFAWU) and mine workers (NUM).

The three main Ukrainian union federations, and two rail workers’ unions, have also declared support for the event.

The Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine has appealed to trades unionists internationally to call on governments to send military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine.

“The bombing of hospitals and homes, executions, atrocities and rapes are part of Russian inhumane tactics”, Mykhailo Volynets, the confederation’s chair, wrote. “Russian forces continue to purposefully destroy the people of Ukraine and do not stop even at the time of the negotiation talks.

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Solidarity appeal for Ukrainian victims of Russian army abductions

April 4, 2022

Local councillors in the UK have launched an appeal demanding “an end to the use of kidnapping, arbitrary imprisonment and other violence” against elected officials, journalists, civic activists and others in the Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine.

The statement condemns “attempts by the Russian army and security services to destroy elected local government structures and replace them with their own appointees”.

Demonstration against the Russian occupation in Kherson, Sunday 3 April

The appeal was drafted after mayors and elected officials in Enerhodar, Melitopol, Kherson, Berdyansk and other towns in south-eastern Ukraine were abducted, often in the course of Russian army attempts to force local administrations to collaborate.

The abductions in the occupied areas are part of the same terror campaign whose cutting edge – summary executions, mass graves and wholesale terror against civilians – has been exposed in Bucha, Irpin and other areas near Kyiv from which the Russian forces withdrew last week.

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Ukraine: filtration in Russian-occupied areas is “a way of terrorising civil society”

April 4, 2022

Some insights into the situation in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine, where “people’s republics” were set up by Russian-supported armed militia in 2014, are provided in these excerpts from an interview with PAVEL LISYANSKY of the Eastern Human Rights Group. It was published on 25 March by Tribun, a Luhansk-based news group

Q: Do you think that the Kremlin’s aims have changed in the month since the invasion started?

PL: I am convinced that Putin’s aims remain the same. He wants to destroy Ukraine, having split it into pieces. Now, for example, he is trying to set up a “Kherson people’s republic”, which he would then recognise in future. Then, I reckon, they will try to set up something like a “union of people’s republics”. Putin will not touch the territories that border Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania, for the simple reason that the Russian federation needs an external enemy in the shape of the regions that stay within Ukraine. Putin’s main aim is that the Ukraine of 2014-2022 – the free and independent Ukraine – should disappear.

Q: You have spoken before about the danger of the Russian federation issuing passports to Ukrainians. How actively is this policy being pursued now?

PL: It’s more operational than ever. Now that the Donetsk and Luhansk “people’s republics” have been recognised by Russia, no-one now has to travel to Rostov region [of southern Russia, to apply for a passport]. “Migration departments” have been set up in the occupied territories for passports to be issued. And now they [the Russian authorities] are increasing the numbers on account of the areas of Luhansk and Donetsk they have recently seized [i.e. areas that remained under Ukrainian government control between 2014 and 2022].

Demonstrators gathering in Enerhodar. Zaporizhiya region, on Saturday 2 April to protest at the Russian occupation. After this photo was taken they were violently dispersed by the occupation forces

And the approach has changed. Now those who refuse [a passport] are intimidated on account of it being war time, and threatened with legal cases for “collaboration with Ukraine”. A little more than a million such passports have now been issued.

Q: Now the Russians are “evacuating” citizens of towns they have occupied in Starobelsk and Svatovo. What are their aims?

PL: They need to create a “picture” for domestic consumption in the Russian federation, showing that “our brave army is saving peaceful civilians”. Unfortunately there are cases where they have evacuated people from Rubezhny and Svatovo to Rostov region. Where they go from there, we don’t know. Communication breaks down.

I suspect that our citizens could be sent, for example, to Vorkuta [a mining town north of the Arctic circle] or to the Far East [of Russia]. Remember that the Russian federation has a big problem of a great deal of territory that is sparsely populated. This is one way of trying to address it, where the “fellow countryman” programme of the Russian foreign affairs ministry failed. No-one really wants to move to those places voluntarily.

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War in Ukraine: reflections and proposals for internationalist union action

March 31, 2022

From the Solidaires Union web site. These notes from the Solidaires Union bureau set out its approach to building solidarity with Ukrainian working-class resistance to Russian military aggression. They are a useful starting point for discussion. Please copy and circulate

This statement is based on the assessment made during the Solidaires national board meeting in March, the contributions of our member organizations, the work of our international commission, and inter-union exchanges both nationally, through the inter-union CGT/FSU/Solidaires, and internationally, through the International Labour Network of Solidarity and Struggles. All of this has also been fuelled by the exchanges and reflections held within larger unitary frameworks in which we take part.[1]

Beyond producing assessments and analyses, union commitment is about action. The following proposals are based on the international work that Solidaires has been doing for years and are expressed in the initiatives, connections and publications of recent days. They aim to respond – on the basis of concrete actions and not useless polemics – to the sectarianism displayed by some statements from other trade union organisations, and especially to the hypocrisy of government and employers’ declarations.

Protest against the Russian army’s kidnapping of the deputy mayor of Enerhodar, 20 March. From Ukrainska Pravda

The introductory statement to the debate of the national board the 9th March recalled the position of the Solidaires union from the first day of the war (actually even before the start of this war, since all that follows is part of the tradition and practice of internationalist unionism that we
try to implement):

□ The immediate withdrawal of Russian troops – the right of peoples to self-determination – the need for an immediate ceasefire and for building a negotiated peace – supporting people fighting against war, especially in countries at war – the dignified and massive reception of all refugees, regardless of their origin, and the fight against all inequalities and discrimination – taking part, on our own terms,  in mobilisations and demonstrations for peace – (joint) participation in the initiatives of solidarity with the Ukrainian people, such as the “union convoy” which aims to provide Ukrainian workers with relief supplies – denouncing nationalism and capitalism as the causes of war – internationalism, as an alternative to nationalism – fighting to end tax havens – the urgency of an ecological transition towards the end of the massive use of fossil fuels.

It is Russian power, Putin’s regime, which bears the responsibility for this war. We must start by acknowledging this. This is, after the annexation of Crimea, a new imperialist military intervention by a dictatorial regime that severely represses (or even crushes) popular movements, including the independent labour movement (Ukraine, Belarus and, most recently, Kazakhstan).

This acknowledgement does not detract from the fact that we have long been involved in collectives and initiatives calling for the dissolution of NATO. There is no reason to question this commitment, as it is one of our roles as an organisation in a NATO member country. However, the demand to dissolve NATO should not be used as an argument aimed – deliberately or not – at “equalising” responsibilities for what is happening in Ukraine.

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