Iran oil workers’ strike: a spectre haunting neoliberalism

July 16, 2021

More than 60,000 Iranian oil workers have joined a strike for better pay and contracts – the biggest such action since the general strike of 1978-79 that helped toppled the Shah’s regime.

The stoppage is supported by teachers, pensioners, and families seeking justice for their relatives killed during the big wave of protests in November 2019.

The protest began on 19 June, the day after the elections won by the conservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi, who takes over as president next month.

The Iranian oil industry is dominated by the state-owned National Iranian Oil Company. But in recent years it has employed a host of contractors – many owned and controlled by state officials and their relatives – who have slashed pay levels and undermined working conditions.

Striking workers at a refinery, late June

The Strike Organisation Council for Oil Contract Workers, that has been set up during the action, is reported to have said that the workers’ main demand is higher wages, and added:

We will no longer tolerate poverty, insecurity, discrimination, inequality and deprivation of our basic human rights. Given the skyrocketing cost of expenses, the [monthly] wages of workers should not be less than 12 million tomans ($491).

The strikers are demanding the elimination of temporary contracts, an end to the use of contract companies and the recognition of the right to form independent unions, according to other reports.

The strike is supported both by contract employees and by skilled workers in less precarious jobs, according to interviews published by the Kayhan Life media outlet.

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How the UK Climate Change Committee steals from the carbon budget

July 8, 2021

With the COP 26 international climate talks coming up in Glasgow in November, the UK government’s greenwash machine is going into overdrive.

The prime minister has set the tone with a “ten point plan” on climate – denounced as empty rhetoric by researchers (e.g. here and here) – which in turn is linked to the government’s new target, to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 78% of 1990 levels by 2035.

That target is linked to the sixth carbon budget for 2033-37, proposed by the Climate Change Committee (CCC) that advises the government.

The CCC has warned that the government is on track to miss the targets for fourth budget (2023-27) and the fifth budget (2028-32), and often made valid proposals for decarbonisation measures. For this it has been praised by Labour politicians, some environmentalist organisations and some climate scientists. 

But looking coherent, compared to the government, is a very low bar to jump over. The CCC’s carbon budgets are not a realistic guide to the UK playing its part in tackling climate change – and are used by government ministers and other politicians to obstruct and delay effective action.

The way the CCC budgets are calculated would allow the UK economy to emit at least twice as much greenhouse gas as any amount that could possibly be described as its fair share.

In the article below, and a linked article on how a UK carbon budget could be set, Peter Somerville explains why.

To preface Peter’s arguments, here are a few words about what carbon budgets are, and why they matter.

The global carbon budget from 1800 onwards (with a view to limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees) as a bucket, which is nearly full. A graphic by the Global Carbon Project

Global carbon budgets are measurements of the amount of carbon dioxide that scientists estimate can be put into the atmosphere, before global warming breaks certain barriers. The budgets are often stated in gigatonnes of carbon dioxide emissions (GtCO2). The barriers are usually stated as global average temperatures, measured in degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels.

Global carbon budgets are the products of scientific research. There are some good visualisations on the Global Carbon Project web site (go here and scroll down to “The carbon budget for 1.5°” and “Remaining carbon budget to 1.5° and 2°”).

■ In reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the budgets are set out in tables that provide scientists’ best estimates of the remaining carbon budget available, to keep global temperatures to certain levels. The IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 degrees, published in 2018, said that, to limit warming since 1850-1900 to 1.5°, the remaining global carbon budget is 840 GtCO2, for a 33% chance of hitting the target; 580 GtCO2 for a 50% chance; and 420 GtCO2 for a 67% chance. The scientists also provided estimates for a range of other temperatures and likelihoods. You can see the key table (Table 2.2 in chapter 2) here.  

There are uncertainties in climate science. These figures shift, as research teams refine their estimates. In the IPCC sixth assessment report, due out next year, the budgets are likely to be smaller than in previous reports.

Carbon budgets deal with CO2 emissions, that account for about three-quarters of the global warming effect. Scientists have developed budgets for other greenhouse gases, that collectively account for the other one quarter. Methane and nitrous oxide are the most important ones.

Global carbon budgets are worked out by science, but national carbon budgets are set by politics. They reflect what countries’ politicians decide is (i) a reasonable global budget to aim at, and (ii) their country’s fair share of that budget.

The CCC takes as a starting-point scientists’ global budgets that give humanity a 50% chance of hitting the 1.5 degree target (see the Sixth Carbon Budget report, pages 367-371) – which is itself a political decision. But it is not easy to see how it does the sums.

Researchers who have done their own sums say that the CCC is allowing the UK a share of the global budget that is disproportionate, and unfair to nations of the global south – in other words, stealing from the global budget.

A key research paper by scientists at the Tyndall Centre argued last year that the UK’s carbon budget for the rest of this century should be no more than half the figure the CCC is working with – that is, carbon emissions cuts have to be twice as stringent.

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Calculating a fair carbon budget for the UK

July 8, 2021

Here PETER SOMERVILLE provides more detail on how a UK carbon budget could be set, and discusses some problems with the Climate Change Committee (CCC) budgets. This is the second of two articles, the first is this overview of the CCC’s Sixth Carbon Budget  

Download these articles on carbon budgets, as a pdf

A global carbon budget is the total amount of carbon dioxide emissions that human activities across the world can be allowed to generate, in order to avoid excessive global warming.

Budgets vary, according to the degrees of temperature increase that are judged to be allowable, and according to how sensitive the climate is judged to be in response to carbon emissions: the greater the sensitivity, the smaller the budget has to be.

School students’ climate protest, 2019

Unfortunately, we do not know exactly how sensitive the climate is to carbon emissions, so budgets are calculated across the range of possible sensitivities.

The IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 degrees provided a range of figures for the remaining global carbon budget in 2018 (Table 2.2 on page 108).

On the basis of the median climate sensitivity, the budget to limit warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels was stated as 580 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (580 GtCO2). That means the world has a mere 50:50 chance of staying below 1.5°C.

Arguably, however, a higher level of climate sensitivity is required, to give the world at least a 66% chance of reaching the 1.5°C target. At this level, the carbon budget in 2018 was 420 GtCO2.

All economic and other human activity in the world currently emits approximately 40 GtCO2 per year, so the remaining budget today in 2021 is closer to 300 GtCO2. At this rate the budget would be fully spent before 2029.

The task here is then to calculate what might count as a fair share of this budget to be allocated to the UK.

The first problem is that the global budget is for carbon dioxide only: other greenhouse gases (GHGs) such as methane and nitrous oxide are calculated separately.

Methane has minimal long-term effect on the climate, but it is a powerful greenhouse gas in the short-term, which needs to be reduced to zero as soon as possible in order to minimise its contribution to peak warming (see CCC Sixth Carbon Budget report, page 372). Arguably, therefore, a fair carbon budget for the UK should take account of all GHGs.

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Let Africa’s queer voices speak in the movement for climate justice

July 6, 2021

As the climate crisis intensifies in Africa, LGBTQIA+ people will struggle the most, ORTHALIA KUNENE, a South African writer and grass roots activist, writes in this guest post

Climate change affects every one of us on the planet but the burden of its consequences are vastly unequal.

While climate impacts are devastating for everyone, inequalities such as those between the rich and poor, and between different genders and sexualities, widen in times of crisis. The impacts are experienced in varying depths and extremes within – and between – communities.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), people who are already the most vulnerable and marginalised will experience the greatest impacts of the climate crisis. The lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, and ally (LGBTQIA+) community is one such group, which, because of its social vulnerability, is a hidden victim of climate changes.

In Africa, LGBTQIA+ people are already more likely to live in poverty, have less access to basic human rights – such as the ability to move freely – and to face systematic violence, that escalates during periods of instability. There are more and more instances of violence and state repression, and as climate change intensifies, LGBTQIA+ people on the continent will struggle the most.

The Pride festival in Soweto, South Africa, in 2014. Photo by Siyachamer Ntuli

In the past two years, climate disasters have rampaged through the African continent, washing away homes, bridges, schools, and entire neighbourhoods. In Mozambique, since Cyclone Idai in 2019, there have been three more cyclones.

When Cyclone Idai hit landfall in Beira, Mozambique, it killed more than 1000 people across Mozambique, Malawi, and Zimbabwe, and left 2.6 million people in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. Catastrophic damage, caused by strong winds and extensive flooding, wiped away harvests and destroyed seed stocks. Millions lost their homes and livelihoods. Two years on, more than 8.7 million people do not have enough food or water, and over 100,000 people in Mozambique are still living in temporary shelters.

While devastating for all the communities impacted, those affected who are LGBTIQIA+ are even more vulnerable – because of pre-existing challenges based on the continuous fight for equal rights and freedom from discrimination and violence. There was a reminder of these challenges earlier this year in Cameroon, where more than two dozen people were arrested between February and April on charges of homosexuality, according to Human Rights Watch, and several of those arrested were subjected to beatings and other forms of abuse.

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‘The Mayor won’t change his mind’

June 29, 2021

As opposition to the £2.2 billion climate-trashing, polluting Silvertown Tunnel project grows in east and south-east London, campaigners keep getting a message back from Labour politicians: “The Mayor won’t change his mind.”

That’s Mayor Sadiq Khan, one of Labour’s most powerful elected politicians.

Campaigners have asked him to pause and review the project, given the climate emergency that London has declared, the air pollution crisis, the pandemic, and Brexit, that have upended traffic projections.

But the Mayor says no.

As Len Duvall, leader of the Labour group in the London Assembly, put it in correspondence about the tunnel project: “He [the Mayor] is not going to review it!”

A march against the Silvertown Tunnel in Newham this month. Photo by Stop the Silvertown Tunnel coalition

To a warning that construction could be disrupted by civil disobedience, Duvall replied: “I suspect you’re right, there will be some form of direct action. And it [the tunnel] will still be built!”

Len, can I just remind you? This isn’t a mafia movie, or a third-rate Netflix drama about medieval burghers, in which you play the tough guy.

This is our life, and our children’s lives – they are the ones at the schools near the tunnel site, getting choked by particulate matter, remember? – in the largest city in Europe, in the face of a climate crisis.

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Hydrogen: green gas or greenwash?

June 1, 2021

In this 8-minute video from the Sheffield Festival of Debate, Harpreet Kaur Paul, Tom Baxter and Simon Pirani talk about whether hydrogen can play a part in the transition away from fossil fuels, and why it is being pushed by companies who want to slow that transition down.

To read more, try these People & Nature articles:

■  The hydrogen hoax (December 2020)

■   Hydrogen for homes is a terrible idea. We should fight it (October 2020)

■  Leeds trades unionists: zero-carbon homes can help tackle climate change (September 2020)

 Follow People & Nature on twitter … instagram … telegram … or whatsapp.

Or email peoplenature[at]yahoo.com, and I’ll send you updates


The contested present, versus the populationists’ ‘ghastly future’

May 25, 2021

The false narrative that population growth is a key driver of ecological crisis “accus[es] and put[s] the onus on” people in the global south who bear the brunt of that crisis, Jevgeniy Bluwstein and others write in Frontiers in Conservation Science, an academic journal, this month.

They argue that, instead of drawing a straight line from rising population and affluence to ecological disaster, scientists “should help expose the structural causes and drivers of inequality, overproduction and overconsumption”.

Bluwstein and his colleagues are responding to an article that re-presents a populationist narrative, in a new version for the 2020s, “Underestimating the Challenges of Avoiding a Ghastly Future”. Its authors include Corey Bradshaw, an Australian ecologist, and Paul Ehrlich, a leading advocate of “too many people” arguments since the 1970s.

Protests against a new mining project in Chile. Photo from No A La Mina web site

Bradshaw, Ehrlich et al outline three linked crises – biodiversity loss, the sixth mass extinction and climate disruption – and suggest that scientists’ social responsibility is to “tell it like it is”: to adopt “a good communication strategy” to undercut human “optimism bias” that ignores expert warnings.

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Sabotage? Good behaviour? Workers’ action? Seeking a strategy to tackle climate change

May 13, 2021

A review by LARS HENRIKSSON of How to Blow Up a Pipeline: Learning to fight in a World on Fire, by Andreas Malm (Verso, 2021)

What should we do when airy political promises amount to little more than excuses for business as usual, and when the friendly climate protests have not prevented the world from heading towards a burning inferno? Submissively accept doom or take the climate struggle to a new level?

That Andreas Malm does not preach resignation will come as no surprise to those who know the author – activist and socialist since childhood and today well-known in the radical section of international academia. For those unfamiliar with him, the book’s title should dispel all doubt.

To stoically wait for doom is not an option for most of us, even if some claim to have drawn that conclusion. The book’s final section is a reckoning with intellectuals such as Roy Scranton and Jonathan Franzen who flirt with that standpoint.

For the rest of us, who either try to do something, or wish we knew how to do something, the question is: what do we do now? It is this question to which Malm devotes most of his book.

Protest at the Swedgas LNG terminal site at Gothenburg, Sweden. Photo from fossilgasfallan

The attention given to the book ahead of publication has mostly concerned the question of sabotage as a method in the climate struggle. Despite the book’s provocative title, this is far from an anarchist cookbook but a thought-through – albeit impatient – contribution to the debate about strategy and tactics in the climate movement.

Malm raises a question posed by the British author John Lanchester: Why has the climate movement not resorted to violence? Given what is at stake is humanity’s survival, it is strange that nobody has started blowing up petrol stations or at least started scratching the paint on city jeeps, Lanchester states, in what Malm refers to as Lanchester’s paradox.

In the latter case, the effort is very small and would make these gas guzzling monster cars almost impossible to own in a city like London.

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The Russian revolution: how emancipatory hopes and antisemitic poison overlapped

May 10, 2021

This draft review appears on People & Nature with thanks to Historical Materialism journal, to which it has been submitted for publication, in an upcoming special issue on antisemitism and the fight against it. 

Review by Simon Pirani of Antisemitism and the Russian Revolution, by Brendan McGeever (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019). 247 pages.

Download this article as a PDF

In January 1918, two months after Soviet power was established in Petrograd, one of the Red Guard units tasked with securing that power on the ruins of the Russian empire entered Hlukhiv, just over the Russian-Ukrainian border, north east of Kyiv. The unit was pushed out of Hlukhiv by the counter-revolutionary Ukrainian Baturinskii regiment within weeks – but soon joined forces with a group of Red partisans who had arrived from Kursk in southern Russia, and took the town back. A pogrom ensued. The Baturinskii regiment changed sides, claiming they had only resisted Soviet power because the “Yids” had paid them to. The Red Guards, thus reinforced, rampaged around the town proclaiming “eliminate the bourgeoisie and the Yids!”

How many of the town’s 4000 or so Jews fell victim is unknown, but it was in the hundreds. Newspaper reports and eyewitnessed accounts detailed how, for two and a half days, families were lined up and shot, their houses were ransacked and Jews were thrown from moving trains. One report described how 140 were buried in a mass grave. There is no doubt that Hlukhiv’s newly-established Soviet authorities were complicit. After two days of constant killing, they issued an order, “Red Guards! Enough blood!” – but then authorised looting. The synagogue was destroyed and the Torah ripped up. The head of the local soviet then demanded payment from the Jewish survivors.

“In the case of Hlukhiv”, writes Brendan McGeever, “Soviet power was secured by and through antisemitism” (page 48). Within days of the massacre, Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko, who commanded the Red forces in Ukraine, ordered the recomposition of all Red units in Hlukhiv and surrounding areas; those who resisted were to be shot. McGeever judges that this was “likely” a response to the pogrom. He also shows that the Bolshevik centre in Moscow systematically avoided discussing “Red” pogroms publicly. While Jewish newspapers reported Hlukhiv accurately, larger-circulation Bolshevik newspapers failed to identify the “Red” perpetrators.

The funeral of a Jewish pogrom victim, Ukraine 1919

The Hlukhiv pogrom was a relatively minor precursor to the ferocious wave of terror unleashed against Ukrainian Jews during the chaotic, multi-sided military conflicts of 1919, in which 1-200,000 died. Those pogroms were the climax of a wave that began in 1917, the year of revolution, and amounted to “the most violent assault on Jewish life in pre-Holocaust modern history” (page 2).

There is no doubt – and McGeever reiterates it throughout his narrative – that the overwhelming majority of victims in Ukraine in 1919 were killed by “White” counter-revolutionary and Ukrainian nationalist forces, or in territory controlled by them. Neither is there any question that the policy of the Bolshevik leadership, rooted firmly in Russian socialist tradition, was what we might today call “zero tolerance”. McGeever traces how that policy played out in practice.

How is it that the Russian revolution, “a moment of emancipation and liberation”, was “for many Jews accompanied by racialised violence on an unprecedented scale” (page 2)? McGeever answers by focusing, on one hand, on the minority of pogroms committed by (at least ostensibly) “Red” forces, and on the other, on the strengths and weaknesses of Soviet institutions’ response. The strengths, he argues, emanated largely from initiatives by Jewish socialists, including many who remained outside the Bolshevik party in 1917 and joined during the civil war.

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Luddism for the age of robotics

May 5, 2021

Review by Simon Pirani of Breaking Things At Work: the Luddites were right about why you hate your job, by Gavin Mueller (Verso, 2021)

Are the technologies developed by giant capitalist corporations – Walmart’s logistics or Elon Musk’s driverless cars – the foundation on which a post-capitalist society can be built? No way, argues Gavin Mueller.

He challenges “Marxist theoreticians” who see “the capitalist development of technology as the means for creating both abundance and leisure”, to be “realised once the masses finally [take] the reins of government and industry” (page 127).

Against these technocratic illusions, Mueller proposes “a decelerationist politics: of slowing down change, undermining technological progress, and limiting capital’s rapacity, while developing organisation and cultivating militancy”.

Alfa Romeo strikers march in January 1972. The placard reads “the Working Class Goes to Heaven”. From Libcom

Allowing Walmart or Amazon to “swallow the globe” would entrench “exploitative models of production and distribution”, and channel resources to reactionary billionaires, he writes:

Letting technology take its course will lead not to egalitarian outcomes, but authoritarian ones, as the ultra-wealthy expend their resources on shielding themselves from any accountability to the rest of us: postapocalyptic bunkers, militarised yachts, private islands and even escapes to outer space (page 128.)

Given the persistence – in trade union hierarchies and even among leftist writers – of technocratic dogma (fantasies about electric cars or geoengineering, for example), Mueller’s book is very welcome.

He grounds his “decelerationism” not only in texts, but in workers’ struggles to confront, confound or control technologies in the workplace – starting with the Luddites in early 19th century England, who smashed machines that were used by employers to cut pay and tighten labour discipline.   

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