Coalfield paradoxes

July 24, 2011

On 9 July, 50,000 or more people poured into Durham city for the 127th Miners’ Gala. More than eighty delegations from pit villages marched in: typically, a brass band and a pit banner followed by a crowd of revellers carrying children, cheering and waving posters protesting against the cuts. Each band, in keeping with tradition, stopped at the County Hotel to play to the party of labour movement speakers watching from the balcony. That took five hours.

At the gala

Although the Gala crowd is not as big as the quarter million or so who used to gather in the early 20th century, it has grown over the last decade. And yet it is 16 years since the closure of Wearmouth, Durham’s last coal mine, and 26 years since the great strike of 1984-85 that pitted these communities against the government and police. Then, county Durham had 19,000 miners; now there are none.

What is going on? This wasn’t a syndicalist old codgers’ reunion. Young men and women – many of whom could scarcely have been in primary school during the great strike – were out, drinking from cans of lager, many dressed in their best, and all proudly cheering the bands and banners. Read the rest of this entry »

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How will we get from here to there?

July 18, 2011

Review article: Kolya Abramsky (ed.), Sparking a worldwide energy revolution: social struggles in the transition to a post-petrol world (AK Press, 2010).

“The threat of global warming? Capitalism is to blame.” This sort of hypersimplified logic is compelling, because so much supporting evidence is in front of our noses. It is capitalism’s relentless drive to expand, to find new sources of profit, that has pushed the demand for oil, gas and coal to levels that can only be satisfied by ever-more-barbaric wars for control of resources, ever-more-damaging methods of producing them, and ever-more-unsustainable levels of greenhouse gas emissions.

Socialists and radicals are having a field day. Capitalism is to blame, and capitalism must be overthrown, they cry. Not since the threat of nuclear war loomed in the 1960s has capitalism’s potential for apocalyptic disaster imprinted itself so powerfully on people’s thinking … and it seems like a great chance to spread the word. But how will capitalism be overthrown? And how will the social relationships that supercede it produce solutions to the energy crisis? And what part will those who work in the energy sector, or environmentalists who resist its expansion, play in the transition to socialism? When conversations move on to these difficult issues, many of those same socialists and radicals are as vague on the details as they are certain about the big picture. Kolya Abramsky, editor of Sparking a Worldwide Energy Revolution, is an exception. Read the rest of this entry »