Climate change demo report

Andy Newman

I think everyone was pleasantly surprised by the size of the Climate Change demonstration on 3rd December. I spoke to the organisers of the Bristol transport who had experienced a sudden rush of last minute interest and had booked a second coach (which they filled) only the day before. In many cases transport had been subsidised by local UNISON branches, which certainly mitigated the financial risk for local groups, and provides a good example of how important the labour movement is to the campaign for the environment. There were a few trade union banners, but not many.

 

Over the last few years I have as become as sceptical about the numbers claimed by the organisers of protests as I have historically been of the police figures. However, the figure of 10000 seems very plausible. The march ended with a little confusion because the police would not let marchers into the park in Grovsenor Square (perhaps due to the wet grass?), which meant that everyone ended up squeezed into the street besides the embassy.

 

It was a very good day for the Green Party, who had clearly mobilised en masse, and their placards and posters were everywhere. On the coach from Swindon were several Green party members who I have not seen before involved in other campaigns. Given their claimed membership of around 7000 then a very high proportion of their national membership was there, and they also clearly had a resonance and pull beyond their own ranks. What was also noticeable, was that the composition of the Green Party was far from the sandal wearing stereotype, and except for the colour of the banners they looked no different from traditional labour movement demonstrators: except that they included an enviable number of young people.

 

Very few people were selling Socialist Worker, and I saw a number of long term SWP members who were not selling the paper or carrying SW placards. (Rather strangely the SWP had produced  placards using only green ink, which rather gave the impression that they saw this as an away match – a bit of an own goal as many SWP members have been very active in the campaign.) There were a number of Socialist Party newspaper sellers, but they didn’t seem to be doing a very brisk trade.

 

There were a few Respect placards, and I saw bundles of Respect papers, but didn’t see anyone distributing them. The Respect placards featured one of those Leon Kuhn cartoons – that seemed incongruously glossy and somehow a bit corporate in the context. The simple Green party slogan of “Ditch Blair, not Kyoto” hit the nail on the head better.

(Incidentally the Independent newspaper also produced their own placards, but few demonstrators carried them. I think there was a political reason: they were too glossy, and also the slogan “The heat is on” was not very hard hitting,: but there was also a technical problem that they used 1” by 1” poles that were very heavy and hard to hold.)

 

The size of this demonstration, the significant press coverage that it received, and the evidence that the issue of climate change is being adopted by some trade unions, means that it could be a stepping stone to building a broad and effective movement to force the issue of climate change up the political agenda. The large numbers of Green party activists involved suggests that their party will be taking a welcome lead in the campaign. They must resist the temptation (evident in some places on the demo and on the coaches) of failing to make a clear distinction between the Green Party and the Climate Change Campaign.

 

For the campaign to succeed it needs to link the issue of climate change with the issue of social inequality. The political and economic system that promotes private car use rather than public transport, that flies green beans for Zimbabwe and flowers from Egypt to your local supermarket, is the same system that promotes unsafe working practices, that tolerates bullying in the workplace; that promotes nationalism and war. Climate change can only be reversed by replacing the global priorities away from profit driven endless growth, towards sustainability. This requires an emphasis on the satisfaction of humans needs and happiness, not the endless production of more and more commodities. It is recognition of this linkage that can unite the campaigns for the environment with the traditional strength of the labour movement.

 

 

 

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