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Blockade Australia: Our Perspective

By staff - Black Flag Sidney, July 27, 2022

Blockade Australia (BA) is a climate activist group whose primary strategy is to shut down activity at fossil fuel sites and disrupt the economy as a form of protest. So far, they have coordinated two major blockades in NSW: in November 2021, they disrupted $60 million worth of coal exports for eleven days in the Port of Newcastle; in March 2022, activists blockaded terminals for five days at Port Botany; at the end of June, they attempted a six-day blockade of Sydney’s economic centre.

Their activism has been met with alarming state violence. Earlier this month, around one hundred police raided a BA camp of activists and made several arrests. The Port Botany blockade earlier this year triggered the bipartisan enactment of new laws in NSW Parliament, increasing the penalty for protesting without police or state approval to up to $22,000 in fines and/or two years’ imprisonment. These laws will affect all protests which are unapproved by police, and should be fiercely opposed.

BA doesn’t formally adhere to a specific political ideology, although their social media activity suggests anti-capitalist and anti-electoral leanings. They aim to create a “consistent and strategic” disruption “that cannot be ignored,” to temporarily shut down the fossil fuel industry’s operation and force a “political response,” though BA does not define what this would look like concretely.

Overall, BA’s strategy relies on small affinity groups rather than a political organisation to coordinate individual non-violent disruptive stunts, a strategy which places them outside of the mass movement for working class liberation. It’s important to note here that we condemn in the strongest terms the state violence against BA activists. We express our solidarity to activists who, like us, are interested in building “power… opposing the colonial and extractive systems of Australia.” We argue, though, that BA cannot build this power with isolated actions and sporadic disruption alone.

Climate change has been created by the capitalist class and governments who profit from the expansion of extractive and destructive industries. Meanwhile, the international working class shoulder the costs of rebuilding their homes after floods and fires, while working and living through hazardous bushfire smoke and record-breaking heat waves, and becoming refugees once rising sea levels have made their homes uninhabitable.

With one hundred Australian fossil fuel developments in the pipeline, we need an immediate transition to renewables. But we also need a just transition: universal and accessible social welfare and education so that all workers are guaranteed a livelihood and retraining as the economy changes, and publicly owned renewable energy instead of a fragmented grid of corporate solar farms. These urgent demands can only be won through class struggle: a climate movement with clear, ambitious demands that is rooted in the united mass struggle of workers, students, and First Nations people. This is where popular power lies, and it is this power which can threaten capital and the state and achieve climate justice.

Unfortunately, an organisation of mostly working-class people and an open invitation to join a blockade does not make a mass working-class movement. The mainstream climate movement’s demands for 100% renewable energy by 2030, or an immediate just transition for fossil fuel workers, are nowhere to be found in the BA purpose statement. For many people, the decentralised and disorganised movement is also difficult to join, especially for those unable to risk arrest or police violence.

This raises the inherent limitation of entirely “arrestable” protest actions. For security reasons, organisation is limited to people within an affinity group, so it is nearly impossible to keep these groups politically accountable to a broader movement. As demonstrated by the recent deportation and imprisonment of several protestors, the small scale of such actions result in significant penalties for individuals, something which can only be resisted by mass participation by workers.

Critically, BA’s actions happen outside of the working class’ struggle against capital. Yes, we want a suspension of coal exports, but this must be won by dockworkers themselves going on strike, demanding an investment in sustainable employment and infrastructure. We want “direct action,” but this is a principle, not just a tactic, referring to the need for workers to exercise their economic and political power without the mediation of elected representatives and bureaucrats. We admire the spirit of disruption, but we know that only a general strike with coherent demands and the economic and political power to enforce them, can truly disrupt the system which has created this crisis.

As anarchist communists, a just transition isn’t our end-goal, but the starting point for something more – the social revolution. This is why we must prioritise building mass industrial action as workers, rather than individual blockades as isolated and disorganised citizens. Even though the direct effect of both is stopping production, it’s the former that brings us a step closer to socialism.

We vehemently oppose the state’s repression of BA activists. We share an opposition to Australia’s ruling class and know the urgency of the climate crisis, and genuinely wish to organise with BA where possible to build mass climate mobilisations. However, we believe that climate organising needs to be firmly situated within our universities, unions, and workplaces. We are looking to achieve disruption which lasts not for five or eleven days, but which is permanent, and that is only to be found in mass strike action.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author.

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