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Moving the trade unions past fossil fuels

Samantha Mason interviewed by Gabriel Levy - People and Nature, August 9, 2017

The Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) has launched a pamphlet, Just Transition and Energy Democracy: a civil service trade union perspective, urging trade union support for the transition away from fossil fuels and restructuring the energy system under public ownership. In this interview SAMANTHA MASON, PCS policy officer and main author of the pamphlet, published in May, talks about combating the pro-fossil-fuel lobby in the unions and the Labour Party, and how to unite social and environmental movements.

Gabriel Levy (GL). Could you describe the PCS’s long engagement with energy and climate policy, which has culminated in the Just Transition pamphlet?

Samantha Mason (SM). We have been engaged with climate change issues, and increasingly with the whole energy debate, for about ten years. This has in large part been due to motions coming to conference from the grassroots membership, and an assistant general secretary, Chris Baugh, leading on this, which has enabled us to develop our policy and campaigning agenda.We participate in meetings with other industrial and energy unions, mainly through the Trade Unions Sustainable Development Advisory Committee. [Note. This committee was set up as a joint government-union forum after the 1997 Kyoto climate talks, but government participation dried up under the Tories. It is now a meeting place for union policy officers, and latterly, industrial officers.]

Some of the unions there represent workers in the fossil fuel and nuclear sectors, so while we’re supposed to look at sustainable development issues, they have been more concerned with pushing fracking [that is, hydraulic fracturing, a mining technique that has been used to raise natural gas production in the US, and some people think might do so in the UK] as part of the TUC’s so called “balance energy policy” – supporting nuclear, natural gas, Carbon Capture and Storage, and the Heathrow third runway. [Note. See for example the TUC Powering Ahead document.]

We have real problems with this, as PCS is opposed to almost everything in the policy, on the basis of our national conference decisions. We have had a divide opening up between these pro-fracking unions on one side, and the PCS, and other unions who want to develop a policy for both social change and environmental change, on the other. The TUC says their policy is a result of Congress decisions. But they do little or nothing to take the debate forward.

Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…

By Ali Tamlit - Red Pepper, April 23, 2017

To begin this story, cast your mind back a few months…

It’s May 2016. My facebook feed (the ultimate source of truth in our post-truth world) seems to be schizophrenic, or at least representing two entirely different worlds.

One world is the ‘green’ activists, who are in the middle of two weeks of global actions against fossil fuels. The spectacular actions in the US, Australia, the UK and most notably Ende Galende in Germany, have led some of my comrades to claim: “WE ARE WINNING!”

The other world is that of Monique Tilman, the young Black girl assaulted by an off duty police officer as she rode her bike in a car park. It is the world of police brutality, the world of indigenous people being dispossessed of their lands for tourism or ‘conservation’.

Surely, the ‘we’ that is winning can’t claim to include these people?

The green movement, under NGO leadership, seems to be content with shallow demands of CO2 reduction. Whilst the inextricable links between capitalism, ecological destruction, colonialism, white supremacy and hetero-patriarchy lie just below the surface, yet no one, within the nonprofit-industrial complex at least, seems to want to join the dots.

Plane Stupid wants police spies out of our lives!

By staff - Plane Stupid, April 4, 2017

Crowdjustice appeal launched by social justice campaigner/ Plane Stupid member Tilly Gifford

https://www.crowdjustice.org/case/undercover-policing-scotland/

UNDERCOVER POLITICAL POLICING & SCOTLAND

The Home Office has failed to extend the Undercover Policing Inquiry into Scotland and the Scottish Government has failed to order its own public inquiry into #spycops. I am taking them to Court to make sure an Inquiry is held into Undercover Political Policing in Scotland. 

On 16th July 2015 Theresa May, then Home Secretary, announced a public inquiry into undercover policing. This announcement followed revelations that police officers involved in spying on political campaigners had used the names of dead children to create their new identities. They had long term, intimate relationships with women, fathered children, and in some cases acted as agent provocateurs.

We know that these activities were also carried out in Scotland.

For example,  during the G8 Summit at Gleneagles in 2005 the Metropolitan Police sent undercover police officers across the border.  
In addition, English undercover officers also had intimate relations with a number of women they targeted in Scotland, a repeated human rights violation made by the Metropolitan Police Service that they have publicly apologised for.
[1]
 
Extending the Pitchford Inquiry to Scotland

Despite dozens of activists having been verified as being spied upon in Scotland,[2] the public inquiry into these violations has been limited only to England and to Wales.[3] 

The Home Office failed to extend the Undercover Policing Inquiry into Scotland. The Scottish Government also failed to order its own public inquiry into these issues. As a result, I am taking them to Court to make sure an Inquiry is held.

Through the Pitchford inquiry, communities in Wales and England who have suffered extreme abuses of their Right to Private Life, have the chance to have light shed on such violations carried out by the State. As it stands now, people in Scotland have no such recourse to truth or accountability.

This court case is not just to highlight one person who was spied on, but to highlight the case of hundreds of people who deserve a public inquiry into this abuse of police power in Scotland also. We seek truth and justice.

Why did Plane Stupid chain themselves to the runway at Stansted Airport?

By Plane Stupid - New Internationalist, March 29, 2017

Editor's Note: Plane Stupid includes members of the IWW.

Just over a year ago we were convicted for our part in the Heathrow 13 action. We occupied the Northern runway at Heathrow, cancelling 25 flights, saving hundreds of tonnes of carbon dioxide from being emitted and protesting against the construction of the proposed third runway. For this we nearly went to prison.

So, why this move? Why is a well known environmental group now taking action against mass deportations?

Well, as Audre Lourde says, ‘there’s no such thing as a single issue campaign, because we do not live single issue lives.’ We do not see ourselves as ‘environmentalists’, nor do we see the fight against airport expansion or the fight against climate change as isolated from any other issue. Airport expansion is a form of violence and a form of oppression, one that a minority of people will benefit from the profits, whilst countless people will suffer from loss of community and health, both locally and globally.

As Black Lives Matter clearly stated back in September, the climate crisis is a racist crisis as it is Black, Brown and Indigenous bodies feel the worst effects of this violence. Oppressions are connected and the different forms it takes often share common roots. These roots include capitalism, racism, hetero-patriarchy and colonialism.

Airport expansion is a racist policy

By Jo Ram - Red Pepper, November 2016

On 19 November, activists blockaded one of the key access roads to Heathrow airport with a banner saying ‘Climate Change is A Racist Crisis’. More groups had interventions planned but the police foiled their attempts. 15 arrests took place throughout the day. 100s also took part in a nearby demonstration despite heavy police presence. This action was coordinated by Rising Up! and comes a few weeks after Theresa May gave the green light to the building of a third runway at Heathrow.

For the climate and everyone who doesn’t belong to the global political elite, May’s decision doesn’t make sense. Thousands will see their home demolished to make way for the new runway. Only 15% are responsible for 70% of UK’s international flights - so airport expansion doesn’t really benefit the average person who goes on holiday once or twice a year. Plus, a large proportion of Heathrow flights are short haul, whose routes could be better serviced by improved rail infrastructure. More crucially, flying is the most emissions-intensive form of transport and the fastest growing cause of climate change. It is not possible for the UK government to expand airports and meet existing commitments on climate action.

The subtext of this decision is loud and clear: the government’s doesn’t care either about the local community, who are fiercely opposed to the expansion, or about the vast majority of the world’s population, for whom climate change is truly an existential threat.

Protesters blockade mock runway outside Parliament to oppose airport expansion

By staff - Plane Stupid and Reclaim the Power, October 25, 2016

Activists have blockaded a mock runway outside Parliament to oppose airport expansion and highlight  the inequality of catastrophic climate impacts on the day a government announcement is expected.

This morning, 40 Activists locked together using ‘arm tubes’ on a mock runway outside Parliament to signal their intent to continue fighting airport expansion. Air traffic controllers with “STOP” paddles lined the runway highlighting the need to stop climate change as well as noise and air pollution. Other campaigners and local residents held a banner reading “Climate Change Kills, No New Runways.”

Shona Kealey spokesperson for Plane Stupid, said,

“Two weeks ago, enough countries agreed to ratify the Paris Agreement for it to come into force. Last week, the government’s climate advisers issued a report saying reducing aviation emissions should be a priority if we’re going to honour the Climate Change Act. And now, with today’s announcement, our government proclaims to the world that we’re a dishonest and unreliable nation who can’t be trusted to keep to our international agreements or even follow our own laws, just as we’re about to renegotiate trade agreements with the whole world.

“Obedience to this government is suicide. If they think we’re going to quietly follow them over the cliff, they’re dreaming.

Speaking for Reclaim the Power, Stephanie Nicholls said,

“We can honour our commitments to tackle climate change, or we can build new runways – we can’t do both. Aviation expansion anywhere is irresponsible, and globally will impact the most on the people who’ve done least to cause the problem. Climate change is already hitting poorer communities in the global south, who are the least likely to ever set foot on a plane.

“When the government won’t follow its own rules, it’s time for normal people to step up and take action. Following today’s announcement climate activists, council leaders and local residents will be standing together to make any new runways undeliverable. If the government thinks they can override local opinion, climate science and their own commitments they’ve got another thing coming.”

Throughout the day, local residents and environmental campaigners will be in the Five Bells Pub in Harmondsworth (Harmondsworth High Street, UB7 0AQ) to demonstrate continuing opposition to airport expansion and will be available for interview. Contact: Rob Barnstone, 07806 947050.

Local residents from Gatwick CAGNE (Communities Against Gatwick Noise Emissions) will be meeting at the Plough Inn, Ifield from midday to watch the decision. Contact: Sally Pavey, cagnegatwick@gmail.com, 07831 632537.

We are expecting new direct action network Rising Up to announce escalating direct action against airport expansion following the government announcement. Contact: Simon Bramwell, 07760 556177, lawgoch2008@hotmail.co.uk.

Hundreds at Heathrow ‘die-in’ protest against airport expansion

By staff - Reclaim the Power, October 1, 2016

Hundreds of activists stage ‘die-in’ and disruptive ‘critical mass’ bike ride at Heathrow to protest aviation expansion and highlight injustice of climate change impacts.

ecology.iww.org editor's note: IWW members particopated in organizing this action.

This afternoon, over 100 people took part in a ‘die-in’ flashmob inside Heathrow terminal 2. Protesters wearing gas masks lay on the floor, as testimonies from communities already affected by climate change were read [1].

Simultaneously, a ‘critical mass’ bike ride with 150 riders wearing red [2] circled the area, visiting Harmondsworth Detention Centre to highlight the link between climate impacts and migration, and obstructing traffic by circling the main roundabout on Bath Road and dropping banners.

The action was part of a global wave of actions opposing airport expansion (including Austria, France, Mexico, Turkey), timed to coincide with a major UN conference aiming to address the emissions impact of aviation. The process has received criticism for not attempting to reduce emissions, instead focussing on controversial ‘carbon offsets’.

A ‘flash-mob’ picnic protest also happened at Gatwick this morning.

The decision on airport expansion is expected on the 11th or 18th October; with recent reports suggesting there is parliamentary support for Heathrow.

The Climate Crisis is a racist crisis!

By Staff - Plane Stupid, September 9, 2016

Plane Stupid supports the Black Lives Matter UK invention at City Airport earlier this week.  Developing a dialogue with, and demonstrating solidarity with communities impacted by aviation and climate change locally and internationally, has been part of the work of Plane Stupid for some time. Globally, climate change disproportionately affects people of colour.

In addition, in the case of City Airport, it is the predominantly non-white and low income community of Newham who will suffer the worst local environmental impacts from airport expansion – including noise and air pollution, leading to health problems such as heart disease, sleep disturbance, asthma, and depression - all of which can lead to early death, and compound existing health problems. By contrast, the people flying from City Airport are predominantly white, and typically have an annual salary of over £90,000.

City Airport has recently been granted permission to expand, despite the obvious contribution of this expansion to climate change, and the aggravating impact expansion will have on existing inequalities in the Newham area.

Plane Stupid believes in a just and sustainable transition to a peaceful, low carbon future. Plane Stupid is against all airport expansion, and will continue to take direct action in pursuit of this aim. Plane Stupid supports all other actions targeted against aviation where these are not inconsistent with our ethos.

Plane Stupid stands in solidarity with #BlackLivesMatter's #ShutDown

By Paula - Plane Stupid, August 6, 2016

[On the morning of Friday, August 5, 2016] #UKBlackLivesMatter carried out a series of actions across the UK following a call for a #ShutDown.

Their actions were highlighting that for Black and Brown people, every day is a crisis in a system based on White Supremacy. That racism can be felt in many different ways, from the extreme brutality inflicted by police and state violence, which has resulted in 1,562 people losing their lives in police custody in the last 20 years; to the abhorrent detention of people fleeing war-zones; to the subtle and insidious forms of racism such as Black people being up to 37 times more likely to be stopped and searched. #BlackLivesMatter call for a #ShutDown of racism, and only by taking disruptive direct action are their voices beginning to be heard. Business as usual is a crisis. Therefore, we must #ShutDown.

By no small coincidence, some of these actions affected two major UK airports: Heathrow and Birmingham. For us the links between our struggles are clear. Expanding aviation, which is driving climate chaos, is part of the same way of thinking that is driving racism in the UK. Politicians and businessmen want to expand aviation to make more money for them and their friends. Also, the majority of flights in the UK – over 70% -  are taken by a rich minority of the population – just 15%. Globally, just 5% of people have ever taken a flight. The rich minority benefit, whilst other people pay the cost. This can be through losing their homes and or suffering pollution which affects their health locally and globally. The rich want to profit at the cost of other peoples' lives and communities.

Climate change is already killing 300,000 people a year and this will only get worse. The effects of climate change aren't colour blind, as it is primarily Black, Brown and indigenous people in the Global South who feel the effects first and hardest. The UN estimates there will be 75 million climate refugees by 2030. We're already able to see the effects, for instance, in Syria. It is only because those in power don't consider these lives to matter that they can make such life destroying decisions. The rich in the Global North benefit whilst the Global South pays the price. This is Climate Colonialism. This is Environmental Racism.

Our movements have a lot to learn from one another and have so much in common. Fundamentally, systemic change is needed to bring an end to both racism and climate change. People of colour's struggles have much to teach us, historically and in the present day, about what it means to be affected by these issues and how to fight back. #BlackLivesMatter are bringing these issues to the fore, and showing the rest of us that direct action is necessary to bring about change. It's time to #ShutDown.

Reflections on Sentencing

By The Heathrow 13 - Plane Stupid, February 29, 2016

On the 24th of February, we - the Heathrow 13 - were sentenced to 6 weeks in prison, suspended for 12 months, with an additional 120 to 180 hours community service on top. Whilst we are happy to not be in prison right now, this is far from a complete victory.

As our barrister  QC Kirsty Brimelow, so eloquently argued, there is a long tradition of direct action in the UK, and a convention for sentencing within the legal system. In fact Lord Hoffman, in an influential ruling, went as far as to say that it is the mark of a civilised society to accommodate this, and that the legal convention is for sentences such as a conditional discharge or community service. In this light, our barristers argued that our action clearly did not cross the custodial threshold – i.e. our sentence should not be imprisonment, immediate or suspended. The fact that Judge Wright chose to give us a suspended sentence marks a shift in the way protesters are treated, going against the normal convention. 

Experts have suggested that if magistrates impose custody for minor offences, that produces an incentive for activists to commit more serious offences. This is because more serious crimes are dealt with by a jury, who are more likely to be understanding of the issues. Whilst more radical actions are welcome, and in fact are necessary to tackle the scale of climate change, repression from the judicial system is not.

As we went into court on the 24th, all of us were prepared for the possibility for prison. We all experienced a rollercoaster of emotions, from fear and stress to defiance and pride. The support and love we were shown by family, friends and the wider movement made us feel all the more ready to deal with a potential prison sentence. Had we gone to prison, we would have depended on this support network around us. We all feel so grateful for this.

Yet, we should reflect on this as a form of privilege. There are over 85,000 people in prison in the UK, not including immigration detention centres, secure children's homes or those detained under the Mental Health Act. Those imprisoned are disproportionately from poor, minority backgrounds and are likely to have suffered various forms of abuse in their lives. Vulnerable people are the ones being targeted by the judicial system. These people are highly unlikely to be able to gain the same kind of support a high profile privileged group such as ours could.

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