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Ewan Kerr

Green and Red in the Frame

By Ewan Kerr - Scottish Left Review #77, July & August 2013 (used by permission of the author).

“Outside party politics new social movements, including environmental, anti-cuts and feminist groups, have not come together sufficiently with the old, defensive organisations of the working class to produce the coalition that might make them an effective political force” (S Hall, The Guardian 2 April 2013)

As the above quote by Stuart Hall illustrates, contemporary social movements and progressive organisations face an on-going problem: they struggle to form effective and inter-movement forms of organisation and collective action. It is widely recognised now that the political left’s main failings are by in large a result of the often fragmented identities of different groups. This in itself should not be cause for concern, as left-wing political theory and action depends upon the mantra of unity in diversity. It can though prevent groups who share a natural affinity with each other from organising coalitions which are both effective and long term, while also limit the ability to develop strategies for deeper and more meaningful co-operation. Some explanation for such divisions I believe can be found through an examination of a well-established approach to coalition forming, that of framing. Framing, in essence, seeks to align values, ideology and activities in order to construct common viewpoints and form a stronger sense of collective identity.

Featured in the last issue of SLR was an excellent article by David Eyre, which offered a useful introduction to the idea of framing. The article provided a concise and tidy description and explanation of framing, although focused very much upon values on a national basis, and efforts to change people’s attitudes. This brief article seeks to build upon this, and offer an example drawn from labour-environmental coalition building. This will involve two distinct discourses which are used to frame such blue-green coalitions, that is the Jobs Vs. The Environment dilemma and Just Transition. Each illustrates that though the creation of frames groups can either be framed as having mutually exclusive or inclusive interests, which on one hand can act as a barrier to potentially prevent effective coalition work, or on the other facilitate co-operation though the creation of a discourse which appeals to the deep seated interests of both environmental organisations and organised labour groups. As Jakopovich (2009) states in his 2009 article Uniting to Win;

“The construction of shared experiences and common or complementary perceptions of interest… is at the heart of more successful and permanent coalition building.”

That past efforts towards co-operation between environmental and labour organisations have often been characterised by conflict and distrust is an unfortunate reality. On the face of it, it’s difficult to understand how two groups who subscribe to many of the same values have such acrimonious relations. Burgman’s (in 2013’s Trade Unions in the Green Economy) evaluation of this is lengthy, but worth quoting in full:

“Capitalist economies are characterised by the underuse of labour resources and overuse of environmental resources. Corporations tend to both reduce labour costs and to use the cheapest production methods possible, regardless of ecological consequence. Thus employment options are restricted at the same time as the planetary environment is degraded.”

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