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#Flint to #GrenfellTower: The Elite Only Want to ‘Manage the Disaster’

By staff - It's Going Down, June 22, 2017

Last Friday, thousands of people flooded into the streets of London to protest government cause and response to the recent fire which engulfed the Grenfell Tower, home to hundreds of working-class residents in an upscale part of the city. Angry crowds marched on Kensington Hall, where council officials barricaded themselves inside the building and attempted to keep residents locked out. Even Prime Minister Theresa May was forced to remain inside a church and then was chased away while the angry crowd chanted, “Shame on you!” Between 100 to 150 residents are estimated to have perished in the fire, all in one of the richest neighborhoods in one of the most wealthy cities in the world.

What has happened in London is disgusting, and it is caused by a system of neoliberalism which has sought to cut costs at every corner for the sake of transferring wealth away from workers and the poor and into the hands of the super-rich. Moreover, the over 100 people that died most horrifically in the fire could have been saved if basic precautions would have been implemented and complaints from residents for repairs would have been listened too. Instead, the Conservative Council and the property management firm that ran Grenfell, refused to listen to requests from people who referred to the tower as a literal “death trap.”

The same horrorshow repeats itself across the Atlantic Ocean, where in the United States poverty and the wealth gap grows, living standards are attacked, and despite presenting itself as a force against ‘globalism,’ the Trump administration attacks workers, the poor, and the environment in order to make America great again for the billionaire class which it serves. Just today, the Republicans released their newly updated version of a health care plan that calls for the slashing of medicaid and basic safety nets and programs. 

In Flint, Michigan, which has been gutted, abandoned, and left behind by large corporations, thousands of residents face potential home foreclosure and still have to rely on bottled water, as elected officials which created the current water crisis are only now starting to face legal reprimand.

Meanwhile, in St. Paul, Minnesota, a police officer is let free without any charges after murdering Philando Castile, a young African-American man who was pulled over in a traffic stop because the officer thought his nose resembled that of a possible robbery suspect. During the stop, Castile told the officer he was legally licensed to carry a concealed weapon and as he was reaching into his pockets, police officer Yanez shot him 7 times as Castile’s girlfriend recorded the entire incident. Before his death, Castile worked as a nutrition supervisor at a local school, and was reportedly pulled over by police 52 times.

Ecologist Special Report: Divesting from investment in fossil fuels gains momentum in the UK

By Remo Bebié, Finance Dialogue - Ecologist, May 15, 2017

Bill McKibben, Author and co-founder of 350.org is categoric that one of the key ways to tackle climate change is through financial channels: "There is no question we are currently in a state of emergency on climate change. Day in day out people are dying from the effects of climate change. There are many ways to confront this emergency and divestment allows us to get in the way of the money financing the fossil fuel projects behind this crisis.

"The fact that the fossil fuel divestment movement has grown exponentially in the last few years is the best news ever. From the Pacific Islands to South Africa, from the United States to Germany, people are standing up and challenging the power of the fossil fuel industry."

And in the UK too, the divestment movement is now gathering momentum.

Only last week, 50 MPs announced their backing of a campaign calling on parliament's £612m pension fund to divest from fossil fuels.

Faith groups too are also increasingly moving out of fossil fuel investments. Earlier this month, more than a quarter of Britain's Quaker meetings pledged to divest and the Catholic Church is also taking stand ("the Catholic fossil fuel divestment movement has gained further momentum as nine more institutions pull out of fossil fuels, citing a "political impasse" around US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement." )

In late January, the Irish Parliament voted in favour of a law requiring the country's £6.8 billion Ireland Strategic Investment Fund to divest from all fossil fuels over the next five years. The story went viral on social media.

Three weeks ago, Norway's largest private pension fund, Storebrand, launched two new fossil free funds, bringing their fossil free fund portfolio to $1.2 billion. Storebrand also warned that the Norwegian government is overly exposed to fossil fuels through its $900 billion sovereign wealth fund, even though it has already taken significant steps to reduce exposure in the past.

Momentum is gathering at such a speed in the UK it appears to be approaching a tipping point: Waltham Forest and Southwark, two local government pension schemes for boroughs in London, have pledged to fully divest from fossil fuels within the last year, while Hackney's pension fund committed to cut its exposure by 50 percent, as the FT reported recently. Among the UK's Local Government Pension Schemes, these three are on the smaller range, each managing assets between £0.74 and £1.26 billion.  

But examples also include the £2.73 billion Environment Agency's Pension Fund, which is currently ranked second in the Asset Owner Disclosure Project's 2017 ranking (first in 2016) among the world's 500 largest asset owners. The fund is widely considered a global leader in terms of aligning investment strategies with the goals called for in the Paris agreement and reducing financial risks associated with the energy transition.

UK workplace pension scheme NEST, already progressive in terms of integration of Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) issues, has recently added a specific climate tilted fund to it's portfolio. NEST cited "addressing risks and capturing opportunities associated with the move to fight climate change" as reasons for launching the fund. 

Private institutions are taking note too: Last fall, HSBC Bank UK Pension Scheme chose a new climate tilted fund as the equity default option for its £2.6 billion defined contribution (DC) scheme. The scheme's CIO, Mark Thompson, expects the move to deliver "better risk-adjusted return, protection against climate change risks, and a more powerful ESG engagement policy within a passive mandate".

Furthermore, by April 2018, most UK local government schemes are due to be integrated into eight pools, each managing between £12 and £36 billion of pooled assets (see here for a good pooling overview by IPE). Implementation of divestment pledges for individual schemes will depend on the pool structure. The schemes of the London boroughs are already being pooled through London CIV, which recently wrote that it is "focusing on investment strategies the pension fund authorities have shown most demand for, namely: global equity income; sustainable equities; emerging markets and value strategies." 

Many other pools are now in the process of hiring executives: Brunel, the pool which contains the Environment Agency's Pension Fund, and LGPS Central have named new chairs within the last month. The London Pension Fund Authority (LPFA) is currently "seeking to recruit additional Board Members with knowledge and experience of either: 1) Environmental Social and Corporate Governance issues in a pension fund, with a strong commitment to delivering divestment from fossil fuels; or 2) strategic and sustainable infrastructure investment by pension funds, with a breadth of experience across all forms of infrastructure investment." 

All this indicates that more activity may be expected from the UK's public and private institutional investors. And public pressure is rising as well as various UK local government pension schemes are engaged by campaigners as part of the Global Divestment Mobilisation (GDM) with calls for fossil fuel divestment (see here for complete list of LGPS engagements within the Mobilisation).

End Coal actions: from Wales to Westminster

By staff - Reclaim the Power, February 22, 2017

150 people gathered on the beach by Aberthaw power station to demand Green jobs now – Close Aberthaw, on Saturday 28th January. People gathered to demand that Aberthaw power station close and that jobs are found for the current highly skilled employees in the green economy. After a rousing rally with music and food on the beach, the gathered crowd walked to the main entrance of the power station.

RWE npower were expecting us, and as a result there were no works vehicle movements for at least 4 hours, at an entrance which normally has HGVs every few minutes. Gathering at the power station was effective in raising awareness of the issues as well as causing Aberthaw to cancelled all deliveries and the removal of coal ash.

Demo on the beach

Marianne Owens from the PCS union said, “It’s working class people who suffer from this dirty energy,” as she addressed the crowd from the sea wall. She demonstrated that moving to green energy would create more jobs than exist in the fossil fuel industry.

As Chris and Alyson Austin held hands and addressed the crowd, Alyson described how dust from Ffos-y-fran opencast coal mine pervades her house. Communities living near opencast coal mines now experience similar illnesses to deep miners when underground mines operated.

Anne Harris from the Coal Action Network said, “Saturday’s demonstration at Aberhaw power station sent a clear signal to its operators RWE npower and the government, that the public demand that this power station is promptly closed. Children, working people, pensioners, Welsh people and those from as far away as Machylleth and London gathered on the beach.”

There were a number of angry local residents at the demonstration who feel like they’ve been sacrificed to this power station, as highlighted by this comment on the Coal Action Network’s web page about the protest local resident. Roy Shropshire said, “We have lived in Rhoose for almost 40 years, complained many times to the EPA/NRW [Environment Agency and National Resources Wales] of what we considered to be unacceptable levels of pollution… Clearly, there has been a failure to inform us of the known dangers and a disregard to our health and well being. Clearly, those responsible should now be made accountable.”

RWE’s Aberthaw power station kills 400 people a year, 67 of them in Wales, as it pumps out huge quantities of toxic nitrogen oxide. The government lost a case at the European Court of Justice for allowing the power station to poison so many people. UK government had given RWE npower an exemption to EU air quality rules, which should never have been granted.

"Small really is beautiful", claims new report on England's farming

By Kathryn Hindess - The Ecologist, January 4, 2017

"Small-scale food production is more sustainable, provides work for more people, produces food which is consumed locally, has shorter supply chains, and provides greater returns to the farmers," argues author Miles King.

Post-Brexit, he believes: "An England farm support system could inject much more support into small-scale food production."

The Land Workers' Alliance (LWA) agrees. One of eight points raised in its proposed framework for British Agricultural Policy post-Brexit sounds the call: "End the discrimination against small farms".

The report states: "It is unjustifiable for Defra to continue to discriminate against small farms in the allocation of subsidies and collection of farm data."

Instead, Miles King proposes a shift to supporting "small-scale sustainable farming which benefits nature", including paying landowners for the delivery of public goods to society. Public goods "are defined as things which benefit society but do not create a private profit".

Some public goods are: features making up the fabric of the landscape (like hedges, ponds and streams); the provision of clean water, flood prevention; healthy pollinator populations; carbon storage and sequestration; as well as "the many valuable yet intangible things nature provides to people - inspiration, joy, reflection, solace, emotional and spiritual experiences."

"These features need protection and management, but it is right that landowners should be paid to carry out that protection and management on behalf of society," says King.

The EU's Joint Research Centre estimates that food accounts for around a third of the average European's impact on climate change, so policy changes will need to be coupled with awareness campaigns on the benefits of buying local, such as saving long cross-country journeys from farm to plate.

Support for this view is found in a 2013 report from the UN trade and environment review. More than 60 international experts came together to contribute to the Wake Up Before It Is Too Late report, which states that an holistic approach to agricultural management is needed, recognising that "a farmer is not only a producer of agricultural goods, but also a manager of an agro-ecological system that provides quite a number of public goods and services."

Within this approach, there should also be a significant shift from industrial production characterised by monocultures towards "mosaics of sustainable, regenerative production systems that also considerably improve the productivity of small-scale farmers."

Fruits and vegetables would be a useful place to start, suggests Miles King. Defra statistics show that 24 countries accounted for 90% of the fruit and vegetable supply of the UK (UK supplied 23%), but King argues that, "Many types of fruit and vegetable can now be grown in England both outside and under cover, on highly productive but small plots".

Worth noting though, is a point made by the EU GLAMUR global and local food chain assessment project which suggests that new policies will need to recognise the "hybridity and interconnectedness of global and local food systems".

The UK's food culture has been Europeanised since joining the Common Market in 1973, a study by City University (London) states. And nothing makes more apparent than the fact that pizza is now UK childrens' favourite food. Membership of the EU has eased the flow of food, yet at the same time local industries have been rebuilt (there are now approximately 100 more UK artisanal cheeses than in France according to the British Cheese Awards).

The study concludes, "Will the British have the confidence to move forward and accept this remarkable post-war culinary learning?"

Now, post-Brexit, this question is more pertinent than ever. Can new policies balance the need for a shift towards small-scale production (for example of pears and apples that don't need to be imported, but often are), while still satisfying consumer tastes?

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.

What if the workers were in control?

By Hillary Wainwright - Red Pepper, November 2016

Back in the 1970s, with unemployment rising and British industry contracting, workers at the arms company Lucas Aerospace came up with a pioneering plan to retain jobs by proposing alternative, socially-useful applications of the company’s technology and their own skills. The ‘Lucas Plan’ remains one of the most radical and forward thinking attempts ever made by workers to take the steering wheel and directly drive the direction of change.

Forty years later, we are facing a convergence of crises: militarism and nuclear weapons, climate chaos and the destruction of jobs by new technologies and automation. These crises mean we have to start thinking about technology as political, as the Lucas Aerospace workers did, and reopen the debate about industrial conversion and economic democracy.

‘What so inspires me about the Lucas Plan is the democratic egalitarianism which runs through its every part – the work processes, the products and even the very technology they propose.’

This egalitarian ethic inspired Laurence Hall to make the Lucas Plan the focus of a recent national gathering of Young Quakers in Lancaster, up the line from the Trident nuclear submarine yards in Barrow. Eurig Scandrett from the Scottish Green Party made it the theme for Green Party trade unionists because ‘it is the most inspiring example of workers on the shop floor who get self-organised and demand to make what humanity needs.’

The fact that the plan was defeated has not diluted its capacity to inspire. For Eurig Scandrett, its defeat demonstrated that ‘it is the vested interests of the military-industrial machine which is the problem, and that workers liberating their collective brain is where the solution lies.’

The broad outline of the Lucas Aerospace workers’ story was familiar enough in the mid-1970s. Workers faced redundancies, got organised, resisted and insisted that their skills and machinery were not redundant. But here they went further. They drew together alternative ideas with those of supportive academics and, with the encouragement of Tony Benn (then industry secretary in the Labour government), produced their ‘Alternative Corporate Plan for Socially Useful Production’, illustrated with prototypes. Management refused to negotiate. The government, under pressure from the CBI and the City, made gestures of a willingness to talk, but would not move against management. The plan was never implemented, or even seriously considered, although commercial companies elsewhere picked up some of the ideas.

So what are the lessons we can draw from this past experience of ‘ordinary’ people organising and sharing their practical knowledge and skills to illustrate in the present the changes of which we dream? Some of the main ones are discussed below.

The Lucas plan and the politics of technology

By David King - People and Nature, October 26, 2016

The Lucas Plan: how Greens and trade unionists can unite in common cause

By David King - Breaking the Frame, November 2, 2016

Forty years ago workers at Lucas Aerospace created a detailed plan to transition out of the arms industry and into green, sustainable products and technologies, writes David King. it never happened, yet the Lucas Plan provides a blueprint for similar initiatives today to build a deep-rooted, broad-based movement for social, economic and ecological progress.

One problem that environmental campaigns against harmful industries such as nuclear power and weapons, fracking, arms, etc. often face is opposition from trade unions and local people concerned about the impact on jobs.

But as an inspiring initiative by workers themselves in the 1970s showed, it doesn't have to be that way. 2016 is the 40th anniversary of the Lucas Plan.

No, there's no connection to the eponymous Green MP! It was a plan by workers at the Lucas Aerospace arms company to convert the company's production to socially useful products. Amongst their ahead-of-their-time ideas were wind turbines, heat pumps, and hybrid car engines, which are now in widespread use.

At a conference in November trade unionists, environmentalists and peace activists are coming together to celebrate the anniversary and take forward more recent workers' plans like the Million Climate Jobs campaign. We hope the conference will give new impetus towards a 'people's transition' to sustainability with social justice.

Socially useful production

The Lucas Plan came about not as the result of activism from the peace movement, but as a positive response by the Lucas workers themselves, to save their jobs, in the face of recession and planned government defence spending cuts. In the early 1970s the workers at Lucas had organised themselves into a cross-union Combine Committee, which had already been extremely effective in fighting redundancies.

The Combine Committee worked on the plan throughout 1975, when it circulated questionnaires to the workforce requesting product suggestions which answered a social need and could be produced using the workforce's existing skills and technology. Emphasis was also to be put on the way the products were to be made, making sure that workers were not to be deskilled in the process of producing them.

150 product ideas were put forward by the workforce. From them, products were selected to fall into six categories: medical equipment, transport vehicles, improved braking systems, energy conservation, oceanics, and telechiric machines.

New gas drilling sparks fracking showdown in the UK

By Martin Watters - Equal Times, October 26, 2016

A showdown looms over fracking in the UK after a landmark ruling opened the door to the first drilling in five years.

Controversial shale gas projects at several sites in the north of England have received government support, sparking protests from communities, activists and workers.

Earlier this month, the UK government overruled a local council’s decision to block oil and gas company Cuadrilla Resources from test drilling in Lancashire.

Opponents of the controversial practice – whereby shale gas is extracted by pumping chemical-filled liquids deep underground using hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” – said it could result in water contamination and a higher risk of workplace injuries and deaths from accidents and explosions.

Fracking across England was suspended in 2011 after Cuadrilla admitted its drilling activities at a site near Blackpool caused minor earthquakes. The moratorium was lifted in 2012, but since then many drilling applications have been rejected by local councillors or delayed by legal appeals. Moratoria remain in Scotland and Wales, while fracking is banned in Northern Ireland.

The decision by Communities Secretary Sajid Javid to overrule Lancashire council will allow Cuadrilla to drill the first horizontal wells in Britain, despite more than 18,000 objections from local people.

Echoing the former prime minister David Cameron, who said that the government was “going all out for shale”, Javid pledged: “We will take the big decisions that matter to the future of our country as we build an economy that works for everyone, not just the privileged few.”

Cuadrilla’s chief executive Francis Egan sent a strong message to other shale gas companies struggling to convince communities and local councils.

“No doubt other people will be putting forward planning applications and this does demonstrate that they can and should be approved,” Egan said.

A week after the UK’s Labour Party vowed to ban all fracking if it came to power, the Shadow Minister for Energy Barry Gardiner said the decision “bulldozed” community wishes and risked locking Britain into old-fashioned fossil fuel energy.

“Cuadrilla’s own figures on jobs show they would be very temporary, and their claims that fracking will lower British energy bills have been discredited,” Gardiner said in a press statement.

Thousands of community objections were also swept aside earlier this year in May when North Yorkshire council approved fracking near Ryedale by the UK firm Third Energy.

Ninety-seven per cent of the fracking company is owned by multinational banking giant Barclays and this week activists are organising a series of protests targeting the bank for its involvement in fracking.

Meanwhile, the multinational petrochemical giant Ineos is planning 30 new drilling projects in the next 12 months with five mooted before Christmas. Ineos has faced criticism for planning to dump fracking wastewater in the sea and banning morning tea breaks for workers at its Scottish plant.

With more fracking on the horizon – and further petitions, marches and legal appeals almost exhausted – environmental protestors across the UK are calling for an “escalation in direct action tactics”.

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.

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