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ecosocialism

Workers’ rights and the fight for climate justice

By D'Arcy Briggs - Spring, July 7, 2022

Low-wage workers have been hit hardest by the pandemic, they were the first to lose their jobs and most likely to get COVID. A new survey shows that workers in the most precarious jobs, who are disproportionately racialized, are directly dealing with the impacts of the worsening climate crisis. Spring Magazine spoke with Jen Kostuchuk of Worker Solidarity Network about the links between climate justice and workers’ rights.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and the Worker Solidarity Network

I’m a settler from Treaty 1 territory, currently working on Lekwungen territory. My experience as a worker in the hospitality industry motivated me to engage with and advocate alongside workers in food service. I’m currently filling the Worker Solidarity Network’s (WSN) climate and labour project coordinator position. WSN is a community-centered organization that fights for worker justice. Through organizing, mutual aid, and legal advocacy, our goal is to support workers through labour injustices and build worker power. 

Given the dual pandemics of Covid-19 and climate change, how have workers been affected?

Between being overworked and understaffed, lay-offs, and termination, workers have been affected in ways that lead to deep vulnerability. But disproportionately, COVID-19 and climate change have hurt essential, low-wage workers in highly gendered and racialized sectors. Many workers in industries like hospitality, retail, and food service, bear the brunt of stolen wages, normalized discrimination, sexual harassment, and harsh working conditions like cooks standing in front of hot grills during heatwaves. 

At the height of the pandemic, I heard from folks whose employers told them to ignore COVID protocols if a customer “wanted it a certain way.” I also heard from food and beverage servers who were asked to remove their masks before customers entered a tip. So in some cases, it’s clear that workers were risking their own health and safety to avoid jeopardizing their income. 

The pandemic fostered an environment where we saw first hand that low-wage workers were deemed essential yet not treated that way. At the same time, we know that the pandemic provided an opportunity to build momentum to expose our most broken systems through mobilizing together for racial, gender, and environmental justice. 

Ecuadorian Indigenous Movement Secures Economic and Climate Justice Victories, Ending National Strike

By Sofía Jarrín Hidalgo - Global Ecosocialist Network, July 5, 2022

Reprinted from Europe Solidaire Sans Frontieres courtesy of Marc Bonhomme.

On June 13, 2022, a National Strike was launched by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), the National Confederation of Peasant, Indigenous, and Black Organizations (FENOCIN), the Council of Indigenous Evangelical Peoples and Organizations (FEINE), alongside social and environmental organizations aligned with the Indigenous Movement.

Although many minimized the mobilizations to be solely about the rising cost of fuel, the protests kept their momentum due to the rising cost of living, which was one of the root causes of the movement. The people of Ecuador have faced immense poverty and unemployment for many months. For 18 days, the national protest sought to generate government action to address the deep systemic crisis that Ecuador is going through, marked by the lack of economic, political, and cultural rights. Today, the Indigenous movement was victorious in securing commitments from the president to address their economic and environmental reality.

In their demands, Indigenous communities sought the implementation of policies to protect the planet and secure a just and ecological transition. One of their key requests was the repeal of Decrees 95 and 151, which were intended to advance extractivism in Amazonian Indigenous territories. In August 2021, the Confederation of Amazonian Indigenous Peoples of Ecuador (CONFENIAE) had already spoken out against implementing these decrees; however, President Lasso decided not to heed this call. Among their main arguments was that the government failed to guarantee protection and respect for their right to free, prior, and informed consultation, much less the internationally respected standards of consent.

Earlier this week, Indigenous leaders and the government entered into dialogue and negotiations. They have since reached a signed agreement including an end to the National Strike and the “state of emergency” declared by the government. There will be a repeal of Executive Decree 95 promoting oil and gas expansion and a reform of Executive Decree 151 affecting the mining sector. Both decrees authorized the government to expand the extractive frontier into Indigenous territories and important conservation and forest areas. The reform of the mining decree is particularly notable because it states that activities cannot happen in protected areas or Indigenous territories, in designated “no-go” zones, archaeological zones, or water protection areas in accordance with the law, and it guarantees the right to free, prior, and informed consultation (not consent) as set forth in the standards dictated by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and Ecuador’s highest court. Fuel prices will also be reduced to a fixed rate, an economic justice victory acknowledging the cost of living crisis. They will use the next 90 days to address the remaining demands through a technical working committee.

The agreements and future discussions are rooted in the Indigenous movement’s ten points. Their agenda aims to generate solutions to combat the sustained deterioration of living conditions, the crisis in the education and health system, the high costs of food and essential services, the expansion of the extractive frontier, and the violation of the collective rights of Indigenous peoples, among other demands.

Book Review: The Future is Degrowth

By Timothée Parrique - Timothée Parrique, July 3, 2022

The best the degrowth literature has to offer served on a silver platter. That’s how I would describe The Future is Degrowth: A Guide to a World beyond Capitalism(June 2022) by Matthias Schmelzer, Andrea Vetter, and Aaron Vansintjan.[1] Reading it, I felt like Neo in The Matrix learning everything there is to know about Kung Fu all at once – “I know degrowth.” 

This kind of synthesis was long overdue. The degrowth literature has grown rather large and I cannot think of a single text that maps it all. Research on degrowth used to be my favourite guide to degrowth but there is only so much you can do in a 20-page article (plus, the literature has more than doubled since it was published in 2018). Degrowth: A vocabulary for a new era (2014) is a good pot luck of perspectives but lacks coherence and depth due to its multi-author, short-entry format. I tried my best in The political economy of degrowth (2019) but the end result is rather cumbersome. 

In The Future is Degrowth, the authors have achieved a colossal Spring cleaning of the field. Sufficiency, dépense, commoning, pluriverse, unequal exchange, conviviality, self-determination, and many more (I have counted more than sixty concepts throughout the book). With such an exhaustive span, this book is to degrowth what the IPCC is to climate science: the best available literature review on the topic. 

But warning: this book is not for the academically faint hearted. If you’re looking for a wide-audience introduction to degrowth, this is not one of them, and I would rather recommend The Case for Degrowth[G. Kallis, S. Paulson, G. D’Alisa, F. Demaria], a shorter, less demanding way of covering the basics. If you’ve never heard of the topic at all, Less is more[Jason Hickel], Post Growth: Life after capitalism[Tim Jackson], and Degrowth [Giorgos Kallis] are also good places to start. 

The Future is Degrowth is rather long (more than 100,000 words) but neatly organised. The literature is chiselled into six tidy lists: 3 dimensions and 7 critiques of growth, 5 currents and 3 principles of degrowth, 6 clusters of proposals, and 3 strategies for change. The book itself is divided in seven chapters. After a long introduction (12% of the total book length), the first two chapters deal with understanding economic growth and its critics (that’s about half of the book). The remaining chapters follow Erik Olin Wright’s famous triad: Chapter 4 is about the desirability of degrowth (11%), Chapter 5 about its viability (13%), and Chapter 6 about its achievability (11%). This leaves us with a short concluding chapter (5%) titled “The future of degrowth.” 

With such a monumental piece of work, I could not resolve myself to write a short review, which would feel like summarising all seasons of Game of Thrones in a single tweet. This book deserves a proper dissection, and so I will here process chapter by chapter, taking all the space needed to summarise its content and, in the end, analyse its (many) strengths and (very few) weaknesses.

TUC Cost of Living Demo: Nationalise to De-Carbonise Energy and Transport

By various - London Green Left Blog and Red Green Labor, June 10, 2022

This is the text of Ecosocialist Alliance leaflet which will be circulated on the TUC demo on Saturday18 June, 11am start, Portland Place, London, W1. Come along and support us if you can, look out for the banner pictured above. Ecosocialism not Extinction!

The media is full of headlines about crises: cost of living, energy prices, health and social care, pandemics - and, less frequently, climate collapse. Mainstream politicians see these as separate crises, while ecosocialists recognise these are interrelated crises of the capitalist system itself.

Insulate Britain activists have been jailed for trying to get the Westminster government to begin a massive programme to insulate homes and Just Stop Oil activists also face jail for their protests outside the Kingsbury oil depot.

Simple measures like insulation and renewable energy would take millions of people out of fuel poverty and would greatly reduce the numbers dying each year because they cannot afford to heat their homes. Britain has the worst record in Europe for this: in 2020, fuel poverty charities estimated such deaths as around 10,000 a year.

Government funded insulation programmes, combined with putting taxpayers' money into renewable energy, would greatly reduce our carbon emissions as well as create thousands of good green jobs.. In addition, our reliance on the profiteering and polluting fossilfuel giants – posting record profits, while continuing to drive the climate and ecological crises – would be massively reduced.

The Tories' record is appalling with millions of working families living below the poverty line. The hike in energy prices will see well over 25% of UK households – 15m people – in fuel poverty. Johnson and Sunak’s subsidies and rebates barely touch the sides.

The British government gives the fossil fuel industry £10 billion a year in tax breaks and subsidies.

The Tories finally bowed to pressure for a windfall tax on dirty fuel producers but we would go much further. All subsidies to oil and gas companies must end now and be switched to renewables. We must take energy companies and road and rail infrastructure into public ownership and rapidly de-carbonise the whole economy. We stand for a rapid ecosocialist transition led by, and in the interests of, working people.

Ecosocialist Alliance is a network of organisations and individuals. We campaign for ecosocialist and ecofeminist solutions to the multiple crises of the system. We are internationalist: the climate crisis will not be solved by any one country, but by collective global action.

We stand firmly with the global south in seeking ecological and social justice.

We reject green capitalist “solutions”, which are unworkable under a capitalist system of infinite growth and accumulation. The planet will only be saved by disposing of this system and replacing it with ecosocialism.

“We Want Everything”: A Four-Day Work Week

By Samantha O’Brien - Rupture, June 9, 2022

“It’s not fair, living this shitty life, the workers said in meetings, in groups at the gates. All the stuff, all the wealth that we make is ours. Enough. We can’t stand it any more, we can’t just be stuff too, goods to be sold. Vogliamo tutto - We want everything”

- Nanni Balestrin

Labour Power

The four-day work week has captivated media headlines internationally, with different countries piloting programmes in the Global North. Seventeen companies have signed up to commit to a pilot programme in Ireland. Thirty companies in the UK are taking part in a new pilot. Workers will maintain one-hundred per cent productivity for eighty per cent of their time.[1] Belgium has given workers the right to request a four-day work week with no loss of pay, effectively condensing their five day work week into four days. This has rightfully attracted criticism, as working time has not reduced, but workers get to maximise their stress levels by working nine and a half hours per day.[2] The central theme of many global campaigns is that the implementation will look different in varying sectors, rosters and working arrangements. The campaign’s main aim is for a shorter working week with no loss of pay and challenging the dominant narrative that long hours equate with greater productivity.[3]

The key demand of socialists has long been a shorter working week with no loss of pay. Karl Marx in Capital describes how the hours that make up the working day mean different things to employees and employers. Workers put in their time to afford the basic necessities in life. Employers buy labour-power, and the value is determined by working time. Any labour-power beyond what is required to produce the necessities of life is surplus-value that employers get for free. It is not necessary for us to work long hours to produce what is needed, but instead employers maximise their profits by taking our surplus value. Marx notes that “the history of capitalist production, the determination of what is a working-day, presents itself as the result of a struggle, a struggle between collective capital, i.e., the class of capitalists, and collective labour, i.e., working-class.”[4]

There are many examples of struggles over shorter working hours throughout history. The eight-hour working day in the Global North was not granted because of benevolent employers or lobbying politicians, but fought for and won through struggle. In 1856, Australian Stonemasons who were working harsh ten hours days walked off their job and eventually won an eight-hour day.[5] The same story was echoed in struggles internationally, with workers taking a collective stand for their pay and conditions. Eleanor Marx, who was a founder of the GMB Union in 1889, fought and won an eight hour workday for gas workers. On May Day in 1890, she also played a crucial role in organising the Hyde Park protest in London. This protest gathered hundreds of thousands of people with the key demand of an eight-hour workday.[6]

Green New Deal agendas in tension: what decarbonisation, for what societal future?

By Les Levidow - London Green Left Blog, May 21, 2022

Green New Deal (GND) agendas have gained significant support as means to reconcile environmental sustainability and a net-zero economy with socio-economic equity. Their transformative vision has attracted proposals such as more public goods, workers’ cooperatives and caring activities. Such proposals stimulate people’s imaginations around pilot schemes prefiguring alternatives to a profit-driven, inequitable high-carbon economy.

Green Parties have elaborated a Green New Deal as an ideal wish-list of such measures, variously called truly green, greener or green-socialist. Green Parties initially have done so with little regard to significant allies, which hopefully would be attracted. 

By contrast, multi-stakeholder alliances became a difficult matter in 2019, when GND agendas were promoted within major political parties such as the US Democratic Party and UK Labour Party. They have undergone internal conflicts over decarbonisation pathways, partly expressing conflicts within the labour movement.

Fossil fuel industries have sought system continuity through decarbonisation technofixes, with political support from their sector’s trade unions, thus associating workers’ secure livelihoods with fossil energy. This agenda complements capitalist frameworks of Green Keynesianism and Green Growth, seeking to reconcile perpetual economic growth with environmental sustainability. This false promise helps to soften or defer societal conflicts over an economically disruptive transition.

By contrast, some public-sector trade unions and environmentalist allies have sought a socio-economic transformation. This would go beyond the fossil fuel industry and GDP-driven growth, towards an economy of sufficiency. Such alliances have been coordinated internationally by Trade Unions for Energy Democracy.

Those divergent agendas have conflicted over decarbonisation technofixes. Their false promises have provided an investment imperative for dubious low-carbon remedies, or an alibi to await their feasibility before abandoning fossil fuels, or both at once. This dominant agenda imagines the nation as a unitary economic space needing technoscientific advance for a global competitive advantage.

Two enemies, one fight: climate disaster and frightful energy bills

By Simon Pirani - People and Nature, May 16, 2022

Two clouds darken the sky. A close-up one: gas and electricity bills have shot up since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and millions of families are struggling to pay. And a bigger, darker, higher one: the climate disaster, and politicians’ refusal to tackle it.

Ultimately, both these threats have a single cause: fossil fuels and the systems of wealth and power that depend on them. We need social movements to link the fight to protect families from unaffordable bills with the fight to move beyond fossil fuels, and in that way turn back global warming.

Here I suggest ways to develop such a movement in the UK, starting by demanding action on home heating.

Consumerism and Degrowth

By Paul-Martin Fearon-Hernandez - London Green Left Blog, May 13, 2022

Our Actions Do Not Exist In a Vacuum

Between every blink of an eye, a hundred Amazon packages are shipped in a constant, ever growing barrage of internet consumerism. The past 20 years have been dominated by Amazon’s unwavering growth and revolution of the world’s shopping scene in never before seen ways. Their success thrives off capitalism's incessant gluttony for infinite growth, exploiting our biological hardwiring (by abusing our dopamine triggers to create a literal addiction to shopping) to draw dollar after dollar from our pockets. Capitalism’s reliance on continuous growth (to power the cycle of surplus to reinvestment) creates a need for constantly increasing consumption, even when the basic needs of a society are already met.

As a result, modern ad campaigns aim to convert wants into needs by directly associating fulfillment with material goods (like a man finding love after wearing a certain cologne or a loving family exchanging gifts as a sign of affection) and solidifying this culture of consumption. Nowadays, companies don’t just sell you a product. By marketing certain aesthetics in fashion, music, lifestyles, advertising sells you an identity. Instead of saying what you could have with this product, it’s what you can be with that product. It’s gotten to a point where just watching people buy stuff has become a market in itself. Shouldn’t that alone raise some alarms?

What most consumers fail to realize, however, is the environmental price tag of their consumption habits. While it’s true that the individual carbon footprint was created to distract the public from the fact that 70% of greenhouse emissions are caused by just 100 companies, this isn’t to say consumers can shrug off all responsibility. The money spent on a Shein haul (a popular website where consumers can buy a variety of items, primarily clothing, for dirt cheap) still directly supports their unethical business practices and the larger system of fast fashion.

Ultimately, these industries survive on the wallets of consumers who dump their dollars into their unsustainable consumption habits. It’s a tricky relationship. Take fast fashion, for example. Recent years have shown an absurd increase in textile consumption and more importantly, textile waste. The U.S.’s textile waste has quintupled since 1980 despite the population only having increased 40%. To make it worse, current data shows over 80% of American clothing consumption ends up in landfills, which produce methane, toxic runoffs, and take up land. 

Fast fashion is just one industry, too. In even worse business practices, like overfishing, 40% of sea creatures caught aren’t even loaded off the boat, they’re just thrown back into the ocean after they’ve already died. After discarding 38 million tonnes of dead sea creatures a year, the industry then goes on to dump record-breaking levels of plastic into the ocean. Reckless, wasteful practices like these are what lead to the collapses of entire ecosystems at rates never before seen. Waste statistics like these—40%, 60%, 80%—should be a clear sign that we are producing far more than we could possibly need, and the environment and global proletariat are paying the price

Capitalism Isn’t the Answer (again)

What’s capitalism’s proposed solution to these problems? More consumption (but this time it's “green”)! The rise of greenwashing, a new marketing trend where products are advertised as more sustainable than they actually are, is a perfect example of capitalism proposing itself as a solution to the problems it created. Preying on consumers’ environmental concerns, companies advertise their products as more environmentally friendly in order to increase sales, despite their new production practices having similar environmental impacts as before. They tell us they can do this whole capitalism thing sustainably, we just have to give them enough time that we don’t have.

Though they continue to promise green capitalism through endless, dangerous pledges of net-zero emissions by 20XX, the current state of things has shown that we don’t have time to pray for capitalism to solve the problem. Some propose divorcing carbon emissions from economic growth often known as “decoupling,” which focuses on breaking the link between economic growth and environmental degradation through recycling, pollution standards, and “green” investment. While these policies may be beneficial, any attempt at decoupling is just putting a bandage on a bullet hole. In fact, decoupling attempts often make things worse, such as in South Korea’s 2009 green growth initiative that tried to revitalize the economy while reducing carbon emissions.

While the plan did stimulate the economy, it also spiked emissions, completely defeating the initial purpose. Needless to say, we are beyond the days of experimenting new ways to make capitalism work for us. It’s time we take steps to move beyond the system that destroys the environment in search of another dollar.

Against a Climate Popular Front

By Graeme Goossens - Candian Dimension, April 18, 2022

I can’t forget those crisp November mornings. I’d stand respectfully still, a Scout’s red sash across my shoulder. I remember the veteran steadying himself with his cane, standing as straight as he still could, crying silently as the “Last Post” rang out.

“How many of you would have fought?” Ms. Allen had asked our class.

Every tiny hand was raised.

The heroism of the Second World War was etched into my memory.

For the left, there are few national myths fit for duty, but author, activist and organizer Seth Klein has called up the the greatest conflict in history to serve as the key parable in the fight against global warming. Just as Canada mobilized for the war, it must now mobilize for climate change. Klein’s recent book, A Good War: Mobilizing Canada for the Climate Emergency, published by ECW Press in September 2020, makes a powerful case against defeatism and timidity.

Yet despite his impressive call to action (A Good War spent 12 weeks on the CBC Books non-fiction bestseller list), Klein misinterprets Canada’s wartime history and misunderstands the capitalist state. Ultimately, his cross-class strategy cannot deliver climate justice.

Klein’s vision of climate politics is unapologetically state-centric. The stunning wartime transformation of the Canadian economy, vigorously directed by the federal government, proves what is possible. Such a transformation can simultaneously create a more equal society, a development good in itself, while winning public support for a difficult program. And if this seems unimaginable in today’s political climate, Klein argues the war teaches us that public opinion can be shifted through bold leadership from actors primarily, but not exclusively, in the state.

A Good War is written for political impact and as such, Klein gets quickly to the point. The book is structured as a series of lessons we can learn from the wartime experience, introduced in boldface for those too busy to read to the end.

His central argument is a historical comparison: Canada’s success during the Second World War demonstrates what is possible and necessary in our fight against climate change today. So why has such a mobilization not yet been repeated in our contemporary struggle against runaway global warming? Here Klein casts a villain in his story. Though he considers picking the fossil fuel industry, he instead settles on what he terms the “new climate denialism” as the key impediment.

Previous denialism dismissed the science on climate change, but today, our primary enemy is a “way of thinking and practice” that accepts the science while obfuscating its implications. This must be overcome through bold leadership. For Klein, Canada demonstrated such leadership in its fight against fascism. Now, he argues, we must wield it again.

Bold leadership, in his view, must seek to rally the public onside. As in the Second World War, this will involve propaganda, but also efforts to combat the inequality which corrodes a sense of common cause. Wartime plans for post-war social democracy must be echoed by today’s Green New Deal. Klein believes economic barriers can be overcome through a massive expansion of state planning. The government should spend whatever it requires and tax as necessary, but also intervene directly through regulation and the creation of new Crown corporations. Concrete ideas such as a jobs guarantee, a federal high-speed rail network and an inheritance tax add texture, but Klein’s argument does not hang on policy specifics.

In part, his text reads as a direct plea to progressive lawmakers. “This book is an invitation to our political leaders,” he writes in the preface, “to reflect on the leaders who saw us through the Second World War and consider who they want to be, and how they wish to be remembered.” The work was researched through a series of interviews with Canadian politicians, activists and academics. He questions parliamentarians and ministers from various parties on the barriers they face, quotes their responses, and replies in good faith. Central to his rebuttal is a poll commissioned for the book demonstrating strong support for emissions mitigation. “The public,” he argues, “is ahead of our politics.” His role for social movements is ultimately to shift our politicians.

A Good War stands at the cutting edge of progressive climate politics. Along with closely related proposals for a Green New Deal, the climate movement has finally identified a program both adequate for the scale of the challenge and capable of assembling a coalition to achieve it. The book should be lauded for making clear that only the state can coordinate transformation at the speed and scale required.

Yet while A Good War is correct that only the state can bring emissions to zero, Klein is wrong to assume that the state can show the markets who’s boss. And because he misunderstands the capitalist state, he proposes a cross-class coalition aiming to inspire “bold leadership” in our elites. Klein’s program is solid, but this strategy cannot win. Capitalists will fight a just transition tooth and nail, and we cannot overcome their resistance in alliance with them.

How movements can maintain their radical vision while winning practical reforms

By Mark Engler and Paul Engler - Waging Nonviolence, April 12, 2022

Forty years of struggle by Brazil's landless workers movement offers lessons on engaging the system without being co-opted.

Ever since it launched its first audacious land occupations in the mid-1980s, in which groups of impoverished farmers took over unused estates in Southern Brazil and turned them into cooperative farms, the Landless Workers Movement (known in Portuguese as the Movement dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra, or MST) has stood as one of the most innovative and inspiring social movements in the world. By 2016, its estimated 1.5 million members had established 2,000 permanent settlements throughout Brazil, with some 350,000 families winning land by organizing for their rights. By the start of the pandemic, the movement also maintained more than 170 community health clinics and 66 food processing facilities, which quickly became vital centers of mutual aid, as the group began giving out huge quantities of food to people in need.

In addition to using direct action to win land reform, the MST has pioneered a program of radical schooling for Brazilian youth and adults, especially those living in rural areas. As of 2018, the movement was operating in 2,000 schools — with thousands of MST-aligned teachers instructing upwards of 250,000 students. Remarkably, although state and local governments fund and administer many of these schools, the MST has been able to place its own teachers and implement a radical pedagogy. This includes study of agrarian reform and social justice movements, as well as the ideas behind agroecology — a model of sustainable agriculture that rejects corporate agribusiness.

For movements in the U.S. and beyond wondering how they can engage with the system without being co-opted, the MST offers a powerful example. Many social movement scholars believe that movements can institutionalize their wins over the long-term by having the state and mainstream political parties adopt their demands and programs. However, these scholars also contend that such institutionalization comes at a price: too often, as movement programs are incorporated into mainstream structures, grassroots forces become demobilized, dull their radical edge and lose their ability to exercise disruptive power.

Rebecca Tarlau, a professor of education at Penn State University, believes that it does not have to be this way. In her 2019 book “Occupying Schools, Occupying Land: How the Landless Workers’ Movement Transformed Brazilian Education,” Tarlau argues that the MST provides a model for how activists can use a strategy of “contentious co-governance” to win practical reforms from the state while also resisting cooptation.

We recently spoke with Tarlau to discuss this strategy — as well as the wider lessons we can learn from the 40-year struggle of Brazil’s landless workers. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

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