‘We need a climate movement that can call upon the strategic power of workers and farmers’


The following talk was given by Christine Marie, a member of Socialist Resurgence and the Revolutionary Socialist Network, at an online forum on ecosocialism, sponsored by the RSN on Nov. 7.

Good afternoon. I am speaking today from the land that was the historic home of the Wangunk people, part of the Algonquin cultural groups, and also known as Mattabasett. Until their displacement by colonization, they presided over both sides of the Connecticut River in present-day Middletown and Portland, Conn. Their descendants continue to struggle for recognition as a tribe by the U.S. government and for reparations for land taken in violation of agreements over several centuries.

One is in a unique position speaking from the U.S. in an ecosocialist forum. The U.S. government is not only the power that has enabled the greatest emissions per capita of any nation in the world, but has also long been the head enforcer of international relations of economic, political, and military power that has left the Global South vulnerable to the worst effects of warming, extractivism, and pollution. Washington long dominated the global regime of predatory aid loans from the World Bank and the IMF, whose impact, just from COVID-era lending, has further indebted many countries and imposed requirements that will leave untold millions in greater poverty than ever before.

Oxfam warned today that 84 percent of the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) COVID-19 loans encourage, and in some cases require, poor countries hard hit by the economic fallout from the pandemic to adopt tougher austerity measures in the aftermath of the health crisis.

New analysis by Oxfam finds that 76 out of the 91 IMF loans negotiated with 81 countries since March 2020—when the pandemic was declared—push for belt-tightening that could result in deep cuts to public health-care systems and pension schemes, wage freezes and cuts for public-sector workers such as doctors, nurses and teachers, and cuts in unemployment benefits, like sick pay, all of which leave billions of people less able to cope with the crises of extreme weather and extractivism.

Washington-initiated or backed resource wars for oil or wars to stop a competitor’s advance as a fossil-fuel supplier have been a continuous feature of life on the planet for close to a century, with both bombing and counter-insurgency operations bringing death, infrastructure destruction and misery to millions. And the way of war of Washington’s counter-insurgency campaigns, Roxanne Dunbar reminds us, is rooted in the genocide of those peoples who are indigenous to the North American continent. In the lingo of U.S. imperialist counter-insurgency forces, “Injun Country” is any space where the local population resists them, be it Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Dominican Republic or Guatemala.

We dare not forget that part and parcel of the imperialist exploitation of the globe has always been a pernicious populationism, in which controlling the fertility of Black and Brown women has gone hand in hand with attempts to introduce capitalist exploitation of land in every corner of the globe. From West Africa to Peru, U.S. aid and development programs attempt to manipulate the reproductive lives of Indigenous and farming women, often the first to resist industrial agriculture and extractivism, to reorder society to fit the market. And, of course, the U.S. Department of Defense, alone, is the largest institutional consumer of fossil fuels in the world, creating more planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions than industrialized countries such as Portugal or Sweden. Using and moving troops and weapons accounted for approximately 70% of the DOD’s energy consumption, largely due to the burning of jet and diesel fuel.

Thus, the fight against climate chaos must be, at once, a fight against U.S. imperialism and for a new internationalism that prioritizes the needs of those whom Washington and her allies have made most vulnerable to climate chaos.  And in the U.S., that means, of course, building working-class solidarity with the climate refugees streaming north to the U.S. border from the epicenter of extreme weather in our hemisphere, Central America.

Internationalism is but one element of the bigger, stronger movement we must build to meet this crisis. It cannot be limited to expressions of moral witness, however powerful those might be. It needs to be a movement of millions. A movement animated by the moral power of Indigenous claims for land. A movement led by those from the sacrifice zones of urban and rural America who have nothing to lose and everything to gain. A movement in which, in the U.S., the dismantling of systemic racism is inextricably intertwined. A movement shaped by the youth radicalization underway.

But it also needs to be a movement capable of calling upon the strategic power of working people and farmers because of their relationship to production. It needs to be a movement that can actually develop the capacity to remove the elites who are currently letting the world burn to maintain profits and replace them with a government of those who have no interest in the profit system.

How do we build this kind of movement? Many young people deprived of knowledge of the history of working-class struggle do not yet have confidence that this kind of movement can be built, but socialists believe that it can.

The political polarization in the U.S. that has left large segments of the middle classes and significant parts of the working classes under the sway of right-wing ideology is not an insurmountable obstacle to the kind of movement building we must do. This polarization is the result of the failure of the left and the labor movement to construct an independent working-class fightback in which the ideologies of the right can be confronted and defeated.  It is the result of a strategy of class collaboration in which the union misleaderships tied their cart and the fate of working people to a Democratic Party whose constant attacks on the standard of living and conditions of life of wage earners and the oppressed have discredited our organizations and demoralized our ranks.

Modeling a movement in which the just demands of all strata of working people are deeply integrated with the climate crisis—that is the way forward. We must organize the base in order to force the current leaderships of climate organizations to call mass actions, independent of the Democratic Party. There is no substitute for broadly called actions in which liberal organizations that have authority with working people—churches, the NAACP, community organizations, as well as labor organizations of all kinds—have been pushed to call millions into the streets. We need broad calls to action. But we also must seize the spaces of organizing for such actions to model independent class-based organizing that speaks to the needs of those alienated by the past reliance of the unions on the Democratic Party.

We have to build on the new combativity of a vanguard of the working classes during “Striketober” to help today’s grassroots organizers imagine the untapped power of millions of organized and unorganized workers. We have to build on the radicalization of ex-soldiers like those who organized to be at Standing Rock to help organizers imagine a movement that combines the disgust at the endless wars of the U.S. with the outrage at the neglect of the victims of extreme weather—be it hurricanes or fires or floods.

The history of the United States is filled with the history of movements that moved millions of working people and the oppressed into actions that challenged the status quo in profound ways. The mass organization of workers into unions in the 1930s and the mass strike waves of the immediate postwar period were built on the confidence of important layers of the class that they should have some kind of industrial democracy in which they had a say about production. The civil rights movement, whose early leaderships involved veterans and organizers against gender violence and organizations of self-defense, was motivated by visions of a profoundly different social order in which working people and the oppressed were in new relations with capitalist power.

Antiwar movements, from the Bring the Boys Home movement of World War II to the massive movement against the U.S. war on Vietnam brought every sector of the working classes, including the unions and veterans, into motion against what they perceived as the insanity of Washington’s policies.  These movements were not just episodic marches but repeated mobilizations over years whose ethos impacted every working-class organization in the same way that the demonstrations after the murder of George Floyd changed the discussion in every part of our work and social lives.

We have every reason to believe that the current crisis of authority of Washington and other capitalist governments—a combination of the capitalist economic crisis born of the falling rate of profit, the unwillingness of elites to protect their populations from the pandemic, and the increasing manifestations of global warming—make such a broad and deep movement possible even in the U.S. 

Let’s look at the response of working people to the crisis of public health and the economy in the first year of COVID. When Washington failed to invoke the Defense Production Act to produce to mitigate the pandemic, and companies threatened closures due to pandemic-induced economic downturn, the workers organized by the IUE-CWA at General Electric in Massachusetts demanded that their aircraft production plant be retooled to produce ventilators. Schooled by their union leadership in the logic of disaster capitalism, they easily began to think of their place in production as part of the working-class solution to the social crisis that was unfolding.

Similarly, in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, organizations of the Black and Latino populations preyed upon by gentrification and neglect in the wake of Katrina and now Ida have organized to fight back, utilizing not only community organizations but their unions as well.

Only five or so years ago, there were new initiatives that suggested the fruitful collaborations that could come. One of my first climate actions in New England centered on the fight against the largest coal-fired power plant in the region. One of our rallies was headlined by a coal miner and his daughter who lost too many relatives to black lung and too many mountains to mountain-top removal. They called for the climate movement to support the efforts of miners to get safer work and to preserve their homelands. They toured the country, telling the truth about corporate mining and its toll on working people.

In my own working life, I had the privilege of being in the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers Union when they fought for contractually guaranteed union-community committees to shut down unsafe plants, with the workers taking responsibility to keep the community informed of threats to their well-being. And in that union, I was given time as a rank and filer to go from work station to work station and local to local to talk about the need for an independent political party based on the unions and organizations of the oppressed. When given the chance and support, working people will try to utilize all of their organizations to bring safety and security to their friends, families, and coworkers.

These are the forces that, in the course of movement building, can learn to use their strategic power in production, transportation, and the work of social reproduction to seriously challenge the failure of the government to act to stop fossil-fuel extraction and reorganize the economic and social order so that they can, as the Labor Sustainablity Network says, make a living on a living planet.

In the course of this struggle, hugely important concessions can be won. And equally important, it is in this struggle that an independent working-class political party, and perhaps an independent Black political party rooted in the working class, a party capable of fighting for political power, can be constructed. Without such a political instrument, we cannot hope to use the power of a state to quickly and dramatically reorganize production, agriculture, transportation, and international relations in a way that can maximize the survival of our species.

This means that every decision we make about the kind of movement we want has to begin with this question: Will this action give more layers of working people experience in the struggle? Will building this action provide the space in which growing layers of working people can gain confidence in their own power? Will building this action provide spaces in which working people can analyze the government’s responses from a class point of view and gain the knowledge that will help them understand why their class needs to take political power away from those reliant on profit? Will there be spaces in which working people can explore the history of class struggle and all that has been learned about effective strategy and tactics?

This is our challenge. To inspire the movements as they are—the climate movement per se, the labor movement, the movements against systemic racism—to be part of creating the kind of organizing spaces and the kind of mass actions that can involve ever greater numbers of those with strategic power in a class society, those who can start and stop industrial and agricultural production, move or not move goods, who can utilize land well to prevent catastrophe, and so on. And in that process to win significant numbers to building organizations of independent class power, including a political party with the vision of winning the power to reorganize all of society on the basis of human need.

History shows that that none of this can happen without the deliberate  organization and directed intervention of ecosocialists right now. If you want to be part of that, please reach out to the sponsor of this forum, the Revolutionary Socialist Network and its component groups.

Other panelists at the Nov. 7 webinar sponsored by the Revolutionary Socialist Network included: Samanta Wenckstern, University of Sao Paulo and member of the PSTU in Brazil; and Elham Hoominfar, assistant professor, Northwestern University, researcher on water transfer projects in Iran. Daniel Tanuro, eco-socialist activist and writer, supporter of the Fourth International from Belgium, was prevented from appearing on the panel because of a family emergency.

Photo: Indigenous people protest at the COP26 meeting in Glasgow. (Murdo Macleod / Guardian)

Leave a Reply