Extinction Rebellion are once again leading the way in how to organise a mass street protest movement. This week, the climate group have for the second time this year organised a significant presence across the capital, despite facing a much stronger police clampdown than previously.
Many on the left share questions regarding their overarching strategy. But almost everyone who believes in the power of social movements to bring about change will be impressed by the way XR activists, along with the youth climate strikers, have managed to transform the conversation around the climate crisis, and focus greater attention on this most urgent of issues.
The climate and anti-Brexit movements are the two biggest street protest movements of this highly politicised moment, and it isn’t hard to understand why. The climate emergency is the most important long-term issue we face, and we have just a decade to significantly shift course according to the UN’s intergovernmental panel on climate change.
Meanwhile, Brexit is the most immediate political and economic threat to working-class people – especially migrant workers – up and down the country, with jobs, standards and rights all on the line. It is also a threat to the type of cross-border, international cooperation we need to address the climate crisis effectively.
The two causes have significant overlap. Both the climate crisis and Brexit are driven by the populist-right, with climate change denialism and ‘sovereigntist’ nationalism both claiming that powerful global forces, such as supranational bodies, are interfering in the nation state’s divine right to pollute, to do violence at the border, and to slash provisions on behalf of big business.
Brexit is very much the British branch of a new, right-wing international movement that has already taken major scalps in Brazil with Jair Bolsonaro’s election, and of course in the United States with Donald Trump as President. Both of these racist Presidents are enemies of the environment, with the rainforest burning in Brazil to make way for agribusiness, and international treaties being trampled on by Trump.
Here, the Tories, who initiated the Brexit mess in the first place, are also enemies of the environment. They have already scrapped subsidies for renewable energy, privatised the Green Investment Bank and pushed ahead with fracking. But Brexit provides them with the opportunity to go much further. Neoliberal trade deals will not prioritise the environment, and regulations and protections will be lowered.
Meanwhile, tougher borders will penalise climate refugees, whose numbers will almost certainly increase as this century progresses. Now more than ever, we need the type of international cooperation and solidarity that the right’s Brexit project lashes out against.
Labour has a progressive alternative: a radical Green New Deal, which was enthusiastically approved at our recent party conference; millions of green jobs as part of a new, sustainable economic model with decarbonisation at its heart; extending rights for migrants; and, of course, a public vote on Brexit, giving us the opportunity to campaign for Remain and stave off this disaster project for our democracy, our economy and our environment.
That’s why the Love Socialism group of MPs supports the ongoing actions of groups such as Extinction Rebellion and the UK Student Climate Network. We encourage Labour activists to go along to the protests camps, discuss the big issues, and help the movement flesh out how it can achieve its goals.
It is also why we are calling on all those taking part in XR’s Autumn Uprising to come along to the left bloc on the People’s Vote march on October 19th. Our movements share a common enemy in the insular right, and they should stand shoulder to shoulder in their struggles.
P.S. another thank you to XR for my tree!
Love Socialism is a group of socialist Labour MPs fighting to stop Brexit. We will be writing a column for LabourList every week until the Brexit crisis is over. You can find out more about us here, and follow us on Twitter @LoveSocialism.