Monday 26 October 2009

Climate Camp - Why Dialogue Is Vital

The November issue of Labour Briefing includes the following response, by Conor O’Brien from the Camp for Climate Action, to my earlier article "Climate Camp - Which Side Are We On?"

We want to respond to the points raised by Kevin Blowe (Briefing, October) when he asked how the traditional left can engage with the climate camp movement. We accept that the Camp for Climate Action has made mistakes, but that there is much still to be gained from dialogue between the Camp and workers.

Climate Camp, with its sophisticated media and outreach groups presenting a well honed image, can come across as being a playground of the bourgeoisie. Though there is a clear objective of building a radical mass movement around the imminent dangers of climate change, its radical nature often gets lost in the process, with the emphasis in discussion on the need for immediate action.

At times there have been too many glib statements about how this is to be achieved which are unrepresentative of most of those who actually get on with the day to day practicalities of the camp and fighting climate change. Likewise, some of the debates and guest speakers have shown a lack of understanding of some of the issues.

The camp is a movement. No one voice represents everyone – which is often forgotten by those outside its processes. Rather, the camp is about debate and dialogue, and it should be seen as a space in which that can happen rather than being the sole voice of grassroot climate change activism. The very openness of the Camp, a deliberate choice, is actually one of its strongest points, as it allows diverse groups to come together and seek solutions. Unfortunately, much of the criticism thrown at us comes from those who misunderstand this openness and assume we are being vague or apolitical.

We are actually very political. Underlying the Camp is a rejection of the state and corporations as they are unable to halt climate change or the exploitation that has led to it. The Camp’s roots are in the anti-capitalist movement and in the G8 protests of 2005, as well as other grassroots, direct action, environmental campaigns – all of which provide radical critiques which guide the Climate Camp.

We are organised on anarchist principles (consensus decision making, flat structures and autonomous working groups), yet we avoid being prescriptive, allowing groups to come together and find common ground. Diversity of opinion (though we reject all discrimination, racism, right wing politics, and so on) is crucial if we are to achieve a critical mass.

This method has side effects. In particular there is a division of labour among those involved. Anarchist and working class activists have focused on the practicalities of setting up the camp, while the liberals and middle classes have presented it to the outside world. Sadly, there is often more focus on the backgrounds of those standing in front of the camera than on discovering the nature of those actually making it all happen.

This is being recognised and rectified, but it is important to realise that the Camp is a sprawling diversity of opinions and people. The success of that engagement alone should not be ignored in an era when political apathy is more and more the norm. We have existed for only four years, and a great deal of energy has been spent on rapid growth as we often punch above our weight (challenging the false solutions of carbon capture and storage, or showing solidarity with the residents of Sipson in the face of the third runway at Heathrow).

It is therefore hardly surprising that there are, as Kevin Blowe rightly points out, many gaps in the knowledge of past struggles. However, there is a willingness to learn, and the Camp has actually created a space for this knowledge to be passed on. It was partly for this reason that Arthur Scargill was invited to the 2008 camp at Kingsnorth.

Another error was not prioritising the need to make closer links with the workers’ movement. This was because for the first few years we were still finding our feet politically. It is now recognised that, in order to help shape our thoughts, a more direct input from workers is needed. This process, begun at Heathrow, has grown since then – if not as visibly as it should.

One achievement of the Climate Camp within the wider climate justice movement has been to start a dialogue with workers. Admittedly, the camp at Heathrow was rocky, though campers did join protests with striking workers. Since then Workers Climate Action has developed into a group to facilitate a more direct rapport between the Camp and workers. Another notable achievement was the solidarity shown by Climate Campers with the Vestas strike, showing it is possible to build links between the workers’ and climate movements.

Dialogue is a two way process needing commitment from both sides, but the criticism levelled by the left is often dismissive rather than constructive. We hope this article dispels some of the myths that have grown up around the Camp, demonstrating that we have more in common than seems the case.

Climate change is real, but if we expect the Government or bosses to provide solutions then we are all in trouble. The position of the Climate Camp is that effective solutions cannot be more of the same. If we are to rely on fossil fuels it condemns us all, workers and campers alike. Protecting jobs in the short term is not a viable strategy when everything will become threatened.

We need a just transition of society which reshapes our industrial base and puts it under the control of workers, but in such a way that environmental concerns are integral. The Climate Camp does not claim to have all the answers. Our hope is that by joining with the workers we can find realistic solutions to the mess that the Government and bosses have got us into, and that together we can reshape the political landscape.

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