Upside Down

The repeated editorial structure of local news over the last week started with the long-standing and terribly tedious weatherman (he presents as a traditional suit-and-tie’d sis male) showing the map of extreme heat that enveloped us. He offered two smiling sentences to explain it, summing-up with it’s unusually hot for this time of year.

The next seven minutes would be offered by a young journalist on the beach celebrating the heatwave and vox-popping towards her climactic sprint with a board into the 4-inch surf. Her interviews were all of joyous sunbathers and ice-cream sellers, with one seller crest-fallen at the lack of surf for the seeking of surf-boards, delivering journalistic balance to reassure that there’s always a downside to the very best that life has to offer. A sunny summer is all we need.

Were this a one-time aberration I wouldn’t be writing, but this is the mainstream and downstream normal narrative about the record-breaking weather. Nothing to worry about. Yet this is likely to be the coldest summer any of us will experience.

No doubt the coming floods and storms this winter will herald a cacophony of joyous fun-lovers seeking to surf the waves pouring down high streets and enjoying a mince pie supplied by the charitable soup kitchen for the suddenly homeless shivering in the hastily transitioned and mattressed local church hall.

The endless denial of the accelerating and deepening global climate catastrophe is only surpassed by the refusal to identify, let alone discuss, the record profits being made by fossil fuel companies and supermarkets at the expense of crisis-levels of inflation and poverty.

Now, those of us who have long campaigned for “system change not climate change” are being almost imperceptibly silenced by those arguing for “system change not poverty”. Yet the two are intrinsically linked.

It is the fossil-fuelled economy that has brought us into the tipping point for climate Armageddon, and the fossil-fuelled economy that has created boundless profits accumulated by an absurdly wealthy and powerful few at the expense of the rest of us – peoples and societies. 

The welcome return of strike action, accompanied by pressure groups clamouring for more “targeted help” for those in fuel poverty (a well used concept now encompassing most of us, to the disconcertion of those charities created to give alms to the poor) is drowning-out the issue of runaway global heating and the extreme weather it is causing.

The only answer to fuel poverty is system change, the only answer to climate catastrophe is precisely the same. Let’s look: when the utilities – petrol, coal, gas, electricity generation, water & sewage, public transport and health services – were run by government bodies under democratic control we could all afford them. Indeed, in my youth many regions didn’t pay at all for water or sewage, it was that cheap and funded through general taxation. 

Even the world-destroying oil giant BP was originally 51% owned by the British Government by way of its imperialist conquest in Iran, as the Anglo-Persian Oil Company. Of course, government ownership didn’t stop the imperialist rape and pillage that continues transnationally today (nationalisation is no panacea), but even the modicum of democracy allowed for the potential for price controls use of profits. In today’s terms, renationalised oil and gas could ensure fast transition.

Shell oil was originally “Royal Dutch Petroleum” owned by the government of today’s Netherlands…but I digress. The point is we used to have some – not nearly enough – voice over our utilities.

The call for renationalisation is just that. We, the People, used to own all these resources, managed, albeit by government bodies directed by politicians supposedly democratically elected by we, the People. When this is explained to the young they cannot conceive of it. Yet it is in my close memory, and I’m yet to enter the age of infirmity.

The Capitalist Class did everything to gain total control of production. Deregulation. Pro-profit, anti union and anti-environment laws. The small State. Truss’s inheritance.

The neoliberal project, directed by Ridley in the 1970’s (you may wish to look-up the Ridley Report) and puppet-headed by the megalomaniacal Margaret Thatcher in the ‘80’s, forced system-change using the UK as a test-tube laboratory for a version of free-market economics. Because of our trade-union movement’s proud history and capacity at that time, the UK experiment was slower to mature than its counterpart (a similar-but-not-the-same experiment) in the United States, headed by semi-literate charlatan actor, President Ronald Reagan. 

The previous post-war system of economics favoured a “mixed-economy” approach whilst thoroughly embracing the continued accumulation of wealth and power in the hands of the very few.  Sometimes, and somewhat loosely, referred to as Keynsianism, this model placed some limits on how much profit a company could make, using a government-produced legal system that placed caps on proportions of surplus value extracted from wages and prices by the owners of Capital.

Caps on Capital. No excessive profits, ensured by taxing the rich and the corporations. The 95p in the £ tax on the super-rich (sadly the subject of the misguided Beatles song, Taxman) showed that a degree of socialism could live alongside and inside Capitalism to ensure social housing, comprehensive education of quality, a National Health Service immediately available to all regardless of income, cheap and abundant public transport, and very cheap utilities. No fuel poverty.

Marxist revolutionaries always said this couldn’t last, although we always defended every last piece of that social infrastructure to the very end, in the interests of the working class. The general Marxist analysis of how capitalism works – the economic priorities of accumulation of private wealth and maintenance of cheap labour through  global competition – ensures the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. In short, Capitalism can only last for so long as the working class allow it to by more of us working harder for longer for less income and diminishing quality of life.

In the end, the Bosses won. The working class fight was dulled and deceived by the reformism as well as full-blown collaboration at times, of the Labour Party and trade union leadership. True, the neoliberal experiment in Britain was slowed, at times to a full stop, by nothing other than the power of the working class invoking direct action of the most fierce kind. Every branch of utilities took strike action in the 1980’s to stop neoliberal privatisation, and fought hard, much of the fights being illegal occupations and wildcat walkouts.

The Great Miners Strike cost Thatcher’s Government more than all previous strike action put together. The local council workers struck, even in a few cases alongside their elected councillors, to defend municipal socialism that ensured libraries and swimming pools and street cleansing and parks and recreation and adult education and youth clubs and, well, social infrastructure. The DHSS workers took strike action to defend the comparatively decent system of Welfare Benefits, and Ambulance Workers took strike action to defend the national and very well co-ordinated health service.

I will not have it that we didn’t fight for the future generations to come. We fought like lions! True, our history is peppered with false dawns, with shoddy compromises, with careerist turncoats, false leaderships, undercover Tory infiltrators and Police rapists, but at the base, within the rank-and-file of organised labour, in Truth we fought. And lost. 

The Capitalists took all our common wealth, taxing us high and then taking the taxes for themselves in the form of subsidies and incentives and “breaks” – especially the banks, fossil fuel and military industries – a kind of socialism for the rich whilst the 99% pay dear.

The neoliberals, conceived in greed and born in the “50’s” to rage against any common ownership of their potential cash-piles, are now free to be seen as the billionaires they are, brandishing their unaccountable global power plunging billions of human souls into misery. Accumulation of private wealth is their creed, and they appear to be stockpiling record amounts in some misguided idea that they and their kin can survive all climate breakdown or nuclear fallout.

Today’s cry for renationalisation takes on a new but not impossible element. Not only has it happened before (and so can again), but now the demand for levels of emission-reduction and lower energy use if we are to preserve any vestige of decent human society means it has to happen again, and very quickly.~

The strikes by rail workers, train drivers and salaried staff include a political demand for renationalisation of rail transport under democratic control. Climate activists know the same demand for system change is essential. Renationalise under democratic control (for example, a National Climate Service) to :

  • Put an end the private car conceptually and materially, and that means an effective, integrated and affordable public transport system funded by taxation (the more you have, the greater proportion you pay into the common weal);
  • Ensure an integrated Public Health Service to manage the increasing demands, not so much an ageing population being blamed for everything, but the growing ill-health caused by climate changes encouraging viruses, heat-stroke, food shortages and, not least, emotional distress.
  • Fast-track home insulation and the emergency transition from fossil-fuelled heating, lighting and cooking. A new programme of council housing as a template, including enforced compulsory-purchase of private tenancies from bad landlords;
  • Compulsory renationalisation (without compensation) of all fossil-fuel companies with structural links to the UK government (identified primarily by the £10,500,000,000 tax donations they currently receive), with immediate lowering of energy prices and the emergency investment of their resources into renewable energy production;
  • Redistribution of off-shore and on-shore corporate and banking profits for liveable welfare benefits and social services;
  • Workers control of the industries to ensure the people who do and know the work are the ones making the policy and decisions about production and distribution.
  • Oh, and make food, water, housing, education and fuel not-for-profit essential life-provisions for all at all times.

More needs to be done. And we should be on strike for both decent wages and system change to stop global climate catastrophe. The Capitalist bosses are tied to the current system of competitive wealth accumulation for doing things and cannot adapt even if they wanted to, which obviously they don’t.

When I say it is up to us to use our power to change the system, I get the immediate response that we are powerless. Well, the currency as well as the history of strikes disprove that. Then I’m told the great powers are so high-up the pyramid that they’re unreachable. Yet most emperors in human history have been overthrown, and all economic systems perish and are replaced. 

When I say System Change not Climate Change, I mean revolution. Turn the pyramid upside down. Let the producers, the workers, be at the top. The Capitalists own everything yet produce nothing but pain and destruction. They must be overthrown.

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