At the end of 2009 many people are thinking about Copenhagen, the lousy deal that’s likely to be struck there by the rulers of the world, inadequate to deal with the challenge of climate change. At the start of the year, the news was all about the banking crisis, the credit crunch, the collapse of national institutions, such as Woolworths, and the prospect of recession and more job losses to add to the already high numbers of unemployed.
The year only got worse in this regard, with the looming realisation that all of the mainstream political parties plan to hammer public services in order to ‘restore’ the national finances.
Yet it was also the year when an inspiring minority of people began to resist in ways that have not been seen in the UK for decades. 2009 was a year of occupations, of workplaces by workers, often protesting against job losses and the way they lost them, and of public amenities, by those who rely on them. Not all of these happened in the UK, but all were on our radar throughout the year.
December 2008: Republic Doors and Windows, Chicago
February-March 2009: Waterford Crystal, Ireland
March-April 2009: Prisme packaging, Dundee
March-April 2009: Visteon car parts, Basildon, Belfast and Enfield
April 2009 onwards: Glasgow schools
April 2009 onwards: Lewisham Bridge school
May-August 2009: Ssangyong car factory, South Korea
July-August 2009: Vestas wind turbine blades, Isle of Wight
August 2009: Thomas Cook, Dublin
By no means were all of these battles for ‘green jobs’ – in fact, the only one that was was the occupation at Vestas. But anyone who wants to battle for the planet probably took heart from this wave of militancy. It was good to see people fighting back for once, against the rottenness of the system that had so nearly come crashing down around our ears; against the lack of control most people have over their own lives. At Visteon Enfield the workers were ready to discuss what more socially useful goods they might make at their factory instead of car parts.
The groups of people who took part in these occupations were clearly inspired by each other and these occupations could inspire more struggles. For many of us who took part in or supported these occupations, they are what give us hope that whatever transpires at Copenhagen we can meet the challenge of climate change. A common theme of these battles was a refusal to accept that the market should dictate what gets made, when and where, and whether or not people who have no other means to survive will have a job or not.
They suggest a logic at odds with mainstream politicians’, including Ed Miliband, favourite answer to the challenge of climate change: market solutions. They also demonstrate an impatience: people need jobs and public services now. They cannot wait till things ‘pick up again’ or businesses get their act together, or, in the case of renewable energy, the market ‘grows’ sufficiently. With regard to the Vestas campaign, they remind us that the planet needs renewable energy now, not when ‘green energy’ companies such as Vestas can be satisfied that their share dividend will be high enough!
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