Temporary blog of the CWI

Britain: Fracking paused – fight for a full ban and a socialist energy plan

The ‘moratorium’ on fracking announced by the British Tory government is both a desperate pre-election stunt and a significant victory for anti-fracking campaigners. It is the first concrete victory of the climate crisis protests and will give enormous heart to activists to fight for a total ban.

By Hugh Caffrey, Socialist Alternative (CWI in England, Wales & Scotland)

The government says the ban will be lifted ‘if the science changes’. Jeremy Corbyn is quite right to say that this will ‘change’ the day after the general election if the Tories win! Defeating the Tories and electing a Corbyn-led Labour majority government to implement a full ban on fracking is the next step. Doing that requires a mass campaign. Labour needs to reach out to all the anti-fracking, climate strike and Extinction Rebelllion (XR) groups and mobilise a powerful environmental component of mass campaigning at the general election – starting with the full fracking ban as part of a Green New Deal with socialist policies.

Fracking has been temporarily defeated by popular opposition, as the Financial Times energy commentator recognised, “If the UK fracking industry had not been halted by concerns over earthquakes, the economics of trying to produce small amounts of gas in the face of strong local opposition would have forced it out of business eventually.” Despite vicious police brutality, protests against fracking ‘testing’ sites and particularly the actual gas extraction site at Preston New Road in Lancashire have made the costs of production prohibitively high. 

Struggle works, and mass struggle can prove too much for the state forces to simply physically repress. Fracking is teetering on the edge of going bust in Britain and if the pause ultimately provokes the foreign funders of fracking to withdraw their support, it could financially collapse completely. In the meantime it will seek to cling on by continuing activities related to fracking, and all of these must be opposed and all of the holes in the Tory pause exposed.

Fracking got started in the UK because of the capitalist energy market and speculative investments. Ultimately the bail-out of the banks, by flooding the financial sector with cheap cash for them to profit from, helped get fracking underway! It’s our money they’re using to destroy our planet! Mass struggle against all aspects of the climate crisis, against the most polluting companies, for immediate action at local authority level, and so on, can force further concessions even before the 12 December. If the Tories are returned, it will be necessary to redouble a huge movement to block fracking, and the trade unions must start to play a significant part in this.

Labour’s policies point in the right direction. Banning fracking, renationalising the energy grid, developing local power generation, investing in renewables: these are all policies we support. The trade unions need to proactively campaign to reassure workers in polluting industries that their skills are needed in transitioning from polluting to sustainable industries. On the basis of left policies rather than the capitalist profit drive then workers’ jobs are safe, for example there are decades of work in decommissioning nuclear power stations. Fracking creates a handful of mostly poorly paid jobs and a massive expansion of renewable energy would create far more jobs directly and indirectly. 

The likes of the fracking bosses and energy companies won’t meekly accept this hammering of their profits though and will seek to undermine these policies in every way they can. Tackling their sabotage needs to be linked with the question of going further anyway in order to really tackle the capitalist source of the climate crisis. 

Some of the left trade unions and Labour local constituency parties put forward a motion for a ‘socialist green new deal’ at Labour’s conference, which included widespread public ownership of energy and transport, major investment in sustainable manufacturing and construction, a ‘worker-led’ transition to sustainability, and a very positive internationalist approach. These ideas being discussed in the Labour and trade union movement are a major step forward. These policies should be taken up by the left of Labour and the unions to push a serious discussion about the role of workers and public ownership in changing society and addressing the climate crisis. It should be the basis for local Labour parties and the trade union movement linking up with the climate strike and XR groups to hold ‘climate strike assemblies’ on and immediately after the next climate strike date, to discuss these kinds of ideas. 

We would go further still. The ‘socialist green new deal’ idea has socialist elements to it which we fully support. However, not actually breaking with capitalism leaves the capitalists able to attack. The banks would seek to withhold funds and cause financial chaos: big finance needs to be taken into public ownership. Big construction companies would overcharge or refuse to collaborate, as would the big manufacturing enterprises, and these companies hold much of the necessary resources. These too need to be taken into public ownership. 

The courts and police would be used to obstruct left policies being carried out – we need an accountable judicial system that starts with the election of judges and democratic community control over the police force. We need public ownership of the land, to enable the necessary construction projects but also to safeguard the environment and step towards a sustainable agricultural system – this means nationalising the property of the big landlords and landed estates and agri-business with which less than 1% of the English population owns over half the land. And we need to take other companies such as the supermarkets into public ownership so they are run for people’s needs and sustainability. 

We need democratic control and management of all publicly-owned companies, land, services and industries, by those who work in them and those who rely on them, with organised workers at the core and a strong voice for consumers and service-users. We need a joined-up socialist plan to take the kind of very urgent investment measures proposed by Corbyn and the left of the Labour party, which capitalism is incapable of accepting. We need internationalism, linking up with mass movements globally and pointing towards a socialist future, understanding that some of our worst enemies are the likes of Trump and Bolsonaro but that the European Union is also a major obstacle and that we need to link up with the workers’ movements and struggles of the oppressed, not ‘less bad’ institutions of capitalism. 

We need mass struggle to win left policies, we need mass struggle to defend left policies, and we need mass struggle to overthrow capitalism and establish the basis for a sustainable socialist future. We need a revolutionary socialist organisation to fight for this, and that is what Socialist Alternative and the Committee for a Workers’ International is about. Agree with us? Then join us today.