Only a mass movement can bring about a Green New Deal
Plans for a radical green transformation must be matched by a movement that is rooted in the lives of ordinary people.
Ours is an age of crisis. Britain faces a crisis of inequality, with the Tories’ brutal austerity programme leaving schoolchildren eating from bins and 14 million people living in poverty, whilst the obscene riches of the 1% accumulate yet further. At the same time, we face planetary collapse, with just 11 years left to stop runaway warming.
For too long we have seen these crises as distinct. No longer. The new roadmap to a Green New Deal from the think tank Common Wealth builds on the emerging understanding that it is an unjust and exploitative economic system driving all this. It’s an economy run for the profits of the few which slashes public services while handing out corporate giveaways, including to the fossil fuel industry. And it’s an economic system structured by racist, neo-colonial exploitation which mines the Global South before abandoning it to the resulting crisis.
Hope for a fairer, more prosperous and more sustainable society is inextricably bound up with a radical project to reshape our economy. It’s not about tinkering, and it’s not about personal habit changes – it’s about total transformation. As Mathew Lawrence, Common Wealth’s founder, recently argued: “bravery is our safest choice, radicalism our best hope.”
Common Wealth and groups such as Labour for a Green New Deal, which I co-founded, are coalescing behind a radical Green New Deal: a massive programme of investment and regulation to tackle the climate crisis and eliminate inequality at the same time. As we effect a total economic mobilisation to reach zero carbon by 2030, we can redesign our economy to serve the many, not the few: green unionised jobs for all; energy, housing and food as new human rights; a shorter working week; and a society of communal luxury.
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To reshape society, we need a vision for a new world, a plan for how to get there, and a movement to make it happen. Common Wealth’s upcoming reports provide the plan. Spanning every aspect of society, they offer a roadmap for green transformation. They lay out how we can scale down private car travel and provide fleets of luxurious public transport spanning every corner of Britain; invest in green industry to revitalise regions of the country decimated by neoliberalism; build a natural and digital commons; repurpose finance to serve the common good; and reshape international institutions in the service of universal emancipation, not neo-colonial plunder.
To bring this vision to life, though, we need a movement. Only collective action can transform our society in the service of the many. Drawing inspiration from the workers’ movement, anti-colonial independence struggle and others, we know that visions for a better world must be rooted in mass action on the part of the oppressed. If we want to change things for the many, we need them to be involved. The roots are already there with thousands of schoolchildren taking to the streets demanding a Green New Deal and a future they want to live in.
The Green New Deal must be about empowering the working-class to control its future democratically. It’s not just a grand vision for a different world, it’s a practical plan to improve the lives of each and every person. Community wealth building can create revitalised towns and cities; local and national investment can build cheap and luxurious transit for the many; and municipal renewable programmes can provide free energy as a human right. This could be a new era of democracy and prosperity.
What’s more, the transition to a green economy must be led by workers themselves. After all, workers know their industry better than anyone else. A Green New Deal must give trade unions a framework to power a just transition themselves, supported by a radical Labour government committed to public ownership and procurement – whether that’s wind power in Fife or a new Honda electric car plant in Swindon.
Without such a worker-led strategy, we risk inadvertently repeating the brutality of Thatcherism, cutting off the only livelihoods left to hundreds of thousands of working people and thus entrenching the myth that class politics and climate politics can be pitted against each other.
That is why Labour must lead the way as the only party with an organic base in trade unions and communities across the country. Already the Party’s Community Organising Unit and Shadow BEIS Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey are going around the country, bringing people together in post-industrial areas to reimagine their towns.
Meanwhile, we at Labour for a Green New Deal are building local groups across the UK, from Brighton to Glasgow, to organise in their communities, formulate local Green New Deals in conjunction with Labour councils and build this vision from the ground up. At the same time, we are organising for Party conference, ensuring that the ideas of today become the policy of tomorrow.
While Brexit traps us in political paralysis and the climate crisis worsens daily, the movement for a Green New Deal offers a path to emancipation. By marrying a radical plan with a movement rooted in the lives of ordinary people across the country, we can build a society that works for people and planet alike. Together, we’re building the future we need.
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