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Why Just Stop Oil supports the striking rail workers

Unions have a duty to protect their members from the fossil fuel crisis. But we must all be prepared to go further

Just Stop Oil
20 June 2022, 10.46am

Rail workers from the RMT union protest in London, 18 June 2022


Vuk Valcic/Alamy Live News

Just Stop Oil stands with those making a defiant stand against a harmful government, and against a system that exploits people for their labour as it does the living world for its finite resources.

That includes supporting the railway workers of the RMT union in their planned strike action. We will not deal with the cost of living crisis by forcing ordinary people to work in poverty while companies make record profits. It’s economic illiteracy.

But we also call on the trade union movement to ‘look up’ and recognise what societal collapse will mean for members and their futures if we allow the current carbon economy to continue. According to UN secretary-general António Guterres, there must be no new fossil fuels if we are to avoid an “abyss”. But when confronted with a future without fossil fuels, people respond: “Do you realise how many jobs are in fossil fuels?”

The problem here is short-termism. Ultimately there are no jobs in fossil fuels – there is only destruction and destitution. There are, however, shedloads of jobs that need doing to protect us against climate breakdown and collapse. Real, useful, decent work, not what anthropologist David Graeber famously described as “bullshit jobs”.

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The last 11,700 years are known to geologists as the Holocene, with a period of climate stability that has allowed complex society to flourish. Humanity developed agriculture, art and technology. Everything that has ever been built, manufactured or grown, every right that was fought for and won – it all happened during the Holocene, an era when the average global temperature pretty much remained constant.

Take a moment to consider what was fought so hard for in the last 250 years, and how we now celebrate such moments as crucial in the history of social and political progress. Now imagine losing all of that to the pursuit of profit and power – because that’s what’s happening.

What we do in the next three to four years will determine the future of humanity

David King, former chief scientific adviser to UK government

We are on track for 1.5°C of global warming by 2030 and 2°C by 2050, and this means we face total societal collapse. Unimaginable suffering for billions of people, and the loss of democracy, workers’ rights, human rights. This is what the corporate and political elite are willing to allow to happen in their pursuit of profit, power and business as usual.

The UK government’s response to the oil-driven crisis – cost of living, rapidly rising inflation and the climate emergency – is to clamp down on those who resist. It has recently imprisoned 43 peaceful, ordinary people resisting government climate criminality, and targeted striking workers on a picket line with the arrest of GMB trade union members in Wealden.

The government is planning new laws to restrict strike action on the railways, through the imposition of minimum staffing levels, which would make full strikes illegal. It has passed the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, and the Nationality and Borders Act, and introduced the Public Order Bill. All of these measures are designed to dismantle our human rights one at a time.

Trade unions were legalised in the UK in 1824, following years of protests, because people were prepared to defy the law and collectively withdraw their labour in civil resistance against a harmful system. Well, now we need workers to do this again, to demand jobs that can continue for centuries, not the next ten years. Is it not the duty of trade unions to protect their members’ job security?

There is no time to lose. According to David King, former chief scientific adviser to the UK government, in February 2021: “What we do in the next three to four years will determine the future of humanity.”

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We need to build an enormous grassroots movement, a coalition that empowers ordinary people to resist and break down the barriers that prevent them from acting: the fear of losing their jobs, through illegal strike action or due to a criminal record; the fear of losing their homes as landlords are refused insurance for tenants with convictions. It ought to be the duty of trade unions to protect their members against this.

We need a movement that combines the tactics pioneered by Ghandi, mass strike action, and other forms of civil resistance such as refusal to pay bills (a reprise of the poll tax protests of 1990). We need everyone to contribute what they can based on their experience, skills and connections. There are so many green-labour coalitions out there, but nothing really substantial and radical enough to say: “Enough is enough – civil resistance is not only necessary, it is our collective responsibility.”

Extinction Rebellion, trade unionists, Insulate Britain and Just Stop Oil have supported the recently sacked P&O workers, the Great Ormond Street Hospital security staff in London, and – perhaps ironically – the striking workers at Fawley oil refinery in Southampton. This is the solidarity we need – like the kind shown between the miners and the queer movement in the 1980s. This is what we need to rediscover, with grit, determination and courage. Nothing could be more important because we will be standing in solidarity with life itself.

Just Stop Oil Coalition has teamed up with Jeremy Corbyn’s Peace & Justice Project and is holding a mass rally movement building exercise on 23 July in London.

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