Monday, March 16, 2009

the coal caravan

One of the things that surprised people about last year's Camp for Climate Action against Kingsnorth coal power station was the inclusion of miners union president Arthur Scargill as a star speaker.

It's only surprising if you see it in terms of whether one has an affection for coal as a substance. In the broader scheme of things, it wasn't surprising at all. Not only was he there, but he was treated like the genuine folk hero that he is.

Scargill and the trade union movement come from a position that opposes the monetarist ideology, the idea that economic growth should be the prime purpose of society, that wealth and power should be concentrated into the hands of the already powerful and wealthy at the expense of everyone else.

The alternatives - the strengthening of community, social cohesion and solidarity, a localising of life - to the climate campers these are intangible aspirations for the future, whereas the mining communities know them as concrete reality.

Or at least, they did do. As George Monbiot notes

The black and white photos of the miners' strike have become blurred into the sepia record of centuries past, muddled up somewhere in our collective memory with the Blitz and the trenches.

There is a generation that has no memory of real trade union social ideals. Just as we have a lot to learn from the Dig For Victory / Make Do And Mend generation, so we must learn from and reinvigorate the trade unions social justice and welfare vision, and nowhere was that stronger than with the miners.

But they too must learn. The future of coal must be pretty much the opposite of its past. Scargill's ideas of 100% carbon capture and making carbon-free oil from coal are impossible pipe-dreams that nobody else, including those working on the technologies, think remotely possible. (Even if it somehow were, burning the coal is only part of the problem, as massive amounts of methane are released during mining).

Just as the airline pilots should drop their lies about climate change and instead be seeking a just transition for their members to a fair society based on what we now know to be true, so the last believers that big coal can sit well with social justice must choose one or the other. To talk, to listen, and for both sides to be ready to shift their ideas is essential to building a mass movement for climate justice.

The Climate Camp has not only done the spectacular protests (and is busy lining up more), but there's now a spinoff project called the Coal Caravan.

From 24th April to 4th May, they'll be travelling from the East Midlands through Yorkshire up to the North East, holding meetings with people in areas that were mining communities, visiting Ferrybridge power station, going to open cast mines and meeting people opposing planned new ones, forging links, educating and, hopefully, heading forward together, stronger.

All are welcome to join for any or all of the Coal Caravan journey.

No comments: