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Climate Change: here and now for the working class

System Change not Climate Change!

by Rob Krause

Featured in our uManyano lwaBasebenzi publication

Climate change is rapidly approaching tipping points beyond which irreversible damage will be done to ecosystems and humans could join the list of endangered species. Climate change continues to be discussed as a technical scientific issue and as a threat of the near future, rather than a crisis produced by capitalism which impacts us today.

Like all crises of capitalism, the effects are unevenly felt based on class, oppression (race, gender) and geography – most harshly experienced in the neo-colonial world. For the workers, rural populations, the unemployed and poor communities of Southern Africa – and women in particular – the impacts of climate change are suffered every day in the life and death struggles against water shortages, crop failures and hunger.

Water and food are the most basic necessities for survival. Late 2019 saw Southern Africa’s worst drought in decades; possibly even a century. The impact is especially severe in a region heavily dependent on agriculture. An estimated minimum of 11 million people in the region are facing food shortages, as Grain production has dropped by an average of 30% – and 53% in Zimbabwe.

South Africa has been far from immune from the impacts. The Eastern Cape had the driest and hottest spring season in recorded history – with a provincial average of 30% of the usual rainfall and only 12% in Graaff-Reinet.

Water shortages are increasingly becoming part of the daily experience of working class communities in South Africa. In areas such as Sekhukhune a combination of low rainfall and wasteful water usage by mining, agribusiness and the state has resulted in an ongoing water crisis for residents. The impacts fall on women especially, who perform the bulk of unpaid domestic labour such as elderly/sick care, cleaning, cooking etc.

We already witness resistance against the capitalist policies that drive climate change by sections of the working class. In Soweto, workers are resisting water and electricity tariff increases, demanding renewable energy production. Communities in areas such as Xolobeni are resisting the imposition of mining.

The task of Marxists is to intervene in these day to day struggles, draw links between the conditions people are experiencing, the impacts of climate change and its root cause – the capitalist system which maximises profits at the expense of the needs of humanity and our planet. We must link up with the global climate strikes – upcoming on 24 April! We need united actions of all sections of the rural and urban working class – workers, youth, women, communities, the unemployed – around demands such as:

  • Shift to 100% renewable and sustainable energy sources, zero emissions by 2045 without job losses – retrain all workers who need it
  • No privatisation of SOEs; democratic worker control to stop carbon emissions and replace with renewable capacity at ESKOM, Sasol, SAA
  • No to water and electricity tariff increases and cut-offs: the burdens of climate change and corruption must not be placed on the working class and poor
  • Nationalise factories, mines, big businesses and large-scale agriculture and place under democratic worker control
  • No imposition of mining on communities!

Make sure to also check out our MARXISM AND THE CHANGING CLIMATE article.
For international perspective, take a look at SOCIALISTS PROPOSE REVOLUTIONARY CHANGE TO WIN CLIMATE STRIKES from our world organisation, International Socialist Alternative !

Transpharm Workers March Against Climate Change

Written by Ndumiso and Phemelo

Last week on Thursday morning about 150 workers from the pharmaceutical company Transpharm marched to the Department of Energy in Pretoria. The workers led a lively demonstration, singing energetically and toy-toying for hours. Most of the workers had come in support of the Union campaign on Climate and exhibited a high level of interest in the speeches that were delivered.

A company like Transpharm represents the state of medicine in South Africa where it is for-profit rather than matching the needs of people, which is why workers often complain that they cannot afford it. And with South Africa having serious health endemics of TB, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, heart diseases etc. it means the government has to use tax-payers money to purchase these medications. Also, the damage that these medications do the environment is hidden from people and workers are not educated on the impacts. The meat industry puts animals under heavy medication, such as hormones and antibiotics, and even animals that are not genuinely ill are put in horrible and unhealthy conditions to produce a lot of meat fast and cheaply. This builds the potential for superbugs, or antibiotic resistant bacteria that could potentially cause widespread epidemics. All this is happening while humans who are in need of medicine cannot afford them.

Workers singing and toyi-toying at the Climate change March at the Department of Energy

It was clear that marching workers, already frustrated by their employer’s unfair labour practices, were disappointed with their bosses’ utter disregard for the well-being of the planet. Additionally, it was obvious to the workers that the foul labour practices of reckless polluting and evading safety regulations are a way for the bosses’ to secure their profits. The workers easily made the link between the way the bosses treat the workers and the way they treat the environment. There was an apparent shock at the state of the world climate and its current and possible future effects on weather patterns, food production, increasing sea levels, and increasingly frequent natural disasters like floods and droughts throughout Sub-Saharan Africa.

Many workers, having experienced cruel treatment at the hands of capitalists and their government, also understood the disastrous implications of privatizing Eskom. This reassured their support of trade union opposition to these privatization plans. Furthermore, the workers found that profit-driven motivations of the big corporations come naturally, meaning electricity tariffs will continue to escalate while wages continue to stagnate, or even decline, leading to electricity becoming unaffordable for much of the working class. This will inevitably lead to more people resorting to the cutting of trees and burning wood for fuel thus adding more CO2 to the already fragile atmosphere.

As much as the march was a demonstration of trade union opposition to privatization of Eskom and climate change, it was also an open school for many workers who are frequently denied information and education on the science of climate change by the media and schooling system. By the end of the march, it became clear to workers that our planet is in danger for the same reasons they are on low wages. Capitalism is being exposed as the true force behind the exploitation of both the working class and the natural environment. The same relentless pursuit of profits that butchered the miners at Marikana leads us to a planet brimming with greed-induced disasters that threaten food supplies and render our homes unlivable. The workers were convinced of how big business treats the environment, that the instinct to preserve profits comes naturally with capitalists, and that this cannot go on.

The Department refused to accept the memorandum saying they were not notified in advance. The spirited demonstration of the workers, however, could not be ignored and clearly impressed the staff of the Department who came out to take pictures of the posters, banners and to listen to the chanting and toyi-toyi songs.

Mametlwe Sebei, WASP memeber, addressing Transpharm workers at a March in Pretoria at the Department of Energy, against Climate change and the impending plans to privatize Eskom.

The power of big businesses must be stopped and workers need to take control of the economy. Only the workers can guarantee that businesses transition to renewable energy, to sustainable agriculture, and to an economy were the wealth produced by society serves the needs of society and not the wealth of the few. We can build more ambulances and we can certainly have decent wages, proper green housing plans, free education, shorter working hours and essential services for all.

WASP stands in solidarity with the Transpharm workers and workers worldwide in combating climate change and saving the planet from corporate greed. The demonstrations, if combined with many more mass education programmes on a more systematic basis, can lay a concrete foundation for a more organised mass intervention of the trade union movement in the Climate Change strikes and working class campaigns for a just transition to environmental justice worldwide. The trade union movement needs to organise the working class on a wider scale for a more organised mass intervention. An international revolutionary working class movement in communities must be built to campaign against climate change and force big business to transition to green technology and encourage small businesses to get government assistance for a just transition too. The only way to reverse climate change is through system change!