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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 !