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2013 saw the return of environmental protest camps and demonstrations, with thousands participating in anti-fracking protests in Balcombe and other actions around the country. Considering the depth of opposition and the potential for such movements to intervene into ongoing debates about fuel poverty and sustainable economic development, it is useful to pause and consider what and who might actually be able to stop fracking. Such questions take us beyond the symbolic realm of actions aimed at raising awareness and pose the possibility of certain people – actual bodies – stopping fracking.
Community members who are opposed to fracking can and currently are physically blockading the site to stop the trucks. This strategy can be successful; indeed blockades and sabotage have long and successful histories in bringing about change. However, the strategy requires full-time activists and often prohibits those involved from carrying on other necessary tasks such as going to work or taking the kids to school. The other set of bodies that can stop fracking immediately and with staggering efficiency are the workers in the mining industry. Construction workers who joined the Balcombe protests explicitly raised this point, but it is still hard to envisage a situation where residents and drill site workers are organising side by side.
That this option seems utopian reveals much about the failures of green and red alliances both here in Britain and around the world. The possibility of workers engaging in industrial action that goes beyond their immediate industrial conditions and takes a leap into the ‘social’ reminds us – painfully – how far things have deteriorated with regards to what counts as union activity.
Which is why Green Bans, Red Union, which details the radical history of the New South Wales Builders Labourers’ Federation in 1970s Sydney, Australia, is a bit like reading a left-wing fairy tale. A trade union, whose leaders were from the rank and file, who were politicised through social movements and communist politics, and who set about consciously to radically change not only the internal organisation of their union but the very notion of what ‘being union’ meant. The book outlines in well-researched detail the story of one of the most militant, effective and impressive chapters of Australia’s trade union history. Set against a backdrop of a booming inner-city construction industry and Sydney fast becoming a concrete jungle, the NSW BLF trade unionists, under the leadership of Jack Mundy, emerge as formidable yet immensely likeable characters.
Perhaps most strikingly, the story of the NSW BLF is one in which not just the form but the content of the union politics is almost unrecognisable in today’s industrial landscape. Key to understanding its successes in improving wages and conditions in the industry and its ability to effect wider social change are the initial processes of democratisation that the leadership implemented. These included limited tenure for union officials, open speaking lists at meetings, mass meetings on site to debate union policy, union officials’ wages capped at industry wage levels and officials forgoing their own wages when members were on strike.
The book pays particular attention to the important internal history and organisational change that occurred under Mundy’s leadership. It presents a convincing argument that it was these changes and the willingness to fight around workers’ dignity, as well as wages and conditions on site, that provided the necessary base of support for the union leadership to push for members to see their working class interests as being connected to broader movements such as environmentalism and Aboriginal and LGBT rights.
The NSW BLF tactic known as ‘green bans’ began when a group of community activists desperate to save Kelly’s Reserve, a green space in a middle class area of Sydney, approached the union for support. In response the union agreed to place the area under a ‘green ban’. No union labour would be used in the development of the area and hence, while forgoing the possibility of work, the workers were also actively casting themselves as decision makers as to the kind of city that was worth living in. Considering the level of class consciousness and sheer courage that so many builders’ labourers displayed during the height of the NSW BLF, it is little wonder that the building industry, government, developers and right-wing elements internally all colluded to undermine and eventually bring an end to a truly extraordinary working class tale.
Make no mistake, the green bans and the array of other bans – including a ‘pink ban’ on building works at a NSW University put in effect until the management reinstated a gay student in the student dorms – are not mere acts of solidarity. They are also the moment that labour conceives of its actual power within capitalism and acts to abolish the divisions that keep us pitted against those with whom we should be working together. In the words of the NSW builders’ labourers, ‘We built this city and we can shut it down.’
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Nick Dowson looks at the new wave of co-ops and community groups where people are building their own truly affordable homes
Labour’s NEC has started to empower party members – but we still have a mountain to climb
The crunch executive meeting ahead of Labour conference agreed some welcome changes, writes Michael Calderbank, but there is still much further to go
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going
A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism
Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase
Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields
Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton
Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi
A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain
Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank
Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded
West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens
Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age
Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today
The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi
Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun
Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh
With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair