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.’
Grassroots posters giving an alternative take on the general election
Hundreds of people surrounded the fences this weekend. Hera Lorandos spoke to women who have suffered inside.
Laying out the case for Labour's leadership of a Progressive Alliance, Jeremy Gilbert argues that far from posing a threat to the Left, the Progressive Alliance offers a golden opportunity to end Tory rule and build a 21st century government committed to social justice
The Greens have stood down in Brighton Kemptown to clear the way for Labour, and the Lib Dems won’t stand in Brighton’s other seat, Green-held Pavilion. Davy Jones, who would have been the Green candidate in Kemptown, says this shows the way forward
The snap general election represents a unique opportunity to defeat this terrible government. We believe that visual artists have a crucial role to play!
Drax is the UK's biggest source of CO2 emissions – and we're paying for it, writes Almuth Ernsting
For the past 3 years, Barby Asante and members of London-based artists' collective, sorryyoufeeluncomfortable, have been responding directly to the vision of James Baldwin. Ahead of the nationwide release of a new film about the American activist and author, they reflect on the enduring relevance of Baldwin in Britain today.
Housing campaigners' gains in Bristol are spurring on a national movement to build a renters' union, writes Stuart Melvin
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports
On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.
Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns
The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections
In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines
Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.
West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective
How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences
The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally
Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill