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The Belarus–Poland border, November 2021. Photo: Flickr/Kancelaria Premiera (Irek Dorozanski)

The Belarus–Poland border, November 2021. Photo: Flickr/Kancelaria Premiera (Irek Dorozanski)

Lindsey German on the horrors of modern border control and the fallout from COP26

One form of solidarity we can show is support for the migrants who are victims of imperialism, war, climate change, and poverty. The scenes from the Belarus/Poland border tell a hideous story. Belarus president Lukashenko is trying to put pressure on the EU by not preventing refugees from the Middle East from crossing into Poland and therefore into the EU.

Lukashenko is an authoritarian who has his own reasons for doing so, especially his attempt to have EU sanctions against repression of the opposition lifted. The right-wing Polish government is refusing to allow the migrants in and is being backed to the hilt by the EU, and the governments of Britain and the US.

It beggars belief that a few thousand migrants are being treated in this way. Unfortunately this is only one of a series of flashpoints where migrants are being kept out of the richest countries. It is the reality of ‘fortress Europe’ and it is a despicable story. It’s happening on the borders of Croatia, Greece, and elsewhere. The EU pays Turkey to keep refugees out. Libya has EU funds for coastguards to prevent refugees trying to get to Europe. Niger is given aid to detain refugees.

We should not forget our own government where Home Secretary Priti Patel is embarked on a one-woman mission to scapegoat refugees, including demanding the stopping and returning the rubber dinghies on which so many risk their lives in trying to reach the English coast.

There are three reasons why these policies are revolting. The first is that the migrants are victims of imperialist foreign policy which has fanned wars and instability and helped to create and exacerbate poverty in the developing world. The second is that they deny any basic humanity towards people who have suffered far more than most of us can imagine and whose treatment is barbaric and driven by the narrowest political and economic interest. The third is that they are a deliberate attempt to set one group of people against another, to deny that migrants have rights or that they contribute to the country where they settle, and this weakens us all.

Socialists should refuse to accept this scapegoating. Groups of the Left Party in Germany have, for example, called for a corridor to allow the migrants through Poland, and these acts of solidarity are important everywhere. In Britain, campaigners on the south coast have been greeting migrants with hot food and warm clothing. The issue is not going away, partly because right wing politicians use it repeatedly to garner support. As crisis and divisions grow, they also foster nationalism, as is happening in Eastern Europe at present.

Threats of war, racism, scapegoating have to be met with collective organisation, solidarity and a determination to challenge a system which blames the victims of its determination to let the planet burn

Carry on polluting

Has there ever been a climate conference where class issues were so obviously on display and where the imbalance between rich and poor countries was so highlighted? Despite promises of real action, brave words about future generations, and disingenuous claims from world leaders, the conclusions of COP26 have been very far from those promised. Instead the richest countries and the world’s biggest polluters have ensured that they will be able to continue their policies with little fear of restraint.

Plus ça change. Or as Greta Thunberg put it, the COP26 conference began and ended with ‘blah, blah, blah’. At the conclusion of two weeks negotiating, where 40,000 delegates have gathered in Glasgow at the cost of millions of pounds, and despite the hundreds of thousands across the world have demonstrated, the result will change very little.

The goal of keeping global temperature rises to 1.5C by 2030 will not be met, instead it will be 2.4C. This is supposed to be improved upon next year with firmer plans about cutting emissions – but given the prevarication and evasion so far it is likely to amount to little.

The final deal which was supposed to phase out coal and fossil fuel subsidies and ensure a process where the rich countries helped the poor to protect themselves against climate change has done neither. While the change in the wording from ‘phase out’ to ‘phase down’ these subsidies is being blamed on India and China, it allows the US and other countries to continue their use of fossil fuels.

As one commentator put it, ‘The text could actually provide cover for continued subsidies for the fossil fuel industry under the guise of support for carbon capture & storage and other unproven technologies. This would allow for greenwashed business-as-usual emissions — all while [John] Kerry and the United States disingenuously claim a fossil fuel phaseout victory and point the finger at India as the problem.’

Perhaps most damning is the blatant refusal of the richest to do anything to help the poorest. It is pitiful to hear the pleas from island nations which are already the victims of severe climate change and to realise that these are simply ignored by the countries most able to help. All the promises about a deal to help with compensation to countries for floods, storms and heatwaves which are destroying lives and livelihoods across the world have come to virtually nothing. The money promised by 2020 to deliver clean energy in developing countries won’t be coming until at least 2023.

What’s happening here is simple: despite the fact that we are on the edge of catastrophe in terms of climate change, the dominance of the oil companies, car companies, energy companies and many others means that no government is willing to take the steps necessary to make the changes needed to stop such a catastrophe.

It would be relatively easy to find the money to ensure that major steps are taken to halt the impending disaster. But that would require governments to do what they did in bailing out the banks in 2008, and to organise society in the way that it has done in wartime. 

In both those cases, the market could not deliver and so the state stepped in. Neoliberal capital is refusing to make this collective decision, with terrible consequences for all of us. The priorities of capital, the need to safeguard private profit, and the refusal to confront dangerous and damaging industries are costing us dear. It will be the poor who will suffer most both in the developed and developing world. The rich will continue to hoard their wealth.

The only heartening aspect of COP26 has been the level of protest at these policies. Over 100,000 flooded the streets of Glasgow in the main demo, and there were hundreds of smaller protests. Delegates walked out and joined the protestors as the summit drew to a close. This is a question of international solidarity but also of class conflict. The refuse collectors and train workers who struck during COP26 in Glasgow are fighting the same fight as those protesting at deforestation.

They are against privatisation, attacks on living standards, inequality and insecurity. This is the world that neoliberalism has created – and it can only be saved by the actions of working people around the world, acting in solidarity against the most reckless, corrupt and dangerous rulers in history.

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Lindsey German

Lindsey German

As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.

Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.

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