Lindsey German on environmental crisis and the holiday tailback blame-game
The deadly effects of climate change were demonstrated across Europe last week, not least in Britain. And it’s clear that governments have neither the will nor the wit to deal with what is facing the planet. Here record temperatures were hit in Scotland, Wales and England. Heatwaves are spreading to the north of the country, as well as the southeast. At 40 degrees or close, houses designed to keep cold out sweltered. Rail lines buckled and tarmac melted. Most frightening were the fires that broke out in hundreds of places, including dozens in London alone. The London Fire Brigade had its busiest day since the Second World War. Around 40 houses burned down across the country.
Scary enough is the effect of global warming which is leading to these very high temperatures with all the dangers that ensue. But we are facing a climate crisis coupled with the effects of decades of neoliberalism, attacks on public sector services, millions of houses inadequate to deal with extremes of temperature, building on flood plains, cutting down trees to save money, prioritisation of road transport over rail, expansion of air travel, all of which have led to the existing situation.
According to one report, it was only the lack of wind that stopped these fires spreading into a much bigger conflagration – another Great Fire of London. When the first one took place, destroying much of the old city, at least the authorities introduced building regulations to try to prevent the spread of fire in future. There is little chance that what passes for a government here will do anything so sensible.
Look at the record. Boris Johnson closed 10 London fire stations when mayor. These essential workers are now being offered a 2% pay rise. Both Tory leadership candidates propose deregulation, tax cuts, holding down public spending, tightening immigration controls. Already lack of investment means railways are paralysed once temperatures hit extremes, unlike in most countries. Housing lacks insulation which would make it more habitable and energy efficient. Schools and other public buildings suffer from lack of investment and repairs. The NHS is overwhelmed by any out of the ordinary event and both chronically underfunded and understaffed.
It says a great deal about the supposed democracy in which we live that the choice between two toxic Tories for prime minister lies with 100,000 of the party’s own members. They have ruled out an early election – completely undemocratically given that their predecessor resigned in disgrace and that neither of them would appoint him in a cabinet – so this self-perpetuating oligarchy will continue if it chooses for another two years. Meanwhile, Boris Johnson is sending even more of his friends and cronies to the House of Lords, now over 800 strong.
The failure of Labour to play any role in forcing Johnson out, and the ominous noises about responsibility and caution coming from the shadow cabinet, do not bode well for a clear electoral alternative, and there is no guarantee that Keir Starmer will do well despite the failings of the government. This means that opposition will have to come from elsewhere. The strikes tsking place this week and those planned for the coming months are a welcome antidote to the attacks on working class people through food and fuel price increases, worsening of working conditions and sky-high housing costs. They are the sign that working class confidence and organisation is growing – and the strikers are providing exactly the alternative arguments against wage cutting and record profits that Labour should be articulating.
But we are going to need action across the whole working class to roll back these attacks – politically and economically. That’s where we need to turn up the heat.
You say Brexit, I say system failure
Queues at airports are leading to missed flights. Serious advice is now not to check in luggage because it gets lost. The port of Dover is gridlocked because of staff shortages to check passports. Fights are frequently cancelled at Heathrow. One of the notable features of post lockdown Europe is the repeated failure of transport systems to take people where they want to go. There’s some pretty childish stuff on social media gloating that this is the result of Brexit. Childish because many of the people being sneered at presumably voted remain, or have been visiting Britain from other countries so never voted at all. And it is not even accurate.
Brexit has meant more passport checks going to EU countries. But these cannot be the reason for the sheer scale of disruption at the ports this summer. The problems with flights and luggage are common across Europe and north America and are the result of lack of staffing, itself a product of airlines and baggage handling companies sacking workers during the pandemic and not having sufficient trained staff to carry out the work needed. The gridlock at Dover has been joined by long queues at the tunnel in Folkestone – this time put down to inadequate roads to deal with this traffic and high levels of freight.
Nor are extra passport check unique to Britain. In my own recent experience on a rail trip from London to Turin it was staff shortages in London and Paris that led to longer queues – for both security and UK/French border checks where only some of the booths were open. Our train was stopped at the French/Italian border where there were also passport checks despite supposedly free movement. On both occasions several non-white men were removed from the train and taken off by border police.
The main problems facing Britain it seems to me do not stem from Brexit. Instead let’s look at the historically low levels of investment and productivity by British capital. Let’s look at how far British wages have fallen behind their counterparts in France and Germany. And let’s look at the way in which Brexit has been implemented.
Finally, let’s talk about ways we can fight against all the above – anything else really isn’t up to the mark.
This week: is a very big week for strike action from rail workers, communication workers and many more. I will be helping to build solidarity through the People’s Assembly and Counterfire. I will be speaking at the Arise festival on women and war on Tuesday. And at the weekend I will be watching a rare contemporary documentary on the Russian civil war which will I’m sure be amazing.
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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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