Only the working class can stop capitalism’s plunder of land, labor

By Terry Evans
November 25, 2019

As the administration of President Donald Trump began the process of formally withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris accords on climate change Nov. 4, it was met with rebuke from rival governments from Beijing to Paris, from prominent Democratic 2020 presidential candidates and countless others. Under U.N. rules, Washington can’t actually leave the accord until Nov. 4, 2020.

Proclaimed as a deal to cut pollution, the accords are a sham, with nothing but voluntary “targets” for emission reductions that are set by the polluting regimes themselves. Discharges of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases contribute to the gradual rise in the temperature of the earth’s atmosphere.

The capitalist rulers have no concern for the social consequences of their rapacious exploitation of labor, nor their depletion of the soil, destruction of the forests, elimination of species from overhunting or fishing, and poisoning of the waters.

None of the rival capitalist governments, nor U.S. politicians of whatever position on the Paris agreement, offer a serious course to halt the rulers’ ongoing damage to the earth, seas and sky. Nor to halt their simultaneous attacks on workers’ lives and limbs. Democrats and Republicans alike subordinate workers’ interests to those of the bosses, for whom they both seek to rule.

Their calls that “we” must all sacrifice to protect the natural environment are actually directed at the working people here and in the semicolonial world. It is only the working class and its allies that have the power to act against the rulers’ plunder of the earth’s natural resources, as we organize together to fight the impact of their assaults on our living and working conditions.

The bosses’ competition for markets exacerbates their unrestrained pollution of the earth’s atmosphere, as they seek to cut costs and cut corners.

Though scrubbers on coal-fired electrical plants — a method of eliminating most sulphur produced in the process of burning coal — have been around for four decades, almost 30% of coal-fired power plants in the U.S. still operate without them.

In the name of competing successfully with rivals abroad, the Trump administration has enacted regulations that require power plant bosses to reduce hourly carbon emissions, but not their total amount.

Coal miners face the biggest rise in black lung disease in decades, as mine bosses push speedup, lengthen the working day and have driven relentlessly to run production without workers having union protection. The debilitating and ultimately fatal disease had declined 90% from the 1970s to the mid-1990s as a result of a massive fight waged by miners and their union that won the right to shut down production in unsafe conditions.

Residents fight steel bosses pollution

Bosses in all industries operate in the same manner. At the end of last year when anti-pollution controls were destroyed in a fire at the U.S. Steel plant at Clairton, Pennsylvania, bosses kept the plant right on working, letting debilitating levels of sulphur dioxide pour into the air.

“U.S. Steel denies they caused any harm to working people,” Melanie Meade, who is involved in the fight by area workers against the steel bosses’ pollution, told a Militant Labor Forum in Pittsburgh in August. And “the Health Department is in cahoots with industry,” she added.

When governments do adopt measures in the name of combating pollution, they target working people, not the bosses. They say we make stupid choices because we don’t know better, and push for regulations that will force us to do “what’s right.” Eleven state governments are considering a “Transportation and Climate Initiative” that would force fuel suppliers to buy “allowances” to keep burning fossil fuels. This wouldn’t do much to stop pollution, but would lead to higher prices passed on to working people.

Likewise, the U.N. summit on climate change in September discussed proposals from imperialist powers to limit the development of energy resources by governments in semicolonial countries. “It’s too late for them to develop as we did,” they lamented, ensuring that the hundreds of millions with no access to electricity, predominantly in Africa, will continue to go without.

In contrast, the Socialist Workers Party and its candidates explain that the fight to defend land and labor falls to the working class and requires that we organize independently of the bosses and their parties. They explain that the fight workers need to wage for control over production and safety in the plants, mines and other workplaces must include control over emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases.

“Science and technology,” a resolution adopted by the party in 2007 states, “have established the knowledge and the means to lessen the burdens and dangers of work, to advance the quality of life, and to conserve and improve the earth’s patrimony.”

“Yet under capitalism … this liberating potential is turned into its opposite,” explains the resolution titled “The Stewardship of Nature Also Falls to the Working Class; In Defense of Land and Labor,” and available in New International no. 14.

Only organizing working people to take political power out of the hands of the capitalist exploiting class and transforming ourselves in the struggle, the resolution explains, can lead to creating “social relations that are based on human solidarity and that serve our interaction with and protection of the natural sources of well-being and culture.”

It will take confidently and boldly organizing along this course to chart a road forward to defend land and labor — not the hysterical campaigns advanced by middle-class layers to blame working people for the fouling of earth, water and skies, while instilling fear about the coming “catastrophe” and breeding collaboration with the exploiting class.