What we need in Labour’s Green New Deal motion

By Riccardo la Torre, Eastern Region FBU Secretary

With something like 130 CLPs and four trade unions submitting motions for a Green New Deal to the 2019 Labour conference, it is virtually guaranteed that the topic will be prioritised for debate and extremely likely that a version of the GND will be passed. That shows how the debate in the labour movement has progressed; but it also makes clear that simply passing a policy, any policy, will not in itself be a great victory. The question is what politics and policies make it into and shape the final composite motion (or motions).

“Green New Deal” can be and is used as a banner for a huge spread of political positions, from really quite mild liberalism to radical socialism. Given the scale of the threat facing humanity and the planet, a radical program is needed – and urgently. While a short motion cannot go into enormous detail, concreteness and specifics are necessary as well as breadth of vision.

Here are some demands delegates and activists should and will seek to get included from the text submitted:

1. Public ownership of energy and finance. Labour’s existing policy of public energy companies competing in the market is not good enough. The whole energy industry needs to be brought into comprehensive, democratic public ownership. The same with the banking and financial sector – without that, how can a Green New Deal have the necessary resources and economic leverage? TUC Congress earlier this month endorsed both these policies; the unions which proposed them there (my union FBU and the Bakers’ Union) have also proposed them to Labour Party conference, as have some CLPs.

2. Ending airport expansion. Politically this should be obvious, but for those who don’t know it’s an issue of major controversy in the Labour Party, because of right-wing ‘pro-business’ MPs but even more because of airport unions Unite and GMB. Clearly there’s a friendly argument that needs to be developed. Aviation workers, democratically engaged through their unions, must be at the heart of this debate. But we cannot dodge the issue.

3. Repeal of all anti-union laws. Conference opens literally the day after the 20 September Climate Strike. It’s easy for Labour politicians to praise the youth climate strikers, but doing so without committing to scrap the laws which ban workers from striking over political issues is a big contradiction. To help develop a movement which can actually fight for and win what is needed, this is perhaps the most important demand of all.

4. Free or cheap public transport. Much written about recently. Let’s make it Labour policy.

5. Internationalism. The formulations about international aid and assistance, and about welcoming climate refugees while taking action to improve the circumstances that create them, are very important, particularly in the context of a movement awash with willingness to concede to nationalism and nationalist ideas of its own.

6. Socialism. The motion from Newcastle East contains an important idea: “Only a socialist system based on collective ownership and production for need, not profit, can guarantee a sustainable relationship between humanity and nature.”

Even the most radical demands in play – e.g. public ownership of finance – do not amount to socialism; nor will they be enough to decisively and conclusively resolve the climate crisis. Indeed, a big part of the argument for radical measures is that they are urgently necessary even to mitigate the crisis and buy more time, instead of facing imminent and irrevocable disaster. Without such measures, a target anything like zero or net-zero emissions by 2030 is utopian.

In addition to, beyond and framing immediate radical demands, we should make the wider argument for socialism.

Credit to Labour for a Green New Deal – whose model motion is the basis of about 90pc of those submitted – not only for generating this debate but for drafting the formulations about international solidarity and climate refugees. The rest of the demands set out above are included only in a minority of motions submitted by the FBU, the Bakers’ Union and seven CLPs, based on the model texts promoted by The Clarion – based in turn on demands passed by FBU conference in May. (Most of these include the internationalist demands too.)

What Labour for a Green New Deal is willing to fight to be included in the composite motion – even against the resistance of the Labour leadership – will be a test of the organisation. So will its willingness to fight for any policies passed by conference but then ignored.

Whatever we manage to get included in the motion and passed at conference, these are the kind of demands and arguments we will need to raise and argue and fight for in the period ahead.

Let us know what you think? Write a reply? theclarionmag@gmail.com

For the radical CLP motions referred to above, see here – pp50, 55, 61, 92, 95, 107, 108. FBU motion p66. Bakers’ Union motion p38.

• Riccardo writes here in a personal capacity and not on behalf of the FBU.

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