Chile wakes up and resists

By Julieta Beristain

The curfew is renewed and the repression of the army and carabineros left a record of 15 dead and more than 1600 arrested.

Despite internal efforts to hide the most heinous images of the repression under the command of the Army and the Carabineros, the Chilean people resist and rebel against the government of Sebastián Piñera.

Student organizations initially demanded the withdrawal of the unfair increase in the Santiago metro fairs. Later fighting spirit of the citizens spread to many other cities including Valparaíso and Antofagasta, who, seeing the levels of repression, joined the cry of “CHILE AWAKENED!” That concentrated massive marches in the main squares of the Santiago.

Many have questioned the riots, the anger that runs through Chile, however, the correct questions are: what really happens in Chile, which is so praised by Latin American liberal political figures? Why are the Chilean people so disgusted? The sociologist Atilio Boron recently explained in statements to FM La Patriada: “The free ride in the subway is a trigger, the spark that started the fire. After almost half a century of economic promises. Chile has become the country with the highest proportion of indebted families worldwide.” Boron questioned the neoliberal policies that plague students, workers and retirees “after a curtain of consumption” that forced more than 50 per cent of the population into an unsustainable maelstrom of credit and debt. Thus, Boron explains the “awakening”, which despite the surprising resistance over the years, the systematic application of neoliberal policies have become unsustainable. The rupture that happens in these instances in the citizens’ will, is explained by the social and economic inequalities that arise from the current model – now – under the administration of the rightist Piñera, where privatizations of essential resources, such as water, make the life of a fed-up majority more expensive.

The scam, as Boron points out, was partly “to make Chileans believe that this was the best way to achieve progress, well-being, and development when all they have achieved is that the richest (10%) keep 30% of the national income and the poorest 50% keep 2.5% ”, which exposes the enormous structural inequality that exists in Chile, and which materializes in the streets of Santiago.

The last few days have accumulated 15 dead, a large number of wounded and more than 1600 arrested. Most of the information circulates through social networks: citizens who register the abuse of security forces against minors, workers and pensioners who, despite still being protected by the constitution in their right to strike, have been savagely beaten prior to being arrested.

When the curfew begins, the advance of tanks and military on foot becomes darker: there are allegations of imprisonment of people who were inside their homes, the brutal beating of citizens who were travelling alone and were ambushed by members of the security forces before being taken to police stations. Machine gun bullets have damaged young people and pensioners alike, they share the same sentence: being deprived of the right to education, health or denying them a decent retirement after years of poorly paid work. The model crushes them equally.

The delegate of Journalists of Valparaíso, Danilo Ahumada, informed that strikes from different sectors are being organised: Chile`s Workers Union (CUT, Spanish acronym) is calling for a general strike, while the July-September unemployment figures which have just been released show 8.3% unemployment in Greater Santiago, according to the Occupation and Unemployment Survey of the Microdata Center of the University of Chile.

The vice president of the CUT, Fabián Caballero said in an interview on Radio Gráfica: “the Chilean neoliberal model is the example used for the rest of the peoples of the region, which is supervised by international organizations and the US Government as well as the European Union ” In line with the statements of the sociologist Atilio Boron, Caballero understands that the knot of social protests corresponds to the accumulation of unfair policies that have increased inequality over recent years. The worker and member of the Chilean workers’ centre affirmed that “we must install a short agenda and work in an organized political direction that can solve the problems of Chilean workers and residents.”

From the CUT they insist on taking into account a series of important variables to discuss: the salary agenda, the cost of living, and the situation of pensioners. Caballero adds to the above and highlights what the underlying problem is for him: “We need to discuss a new Constitution for all Chileans. We live under the tutelage of the constitution of Pinochet, we need a new social agreement that advances within a framework of discussion that is not hypocritical”.

The fundamental explanation for the proclamation is economic and social inequality, a malaise that germinates and travels through Latin America. In tune, those privileged by the model fear but do not yield. President Piñera’s latest statements are at least believable when he claimed to be “at war” against his own people. The conditions at this time are of high tension and more forceful measures are foreseen by a government that responds with violence and cynicism rather than with politics.

The Chilean people demand concrete demonstrations of institutional political forces to amend the balance that keeps the vast majority in marginality and poverty; they must crack the foundations to get rid of hypocrites and thus give birth to loyal organizations trained to respond to the needs of the majority.

Julieta Beristain, Argentine journalist and producer of FM La Patriada and AM530.

How do we build a climate movement that can win?

By Lisbeth Latham.

The unprecedented glacial melting, diminishing sea ice shelves, and extensive fires globally have fuelled growing existential angst around the looming climate catastrophe. This angst has been a major source of the emergence and growth of the climate strike movement globally which has seen millions of people drawn onto the streets with the strikes on September 20 and 27.

Growing numbers of people – particularly young people – have become aware of both the depth of the crisis and the refusal of state actors or the fossil fuel industry to take serious steps to address climate change. This has given rise to the urgent question of how and in what circumstances the necessary changes can be made, particularly around energy use, to halt the planet’s slide into irreversible and escalating climate change.

Yes, socialism is the solution, but so what?

Arguing for ecosocialism is not enough

The response to this crisis from many revolutionary organisations has been to make arguments against the capacity of the climate crisis to be addressed within the framework of capitalism. Of course, the Anthropocene began with the start of the industrial revolution and has been driven and accelerated by capitalism’s inherent drive to constantly expand and increase profits.

It is also the case that an environment-focused socialised economy would be able to mobilise both the population and the economy to meet the challenges confronting the planet in ways unimaginable in our current context.  However, as Marx argued, “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.”

In almost no country do we have a revolutionary government. As a consequence of the betrayals of social democracy and Stalinism, and the social defeats in the face of triumphant neoliberalism, almost nowhere on the planet are there the social forces or leadership required to carry out the necessary revolutionary process to achieve such governments.

Given this reality, arguments that capitalism can’t address the crisis give the impression that the task of combating climate change is utopian and something that has to be put off to some unstated future – something that ends up sounding a lot like capital’s dominant response to the crisis.

Can the climate crisis be addressed under capitalism? Frankly, who knows, and it doesn’t matter. Capitalists and their representatives in government act to defend their interests, which is primarily achieving constant growth in profits, but ultimately is about maintaining a stable system within which capital accumulation can occur.

Divisions on climate action among capitalist class

This means that sections of capital, particularly those not tied to the fossil fuel industry, have the potential to view action to address climate change as being in their own interests – hence the thousands of companies encouraging their staff to participate in the climate strikes. Obviously this action has a range of motivations, including for some cheap greenwashing PR.

However, a number of capitalists may actually be confronting the reality that the climate crisis will disrupt capitalist accumulation. They too may see the planet dying and might come to the conclusion that there is no planet B, or they may see ways in which they can profit from transformations in the economy.

The current solutions gaining traction internationally around combatting climate change are notions around a Green New Deal, alluding to Roosevelt’s New Deal response to the Great Depression, and the reproduction of the Second World War industrial mobilisations that massively expanded productive forces in war industries to support and sustain, particularly the US war effort.

While both these examples highlight how the economy can be mobilised to transform and defend the economy and society, they are also examples of capitalism and capitalists mobilising to defend the capitalist system from an existential threat.

In both historic examples, working people played a key role in seeking to ensure that saving the system had some benefit for the popular classes in society – rather than simply re-securing the conditions for capitalist accumulation. This resistance took the form of building and renewing unions, fighting for improvements in wages and conditions, in government projects ensuring that workers were paid union rates, and attempts to shift some of the war profiteering into improved wages and conditions for workers in war industries.  

More importantly, what can be achieved under capitalism can’t be prejudged. It is a consequence of the conjunctural balance of forces – between what the ruling class believes is necessary to concede to maintain order, and the consciousness and confidence of the popular classes to carry forward the struggle.

In the wake of the mass strike and protest wave in France during May and June 1968, employers offered massive wage increases to help enable the ending of the strikes. While these wage rises would have eaten considerably into company profits, it was a small price to pay for saving the capitalist system.  

During the development of his Transitional Program, Leon Trotsky held discussions with US Trotskyists about the intents and purpose of the program. Part of this discussion focused on the extent to which the demands, particularly the transitional demands contained within the program, were achievable under capitalism. In addressing this point, Trotsky made it clear that what could or couldn’t be achieved could not be prejudged, but also that what does or doesn’t seem possible is a consequence of the march of events and dynamics of consciousness and working-class power.

This approach is also consistent with Lenin’s discussion of the development of class consciousness through the lived experience of workers and poor peasants during the Russian revolution of the unwillingness of pro-capitalist forces to deliver on the Russian revolutionary forces’ demands of peace, bread, and land rather than the specific limitations of the capitalist system itself.

Formulating immediate demands

The real and immediate challenge facing socialists (and anyone who genuinely is concerned about the environment) is not the struggle to convince people of the necessity of socialism, or even the need to change the system – but the need and possibility of achieving immediate concrete action to confront the climate crisis.

After decades of inaction and backsliding, this may feel impossible, and as the climate moves closer to tipping points it may mean even more rapid transformation than the movement’s current demands of no new coal, oil and gas projects; 100 per cent renewable energy generation by 2030; and funding a just transition and job creation for all fossil-fuel workers and communities. 

These demands appear radical and potentially impossible at the moment, but they are more likely inadequate and too slow given the urgent need to not only stop the release of more carbon into the atmosphere but to massively increase the planet’s capacity to remove carbon from the atmosphere – and to reverse the other practices destroying the biosphere, particularly the massive waste of water and the use of toxic chemicals associated with both mining and industrial agriculture.

It is in this struggle for such demands that the limitations of capitalism in the struggle to save the planet will be highlighted, particularly in confronting market-based solutions aimed at creating new speculative markets rather than achieving serious reductions in carbon emissions and extracting carbon from the atmosphere.

There is also a pressing need for industrialised countries to fundamentally address our consumption patterns (which are promoted and encouraged by the capitalist system) to more accurately reflect the resources available to the planet as a whole, at the same time as the living standards of the global south need to be uplifted to overcome poverty caused by centuries of colonialism, neo-colonialism and imperialism.

More important than the development of demands that could potentially address the climate crisis is the development and escalation of the movement. Although this youth-led movement is remarkable and extremely inspiring, it still remains far too small and intermittent in its mobilisation to build the level of pressure necessary to force action by governments on the climate.

A focus on the struggle to build the movement and achieve immediate demands to address and redress the crisis confronting us – rather than simply posing abstract arguments for socialism – is far more in keeping with the socialist tradition and is the only way to build a movement that can win.

Lisbeth Latham is a contributing editor of Irish Broad Left. Follow her on Twitter @grumpenprol.

Channeling anger into action on climate change

By Damien Thomson.

Anger is generally characterised as a negative emotion, but I’d beg to differ. Social movements need anger. Anger motivates. It unites. Last week in climate politics gives us a lot to be angry about.


At the United Nations headquarters in New York, the UN Climate Summit took place. It was convened by United Nation’s Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, for a very specific reason – for countries to boost their climate ambition. 

The summit was nothing less than a flop. Mr Guterres wanted countries to come forward to make bold statements, calling it “a summit of action plans not platitudes”. He wanted countries to outline their carbon-neutrality plans, stop harmful subsidies, and end coal. He wanted big, and he got miniscule. 

This wasn’t one of the regularly scheduled climate summits; it was specifically a purpose-made opportunity for countries to show that they are responding to the climate strikes and committing to renewed, more ambitious climate action. 

The highlight of the summit wasn’t any announcement on renewed climate ambition from any country; it was, once again, Greta Thunberg. This wasn’t just any of Greta’s speeches, where she has shown stark tone and sharp attacks. This was in the context of a failed climate conference, one where world leaders did not rise to the challenge, not in the slightest.

When she said “how dare you”, it wasn’t hypothetical or poetic, it was really addressed to the crowd of leaders who were sitting on their chairs, preparing for their mediocre climate announcements later in the day. Her raw display of anger wasn’t some dramatic culmination to spice up her speech (she’s been on the road for a year delivering harsh speeches), it was unveiled emotion. There was nothing performative about it.

To sit in front of these people, knowing that a special moment and space has been created to allow them prove themselves, to show they’ve listened to the people, and then to know that they weren’t going to rise to the challenge – no wonder she was steaming with anger. It even got Donald Trump’s attention, who spitefully called Greta a “very happy young girl”.

Could it be that Greta’s angry speech was indeed the most productive thing to come out of the UN Climate Summit?


Later in the week the IPCC published its third special report in a year (there have only been four previous to that since 2000). The latest report was a study on the Ocean and the Cryosphere, the frozen parts of the world. 

Valérie Masson-Delmotte, one of the lead authors of the report, commented at the report’s launch in Monaco that “climate change is already irreversible… due to the heat uptake in the ocean, we can’t go back”. If this doesn’t make your jaw drop, then you need to read this sentence again. 

For a long time, climate change was spoken about as some future apocalyptic event, to take place at least the day after tomorrow. Now we are finally talking about how we are being affected by climate change today on a regular basis. What’s really terrifying, however, is that the feedback loop is already activated. This is the threshold past which the climate spirals beyond our control and global warming accelerates, no matter what we try to do. It’s like we are filling a bath full of water and eventually we break the knob and have no way of putting it back on. 

And while this news is horrifying, there’s also reason to be angry. European Commissioner’s welcomed the newest IPCC Special report in a joint press statement – ‘nice’ you may say, but considering that the “save the oceans” hallmark of the Commission over the past five years was just a proposal to ban plastic straws, it’s clear they haven’t gotten the message. Our ocean is dying, and we are continuing business as usual, while alarm bells ring on clogged ears.

Greta spoke at the UN about the “fairytale of eternal economic growth”, while the Commission starts work on its Green Deal for Europe – with high expectations of it being a ‘green Growth package with a funny label. Instead of a press statement “welcoming” the terrifying scientific analysis, we need a recognition that we are on the wrong track and we need radically new climate politics. Otherwise, they’re not really listening. 


The second global climate strike took place, finishing a week of student-led climate strikes that mobilised more than 7.6 million people across the world – the largest climate demonstrations in history.

Four million people took to the streets on Friday September 20 ahead of the UN Climate Summit, and more than three million protested on September 27. How many more need to pick up their placards to get the message through?

The next real chance to boost global climate ambition and for world leaders to show real commitment to climate action is at COP25 in Santiago, Chile. That won’t be until December. Given that the special UN summit on boosting ambition barely raised an eyebrow, what expectations can we have for COP25, where parties will only be threshing out the technical details on implementation of the Paris Agreement? What more can civil society be expected to do to put raising climate ambition on the agenda? 

So if you’re still in that phase of climate grief where you feel trapped in sadness or denial, it’s time to move on to the phase of anger. This is the productive phase that will lead us to the streets and keep the pressure on. 7.6 million, we learnt this week, is not enough to get world leaders to act. We need more people to be angry.

Keep being angry, keep building momentum.

Damien Thomson is a contributing editor of Irish Broad Left. Follow him on Twitter @dmacthomais.

The Irish elections: Results and prospects for the left

By Sean Byers.

The results of the recent elections in Ireland correspond to the fragmented and radically uncertain times we now inhabit. They reveal continuities in terms of the resilience of the dominant parties as well as changes in the overall composition and balance of political forces in both jurisdictions.

In the North’s local elections, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Féin have comfortably re-emerged as the two largest parties. The DUP will be the happier of the two, increasing its share of the vote and losing just eight seats despite a succession of scandals and the party’s ignominious role at the centre of the Brexit saga.

This is partly thanks to the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) offering nothing but a pale imitation of the DUP to a dwindling constituency of octogenarians, the result of which will almost certainly be the former’s continued decline in years to come.

It also reflects the absence of a compelling working-class political alternative within Unionism, the persistence of key faultlines across society and zero-sum nature of politics in the North, which enables the DUP to retain mass support on account of being viewed as a bulwark against nationalist gain and the prospect of Irish unity.

Sinn Féin’s vote was down slightly on the last election, though the party held on to the same number of seats (105) won in 2014. This is no disaster. However the party leadership will have been left pondering why they haven’t built on the remarkable gains recorded in 2014 and again in 2017, why they haven’t managed to dispense with the SDLP, and why they have instead lost support in different directions.

A ‘liberal’ surge in the North?

A number of commentators have remarked that the northern elections were significant for the success of what have been variously described as the ‘centre ground’, ‘moderates’ or the ‘Others’. These headlines, whilst capturing an ambiguous desire for change among sections of the population, serve to obscure important differences between the parties as well as the class, ethnonational, ideological and geographical dynamics at play.

Overall, the Alliance Party made the largest gain of the share of first-preference vote and the number of seats in the local elections, while Naomi Long took the third European Parliament seat from the UUP. Alliance’s strong opposition to Brexit coupled with its support for equal marriage and abortion reform has succeeded in winning over significant numbers of liberal Unionists in more affluent areas.

As Henry Patterson has argued, the party now represents a class which has “an objective interest in the continuation of the Union but … no desire to be bothered by rowdy debates about the national question”. The party’s appeal, which rests on the vacuous slogan of “Demand Better” and the rejection of ‘tribal politics’, is also what makes the Alliance ill-equipped to deal with the constitutional question, the intractable problems of devolution or the multiple challenges facing working-class communities.

The Green Party’s increase of four seats to a total of eight in the local elections in the North is perhaps more significant from a left perspective. It could be argued simply that the Greens captured a similar demographic to Alliance’s core vote. But the Green brand has also benefitted from a growing awareness of the urgency of climate breakdown, particularly among young people.

Belfast City Council moves left

Significantly, the Green Party of Northern Ireland is more unambiguously left on key economic questions than the ‘centrist’ label implies and more amenable to the anti-capitalist slogan of ‘system change not climate change’ than their counterparts in Britain or the South, despite operating within a more restrictive economic and political environment. The presence of four Green councillors in the chambers of Belfast City Council could, however, help to shift the city’s policy agenda in a more left-wing direction.

Adding to the leftward dynamic in Belfast City Council is an increase in the number of People Before Profit (PBP) councillors from one to three. As in Derry, where the party gained two seats, PBP strengthened its support in Belfast on the back of tireless campaigning around the impact of welfare reform. Here Sinn Féin’s strategy of targeting PBP’s position on Brexit appears to have worn thin among some of those most badly affected by the punitive, privatised Personal Independence Payment regime and rollout of Universal Credit.

Adding to the leftward dynamic in Belfast City Council is an increase in the number of People Before Profit (PBP) councillors from one to three. As in Derry, where the party gained two seats, PBP strengthened its support in Belfast on the back of tireless campaigning around the impact of welfare reform. Here Sinn Féin’s strategy of targeting PBP’s position on Brexit appears to have worn thin among some of those most badly affected by the punitive, privatised Personal Independence Payment regime and rollout of Universal Credit.

The PBP contingent, together with the Greens, could potentially form an influential bloc that challenges the neoliberal bureaucracy, not to mention the powerful corporate interests that have captured key policy areas, and helps to pull Council politics in a leftward direction. We may already be seeing glimpses of this with the rejection of plans to drill for fossil fuels in the Belfast Hills.

In other parts of the North it is possible to detect signs of left-wing growth that defy the singular narrative of ‘centrist’ or ‘moderate’ advance. For example, the election of the PBP’s Eamonn McCann and Shaun Harkin will strengthen the existing anti-austerity critiques offered by Independent left republican councillors in Derry and Strabane. Likewise, in the rural conservative districts of Fermanagh & Omagh and Mid-Ulster, we have seen the election of Independent socialists and left republicans who have their roots in trade unionism and community-based campaigns around issues such as health, education and the environment.

That is not to say we should place great stock in local elections or electoralism as a substitute for the building of mass organisations and systemic change. But rather it is to suggest that these results present limited openings for strategic interventions at a local government level, to help build something from the ground up. The ambition for the combined forces of the left in Belfast, for example, should be to move towards – and beyond – something like the Preston model, replacing the fundamentally neoliberal, carbon-heavy model of urban development that has been instituted in the past decade.

The state of left politics in the South

The two dominant parties, Fine Gael and in particular Fianna Fáil, will be satisfied with the gains they have made against the propitious backdrop of economic ‘recovery’. Winning just over half of the vote between them, they are some way short of restoring the two-and-a-half party system that was broken in the wake of austerity and the Right2Water campaign. However, Fianna Fáil will be confident of using their strengthened vote in Dublin and elsewhere as a platform for success in a general election, particularly if they take a left turn to put clear water between themselves and Fine Gael.

‘Green wave’

For many, the big story of the European and local elections was the surge in support for the Green Party, which increased its number of council seats from 12 to 49 and took two MEP seats. Again, the Greens have been the main beneficiaries of an emerging consciousness around the impending climate crisis, especially among a younger generation.

Many of these young people who voted Green will have no memory of the party’s experience of coalition government with Fianna Fáil between 2007-2011. But the Green Party’s social basis remains solidly middle class and there is no sign of it moving away from the individualised, anti-working-class solutions favoured by party leader Eamon Ryan.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil will already be thinking about how to hijack the green movement or woo the Greens, Social Democrats and Labour, whose combined vote of 14 per cent would almost certainly put one of the two main parties back in government in the event of a general election.

Fine Gael will be buoyed slightly by the exchange of transfers between their candidates and those of Labour and the Greens. Fianna Fáil, meanwhile, has already managed to craft deals with the centre-left in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown and in Dublin City Council, where there appeared to be the possibility of an (albeit messy) broad left alliance.

Such horse-trading is a built-in feature of the local political system and does not necessarily reflect the national picture. But whatever about the ‘green’ concessions that have been granted as part of these deals, the decision to back Fianna Fáil will have confounded those supporters of the smaller parties who were hoping for a new departure.

Left opposition falters

For Sinn Féin and the Trotskyist left, the two main left-wing opposition forces, along with the Independents4Change group, the elections will have prompted a lot of soul-searching. The loss of half of their council seats – 78 for Sinn Féin and 17 for Solidarity-PBP – is nothing short of devastating for the two parties which had attracted mass working-class support for their anti-austerity message in the 2014-2016 period.

The scale of these losses appears to have been determined by a number of factors including the choice of candidates, vote mismanagement, the absence of a compelling narrative in the context of economic ‘recovery’, the sense that the left parties have not delivered change at a local level and, for Sinn Féin, internal difficulties that have prompted resignations across the state.

Above all, the political left will have cause to reflect on the low turnout in working-class urban areas. This reflects the dissipation of popular energy since the height of the Right2Water protests while also suggesting a disconnect between the left parties and large sections of the working class.

Sinn Féin’s problems

This disconnect is most pronounced in the case of Sinn Féin, which, having established itself as the biggest working-class party on the island in 2016, has strayed furthest from its base in the intervening years. Rather than investing in the building of an oppositional, class-based politics in cooperation with other social and political forces, one that would present a long-term challenge to the right, the leadership has opted for the misguided strategy of becoming the hegemonic, catch-all nationalist party – a 1930s Fianna Fáil in 21st century Ireland.

This strategy comprises a number of key elements. Firstly, the adoption of a more liberal, rights-based discourse in response to issues such as equal marriage and abortion. Secondly, in the context of Brexit, the move from a position of critical engagement with the EU to one that is more engaged than critical. Both of these moves had the added appeal of speaking to the concerns of liberal Unionists.

Thirdly, and relatedly, gestures towards reconciliation and the shedding of some trappings of the party’s past. Fourthly, the uneasy combination of pro-workers and pro-business rhetoric.

And finally, the pivot away from an ‘anti-establishment’ message to one that assures the middle classes of Sinn Féin’s readiness to govern, culminating in the Ard Fheis decision that the party would be willing to enter coalition government as a junior partner. The defence of this decision – that any coalition arrangement would be formed around an undefined ‘radical republican’ programme – neglects the fact that the leadership would determine what ‘radical republican’ means in that eventuality.

To some extent, this catch-all strategy is designed to align the party’s southern trajectory with that in the North, where the Provisional republican movement has made the transition from insurrection to parliamentary politics and from a more explicitly socialist orientation to accommodation with the demands of neoliberal, power-sharing governance.

It should be enough to point out that this is poor from a principled left-wing perspective as it weakens the basis for a class-based alternative and implies greater hardship for workers and communities. But it is also founded on a misreading of conditions in the South, where the ‘respectable classes’ retain a deep-seated hatred of Sinn Fein; where the cause of a united Ireland has been taken up by bourgeois and ‘civic’ nationalism, depriving Sinn Féin of the leading role in that particular struggle; and where the political space is wide open to the left, not in the congested centre-ground.

All of this is well understood by the Sinn Féin left, which has been fighting a rearguard action within the party for the past two years or more. As Sinn Féin’s collective leadership meets to discuss its ‘identity crisis’, there will be pressure to identify a quick fix that enables the party to get through the next election.

Faced with calls that the party should double-down on centrism and moderate its tone, the leading voices of the left will be arguing, publicly and privately, for Sinn Féin to tack leftwards, revise its position on coalition government, rebuild in working-class communities and seek closer cooperation with other radical social and political forces. This appeal to restore the dynamic of 2014-16 and recalibrate it for the present will carry significant support within and outside of the party.

But whereas Sinn Féin’s centralised organisational culture has so far guarded against the formation of an official left caucus, the situation may require that the left’s struggle over the future direction of the party north and south becomes more organised and assertive.


There are no easy answers to these challenges. But there are a number of observations that are worth making about the current political moment and its implications for the left:

  1. The fragmented state of the Irish left is a persistent problem. For instance, one might question the logic of Clare Daly’s decision to swap Dublin for Brussels and stand against Lynn Boylan, one of the strongest advocates for a principled red-green politics in Europe, or the failure of Solidarity-PBP to agree on a single candidate for the same constituency. However, these debates overlook the more pressing issue of low turnout and the political disenfranchisement of the working class. A turnout of just 50 percent in working-class districts would have seen both Daly and Boylan elected and yielded a much better performance for left formations across the island, particularly as transfers between parties to the left of Labour show that their voters understand the principle of unity.
  2. The steady decline in political participation among the working class is largely down the failure of parties to speak to their interests. There is of course a need for the left to develop and cohere around a common narrative that goes beyond the anger of the austerity period. But it is the embrace of a ‘progressivist’, post-class politics which has led to the collapse of traditional socialist parties across Europe and now threatens to stunt the development of a radical alternative in Ireland. It is a mistake to think that there is any future for the left in avoiding the main faultline across Irish society, one of the most unequal in Europe, when the moneyed interests are clearly thinking and organising along class lines. As the experience of British Labour shows, a new politics must be organised around the interests of those “who have the greatest incentive to upturn the economic order”. New thinking need not mean moderation; it can be radical, insurgent and positive.
  3. There is no harm in developing better lines of communication or exploring the possibility of electoral pacts. But any ‘left unity’ worth talking about has to be grounded in practical cooperation on an issue-by-issue basis: the forging of effective alliances without necessarily pushing for a merger. Right2Water provides the model for a single-issue campaign which briefly united grassroots community actors, trade unions and the political left – and may have to be revived as the government looks to introduce ‘excessive usage’ charges. The Raise the Roof housing campaign has not managed to emulate the success of Right2Water, but may yet realise its promise with the adoption of more militant tactics. Trade union and political pressure has also delivered significant legislative gains in the area of workers’ rights. The next big political project for the left is ensuring that any green transition tackles the questions of ownership and power, and delivers a just outcome for workers and communities. This will require an escalation of grassroots activity, trade union interventions and the formation of red-green alliances on a national and international basis.
  4. There is no shortage of locally focused single-issue campaigns which have (re)politicised spheres that had been marked as non-political and registered small victories against capital. But they are limited by the absence of a radical context and a ‘political instrument’ which is capable of raising ‘a national project that can unify and act as a compass for all those sectors that oppose neoliberalism’. In lieu of this political instrument, the trade unions can play an important role in facilitating and integrating as much of this activity as possible, in order to help build the required forces to bring about a transformative situation.
  5. The refusal to do business with the two conservative parties is not an empty slogan. Rather it forms a basis upon which trust can be built up between political forces on the broad left. There should be no rewards for talking left and walking right. In addition, this principle recognises that each time a party of the left props up Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil, they provide them with the material for their rehabilitation whilst killing off the prospect of a class-based oppositional politics.
  6. Events have rapidly produced an all-island dynamic witnessed, for example, in the mobilisation and solidarity around issues such as equal marriage and abortion rights as well as the growing support for a united Ireland. But increasingly it looks like this united Ireland will be delivered by bourgeois and civic nationalism in cooperation with liberal Unionism. This, and the poor state of conditions in the North, drives home the necessity of the parliamentary and extra-parliamentary left organising and fighting on an all-island basis.
  7. The electoral sphere is one site of struggle for socialists. However, all parties of the Irish left have been guilty of working primarily within the confines of parliamentary politics and adapting to the rules of electoralism. This has operated to the detriment of building working-class organisations which are capable of challenging the material power of capital outside of the political institutions. It is vital that we invest time and energy in rebuilding the trade union movement, tenants’ unions and community organisations, and realise the potential of struggles at the point of production and social reproduction. It is this ‘construction of forces’ outside of the state which, coupled with an effective political strategy, will hit capital where it hurts and provide the social basis for a genuinely transformative movement.

Dr Sean Byers works as a researcher with Trademark and helps run the blog Brexit, Europe and the Left. Author of Seán Murray: Marxist-Leninist and Irish Socialist Republican (2015), he has published widely on the themes of socialist history and politics, post-conflict Northern Ireland and left political economy. He is an active member of Unite trade union and Belfast Trades Council. Follow him on Twitter @Sean _Byers84 and follow Trademarkon Twitter @TrademarkBF.

Thousands plan to protest Donald Trump’s visit to Ireland

By Memet Uludag.

Protest: Thursday June 6, 6pm at the Garden of Rembrance, Dublin. See the Facebook event here.

Donald Trump is a threat to us all.

His presidential campaign was based on racism against Mexicans – “build that wall!” He has tried to ban visitors and migrants from Muslim countries from entering the US. He is separating children from their parents at the border. 

President Trump gives carte blanche support to apartheid Israel to murder Palestinians and steal their land at will. He has worked with, encouraged and emboldened far right racists and fascists across the world.

As the world’s leading climate change denier who has pulled the US out of the Paris climate agreement, removed environment protection in America he is destroying the planet and endangering the whole future of humanity. 

In the age of #MeToo, when women globally are standing up for their rights, he has boasted of his ability to sexually assault women with impunity. 

He is undermining Irish neutrality via Shannon. He is an imperialist warmonger. 

Trump has posed as the friend of ‘the working man’ but in reality he is a billionaire property developer who represents the interests of the super-rich.  He filled his cabinet with CEOs and generals. 

Our protest against Trump is in solidarity with the millions of American people who are also victimised by Trump’s policies. We extend our solidarity to all people in the US involved in the #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter campaigns, and those who stand up to Trump’s barbaric border policies.

United Against Racism calls on the Irish government, which claims to be progressive, to make this clear to Donald Trump and to ensure that no public money – so urgently needed for the housing and health crisis – is spent on this visit.  

We call on European governments to open the borders to refugees fleeing wars and persecution.  

We also call on the Irish government to #EndDirectProvision and normalise all undocumented migrants in Ireland.

We are for a progressive Ireland of equality, justice and hope, not of racism, hate and fear!

Memet Uludag is the convener of United Against Racism, and one of the organisers of the ‘Stand up to Trump!’ protest in Dublin, which is supported by a broad range of progressive campaign organisations, unions and parties. Protests are also taking place in Shannon, Cork, Belfast and Derry. Follow Memet on Twitter @Memzers, and follow United Against Racism on Twitter @UnitedARacism.

‘Change the System’ is core demand of climate strikers

By Damien Thomson.

Around 3,000 students gathered outside government buildings in Dublin and towns across the country on Friday (May 24) to demand rapid and radical action on climate change. This is the second international strike co-ordinated by Fridays for Future – a global movement of climate protest. 

Speaking to some of the teen strikers, it’s clear that young people are ahead of the politicians on climate change. I say that not because they possess some extra knowledge (which may also be the case!), but because they acknowledge climate change as a political problem, not a technical one. 

The student demands call for radical state involvement in the economy to deliver a predictable, accountable and fair transition to a ecologically safe society by 2030. Core to their movement is the idea of standing up for their futures and how securing a safe future for young people is the government’s responsibility.

The immediacy of the effects of climate change, in that the picture is so grim for the lifespan of today’s young people, is clearly the greatest motivation with mobilising young people to take direct action. 

Fourteen-year-old Grainne O’Sullivan from Bray (pictured above) told me: “Politicians aren’t doing anything about this. It’s our future that they are taking away from us and that’s not fair. We are going to have to live with this and they are stealing our future.” While telling me about the demands of the Fridays for Future Movement, Grainne lamented that “one hundred corporations in the world are responsible for 71 per cent of our emissions, and it shouldn’t be that way, we should be using renewable energy”.

Beth Doherty (15) from Balbriggan told me how climate breakdown comes down to “the way our society is structured. It makes it impossible to live sustainably, and we are calling for the government to put legislation in place that changes those structures.”

We are not reaching our climate targets, Beth says, because “our government does not see this as a priority.” Noting trends to individualise climate action, Beth added: “If you are passionate about changing your individual lifestyle choices, then you should definitely consider getting involved in political action and getting involved in demanding systemic change too.” 

Eighteen-year-old Dan Drum (pictured above) spoke of how “we have already achieved a small goal of getting the government to declare a climate emergency”, but we want “our economy and ecology to work in sync”. We need to have “climate change-responsible production” and “a climate change-responsible economy”. Dan says that “once economy and ecology come in sync, huge change can be made”.

Meadhbh Bolger from Friends of the Earth Europe, who was also at the strike, notes how young people are mobilised because “leaders are not doing near enough”. 

“We can’t have an economy or any sort of working society without a healthy planet, without using resources in a sustainable way… everything is interlinked and connected, we need to change all sectors of our society and economy. It’s not just about climate change, its about changing the system of how we produce, consume, and operate as a society collectively.” 

The demands of the young people are reasonable, not radical, if we maintain the basic aim of securing a safe future. The Irish government, and government leaders across the globe, have been abdicating on climate change, pushing it into the market for the so-called invisible hand to solve. Young people, however, do not buy this approach. They want predictability. They want assurance. They want their state to do everything within its powers to stop global warming now. 

Is that too much to ask? 

Student climate strikers’ demands

Below are the demands of the Friday’s for Future movement, and the next global climate strike is planned for September 20 this year. 

  1. The Government ensures all fossil fuels are left in the ground and should not allow any new fossil fuel infrastructure to be built and that Ireland uses 100% renewable electricity by 2030.
  2. The Government declares a climate emergency, communicates the severity of the ecological crisis to the general public and reforms the primary and post-primary educations systems to address the need for ecological literacy. The government must prioritise the protection of life on Earth, taking active steps to achieve climate justice.
  3. The Government makes transitioning to a CO2-neutral Ireland socially fair. We demand of the government that it takes its responsibility seriously and avoids having regular citizens carry all the burden towards transitioning to a sustainable society.
  4. The Government implements all the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly on Climate Change. As this is a climate emergency, we demand that the recommendations be implemented immediately.
  5. The Government creates and enforces stronger regulations on corporations that are causing the climate crisis and ensure a transformation to reduce emissions from agriculture in Ireland.
  6. The Government implements a Green New Deal and ensures that after leaving school, all young people in Ireland can have livelihoods that don’t damage the Earth.

All photos by Damien Thomson. Damien Thomson is a contributing editor of Irish Broad Left. Follow him on Twitter @dmacthomais.

Climate Emergency Manifesto launched by the European Left

By Damien Thomson.

On Tuesday 16 April, Swedish teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg addressed the Environment Committee in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, calling for “Cathedral Thinking” on climate action – a reference to the huge and immediate mobilisation of empathy, panic and money at the sight of the Notre Dame in flames. The real panic, she said, should be about the “house on fire” – the planet – leading to a mobilisation of funds, emergency emissions reductions and state-led direction of the transition.

Today in Strasbourg, the Left group in the European Parliament GUE/NGL (European United Left/Nordic Green Left), has launched a Climate Emergency Manifesto ahead of the European elections taking place at the end of next month, firmly marking Just Climate Action as the group’s number one priority.

The manifesto, which explores six overarching demands for effective climate action, comes off the back of two recent developments: the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report from October 2018 strongly pushing for policymakers to limit global warming to 1.5°; and the global social movement known as ‘Fridays for Future’. These two developments have shaken the political foundations of the European Union (EU) in particular, and called into question its climate credentials. 

Climate emergency demands emergency response

The latest IPCC report paints a dark picture of the current pathway we are on. It gives us less than 12 years to enact “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes” to every aspect of the economy to stay below 1.5° of global warming. We are already at 1° of warming above pre-industrial levels, and at 1.5° the chain reaction of climate catastrophe will be unleashed as we surpass the tipping point. We are already in climate chaos at cliff-edge: the emergency brakes need to be activated now.

At the 24th UN Climate Conference held in 2018 in Poland (COP24), Miguel Arias Cañete, European Commissioner for Energy and Climate Action, stood up on a platform with the Canadian environment minister and other posing ministers to hold a big banner stating ‘High Ambition Coalition’. This was their way of trying to affirm that they are the leading parties at these high-level climate negotiations – leading for higher climate ambition. Needless to say, no-one was really convinced. 

The EU’s feeble attempt to promote itself as a global climate leader looks even more pathetic now in the context of over one million students across the globe coordinating a world-wide strike on 15 March 2019.

These young people are clearly not impressed with the self-congratulating Commissioner Arias Cañete’s level of ambition, nor of any state that claims it is doing enough. After all, the CV which qualified him for the portfolio he runs is based on his family ties to the oil industry itself. The next global strike scheduled for 24 May 2019 will set the tone for the European elections, demanding that radical climate action is on the agenda. 

As students gathered last month with their placards and chanted in more than 1,000 locations in over 100 countries worldwide, there wasn’t any rallying to congratulate the EU or the ‘High Ambition Coalition’ Ministers. Nor did young people chant “Carbon Tax Now” or “Secure the Rulebook!” They demanded climate justice.

The manifesto presented today by GUE/NGL is a response to this call and is commensurate to the demands of the striking youth.  A central demand to the global movement is a declaration of climate emergency – to effect an emergency response to an emergency situation. This manifesto is the Left’s way of hitting the panic button and declaring a climate emergency, as well as putting its climate commitments out there before the elections for all voters to see. 

Left approach rejects the market’s pseudo-solutions

The anti-capitalist Left has a nuanced approach to climate action – one that is clearly distinct from the Greens and Social Democrats, and of course, the Liberals and beyond who always appropriate the language of climate action to cover up their prioritisation of profits.

The Greens and Social Democrats prize the market and economic growth just as much as Conservatives, and consistently vote for the liberalisation of the EU energy market for instance, withdrawing the directional control of the energy sector away from elected governments.

Any real Leftist would reject this. We demand that governments are behind the wheel on the transition rather than watching markets fluctuate, and crucially, we are the only ones that reject the perpetual growth mode – the root cause of the climate crisis.

By removing the responsibility of climate action from governments and lawmakers and placing it in the invisible hands of the market, the Greens and Social Democrats have actively played an important role in this climate disaster.

While their intentions may well-motivated, the Greens have been the driving force in pushing climate responsibility off the desks of world leaders, by pushing for the EU emissions trading scheme (ETS) carbon market, commercialised energy markets, the monetisation of pollution and carbon pricing – all policy recommendations from the fossil fuel industry itself. 

Climate crisis requires anti-capitalist action

The conclusion here is clear – only by being anti-capitalist can one be a climate activist. Anything less than this is the preservation of the status quo. Greening capitalism is indeed the most sinister form of climate action delaying. 

The manifesto launched by the Left goes to the very heart of the economic model that has created climate change. Overturning global capitalism may not be realistic within the next 11 years, given how it morphs and self-replicates in the search of commodities, but the forces of capitalism can be resisted. It is precisely here – in counteracting capitalist forces – where an effective response to the climate crisis lies. 

Keep fossil fuels in the ground

The solutions to climate change must come from outside the capitalist framework, beyond the logic of a market transition.  This is why this manifesto is about directly regulating the fossil fuel industry – keeping fossil fuels in the ground and phasing out their use altogether with strict time-bound targets.

It is about massive public investment, matching the financial responses already seen at times of war, responding to terrorism, or saving the banks. It is about regulating sectors to ensure sustainable practices, stopping the wild flurry of extraction and environmental abuses produced by capitalism. The Left is the only group bringing forward this critique and this response.  

Core to this manifesto, and a prism used throughout it, is that of the principles of climate justice. For the Left, these are not just pretty words to speckle our manifesto – they are guiding tools and tests. We stand for climate policies that empower communities, not debilitate them. We stand for a rights-based approach to climate action, including a right to renewable energy. We want an integrated sustainable development approach to climate action – ensuring the fight against climate change interlinks with the struggles against poverty, gender inequity and socio-economic inequalities. 

Just and effective climate action is our number one priority, and anything less than this is a climate crime. 

A copy of the manifesto in English can be found here. Other language versions can be found on the GUE/NGL website

Damien Thomson is a contributing editor of Irish Broad Left and the climate campaign coordinator for the GUE/NGL group in the European Parliament. Follow him on Twitter @dmacthomais.

Youth rise up for climate, demanding revolutionary change

By Damien Thomson.

Today is the day where hundreds of thousands of young people are expected to strike from school and take to the streets to demands immediate and radical climate action. Thousands have taken part in 37 different actions across Ireland, including an estimated 10,000 protesting outside the Dáil in Dublin.

It seems like we are all cheering them on, but who really has their backs? Who actually supports their demands?

The demands of the youth movement on climate can only be described as revolutionary. The young strikers do not tread lightly on making their point. They want the emergency button to be pressed immediately on climate change and the panic response to kick off.

They do not want to hear excuses. They want swift and unprecedented action on climate, in order to have any chance of saving their futures. The fact that children and young people are leading on this is noteworthy – they see no future with the current rate of progress.

And they are absolutely spot on. Even considering all the climate commitments made under the UN Paris Agreement to stop global warming, supported by the majority of the establishment internationally, global warming is still projected to reach an increase of 3.2° Celsius by the end of the century.

Given that the latest special report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) from October 2018 warns of the disastrous ecological and human cost of a 2°C rise, one can only imagine what future we face on the current path of 3°+ degrees. We are talking about hitting the tipping point – the point of no return – when the effects of global warming will multiply and we will have no ability to rein it in.

Children born today have a life expectancy beyond the year 2100. Young people are not taking to the streets because it is the latest craze; rather, it is because it is the last chance. We have 12 years to make the “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes to our economy” demanded by science: these striking young people do not expect anything less than that. They are not on the streets calling for moderate liberal demands such as a carbon tax, or carbon market reform – they want a climate revolution.

More than 150,000 young people have already gathered in Australia, and throughout the day, young people in cities and towns across the world – in more than 100 countries – are getting their homemade placards out and meeting in their local areas to come together as part of a massive global movement to make their message heard loud and clear.

Politicians who accept the science and the need for an emergency response, you would think, would agree with these demands. However, in Ireland, what we have to date are three main political responses to this global movement: 1) genuine support from left political parties, including agreement with their demands; 2) odd interpretations of the movement from liberal greens who are fixated on using the movement to railroad through carbon tax increases as the ‘radical solution’; and 3) patronising head-nodding from conservative groups, including the government.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar stated that he endorses the students strike today on March 15, while at the same time he leads a government that has greenwashed climate inaction and is failing to make inroads on all climate targets.

Saoi O’Connor, 16-year-old Cork-based climate striker, put it frankly: “If you are not supporting immediate radical climate action, then you can’t be supporting the students walking out”. Saoi makes an excellent point – it’s not enough to support the young people striking today, you need to be supporting their demands, and willing to put them into action.

Yesterday, the European Parliament adopted an important resolution on climate change, the last one it will approve before EU parliamentary elections in May. An amendment tabled by the left group recognising the youth movement and calling for their demands to be heard was passed. It was, of course, resisted by the right-wing of the Parliament, but also accepted by some conservatives and liberals, getting it over the line. Many of the liberals and conservatives who helped approve this amendment, however, went on to vote down crucial amendments that were actionable on climate change.

In their typical contradictory style on climate matters, Fine Gael’s four MEPs voted against the most progressive demands while claiming to support the climate strikers. Most notably, amendments from the left to boost the EU’s 2030 climate ambition on emissions reduction targets from 40 per cent to 55 per cent succeeded – but with no thanks from Deirdre Clune, Sean Kelly, Brian Hayes and Mairead McGuinness, who voted against.

The four conservative MEPs also voted against the EU divesting from fossil fuels – a bizarre move given that Ireland is the first state to do so globally. It doesn’t stop there: they voted against a proposal for a 100 per cent renewable-based 2050 energy strategy and against making climate justice a fundamental value of the EU.

So can Fine Gael, or conservatives in general, honestly say they support the youth strikers, or are they really just offering a patronising pat on the head? It seems like the neoliberal force of trivialising social movements is at play.

Earlier this week, 60 young climate activists were invited to the European Parliament to view the debate on climate change in the chamber from the gallery, among them Ireland’s Saoi O’Connor. The action to invite this big group of young climate activists was an initiative from the left wing of the Parliament, given that the centre and right wing blocked a proposal to invite Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg to address the plenary session.

In a very symbolic way, the 60 activists could only look down on the politicians as they debated, literally excluded from participating thanks to liberals and conservatives. What was revealed from the debate, and the vote record on the climate resolution, is the answer to who is really in support of the climate strikers.

It comes down to political ideology. Liberal and conservative ideologies simply cannot meet the demands of the youth movement on climate. Their interests are skewed, their priorities backwards. For liberals and conservatives, ensuring a commercialised energy market is more important than phasing out fossil fuels;  protecting the status quo of private profiteering is more important than protecting the environment; the appearance of climate action is more important than taking the necessary bold steps.

So climate strikers, the left is fully behind you. Your demands are our demands and today we will strike with you for the genuine, radical and revolutionary climate action we need.

Damien Thomson is a contributing editor of Irish Broad Left. Follow him on Twitter @dmacthomais.

Captured states: When EU governments act as middlemen for corporate interests

By Vicky Cann.

Do you know why the banks got their way after the financial crisis, while you shouldered the impacts of austerity? Or why our food will still be exposed to the dangerous pesticide glyphosate in the coming years? Or why the EU’s climate targets are much weaker than originally planned?

Corporate lobbies are actively influencing decision-making to ensure that EU laws and policies suit them, including via national ministers and officials. In fact, member states are the missing part of the jigsaw, alongside the European Commission, elements within the European Parliament, and the EU treaties, which explain the pro-corporate bias of too many EU laws and policies.

Many of the ways in which member states feed into EU decision-making are shrouded in secrecy and not commonly studied, but now a report by Corporate Europe Observatory, Captured states: When EU governments are a channel for corporate interests, breaks new ground by providing an overview of how member states act as EU middlemen for corporate interests. And whether it is on climate change, finance, chemicals, data privacy, austerity, or many other issues, when corporate interests win, the public interest loses out.

The influence of the car industry on the German political establishment, and the negative impact of this on EU climate and emissions’ regulation; the power of the state-owned coal industry which has led the Polish Government to be such a climate pariah; or the iconic status of the City of London, which can count on the UK government to back its demands for the lowest possible financial regulation – these are all examples of how member states and national corporate lobbies have developed a symbiotic relationship. In these examples, the national corporate interest has – wholly wrongly – become synonymous with the national public interest as presented by the relevant government in EU fora.

Privileged access

Meanwhile, elite corporate lobbies have access to EU leaders that NGOs and trade unions simply cannot match. Take, for example, the regular meetings of the European Round Table of Industrialists, which brings together 50 bosses of major European multinational companies such as Telefónica, Siemens, Total, and BMW, with the leaders of France and Germany. Or the cosy cocktails between member states’ trade officials and the European Services forum which represents Vodafone, HSBC, and Deutsche Telekom.

This kind of privileged access, and massive lobby spending power, means that the corporate sector significantly outguns civil society when it comes to influencing complex and opaque EU decision-making processes involving national governments. This is then reflected in the progress and outcomes of a wide range of EU dossiers, from ePrivacy to the Robin Hood tax; from climate change to chemicals regulation.

Additionally, and beyond specific rules and laws agreed at the EU level, member states have collectively absorbed some corporate agendas and adopted them as part of the EU political agenda, such as on economic governance (strict fiscal rules and austerity), the so-called ‘innovation principle’ (undermining precautionary approaches to regulation), and investors’ protection in trade treaties (allowing corporations to sue states for billions in compensation when governments act to protect their people and the planet).

Irish government not immune

The Irish government is not immune to this corporate influence. While the Irish Permanent Representation (its official base in Brussels) is one of only a handful to provide some transparency about the lobbying it receives, corporate interests dominated the data, withIrish business lobby Ibec, Google, and the finance sector all featuring prominently. In addition to its meetings, Ibec sent numerous emails and letters to Ireland’s chief Brussels official over the year.

Meanwhile, Phil Hogan, nominated by Ireland to be an EU Commissioner and who is responsible for EU agriculture policy, is clearly a major target of Irish corporate lobbies. Among numerous meetings with the Irish Farmers’ Association and Ibec, Hogan has also found time for meetings with Ryanair, the Bank of Ireland, and Google.

Contemporary right-wing nationalist rhetoric argues that a strong EU is imposing rules and regulations on nation states, and sometimes it suits member states to play up to this narrative and blame the EU for decisions which are unpopular at home. However, blaming the EU ‘apparatus’ alone is far too simplistic: after all, governments set the EU’s strategic direction, are closely involved in both the drafting and implementation of EU rules, and have the final sign-off on all EU legislation.

Civil society and decision-makers need to wake up to the threat that corporate lobbies, influencing member states, have on EU decision-making. To start to reverse this, action will be needed by governments, national and regional parliaments, and the EU institutions. In particular, we urgently need new models for citizens to both find out more about, and have a say on, the EU matters with which member states are tasked with deciding.

2019 will be a really significant year for the EU with Brexit looming, the European Parliamentary elections due in May, and a new European Commission to be appointed in the autumn. Domestic debates on the role of the EU will only intensify. What better time to discuss the role our governments play, in our name, at the EU level?

The new report, ‘Captured states: When EU governments are a channel for corporate interests’ is available here.

Vicky Cann is a campaigner with Corporate Europe Observatory. CEO is a research and campaign group working to expose and challenge the privileged access and influence enjoyed by corporations and their lobby groups in EU policy making. Follow her on Twitter @vicky_cann.

The UN climate conference: where ambition goes to die

By Damien Thomson.

This is an eyewitness account of the UN Climate Conference COP24, held in Katowice, Poland, in December last year from the perspective of one of the 30,000 participants. All attempts will be taken to avoid acronyms of climate terms, or at least explain them, and I will outline the ‘insider information’ that I got from my first COP.

As a political advisor in the European Parliament, I am used to working on EU-level climate and energy legislation, but now I found myself with an access badge to a global conference on the even messier stage of climate politics, the international level. A cup of tea with a curious friend got us talking in simple terms about what actually went on at COP24 in Katowice last December.

What does COP24 stand for?

It is an alphanumeric term used to refer to the United Nations yearly climate conference: the Conference Of Parties. Most nation states, and the EU, are ‘Parties’ to the United Nation’s Convention on Climate Change, otherwise acronymed as the UNFCCCCCCC. (Insider information: nobody really knows how many C’s there really are.)

The conference is the ‘supreme decision-making body’ of the Convention, and brings leaders of countries together to discuss the global response to climate change. It is the 24th time the parties have met since the first meeting in 1995 in Berlin, and the location of the conference rotates each year according to geographical areas.

So it changes location every year?

Yeah, but Poland has managed to host it three times, and nobody wants it to be hosted there again because it is damn cold in December and there is only so much pierogi you can eat before your stomach hurts. Next year it is over to the Latin American bloc, so it will be hosted in Chile, with a preparatory conference in Costa Rica, called the pre-COP – quite a change from snowy Katowice.

So what goes on?

Well, it is part decision-making, part random nonsense. The Paris Agreement in 2015 (COP21) was about establishing a binding agreement on keeping global warming “well below 2°C” and other vague climate goals.

The COP24 was supposed to be about setting rules that would clarify the details of this agreement in a single text, often called the ‘Paris Rulebook’ (except China wants it to be called the ‘Paris Agreement Work Programme’). The fine details of the rulebook were debated and decided by technical teams and ministers from all the parties, of course, in the utmost secrecy. Draft texts of the rulebook were uploaded online at random intervals, giving the press something to fuss about and participants like me a chance to see how the talks were progressing.

That sounds serious….

True, but the real face of COP for the ordinary participant is the ‘Pavilion Area’. In a massive prefab attached to the conference centre, pavilions lined narrow corridors and certain countries displayed their climate challenges and efforts. They host side events and shower the passer-by with freebies: the Germans giving coffee, the Austrians dishing up würstel, and the Indonesians gifting colourful pillow cases. Lanyards, badges and leaflets are all over the place. Delegates not knowing what else to do drifted from pavilion to pavilion to tune into segments of relatively non-inspiring presentations from (mainly corporate) stakeholders.

So it’s like the Ploughing? But for climate?

Yes. Exactly, but most people wore suits instead of wellies. Also, the Pavilion area was flooded in corporate sponsorship. The panels at these side events contained speakers from industries proposing their techno-fixes and companies revealing their pledges to commit to ‘doing their part’ or ‘making climate action a business strategy’, and other malarkey.

Of course, these pavilions and events were geopolitically charged too; Brazil gave out leaflets on the efficiency of Brazilian livestock farming, the EU debated useless carbon markets, and Russia’s whole theme was bizarrely focused on the role of natural gas in the energy transition. The US took the biscuit with its event on coal – a form of middle finger to the Paris Agreement, which it intends to withdraw from.

Sounds bad…

A lot of it is just unhelpful corporate climate politics, but there were some good side events too, such as on energy poverty, a just transition, and the rights of women and indigenous communities. There was also an ‘exhibition area’, where civil society organisations and NGOs stood behind stands, like a careers fair.

However, they were symbolically ostracised from the decision-making, placed physically far away from the negotiations, located by the massive cloakroom. This was where NGOs could present their ideas and their work. There were also ‘themed’ wine receptions everywhere, i.e. terrible excuses for wine receptions. While the negotiators were negotiating, the other participants to COP were networking and enjoying a free glass of wine.

Well then who’s paying for all of this?

The conference itself is funded through the UN, but the host country normally accompanies this with sponsorship. To most people’s disgust, the Polish Presidency hosting the conference unashamedly invited coal and oil companies to be sponsors. Poland’s largest oil company, LOTOS, which is expanding its oil and gas drilling and exploration projects in the Arctic Circle, was among one of the many big polluters greenwashing its way into the conference through sponsorship. Most participants fund their own way to COP, with very few receiving daily subsistence allowances.

I saw that video of the 15-year old Swedish girl speaking on climate change. Is that the kind of message coming from COP24?

Unfortunately not. Greta Thunberg sent a very powerful message at COP, but it only rebounded off their heads in the plenary room. The corporate hold and capitalist mindset of world leaders means that they, of course, did not take her message on board. Her anti-capitalist call for crisis-level action, however, has already inspired more climate protests from activists, and particularly young people who have launched a school strike for climate action across the world.

But for COP itself, the message was more of the same: Ambition on climate change was frozen in 2015 with no talk of increasing efforts; corporate-friendly carbon markets dominated the discourse on solutions; weak rules mean that rich countries can even count commercial loans as climate finance to poorer countries. The result is mellow, when what we need is revolution.

Damien Thomson is a contributing editor for Irish Broad Left.