Strike, Blockade, Shut it Down! Reflections on the Wollongong Global Climate Strike

Climate Strike 5

By Mark Gawne & Nick Southall (with contributions from Sharon Pusell & Rascal Rowe)

The Wollongong Global Climate Strike on September 20 was the largest protest in the city since the 2003 anti-war demonstration. The Climate Strike fits into a recent series of protests in the region, specifically coming off the back of the earlier school climate strike in March, and the climate action demonstration in May, with some other smaller protests taking place over the year as well. Of these actions, the Wollongong Global Climate Strike was by far the largest and drew together a vast array of groups and individuals. It was organised by open meetings composed of people from several organisations and groups, as well as individuals, all working together. The largest meeting had over 50 people participate, and there was a consistent number of at least 25-30 people attend each meeting. The Strike itself expresses the latest moment in a process of radicalisation in the region’s climate movement and provides a basis for ongoing struggle in and around Wollongong, most clearly demonstrated in the newly formed Illawarra Climate Justice Alliance (ICJA). We offer here some reflections on why the Strike should be understood as an important growth of struggle in the Illawarra, on the ecology of the strike in Wollongong, and the politics of the Strike, as we look forward to the next steps in the movement.

Stirrings of the Strike

In the face of growing environmental, climate and extinction crises, there has been a process of radicalisation in the Illawarra over the past year. This process has arisen from conditions specific to Wollongong, but it is also inseparable from the global context. On the one hand, the Wollongong Global Climate Strike has drawn inspiration and taken its cue from the student led school strikes for climate. Extinction Rebellion both overseas and in Australia has also had some influence on the movement in Wollongong. This reflects one aspect of the global context into which the movement in Wollongong fits. On the other hand, and at the same time, there have recently been several regionally based struggles developing around Wollongong. For example, a campaign has been building against various tourist developments on Mt Keira. The Illawarra Escarpment Alliance (ESCAR), involving a range of organisations and individuals from over 15 environmental organisations and the Illawarra Local Aboriginal Lands Council formed early in 2019 to campaign against destructive development on the escarpment. Early in 2019, Protect Our Water Alliance (POWA) held an open forum on the effects of long wall mining under the water catchment attended by over 200 people, and there have been other events and a growing campaign built by this group. Actions on the university campus and the occupation of GHD’s local office, as part of the stop Adani campaign, have also characterised growing radicalisation in the lead up to the Strike.

Learning to move together: debates, decision-making, democracy

The Climate Strike, and the organising processes that led up to it, have established a firm basis for ongoing collective activity which involves a strong cross section of groups and individuals and has demonstrated the importance of open democratic meetings and decision-making processes. This basis, now realised in the formation of ICJA, grew out of the months of organising the Climate Strike. The student demonstrations were probably most significant in terms of generating the basis for the open organising meetings that built the Strike. After the first school strike in March, high school and university students formed the Youth Environmental Alliance (YEA), in part to maintain a politics of protest and movement building, as one pole in a spectrum of active youth organisations in the Illawarra. YEA was pivotal, both in terms of maintaining a space for the burgeoning militant politics of the movement, as well as in terms of generating the basis for the open organising meetings. It was YEA who organised a large protest on May 25th that led to blockading the main intersection of Wollongong city, and it was from YEA that the call for the first Wollongong Global Climate Strike open organising meeting came.

The first Strike open meeting, held on June 28th at Wollongong city library, was attended by about 40 people, with many more giving apologies due to the city being blocked by a major traffic incident preventing their attendance. While not as well attended as it otherwise would have been, the first meeting captured what was to become the character of all subsequent meetings. There was a wide cross section of individuals, groups and organisations present, including community activists and organisations, high school and university students, workers, Greens members and an ALP councillor. There was a wide array of political perspectives in the room during the first meeting, and this remained the case over the subsequent months. But from the first meeting on, a practice of open and comradely debate was established. For example, there was immediate agreement on organising together to build the Climate Strike in Wollongong. The meeting debated and then decided that the Strike should be organised around five demands – Stop Adani, 100% Renewables, Sustainable Jobs, No New Coal or Gas Projects, and No Mining in the Illawarra Water Catchment. Even on more contentious tactical issues, strong debate led to decisions reflecting and building commonality.

For example, the decision to hold and blockade an intersection during the Climate Strike was one such contentious issue. Contention about this drew from the experience of the climate protest held earlier in May, which decided to hold and blockade the intersection of three major roads of the city, and to do so without notifying the police in the march’s permit request. Overall, this was a successful action. Many left the action energised and more confident and this contributed a great deal to the process of radicalisation mentioned earlier. However, at one point a car attempted to drive (not speedily, but dangerously) through one of the blockades. This created tension and conflict between protestors and the car driver, police and protestors, and between some protestors, as we decided on the fly what to do. After the demonstration, a variety of views on how to address this type of danger were expressed. Criticism from sections of the movement and pressure from the media and conservative forces made an impact on these discussions. So, when organising meetings for the Global Climate Strike turned to the issue of a street blockade, a variety of different views on the safety, effectiveness, and purpose of the blockade were debated. This was the most contentious issue raised at the Strike organising meetings and resulted in two fairly lengthy debates. Both ended with the organising group endorsing a blockade, with no voiced dissent.

Another example was some tension and discussions about the leading position of young people and the fact that the organisation of the Strike could involve everyone. This issue was considered and clarified via open deliberation, where everyone’s perspective could be heard, and the crucial role of young people was acknowledged and respected. While a reasonably strong practice of debate and democratic decision making characterised the organising meetings, apart from some of the discussion around blockading an intersection and open participation, there was a lack of political debate. On one hand, this reflected the interests of the organising group to mainly put aside areas of disagreement, instead concentrating on our commonalities, and focusing on the functional tasks required to organise a large demonstration. On the other hand, it will be important that as the movement develops it generates more space for broader debates concerning the politics of the movement, its composition, different actions, strategies, tactics and experimentation with a variety of approaches to dealing with the climate crisis.

Open meetings were held fortnightly from late July through to the September 20 Strike. Many different things were done to build the strike during this period, including producing posters and going on paste-ups, individual and group leafleting at multiple sites and events, social media posts, working bees, and making videos. Some tactics recently taken-up by Extinction Rebellion in other places inspired formations here, such as the Red Rebels and a die-in on Crown Street mall attended by over 50 people. Banner drops, local-market stalls, postering various outer suburbs and train stations all built toward the Strike. School groups formed and organised contingents, and some trade unions supported the strike. At UOW, students organised in their classes to pledge to attend the strike, while community organisations came out in support, different organising contingents were publicised by the open meetings, speak outs were organised, adverts placed in local newspapers, along with successful efforts to push local media to cover various angles and topics related to the climate crisis and community action.

Another component of the organising meetings was the formation of working groups. These groups were organised as the following: fun, promo, speakers, schools, media, and one to organise smaller decentralised actions earlier on the day of the Strike before the rally and march. The later group resulted in the organisation of a rally at UOW, a chalk-up and speak out in the Mall, and the picketing of coal company South32’s offices. In general, the organising group encouraged and supported individual and decentralised initiative. Having a range of actions helped to encourage diversity in tactics/strategy, the development of autonomous organising and a focus on the interconnections between local and global concerns. Rather than creating conflict and competition between those wishing to do different things, there was a flourishing of diversity and a breadth of activity, fostering empowerment, encouraging solidarity, and accommodating differences.

Climate strikes, social strikes: disrupting business as usual

Strikes usually involve the collective withdrawal of labour in order to disrupt businesses and exercise class power. However, the word strike is also applied to other forms of disruption that don’t involve the withdrawal of labour, e.g. ‘Rent Strikes’ or ‘Debt Strikes’. Strikes can include a range of work stoppages, walkouts, marches, pickets, and blockades. A ‘Social Strike’ is a strike that takes place across the whole society, not just the workplace. From Tunis to Buenos Aires, from London to Khartoum, from Hong Kong to Paris, we have seen that this type of Strike develops various forms of action, helping to promote alternative ways of organising things and different ways of relating to each other and the world around us. Social strikes allow us to find each other and to work around common concerns, bringing us together in collective action and shared territory at the same time as we disrupt capitalist normality. As a strategy, the social strike reflects the fact that capital depends on our leisure time, our domestic activity, and our social spaces, not only to circulate goods and services, but also to create relationships suitable for capitalism to continue to exist. In the space of the social strike, we can make ourselves available for each other, we can disrupt the ordinary flow of things, we can craft our own forms of organisation, and foster structures of care.

As well as the commonly understood global concerns around the environmental, climate and extinction crises – here in the Gong we’re living alongside the infrastructure that’s digging out the coal, that’s pumping the gas, that’s draining the water catchment, causing climate change and destroying Country. This means that an important aspect of a society-wide strike around climate concerns must involve the enactment and demonstration of our collective power. A social strike helps us to investigate and understand our strengths and weaknesses, our concrete conditions and struggles, commonalities and differences, existing resources, bases of support, and helps to expose those opposing us.

Ecology of the Strike

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ruth climate strikeClimate Strike September 20 2

Of the thousands of people who took part in the Wollongong Global Climate strike the majority were young people – school kids, both high school and primary school, as well as groups of friends, uni students, workers, as well as family groups, and so on. The rally and march were a colourful assembly festooned with home-made banners, placards, t-shirts and props, which began and ended with musical performances. The Radical Drum Corps, Rising Tide Street Band and other musicians added to the joyous and defiant celebration of resistance and hope. During the occupation of the Kembla and Crown Street intersection, local ‘hillbilly punk’ group The Lurkers led the strikers in a rousing rendition of ‘We Shall Not be Moved’. The Red Rebels also performed their special brand of silent street theatre throughout the day.

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Kristy RDC

The composition of the Strike reflected decades of local environment activism, including the hugely successful campaign to ‘Stop Coal Seam Gas’, protect the local water catchment, and defend regional eco-systems.  It also included a deep ecology framing, evident, for example, in 8 year old Lilly Callaghan’s popular speech, when she declared “I believe the earth is worth more than money!” and called on us to be the strength, reach and resolve of a tree. We also saw this expressed in the many home-made placards voicing the material interdependence of human life and ecology.

Many of those who attended were part of a local sustainability ecosystem; a network of environmentally concerned people, community groups, ecological and counter-culture initiatives. This web of activity includes environmental movements opposing fossil fuel production, and/or seeking to protect the local air, water, land, and sea, as well as a growing network of alternative production, distribution, and exchange experiments. Many social movements are now concerned with the creation of healthier environments, focused equally on humans and the nonhuman world in a dynamic of interdependence and love. They are fighting for progressive political, economic, and community transformations and self-organising the growth of sustainable living experiments, reducing ecological impacts, and devoting more time, energy, and resources to what’s most valuable – our relationships, environments, and communities.

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The importance of Aboriginal struggles for self-determination and stewardship in these times of crisis was expressed by many who spoke at the rally. The powerful welcome to country given by Jade Kennedy highlighted that for over two hundred years Aboriginal peoples have fought the destructive path of colonialism and capitalism. Several other speakers spoke about traditional knowledge of Country and the need for non-Aboriginal folks to learn from and centre local knowledge in the fight for a liveable future. Yet, while there’s a growing attention to a decolonial politics, there’s a lack of concrete strategies about what this might mean in practice being articulated within the movement in the Illawarra. This presents us with the challenge to demolish climate apartheid and to implement practical measures of decolonisation. This will involve continuing to build relationships of solidarity and orienting to the everyday, as well as key moments of struggle led by Aboriginal communities. It also involves reflecting on and complicating the emphasis on youth leadership of the climate movement, which should not stop us from learning from Elders, and from hundreds of years of resistance and struggle that Aboriginal and other Indigenous peoples have waged against a system that forces almost everyone to rely on wages, seeks to disconnect us from everything that sustains us, and pits us against each other.

There is also space for a more attentive ear that listens to what Torres Strait and Pacific Islander communities living in the ‘Gong’ are saying and doing, as their ancestral lands are particularly affected by the escalating climate crisis. Even though Indigenous people have custodianship over just 25 per cent of the world’s land, they protect 80 per cent of the world’s biodiversity. Indigenous land management practices both mitigate climate change and protect environments from its impacts. Indigenous people have been on the frontline of resistance to fossil fuel projects and their care for Country stretches back tens of thousands of years.

Climate Strike September 20

In keeping with Wollongong’s recent history as a place where people from all over the world have come and settled, Wollongong has an active pro-refugee movement and networks which organise protests, campaigns, and coordinate everyday support for newly arrived refugees. Climate-related displacement and migration is set to be one of the greatest challenges of our era. It is widely estimated that, by 2050, between 150 to 300 million people risk being forced to leave their homes as a result of desertification, rising sea levels, and extreme weather conditions. After the Strike, many people have been drawing links between climate change and the forced displacement of people. Another positive development has been the organisation of an ICJA contingent for the latest Wollongong Rally for Refugees.

Many unionists participated in the Strike. However, only a few unions publicly supported it, such as the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) and Australian Services Union (ASU) who had visible contingents on the march. The support of the NTEU, in helping to organise the Strike, was especially important. The local NTEU branch was pivotal in providing resources, developing relationships within the Strike and participating in the open organising meetings, providing a good example of how other unions could participate in future. However, the absence of other unions in support of the Strike signals some weaknesses in both the event’s organisation and the local labour movement. None-the-less, although a union presence was generally lacking, it’s important to note that this doesn’t mean workers didn’t take part in the Strike. Workers were participating from a range of industries, but they were doing so in a broadly self-organised way. This raises a few questions concerning the composition of the Strike and where to go from here, in terms of deepening the significance of a social strike, building self-organisation, and also addressing the general lack of union presence in the movement so far.

 

After the Strike

The Strike was a wonderful achievement and the success of the Wollongong Global Climate Strike open meetings encouraged those involved to maintain and build this organising space. So, during the Strike, leaflets were distributed, and announcements were made encouraging participants to attend the next public organising meeting. The perspectives of those in the organising group and those striking were varied – these included calling for politicians to do ‘something’, a rejection of politics as usual, calls to continue building our own power, etc. and the future direction of local climate action remains largely undecided and varied. The debates about what comes next include a vast array of proposals, viewpoints, strategies, and new forces getting involved.

The inclusion of a demand for ‘No Mining in the Illawarra Water Catchment’ in the Strike’s publicity material, along with the targeting of South32, and criticism of Bluescope’s massive carbon emissions, introduced an important local dimension to the Strike. It also challenged the proposed expansion of the local coal industry and the impact of the steel industry. After decades of defending the jobs, wages and conditions of local miners and steelworkers, progressive movements in the Gong must now face-up to the dangers of a rapid deindustrialisation process dominated by the power of multinational corporations. For example, South32 has been arguing that without the expansion of mining under the water catchment, the steelworks may have to close. At the same time, the Illawarra Local Aboriginal Land Council has opposed the Dendrobium mine expansion, clearly outlining many of the social, economic and cultural heritage issues of coal mining in this region.

South32 Picket Mercury

S32 Picket crop

Ten days after the Strike, the South Coast Labour Council (SCLC) launched “a campaign to put their workers at the forefront of climate action.” The unions involved are demanding “that the Morrison Government take immediate action on climate policy to ensure our workers are not denied the opportunity to build the multi-billion-dollar renewable technologies and systems required to transform Australia’s energy landscape,” such as the steelworks building “wind turbines made from the coal mined from the Illawarra.”

So far, the response to the ‘Green Jobs’ launch has been mainly positive. However, there has also been concerns expressed about mining in the water catchment and a defence of the coal industry. So far, those involved in the ‘Green Jobs Plan’ have not allayed these concerns and it seems they may try to avoid the water catchment issue – ‘because it is not about climate change’. There are some key differences in the various media reports regarding the ‘Green Jobs’ push and the local coal industry. For example, the Illawarra Mercury article (link above) reports SCLC Secretary Arthur Rorris saying: “ramping up production of coal mining and steel products was not incompatible with the growing pressure on governments to set carbon emissions targets and become carbon neutral.”

This intervention by local unions/SCLC, directs the climate action agenda away from criticism of the coal and steel industries towards a defence of the local coal industry, coal related jobs, and steel production. Rather than supporting a ‘just transition’ away from coal, it poses “the big question” as “whether Australian workers will have the chance to forge this change in production, or will it fly out overseas like other manufacturing jobs?”

In the past, Wollongong has been hit hard when coal mines have been closed-down and manufacturing jobs have gone offshore in search of cheap labour and more favourable conditions for capital. The deepening of this process is a legitimate concern and the union campaign is a challenging intervention that has to be engaged by the local climate justice movement. Meanwhile, the Australian Workers Union (the main union for those employed at the Port Kembla steelworks) is now supporting the Morrison Government’s emissions reduction targets. According to the Union’s national secretary, Daniel Watson; “The reality is, for the steelmakers of the world . . . they are focused on keeping their high-paid manufacturing job and I don’t think they were ready for the journey to talk about a transition.”

While unions like the AWU and their political allies in the ALP move further to right, in order to defend their fossil fuel and corporate pay masters, we should seek to clarify the current social divisions over climate action. It’s also important to note that Daniel Watson is dishonestly portraying the views of steelworkers, since, in fact, many are concerned about emissions, climate justice, a ‘just transition’, and some of them supported the Wollongong Global Climate Strike. When even a fairly conservative body like the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has made it clear that we must now rapidly and radically transform development, work, the economy, and life in general, it should be clear to those seeking climate justice – there can be no support for coal expansion, coal mining is a dying industry, emissions must be rapidly cut, in the near future the local steel industry may shut down, and we need to focus on a just transition. These concerns have led to the formation of a Just Transition working group by the Illawarra Climate Justice Alliance.

A Just Transition

The perpetual growth of capitalist accumulation is a death machine heading towards extinction and the development of a viable ‘just transition’ requires an understanding of the breadth and depth of the challenges we face. This is not just another issue, where we can roll-out the usual progressive transformative agenda with a green emphasis. In order to defend life, we must completely restructure, retool, and decarbonise production, exchange, and consumption. The environmental, climate, and extinction crises is so immense that it will be a fundamental dimension of struggle for the rest of our lives. Tackling this issue will require sharing ideas, building movements for change, educating ourselves and others, popularising and promoting sustainable alternatives, and building climate justice.

Many of those concerned about the environment have sought to accommodate the capitalist system’s need for perpetual growth by embracing a view of sustainable development which reforms rather than challenges the economic and political status quo. A danger here is that power is left in the hands of the corporations responsible for environmental destruction, while measures that might reduce rates of production and consumption are avoided.

Another way of looking at sustainable development is by considering a production level which can be borne by the earth’s ecosystem over the long-term. What is emphasised here is the sustainability of the ecosystem rather than capitalist development. This version of sustainable development looks at development from the perspective of life on the planet, rather than continual growth. An important related concept is just sustainability. Just sustainability is concerned with addressing the ‘equity deficit’ of environmental sustainability. It stresses the need to ensure a better quality of life for all, now and into the future, in a just and equitable manner, whilst living within the limits of the earth’s ecosystems.

A genuinely just transition will require us to fight for a rapid redistribution of wealth and power, moving away from industries in their death throes, away from damaging and ‘bullshit jobs’, towards socially useful work that sustains life. With the phasing out of coal and other fossil fuels, these sectors and their jobs will disappear completely, whereas industry will have a key role in a just transition. A just transition of industry will need to be embedded in broader efforts to transform society – production, exchange and consumption. This will entail developing new ways of doing, new skills, new types of work, new technologies, converting how and why things are produced. Decarbonising industry will require massive investments of time, energy and wealth. Steel plants have long lifespans, so change needs to start now. This change should be informed by the need to lower demand and to reuse, replace, and recycle. This should include research into potential alternatives to steel, as well as potential alternative forms of steel production. There is no sustainable alternative to a radical transformation of the steel industry.

Feel Good Summer

Bluescope’s Port Kembla steelworks is the biggest of its kind in Australia and is a major emitter of CO2. Up to nine percent of global greenhouse gas emissions come from the steel industry. The steel sector is failing to reduce emissions at the rate required to keep global warming below 2°C. In fact, last year emissions from Australian steel production rose by 10 per cent. Bluescope has previously stated it could save one million tons of greenhouse gases a year through power generation from waste gases at Port Kembla via ‘cogeneration’. Currently, the decarbonisation potential of the Port Kembla steel making process is limited due to the integral role of coal in this process, which can only be partially replaced by lower carbon fuel sources. Yet, rather than taking-up this challenge, Bluescope is investing in its North Star plant in the United States. In 2015, Bluescope delivered an ultimatum to local unions, demanding $200 million in cost savings, of which $60 million had to come from workers, or the steelworks would be shut down. The unions were told, ‘it’s up to you to save the plant’ — and if they didn’t, five thousand people’s direct and ten thousand people’s indirect jobs would go and $3 billion would be lost from the region’s economy.

In response, steelworkers, the union movement, the ALP and the Greens demanded that the Federal and State Governments defend the steel industry, by requiring that Australian-made steel be used in all state and federal government infrastructure. Local steelworkers eventually agreed to savage cuts to their jobs, pays, and working conditions, to help BlueScope save $40 million. The New South Wales government also gave Bluescope a $60 million reduction in tax payments and the company saved a further $100 million through what it termed “worker flexibility”. Taken together, these savings provided the $200 million BlueScope were demanding to keep the steelworks open. Shortly after, BlueScope announced a six-month profit of $180 million and the full acquisition of North Star Steel for $1 billion. According to BlueScope’s major shareholder, Perpetual Investments, the decision to keep Port Kembla open was only an “interim measure”, before eventual closure in the next few years.

When asked about their future plans for Port Kembla, Bluescope management said they would be making a decision about the steelwork’s future in a few years, when they have to decide on whether to reline the blast furnace. As has occurred for the past 40 years, the company expects the local community to put pressure on the Government to subsidise their operations. Yet, globally there is over-production of steel and global competition in the steel market is part of a rapacious ‘race to the bottom’. This involves ramping-up pressure on communities, workers, and governments to see who is willing to sacrifice the most in terms of wages, working/ living conditions, and environment. Multinational corporations seek to play one part of the world off against another, dividing workers, and communities in order to maintain their rule. Local fossil fuel corporations and their political lackeys also try to turn us against each other and will blame us for any loss of jobs/incomes.  Instead, as we face widespread and growing crises, those seeking to accommodate the wealth and power of corporations should be asked – How low must we bow down to their intensification of exploitation and environmental destruction? How much of our lives and how much of our futures should we sacrifice to maintain their profits? – These concerns must be swept aside by exerting community control over resources, production, and consumption, in order to drive the radical changes required to respond to climate change with a truly just transition.

Climate Strike September 20 3

Climate barbarism, disaster communism and solidarity adaptation

In recent years, the mainstream debate concerning the climate crisis has been framed primarily in terms of mitigation and adaption. Mitigation is the idea of preventing climate change in the interests of preserving the existing mode of production and accompanying social relations. Energy sources might be substituted, and green technologies developed to replace non-green ones, but ultimately mitigation rests on the assumption that the climate crisis can be averted based on the existing capitalist and colonial systems. Arguments about mitigation therefore tend to take for granted that the current political, economic and social arrangements can continue largely as normal. While the issue of climate crisis has shifted from one of debate to accepted norm, or in other words to a general acknowledgement that the possibility of complete mitigation has passed, the implications of this shift, and the fundamental transformations that follow from it, are often left unstated.

As Naomi Klein recently argued, the ruling class is not in fact denying the climate crisis, but rather implementing measures of adaptation on their terms. Indeed, as Klein says “they’re building border walls. They are adapting through this unleashing of white supremacist ideology and creating the intellectual rationale for allowing millions of people to die…that’s…climate barbarism.” However, adaptation is not only taking shape as climate barbarism, there is a counter-power within the politics of adaptation currently shaping the possibilities for the future, which sees various forms of solidarity adaptation and adaptation from below opening new political horizons.

Solidarity adaptation, or adaptation from below is a way of naming the tangible ways people develop relationships of support and solidarity to sustain and amplify not only resistance to climate barbarism, but also for creating spaces in which new forms of sociality can thrive. Solidarity adaptation is the organisation of resources and relationships that meet existing material needs of those on the frontlines of the climate crisis, those living through or displaced by drought in communities with no water, those displaced by sea level rises, floods, fires and so on. It is also the organisation of these resources for the extension of collective control and decision making in the hands of those struggling. The challenge of solidarity adaptation is to move from a mechanism of survival to a logic of decolonisation and communisation.

In so-called Australia, current struggles over water, the self-organised collective provisioning of water to towns that have run dry and had water stolen by capital, demonstrate forms of solidarity adaptation that will be fundamental to struggles going forward. Deepening these processes and relations of commonality is one dimension of solidarity adaptation. In response to the daily individual and collective disasters of capitalist society, the desire to help others, to make a difference, to aid recovery and healing, to share and care, to make life more wonderful, and to construct a better world together, already inspires a vast amount of powerful social action. When disasters hit, people responding in caring ways reach out to each other, take direct action, re-configure spaces and relationships, get to know each other, and develop more democratic, loving, and egalitarian social processes. These horizontal network forms of organising, a type of disaster communism which replaces the usual corporate and state forms, are shown not just to be more inclusive and democratic, but more efficient and more productive. Skills or attributes that are often under-valued; healing, caring, flexibility, self-sufficiency, counselling, local knowledge and community connections are suddenly understood as crucial. As people come closer to each other they are better able to share resources, knowledges, ways of doing and experiences, enriching lives and communities, opening-up new horizons for creativity, and further deepening interactions. This is a process of building the foundations that can better weather the coming storms.

Grass roots planning for disasters involves a wide variety of responses, such as moves towards energy democracy, emergency preparedness, the creation of social hubs/meeting places, and transforming urban infrastructures in ways that challenge inequalities and deepen public participation. The more we help each other and meet one another’s needs, the greater our likelihood of survival. We are the most important alternative power source and our community’s resiliency is a product of our social connectedness and organisational abilities. Wollongong’s adaptation to climate, environmental, and extinction crises is already demonstrating how we can overcome isolation, alienation, atomisation, and despair. We are not alone and together we are building a local eco-system of relationships of care – care for each other, for all living things, for the earth.

Climate Strike Occupation 3

Being the Change: Our Response-ability

During the Wollongong Global Climate Strike, we stopped doing what we usually do; we didn’t go to work, to school, to university, or stay at home. By organising the Strike and by striking we created the freedom to connect, to engage in communal activity, to unleash our imaginations, to figure out for ourselves what to do, how to do it, and organise to get it done. The Climate Strike gave us a glimpse of the utopias that exist within us and our communities every day, but which tend to be under-valued and neglected. Maintaining the Climate Strike, not as an event but as a new way of life, may seem impossible. But taking back our time, our communities, and our relationships – freeing them from of a system heading for destruction – is our real challenge.

We don’t know what technological breakthroughs, large-scale social changes, or ecological feedback loops will shape the next 20 years. But it’s clear that we must prepare for disasters, which to some extent are unavoidable. In the face of environmental, climate, extinction and social crises, we can see more clearly that we’re unable to rely on corporations, governments and bureaucrats, and in response many of us turn to each other for support, building respect, camaraderie, and trust. These are the social relations we can rely on when faced with future crises.

Wollongong is a city with a long radical history of class solidarity and intersectional struggle. The struggles for climate and environmental justice intersect with all other struggles for social and economic justice. Increasingly these struggles must confront the clash between the priorities of political, economic and social elites and those of the vast majority of people. So, we need to build our own power, whilst also holding political institutions, corporations, and governments to account, putting pressure on them by using a range of tactics and strategies. The revolutionary transformation of society we require involves developing our own strength, increasing people’s ability to organise their own lives, as we sweep aside the economic, political, and institutional obstacles standing in our way.

As this post was being finalised, the Illawarra Climate Justice Alliance responded to Greta Thunberg’s announcement of another Global Climate Strike on November 29 by calling a Strike in Wollongong on that date. You can find more details here – https://www.facebook.com/events/414436109105114/

5 thoughts on “Strike, Blockade, Shut it Down! Reflections on the Wollongong Global Climate Strike

  1. Reblogged this on With Sober Senses and commented:
    The primary task of theory is to examine class struggle not merely as possessing a theoretical framework, but as itself theoretically productive. Workers today face the problem of figuring out how to extend and intensify their self-organization and struggle in the absence of a shared class project. The paths that action will take are not knowable in advance; they have to be creatively constructed, as necessary preconditions for the re-emergence of a communist movement. Theory should therefore seek to give retrospective accounts of concrete struggles: of what they did, as well as of how participants in struggles understood what they were doing. The point here is not to cheerlead struggles but rather to read them, focusing on how they confront the composition problem and attempt to solve it via the haphazard construction of new categories, new tactics, and new organizational forms, which resonate across society. What do these struggles, in coming up against their limits, tell us about the shape of the communist movement to come?
    -Aaron Benanav & John Clegg

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