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INSIDE LABOUR: The green irony at Davos

Jan 31 2020 07:00
Terry Bell

The irony of climate change — more accurately, accelerated global warming — featuring so prominently at the annual World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting in Davos, Switzerland, last week, seems to have been lost. Instead, this private rich boys’ club has managed to use the issue as a fig leaf to try to cover the complicity of its members in this and other crises around the world.

However, it is unlikely that many activists in the burgeoning Extermination Rebellion who are fighting to halt the race to climate disaster will succumb to the blandishments of a club that represents to so-called 1% who control the bulk of global resources. Not that the WEF and its supporters will not continue to try to woo them.

But there now seems to exist a consensus that it would be feasible — and desirable — to reduce, even eliminate, reliance on fossil fuels. It is a position held by the majority of corporations, even those that still publicly, even vociferously, resist cutbacks to carbon emissions. The same applies to governments.

Most of the prominent "denialists" probably adopt their attitude because they want more time to adjust their fossil fuel portfolios or find new and cleaner ways of using the coal and gas assets they own. Governments reliant on fossil fuel economics also want to create time to find ways to cope with job and revenue losses.

In both these cases, there is also trade union support because of feared unemployment among the large numbers of workers employed in coal mining and its related industries. But the writing is certainly on the wall: there would not only be no jobs on dead planet, there would be no business or profits either.

This has resulted in much of Big Business admitting, as the WEF has now done, that the world has reached an economic "tipping point". But what concerns this elite even more is the realisation that there is a "backlash against capitalism and globalisation".

For them, the system must clearly not be seen as responsible for "rising inequality, trade tensions, technological disruptions, climate change and geopolitical uncertainty". Capitalism, now in its major global phase, is apparently sacrosanct: it just requires a tweak here or there.

And the tweak that arrived at Davos last week came when the WEF hosted international climate change campaigner, Greta Thunberg, and effectively came out in favour of a cleaner, greener planet. But it did so alongside a standard and hypocritical, genuflection to democracy; "Stakeholders for a cohesive and sustainable world."

Stakeholders in this context means you, me and everyone else who — and about this I agree — should share in the bounty that labour and the earth has provided. But that is, of course, a complete denial of the system’s vicious competition where the "hostile band of brothers" — the 1% and hangers-on — will always unite on only one issue: to preserve a system that has produced massive gluts of probably every socially necessary product, resulting in horrendous waste, hunger and destitution in a world of plenty.

In WEF-speak, the "transition to a greener and more equal economy is not just possible but imperative for restoring productivity". In other words, stabilising matters to allow the show to go on.

This brought to mind a Biblical verse from the Book of Ecclesiastes: "What has been, will be again; what has been done, will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun." So far as the elite are concerned, this shall be the case forever more.

For 50 years, the WEF has been to the forefront of supporting "shared growth" in a system that makes such a claim impossible. Initially, the themes at the annual meetings clearly backed the "trickle-down" theory of global economics: make the rich richer and greater wealth will trickle down the class pyramid to satisfy all those on whose shoulders the burden of wealth creation rests. Of course, it didn’t work since the sharing of wealth is a contradiction in capitalist terms.

As I continue to repeat: competition and the accumulation of profit is the name of the game. This means pitting one capitalist against another, constantly seeking better, faster, less expensive ways and means of operation. That was why the sweatshops of China, Bangladesh, Cambodia and elsewhere came to produce goods once made in countries where wage rates and working conditions were often only marginally better.

For examples, we need look no further than what has happened to the once thriving garment and textile industry in South Africa. But the WEF is really quite open about its purpose: it exists to engage with "the foremost political, business and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industry agendas".

Unsaid is that these agendas must concur with the maintenance of the decrepit, diseased and perhaps terminally ill system headed by the likes of the WEF members. And the actions of the 1% within this system are the main drivers for what the labour movement has correctly termed, the race to the bottom.

Slowing, hopefully halting, the lethal over-heating of the planet is essential. At the very least it may buy time during which the stakeholders of the globe may come into their own. Already, many must realise that the WEF and the rest of the 1% are not part of any long-term solution: they and the system they enforce are the problem.

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