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Interview with Dave Douglass about the Climate Camp

Dave | 31.10.2008 12:56 | Climate Camp 2008 | Analysis | Workers' Movements

This is an interview with anarchist and labour movement activist Dave Douglass published in the latest Shift. It's a good introduction to the debates that will be had at this weekend's Labour Movement Conference in Newcastle:

Labour Movement Conference: Class, Climate Change and Clean Coal: the Climate Campers and The unions
1st November 2008 11-30 - 5-30
The Upstairs Lounge, The Bridge Hotel, Castle Garth, Newcastle Upon Tyne
more info at

Interview with Dave Douglass

At the camp you joked about the police presence being nothing compared to your previous experiences. How did you find the Climate Camp this summer?

Well I’ve been up against the law since the age of 14, arrested for hitting the prime minister with a tomato and assaulting the police at 15, through to Holy Loch and Aldermaston’s right up to the late 60s. Grosvenor Square, London. Dam Square Amsterdam, Belfast, and pickets in the 72 / 74 miners strike. Mass confrontations in 84/5 Orgreave, hit squads and petrol bombs, the cops weren’t a surprise at all, but I was just making a joke I wasn’t trying to ‘pull rank’ or see who had the raggiest arse.

Before the camp you wrote an open letter to the Climate Camp, why did you choose to do that?

I was incensed. Because it seems to me, the miners throughout history have had nothing but betrayal and being stabbed in the back. ‘The Green Movement’ we had foolishly thought was our ally. An ally who could see that we stood against nuclear power, civil and military, were against opencast mining, and were for practical renewables.

We thought they understood the politics of energy and why it was the miners had been almost wiped off the face of the earth (in Britain) in class war. We had set up an alliance Energy 2000 way back in the mid 80s with Greenpeace and environmental groups (by ‘we’ I mean the NUM) to campaign for Clean Coal Technology, and an end to Nuclear power, for solar, tidal, and geo-thermal and phasing in practical world applicable programmes like solar power farms in the worlds deserts to supply the world with ever lasting power, free and clean, with clean coal buying us the time. Then just when we are on our last chance for survival, just when we are trying to knock back the major nuclear construction programme in favour of clean coal and carbon capture, the Climate Camp marches in and attacks Drax.

The shrill middle class instruction that there was no place for coal in Britain energy supply, came as a slap down, and a warning to keep our place and be quiet. Our betters knew better than us, and coal had to go, it had been decided. Well it drew a furious response from me. I am not, by the way saying the Climate Camp is entirely middle class, nor am I saying that a largely middle class milieu invalidates their argument just because of that. I am saying that that particular bright young middle class thing, appearing on the TV news that night, and telling us what was good for us, did produce class anger, and it reinforced a class divide of perception.

I have been associated with protest organisations since I was 14, many of them heavily composed of middle class people and full of muddled middle class shite ideas, but the cause, the anti bomb movement for example, the anti nuclear movement demanded that the working class add its own colours to those movements and debates. This was another reason for responding to Climate Camp instead of bricking them.

In your letter and at the camp you made the case for the continuation of the coal industry. Does this not put you on the same side as the government, the police and the E.ON bosses?

Well the cops didn’t seem to think so when we got nose to nose on the gate on Wednesday afternoon. But let me ask the same question, on the day the Camp opened, Brown made a statement saying he too was concerned about coal and CO2 and this was why they were investing in Nuclear Power. The stink against coal is fuelling a revision of ideas among so called socialists and environmentalists, who now are panicked into believing nuclear provides the only answer. The fact is the choice for base load generation, is either coal or nuclear, the camp keeps bashing coal, which is promoting nuclear.

This just so happens to the Government’s policy and has been since the Ridley Committee drew up plans in the late 70s to take out the miners as a social threat to the system. The camp is acting on the side of the state and government. We fought the cops, whole communities of working class people fought the cops and some think the army too, to stop pit closures, against state and government plans to wipe us out. Now the Climate Camp shouts Leave It In The Ground, and defacto Shut The Pits. The cops helped shut the pits, the government closed the pits and coal power stations, this is the same demand as the Climate Camp now advances. So you answer the question whose side are you on?

By the way, when mass protest movements stand against the big power generators investing in land based wind turbines and political arm-twisting, patronage and sheer bribery is applied to force Wind Turbine estates into rural lands, where do the Climate Camp stand? Not on the side of the protesters, not against the environment being utterly despoiled by industrial turbine estates, but on the same side as the capitalist power generators N Power and the others, getting £300,000 per turbine per year whether it turns a blade or produces a watt of power. So which side and whose side? Fact is the government is anti coal, anti coal communities, and those who support that side support the government and state, touché.

Many who attended the Climate Camp, yourself included, are not just concerned with climate change but with radical social change. If this is our goal does there not need to be a fundamental change in industrial infrastructure, the nature of work and the role of trade unions?

Whey aye, why do you think we want a working class revolution? We want minimal amounts of work, an end to the wage slavery of capitalism, an end to useless duplication of production and waste. We want real fundamental needs met, like water, housing, clothing, education, food, and freedom not invented needs, which we don’t need. But we believe only the organised working class, organised and conscious of its own existence and role in changing society and smashing the old order can deliver this change. For that, we need progressive unions like the NUM, visionary working class communities like the pits, docks, factories etc. That’s why we defend their existence and the ruling class will at every turn try to wipe us out, close us down, disperse us, or divide us. That’s why they closed the pits here only to import 70 million tonnes of coal from countries where the union doesn’t exist and miners toil in conditions we fought our way out of over a hundred years ago.

It’s not just about work, its not and never has been just about jobs, it’s about the right and ability to intervene into life and challenge the system, and bring about a new social system.

We thought that the decision to invite NUM members to the camp was definitely a step in the right direction. Where do you see divergences between your own goals and those of the Climate Camp?

Well we’ve organised a Labour Movement Conference on Class, Climate Change and Clean Coal in Newcastle upon Tyne on Nov 1st, with myself and Arthur Scargill and others speaking at it. We invite the Climate Camp spokespersons to come and debate these issues with us. (Venue to be finalised) The Climate Camp is a thoroughly undemocratic movement, which is led by some strange impulsion, which seems not to debate targets, or strategy or goals or class before it arrives at a new enemy. It takes for granted, coal for example is the enemy. It is deeply offended to be offered a different vision. I was asked about ten times as I gave out our bulletin if I had had permission to give these out in the field. Seriously. I will not tell you how I responded.

The Climate Camp needs to engage itself, and it needs to engage and understand the working class movement. It needs to accept that the working class movement, the union movement and the socialist / anarchist movement have a vision too, and we don’t necessarily agree. They need to engage us more and confront us less. They need to intercept the demands and goals of the workers movement with questions and ideas on how they relate to the environment and climate change for example.

I say again I am not saying there are no trade unionists and working class people engaged in the camp, there clearly are, but the camp overall is not represented by that small tendency, and will frequently confront their own class positions and they will find themselves in contradictory positions. It must also be said that elements of ‘the left’ have jumped on this environmental bandwagon and is free loading. It hopes to seem relevant to a powerful movement because it despairs of the working class. Abandons traditional working class areas and unions to seek new shiny platforms on which to lead and appear relevant.

The Climate Camp aimed to build a movement against the causes of climate change. Can you see an emerging no borders movement?

On the one hand yes, the number of active No Border groups in the UK has certainly grown since the camp and there are projects and actions going on, which link these groups into a network. There are big questions which we will be discussing at an up-coming national gathering, about how any No Borders network could be strengthened and made more effective. As well as challenging the construction of new immigration prisons and deportations to possible death and torture, a No Borders movement would have to build widespread agreement that such things are morally unacceptable. Each case that is highlighted by anti-deportation campaigns, every action against a forced removal is part of building towards that point. There may well be a growing movement against the companies that carry out deportation flights for example or the detention estate, run by private companies for profit. Educating ourselves about the immigration system, the harsh reality of ‘illegal’ economic migrants, challenging racist officials and laws and acting in solidarity with all the struggles against these things I see as part of an emerging No Borders movement.

Given the need for some kind of response to climate change, could you see trade unions such as the NUM ever having a productive working relationship with 'radical' greens such as the Climate Camp? Is a red-green politics possible?

As I say we started this way back first with CND, and Trade Union CND, and then with Energy 2000, With The Anti Nuclear Campaign, in the 90s in joint campaigns against open cast mining which was being undertaken at the expense of the deep-mined industry. But with a collective perspective on clean coal, and practical renewables, (solar can be made practical on a world scale, geo thermal on a limited scale and tidal too –but land based wind turbines are classic ‘green wash’ and a cheap trick which is decimating huge tracts of unspoiled countryside and wilderness.) We can and must co-operate. Hopefully lots of people will come to our November conference and we can debate it further.

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Display the following 5 comments

  1. remove — dave
  2. Good points made — anarchocatalyst
  3. Good interview — Stroppyoldgit
  4. It's not only coal miners who've been left out... — Onlyme
  5. and when the sea water pours down your mineshafts — steve