An international conference in Brussels organised by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation 27-28 June
Ellie Harrison (Get Glasgow Moving) and Mike Downham (ScotE3), representing their organisations in the Free Our City coalition which campaigns for free, publicly owned, democratically controlled buses across Greater Glasgow, were invited to speak at this conference as a result of contacts made during COP26. They also showed the Reel News film of the Free Our City protest during the COP as previously published on this Blog.
Here Mike Downham summarises his reactions to the conference:
It was a privilege and a pleasure to be invited to speak at this conference and to get to know in the evenings the other speakers from Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Hungary and Brazil.
The lid on the coffin of cars was firmly nailed down, whether powered by a combustion engine or by electricity. It was clearly demonstrated that if cars continue to be produced there is no way that carbon emissions can be reduced in time to avoid a more than 1.5 degree rise in global temperature or that levels of poverty will fall in time to prevent societal chaos, despite the huge effort by car manufacturers to greenwash electric cars. We were able to point out that in any case only 49% of households in Glasgow have access to a car – that figure predating the price rise in cars and the cost of living crisis.
The EU’s carbon emissions discourse has been reduced to targets and choice of technology, with little reference to just transition for the millions of car manufacturing workers across Europe – 800,000 in Germany alone – nor to the transformation needed, especially in the way we move about our cities. Furthermore the emissions targets look less and less realistic.
Moving to mass transport is as urgent as stopping oil and gas extraction. Free public transport is also a more immediately attractive concept for large numbers of people than doing without oil and gas.
Three expert speakers (Ellie Harrison of Get Glasgow Moving, Alana Dave of the International Transport Workers Federation, and Mario Candeias of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation) told us exactly what needs to be done about public transport – above all that it needs to be publicly owned, democratically controlled, integrated in a way that gets people quickly to where they want to go, and free.
Key to the transformation of transport are the highly developed skills, self-esteem and producer pride of car production workers. These skills are needed in the production of electric buses, trains, bicycles and ships. Some but not all workers will need new training, giving them the choice to remain within the transport sector or into other carbon negative sectors like renewable energy, or carbon neutral jobs in public services.
Transport needs to be seen as a common good and a right. Mobility poverty is as urgent an issue as fuel poverty and food poverty, though in Brazil, where there are 30 million hungry people, transformation of transport will inevitably take longer to achieve, even if Lula regains power.
Once again we know what to do – that’s not the issue – the issue is how to achieve the power to get it done. But transport workers have more power than most other workers, both because so many people rely on them in their day-to-day lives, and because many of their skills are hard to replace – witness the current RMT rail workers strikes, and the Rolls Royce workers in East Kilbride who grounded half the Chilean Air Force in 1974.
Mario Candeias speaks of a pathway to power:
MOVEMENTS → STATE INTERVENTION → PUBLIC OWNERSHIP → INDUSTRIAL STRUCTURAL CHANGE OVERSEEN REGIONALLY BY WORKERS AND USERS
The question is what movements? He suggests partnerships between existing trade unions and civil society organisations. In my opinion movements which can reach sufficient scale fast enough are more likely to arise from new formations, especially those led by young people currently active for climate justice. These are currently targeting their civil disobedience on oil, gas and coal production sites, recognising that opposing forces largely reside in the fossil fuel industries. Will they also see the need to target car production sites to challenge the huge power of Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW?
These discussions were taking place in Brussels, where it’s estimated that there are between 15,000 and 30,000 lobbyists – that’s between 20 and 40 per Member of the European Parliament. Of these 87.5% represent capital interests.
The most encouraging thing for me was to have two days in international company – the first non-remote opportunity for me since before the pandemic. I was left reflecting about the central importance of workers and communities united across borders in opposing the power of capital. The EU is perhaps an object lesson about how not to deal with borders – the old issue of merging economically, but retaining political independence. The speaker from Hungary described his country as in a “German trap”, German companies using cheaper Hungarian labour for their assembly lines for both cars and weapons.
Further reading – English copies of these three booklets, all published by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, are available free in limited numbers. If you’re interested please contact me first at email@example.com
Switching Lanes by Mario Candeias, 2022
The European Car Lobby by Tobias Haas and Hendrick Sander, 2019
Industry 4.0 by Christopher Wimmer 2019