Extinction Rebellion in Manchester

02-0-2019 \\ England and Wales

Paul Gerrard

Extinction Rebellion (XR) protests have closed Deansgate, one of Manchester’s busiest and most polluted streets, for four days. And it’s by agreement – albeit reluctant - with the city council, Transport for Greater Manchester, and the police.

A quarter of a mile of the city centre is taken up with stalls, tents, and installations like the famous Yellow Boat and a replica of the Angel of the North, made of crisp packets and plastic bottles, bearing the slogan ‘Tell the Truth’. Last Friday, at the Rebel School tent, thirty mostly young people debated social justice, while another 30-40 listened in from outside, and occasionally took the mic to speak. The news that Salford City UNISON have negotiated an unpaid afternoon off for staff who wish to join the protests on Earth Strike Day, brought whoops and applause.

This could not have happened even a year ago, and is testimony to a major shift in awareness of climate change, triggered in part by the magnificent movement of ‘climate strikes’ by school students. Such was the level of public support that Jeremy Corbyn’s motion for the declaration of a climate emergency was carried in Parliament unanimously. Tory MPs were told not to oppose it even though the government supports a third runway at Heathrow and lavishes praise on US president and climate change denier Trump.

Labour Cllr. Pat Karney warned before the four-day shutdown that people would rapidly lose patience with the protest. But there is no sign of this. Car drivers in the city centre are in any case inured to massive delays. One owner of a vaping shop commented that it was great not to have super cars revving outside his shop all day. XR activist Paula Moss commented: “This has been a huge success. We’ve shown people that we’re all stronger together. The only hostility we’ve had is from about seven Tommy Robinson supporters.”

Alongside their demand for the government to tell the truth, XR want the government ‘to enact legally binding measures to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2025’. The problem, however, will be binding that government to act when it is tied hand and foot to a capitalist system, with its own drive for profit, national conflicts and chaotic markets. Only international socialism can plan the sustainable use of the world’s resources, and begin the remedial work to undo the damage already done by the capitalists.

But there are signs that some in XR are sensing this. The Yellow Boat bears the slogan: Planet Before Profit’; one of the banner drops quotes the Peterloo-inspired ‘We Are Many; They Are Few’. When the RMT guards-on-the-train dispute was at its height XR came down to the Manchester Victoria picket line in support of workers in struggle and better public transport. As XR activists turn against capitalism, so socialists must turn the trade union movement outwards to them, defending their right to protest and joining them, and promoting the only policies which can save the planet from the billionaires who are killing it.