Why I went to Germany to shut down coal mining operations in the midst of one of the most important general elections of a generation

I have consistently gone to every single Ende Gelände action in Germany. In fact I am the only person from the UK who has gone to every one of the seven large mass direct actions against coal in the country. The last one happened on Saturday the 30th of November in the East of Germany in the bitter cold and despite the threat of organised fascists attacking the participants over 4,000 people took direct action blocking key points of the coal industry’s infrastructure. Over a thousands got into three mines (Jaenschwalde-Ost, Welzow-Sued and Vereinigtes Schleenhain) and many blocked three sets of train tracks that transport coal from the mines to the power stations.

However unlike previous mass mobilisations organised by Ende Gelände it was not an easy decision for me to go in the midst of one of the most important general election campaigns in recent times. As a committed climate activist of many years I have watched as the crucial green intervention has been made in the Labour party under the auspices of Labour for a Green New Deal. Far-reaching climate solutions that were once only contained to the fringes of party politics  have now been firmly placed at the core of the Labour Party’s manifesto pledges. Jobs in renewable energy, home insulation projects, sustainable transport and tree-planting have all been committed to under the new eco focus of the Labour Party. Unlike the Green Party who remain on the fringes of electoral politics as a result of our archaic first-past-the-post system, Labour have a very real chance of getting into power. Government action so far on the climate crisis has at best been woefully inadequate and at worst has been actively furthering the crisis like with allowing new coal mines to be opened, pushing fracking, natural gas and large-scale biomass to name but a few. Only a Corbyn led Labour party actively responding to the demands of the ecological movement can provide us any hope of implementing the necessary policies on the national level.

It is with this in mind I joined other Labour Party canvassers and doorknockers going out in my constituency the Calder Valley recently. This constituency is one of the key marginals in this election. The Tory MP Craig Whittiker won by a very narrow margin of 609 votes against Labour in the election of 2017. The Greens received 631 votes splitting the left vote in the Valley. Explicitly citing the Green New Deal policies of the Labour party the local Green party took the noble decision to stand down in this election in the hope that the Green voters would vote for Labour instead and get the climate wrecking Tories out. This was why a part of me found it perverse to travel across Europe to join in with the climate justice movement there on this occasion when so much is at stake in the UK.

However, as hopeful as I have become with the Labour for a Green New Deal intervention and as supportive of the Labour party I am, I am still perpetually faced with the reality that a Labour win is only just the start of what is necessary to deal with the climate crisis in the UK and the world.

In a best-case scenario involving a Labour win Labour will be able to set the ball rolling for their far-reaching policies to deal with the climate crisis. But those who have benefited from the fossil capitalist system are unlikely to go quietly. As part of the capitalist ruling class they will use every weapon in their arsenal to discipline the forces against fossil fueled capitalism. One country’s stance against the horrors of extreme climate change will face the wrath of international fossil capital doing everything to maintain its current power. It is for this reason that it is more important than ever to have a strong focus on internationalism in fighting for climate justice. Fossil capital is international, to defeat it our movement must be too. Whether that’s shutting down coal infrastructure in Germany or acting in solidarity with African-American, Latin American and Native American communities in the Southern US that border forests destroyed for the biofuel burned here in the UK; we must organise internationally in the way the climate crisis demands.

It won’t be easy for a Labour-led government to confront the forces of fossil capital. We must use grassroots direct action to severely damage the industry in the here and now to make a move away from fossil fuels the easy option. Direct action really does get the goods as the long struggle against fracking in the UK has shown. Cynical election ploy it may be but the Tories put the (temporary) ban on fracking in place because with so much of the population against fracking they knew it could cost them a lot of votes in this election. Local communities like Preston New Road have shown an absolutely dogged determination to resist fracking using every possible method. These communities along with national activist networks like Reclaim the Power have politicised and controversialised the issue of fracking to the wider public unafraid to use direct action to remove it’s social license to operate.

Whatever the outcome of this election we must continue to mount pressure on the fossil fuel industry with direct action and resistance. And with a Labour win we must not get complacent. They have got a suite of incredibly necessary climate policies but there are many issues that get overlooked. Labour is not critical of the developing biomass industry where coal-fired power stations are being converted to burning huge amounts of wood in a way that is considered ‘carbon neutral’ under EU law. Nor are they anti-nulcear instead buying the industry argument that we need nuclear to provide a base load of energy for the electricity grid rather than invest into electricity storage and international energy grid cooperation. Nuclear cannot be the silver bullet to our energy woes if we replace one ecological threat to current and future generations with another. Nor are electric cars for all the answer either. We need to reduce the incentive for individualised high energy intensive transport.

With a Labour win the ecological movement must hold Labour to account on all it’s promises. At every turn we must build our grassroots social movements and continue to block fossil capitalist infrastructure on the national and international level. This is why I decided to travel to Germany in winter to shut down coal mining operations in the midst of one of the most important British elections of a generation.

Alice Swift