International socialists mobilise in Glasgow for COP26 protests

By Marie O’Toole, ISA COP26 organising team

World leaders have been gathering in Glasgow these past two weeks for the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference in order to give the global capitalist system a fresh coat of green paint. What was always going to be a farce turned out to be even more underwhelming than might have been expected. Working people and youth around the world are facing rising temperatures, natural disasters, and the likelihood of more pandemics. The conference answered that with Joe Biden and Boris Johnson falling asleep during the opening remarks; Bolsonaro, Putin, and Xi Jinping choosing not to attend; and a collection of hollow promises that still add up to a catastrophic 2.7C of global heating by 2100.

The only actual positive outcome of COP26 was not found in the meeting halls alongside figures like Biden and Johnson, but out on the streets where we saw the beginnings of a revival of the climate movement that swept the world in 2019. Demonstrations calling for real, substantial action to confront climate change brought 100,000 people onto the streets of Glasgow.

International Socialist Alternative understands the enormous importance and revolutionary potential of this movement which is why we mobilized 300 of our members and supporters from around the world to build an international socialist contingent at the protests. Revolutionary socialists from our national sections on all continents, including Brazil, the United States, China/Hong Kong/Taiwan, Belgium, Ireland, and more gathered together with over 100 members and supporters of Socialist Alternative (ISA in Scotland, England & Wales) to ensure that a class struggle-based, internationalist voice was heard loudly on the protests, pointing to the need for socialist change to put an end to climate change.

Why was the conference such a failure?

This is not the first or the last time we will see politicians and business leaders coming together for this kind of “greenwashing festival.” The Paris Climate Agreement was adopted at COP21 in 2015 and sold as a major step forward in the efforts to limit global temperature rises. Five conferences later and the situation has only worsened. This year’s IPCC report, which laid out the harsh realities of climate research, has been described as a “code red for humanity.” Even with that damning prognosis, it would be incorrect to expect substantial action to be agreed upon in the conference.

Billionaires and their politicians will never be able to sufficiently address the crisis that is stemming from the drive for profit at the heart of their system. When only 100 companies are responsible for 71% of all industrial carbon emissions it is clear that the interests of the super rich are fundamentally opposed to the aims of the climate movement. All efforts with the potential to lead to real progress against climate change pose a threat to the stability of the system that keeps these figures in power. Any truly positive result coming out of COP26 was doomed from the start.

Socialists on the streets

Millions of workers and youth around the world know that they can no longer place the trust of our planet’s future in backroom deals of businessmen and politicians — that was clear from the fierce energy on the streets of Scotland. Tens of thousands gathered for the Fridays for Future school strikes demonstration, a continuation of the 2019 movement on an even bolder stage. Even more mobilized again on Saturday in a massive march featuring a wide range of blocs and banners from various social and environmental movements including many trade unions. Even heavy rain couldn’t stop workers and youth from putting demands for climate action forward.

International Socialist Alternative identified COP26 as a key moment for the global climate movement. That’s why we gathered our members from all corners of the world to Scotland to make it explicitly clear who is responsible for this crisis: the CEOs and billionaires of the world. We called for massive public investment in a socialist green new deal to create tens of millions of quality jobs worldwide, seizing the wealth of the billionaires to fund climate friendly policies and the bringing of polluting multinationals into democratic public ownership to implement a sustainable socialist economic plan which reorganises the economy to serve people and the planet first — these are only a few of the demands that the movement must enthusiastically take up!

Internationalism is totally fundamental to tackling the interlinked enemies of climate change and capitalism, which is why we had ISA members from Glasgow to Brazil assembled to form the widest possible contingent of workers and youth from around the world at the demonstrations. The 300 of our members who attended were joined on the marches by hundreds more who were inspired by our vibrancy and the message we were putting forward. We sold over 1,000 copies of our paper and are rapidly signing up enthusiastic members and supporters in Glasgow, Edinburgh and beyond. 

ISA even had a speaker on the main stage at the rally following the Fridays for Future march. Amy Ferguson, a Unite trade unionist and member of the Socialist Party (ISA in Ireland), spoke shortly before Greta Thunberg. She emphasized the might of the working class and the necessary role that we will have in forging a better world. Amy concluded her speech with a quote from Scottish-born Irish socialist James Connolly who said:

“Our demands most moderate are: we only want the Earth.”

Not only did we seize the moment to enthusiastically join the demonstrations in Glasgow over the weekend, but we even assembled our own march through Edinburgh on Friday for school strikers unable to make the trip to Glasgow with over 100 people attending. The march concluded with an open mic where we heard from a mix of ISA members, students, and workers from Edinburgh.

The enthusiasm we received was reflected in the attendance for our public rally after the march on Saturday which was titled, “Capitalism is Killing the Planet: Fight for International Socialism,” which was attended by over 350 people. Speakers included Scottish trade unionist Caitlin Lee, socialist TD in the Irish Parliament Mick Barry, a member of the Solidarity Against Repression in Hong Kong and China campaign, and climate activists from Brazil and South Africa. This energizing rally pointed at all times to the power that working people have in the fight for climate justice and the need for a unifying socialist programme to unite the struggles against the world’s most pressing problems. 

The next steps for the climate movement

The power of the working class grows from its role in society. If the drive for profit plays such a pivotal role in climate change then those workers who create all of that profit and have the power at any time to stop it represent the key force in winning real change. Greta Thunberg indicated exactly what direction the climate movement needs to go when she called on striking transportation and bin workers in Scotland to join the COP26 demonstrations. The school strike movement should be met with active solidarity by trade unions and expanded out into economic strikes in our workplaces, coordinated nationally and internationally. We can force substantial concessions by hitting the bosses where it hurts — their profits — while at the same time showing that the working class can change society fundamentally if it is organised and conscious of its power.

Rank-and-file trade unionists should play an important role in building towards this through the formation of climate committees in workplaces and unions. These committees would be used to organize efforts linking the struggle for a safer and cleaner future to the interests of working people. This should include increased funding for green union jobs through taxing the rich and the retraining of fossil fuel workers to the renewables industry at no loss of pay.

Capitalism is killing the planet: Fight for International Socialism!

The climate crisis is the single greatest threat that humanity has ever faced and rising to the occasion will require a complete restructuring of our society along socialist lines. Carbon emissions, deforestation, and the stripping of natural resources are fundamental to the continuation of capitalist production. Working people need to get organised and build independent political parties in order to take the steps necessary to put an end to this polluting system and carry battles forward through democratic mass structures.

To achieve the revolutionary change our planet needs, we need to build a mass revolutionary organization of working people and youth dedicated to the struggle for international socialism. We are proud to be building a fierce and dynamic international organization committed to this struggle, active in over 30 countries on all continents and growing. As we chanted from Kelvingrove Park to Glasgow Green to all corners of the globe — “Our movement is unstoppable — a socialist world is possible!” 

Be a part of the fightback against climate change, oppression, and capitalism — join ISA today!

Socialist Party members on the COP26 protests:

Marching as part of the ISA contingent during the COP26 protests in Glasgow was an unforgettable experience. It was clear that the “green washing” COP26 conference was viewed by the rest of the world as a performance of the ruling class. In the maintenance of the capitalist status quo, the results of the conference fell entirely short of promising any real change.

It wasn’t difficult to get chatting to people with a palpable desire for system change. The loud, lively and determined ISA contingent drew crowds of people who chanted alongside us, “ExxonMobil, BP, Shell, take your filth and go to hell!”, and “Our planet – not their profits!”. Some even abandoned the groups they had attended the march with! Young people that I spoke to were particularly impressed with ISA’s international intervention; with comrades from Belgium, China, Israel/Palestine and many more sections involved. Our internationalist socialist approach was fresh to many, and well received.

It is tempting at times to become stupified by the sheer scale of climate destruction that capitalism perpetuates and relies upon. We need a revolution to break from its inherently destructive and exploitative structures. The weekend of COP26 demonstrated that the motor for system change lies in the collective power of the masses; of the working class and youth.

Róise McCann

The COP26 intervention was my first major mobilisation with ISA. While our own Irish section has had local actions over the last two years, the pandemic has restricted the ability of the party to intervene in struggles for all the time since I have joined. For me, being able to take part in such a historic action was incredibly affirming for my politics and beliefs. Seeing the huge turnout for the marches and meeting comrades from all over the world gave a fantastic sense of the scale of the work we do as international socialists. 

Speaking with young people and workers on the march also showed to me my political development since I have joined the ISA. People I met on the march were eager to hear of an alternative to capitalism, and being able to readily answer their questions and point out the links between the system and climate change, as well as oppression, was not something I would have been able to do two years ago. I have come away from the COP26 intervention with a massively renewed sense of purpose in our work as well as a new perspective on its global scale and importance. 

Brandon Byrne

Being involved in ISA’s COP26 protest mobilisation reminded me of the essential reason why our organisation is an international one. Meeting people from as far away as Israel-Palestine or Brazil who were all fighting for the same thing as you were, was incredibly inspiring. And now for the COP26 protests in Scotland we had all come together, and due to this our mobilisation was the strongest I had ever witnessed for a protest. 

The energy and passion was something that I had never experienced before. These all reminded me why internationalism is key for a socialist organisation, as just like climate change is an international problem, so is the system that created it-capitalism. So if we’re going to effectively fight for an alternative, an international fight needs to be waged and this was never clearer to me than after the COP26 mobilisation with the ISA.  

Aoife Coppinger

I have been a member of International Socialist Alternative for just under a year now.

My experience at COP26 was nothing short of incredible. Being able to discuss ways of saving the planet and engaging with the obvious anti-capitalist mood present already was refreshing and inspiring. I got a glimpse of the world I dream about, where working-class and young people of all identities and backgrounds marched together against capitalist-caused climate destruction.

Much like the ever increasing rate of melting ice, the wider public are joining the scattered dots quicker and quicker and are drawing conclusions about how we need system change. 

It may be worth mentioning an anecdote from my own experience at the Friday protest: A protester asked me about socialism as a potential answer to the climate crisis. I lost my train of thought for a moment as I’m still learning how to express and explain socialist ideas. Thankfully, a thought occurred and I blurted it out with conviction; “If the ism implies a system, pick a prefix – CAPITAL or SOCIAL. Capital-ism means profits for the rich and a scorched Earth. Social-ism means the reorganisation of the global economy so the needs of our planet and human beings are fully met.”

Jack Nutley

I’ve been a member of the Socialist Party for about two years and COP26 was my first international event with ISA. In my view, our intervention into the protests was vibrant and energetic, with no doubt to our class-based and uncompromising anti-capitalist approach to the issue of climate change, one which is not separate from the workers’ struggle, but which is an essential part of it. 

Climate change is a global issue, caused by the global capitalist market. There is no solution to climate change which is either based solely on a national level, or which does not involve a break with capitalism. The realisation of this makes fighting for a global socialist movement necessary to tackling climate change.

In a time where many are pessimistic on the issue of climate change due to the scale of the issue and what needs to be done, being involved in a vibrant international intervention with socialists from across the world was incredibly inspiring for my own will to carry on the struggle for socialism. While this is just my experience, from talking to other members it seems their feelings are the same.

I think the experience of COP26 more than anything else cemented my confidence and enthusiasm to go forward and help build our revolutionary party and our revolutionary socialist international to fight against the root cause of climate change, capitalism.

Summer Conneely

COP26 was an occasion like none I’ve ever experienced. As I joined ISA during Covid, it was my first chance to experience an international mobilisation. In the days and weeks leading up to it, nerves had set in a bit and at times I even asked myself if I should go, worrying if my attendance would even have any real impact. But by the end of the weekend, my voice had left me after hours of chanting and interesting conversations with other members.

 It’s one thing to do what we do, theorizing and discussing in detail situations of class unity and class struggle. It’s a different thing to be amongst it, to feel so united with the people standing around you and to be a part of something that feels much bigger than you. In the everyday, seeing what seems like such little progress at times can be disheartening, but being there helped me to understand that these are the situations where real change comes from, in realising the power that we all have together in standing united for a common goal. 

For me, attending COP was an antidote to hopelessness, something so invigorating I find it hard to describe. Coming away from it, I feel more focused, optimistic for the future and understand better the change that is possible and where that change will come from.

Sean Darcy