Amidst the onslaught of privatisations, cuts, pay freezes and redundancies emerging from the capitalist crisis, Britain’s environment-conscious Green Party are becoming increasingly torn by political polarisation. Forced to carry out the same agenda of public sector cuts being advocated by the Con-Dem coalition in the interests of capital, the Green Party in Brighton & Hove City Council is beginning to experience inevitable contradictions and conflict regarding its political agenda.
Whilst environmentalism remains an important issue, the nature of the Green Party is one of ambiguity. The Green Party has professed the intention to ensure welfare and invest in sustainable resources. Born out of the Ecology Party in the 1970s, which itself was founded by academics and environmentalists, the Green Party now consists of disaffected Labour Party members and Liberal Democrats, an assortment of characters who stray from both left-wing and right-wing groups. For this reason, the Green Party response on public service cuts has been reasonably muted. But now the logic of the crisis in the economy has led to a direct political clash between members in Brighton & Hove City Council.
A number of past pay disputes regarding Cityclean employees, which were resolved in 2009, have provided the opportunity for the Council to introduce a “modernisation proposal”. The proposal, announced in January 2013, could see employees lose up to £4,000 per year from their annual salary.
Under the façade of an equal pay dispute, the council are seeking to cut the salaries of employees in order to reduce spending by Brighton & Hove City Council. The council vote on the 8th May has seen the Green Party utterly shamed. The proposal was accepted with all four Green councillors and all Conservative councillors voting in favour, and the two lone Labour councillors staunchly opposing. Caroline Lucas, the Green MP for Brighton & Hove, responded with condemnation of her fellow party members.
The response among workers has been incredibly dramatic. The Cityclean employees, consisting of more than one hundred street-sweepers, refuse and recycling collectors, immediately refused to work. For two days litter began to pile up on the streets, obstructing paths and attracting sea-gulls - the notorious local scavenger birds who have ensured widespread awareness of the Cityclean worker’s protest by tearing open bin-bags throughout the seaside city. According to Mark Turner of GMB, the trade union of the Cityclean workers, “There's not a single member of the workforce who does not support the union on this” (The Argus). The workers, who have now returned to work, will be balloting for strike action.
Caroline Lucas has firmly pledged her support for the GMB, visiting the workers and announcing that she would be joining their picket line against her fellow Green Party members. However, despite her heroic and commendable efforts, the decisions by the Green councillors and its convener, Jason Kitcat (who has been blamed personally), have served to thoroughly discredit the party as a friendly “alternative” to mainstream politics. The Greens have been labelled as “Tories on bikes”, a sentiment echoed by Mark Turner who claimed, “The Greens are bottling out...They are getting other people to do their work for them. They have not got the guts to do their job.” (The Argus)
Brighton & Hove City Council has provided the perfect case study: despite the clean and ecologically-friendly reputation of East Sussex, it is clear that the respect for such an environment and its working population is now wholly secondary on the agenda compared to the priority of enforcing spending cuts in the interest of maintaining British capitalism. This is what happens if you do not have a clear class point of view. The only way to fight for the environment is against the capitalist system, which means fighting for a socialist programme.
Conservation, sustainable energy and resources and the protection and well being of our planet should be of concern to the working class, this is indisputable. However, within the constraints of the capitalist system, it is not possible to reconcile environmental consciousness with the relentless profit-seeking mentality of the bourgeoisie. Only when power is acquired internationally by the working masses, when the economy is mobilised in the interests of humanity and not in the interests of profit, will concern for the environment be manifested into genuine, tangible and progressive reform of the way in which humanity harnesses natural resources.