Days and nights of movements

Published: Sunday 31 May 2009

Environmentalism could learn from the history of labour unions

THE past few weeks turned out to be embarrassing for state and corporate powers in France and UK. First the french nuclear energy giant edf got caught hiring private investigators who hacked into Greenpeace's computer system. Then, the British newspaper The Guardian published a series of stories showing how police infiltrated green movements. Matilda Gifford of Plane Stupid, a British group protesting the expansion of Heathrow airport, recorded her conversation with undercover agents recruiting her as a paid informer. And then the transport department was found monitoring peaceful protesters during the consultations and passing on intelligence to the police. Better still, energy giant e.on received police intelligence on campaigners against coal-fired power projects.

In recent years, as the growth machine is crumbling under its own weight, corporations and the state have shown venom towards green activists. There is a history of unleashing brutal violence on environmentalists in the developing countries.

And then there are Earth Day and Environment Day events. Earth Day was first observed in the us on May 22, 1970, in response to the dirty economy of the 1960s, when breathing had become tough. It was in protest. Within two years the UN held the Stockholm conference and floated a clinical version: World Environment Day on June 5.

Now, Environment Day is in, May Day is out. Very few countries now observe May Day, which came to be observed after international outrage at the 1886 Haymarket affair in Chicago. The largest labour union, Knights of Labor, launched a picket outside McCormick Harvesting Machine Company. A bomb explosion there killed six policemen, and four unionists were tried and hanged.

Then, in the Soviet heyday, May Day parade became an exhibition of state weaponry. Even as the day was institutionalized in socialist countries, violence against unions was universal--a state-corporate joint venture. Let us not forget the murder of Shankar Guha Niyogi.

As environmental criminals institutionalize Environment Day, there is familiar pattern: oppressive regimes against environmental activists. Is the environmental cause turning out to be a class war?

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