Labour unveiled new plans last week to bring Britain’s energy networks under public ownership, as a key part of a ‘Green Industrial Revolution’ to tackle climate change.
Measures outlined in the official Labour Party document - entitled Bringing Energy Home - include: taking back control of electricity grids and gas pipelines; establishing a National Energy Agency; decarbonising the country’s energy supplies; installing solar panels on nearly two million homes; and implementing a 20:1 pay ratio within the energy sector.
These are the kind of large-scale changes that are needed if the UK is to begin to seriously tackle the threat of climate change.
But whilst these proposals would - if implemented - provide an enormous benefit for the many, the super-rich few at the top have not welcomed Labour’s plans so warmly. In particular, there has been a large backlash from the current private owners and their lobby groups. These parasites are clearly unwilling to give up these assets, despite offers of compensation by Labour.
This should act as a word of warning to the labour movement. Attempts at re-nationalisation by an incoming Corbyn government will be met with huge resistance from big business and their representatives in Parliament. The only way to overcome this opposition is to go on the offensive by mobilising workers and youth around a bold socialist programme.
Big business threats
On the same day as Labour unveiled their latest plans, the private owners of National Grid announced annual profits of £1.8bn, with higher dividends for shareholders.
No surprise then that National Grid’s chief executive, John Pettigrew, responded to Labour’s nationalisation announcement with threats. Labour’s proposals, the National Grid boss asserted, would “delay the huge amount of progress and investment” in the energy sector, and would not be “in the interests of customers”.
Pettigrew also warned that attempts to nationalise the grid would face challenges in the courts, if the current owners believed that the compensation offered by the government fell below market value estimates.
“That's not what the UK precedent is and that's not what international law says,” chimed Dan Neidle, a partner at law firm Clifford Chance, agreeing that the capitalists must get their pound of flesh.
The Tories, echoing the concerns of the capitalist class, have been quick to state that Labour’s proposals would bankrupt the nation, with the cost of full compensation priced at over £100 billion.
Labour’s leadership has responded by stating that their plans will be ‘cost neutral’, using the nationalisation of Northern Rock in 2008 as a precedent. Under this model, shareholders would be compensated with bonds, with Parliament deciding the exact level of compensation.
But Northern Rock was a bankrupt bank. The Brown Labour government of the time took Northern Rock into public ownership to stave off contagion in the banking sector. As such, the capitalists were happy for this financial burden to be taken off their hands.
By comparison, the bosses and bankers look at the nationalisation of the profitable energy sector - even with compensation offered - with horror. So much so that within a day of Labour’s announcement, the markets had chopped over £1 billion off the stock value of National Grid.
In reality, compensation to these fat cats is like paying a playground bully to hand back your stolen lunch, only for them to steal it again the next day. We must not entertain the idea of any compensation to these gangsters, who have robbed workers of the wealth that they have created for far too long. If anything, these robber barons should be compensating us!
Go on the offensive
This recent episode highlights how a Corbyn government attempting to carry out sweeping economic changes will face a strike of investment from the capitalists. Corbyn’s Labour must stand firm in the face of this blackmail.
The only way to combat any potential economic sabotage by the bosses and banks is to go further, and nationalise the banks and major monopolies, as part of a socialist plan of production. Only then can we utilise the resources of society to invest in renewable technologies and build sustainable homes, transport, and energy systems.
The environmental movement has seen an explosive growth in recent months. This has been accompanied by a growth in radical demands. Student strikers internationally, for example, have called for “system change, not climate change”.
And there is increasing recognition that the labour movement must play a leading role in this fight. This is shown by the calls for a ‘Green New Deal’, and by Labour’s proposals for a ‘Green Industrial Revolution’. Climate change is a class issue and requires class-based solutions. The question of public ownership is central to the battle against environmental destruction.
To stop climate change, we need urgent, radical action. A Labour government must nationalise the top 150 monopolies - without compensation - and implement democratic workers’ control and management.
This idea was embodied within the words of the original Clause 4 of the Labour constitution. This pledged to workers the “full fruits of their industry”, on the basis of the “common ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange”.
It is high time that we brought this historic socialist clause back, and put these words into action. Only then can we break from the chaos of capitalism and avert a climate catastrophe.