I am one of the 300 anti-frackers arrested and charged as part of the state’s offensive against our peaceful democratic movement.
For the first time anti-fracking protectors have been jailed in the UK. This is no fleeting, symbolic sentence. Three friends and comrades to so many in the climate movement have been denied up to 16 months of their freedom.
All for sitting on top of lorries outside Cuadrilla’s Lancashire site where they are attempting to frack for shale gas for the first time in the UK.
Unusually they were charged with public nuisance while the majority of the 300 anti-frackers arrested at Preston New Road (PNR) have been charged with obstruction of the highway. With public nuisance comes the possibility of jail time at the whim of a judge.
It seems clear that in this instance our imprisoned comrades were made an example of by the forces of our criminal (in)justice system to deter future disruption to Cuadrilla as they move rapidly closer to actually beginning to frack.
Indeed, the action of our imprisoned friends was no mere protest. We do not passively request the Government or Cuadrilla suddenly change their minds. Its too late for that. Our strategy is to frustrate and disrupt Cuadrilla to stop fracking ourselves.
This strategy - sitting happily alongside the movement building, lobbying and litigation of other organisations – is necessary because the UK’s regimen of environmental regulation and democratic processes have failed to stop this egregious imposition of extraction by fossil capital on a Lancashire community that loudly repeats again and again its firm stance against fracking: “WE SAID NO!”
The state has taken political prisoners of the anti-fracking movement because we are winning. Our strategy had successfully frustrated Cuadrilla’s efforts to frack for the first time and lay the groundwork for a UK fracking industry.
For the state so intimately bound up with fossil capital and private finance which stand to profit so much from a new domestic gas industry, deploying its capacity to withdraw individuals’ freedom and terrorise a grassroots movement is common sense when it comes to defending private profit.
I am one of the 300 anti-frackers arrested and charged as part of the state’s offensive against our peaceful democratic movement. I can say from experience that police conduct has been consistently violent and the (in)justice system punitive.
Many of us have been assaulted, beaten and taunted by sneering cops who use trade union legislation to collect our data during arrest, while the courts charge us with obstruction of the highway for actions where traffic has been allowed to continue to speed by or where the police have themselves closed the road.
In many ways the story of fracking in the UK is archetypal of our decaying neoliberal regime. Using plucky start-ups like Cuadrilla and Third Energy (backed by venture capital) to pave the way for a new frontier of accumulation, corporate giants like Shell and BP wait in the wings to descend on and rapidly expand the market when the time is right.
This model’s reliance on financial capital is no clearer than the ownership of Third Energy – seeking to frack in North Yorkshire – by Barclays. The bank pledged in 2017 to sell the company but still haven’t. Regardless, the rogue profiteers of British stand to gain as much as the fossil fuel industry as they provide support for this new industry.
Indeed, it is only fossil capital, finance and their representatives in the Tory party that stand to benefit from a UK fracking industry. For them, their need to maximise the value they realise of the UK’s untapped gas reserves trumps any concerns by local people of what fracking will do to their communities. Let alone the need to keep fossil fuels in the ground to avoid climate chaos.
Local democracy was trampled on by central Government in defence of the interests of capital. The police repress peaceful disruption at the site. The courts inflict significant costs on protectors and have begun to take their prisoners.
These various factions of the state operate as a very well oiled machine protecting the fledgling fracking industry. This is definitive neoliberalism: ideological appeals to the total sovereignty of the free market, rolling back the state’s protections for the many; while in practice there is a total reliance on unregulated finance and repressive state power to protect and create markets for capital as it fails to viably expand its sphere of accumulation by its own stated logic.
Of course the Tory Government has actively supported a UK fracking industry. But the imprisonment of three anti-frackers underlines the deep relationship between the state and finance and fossil capital. Who has the keys to the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy alone does little to determine the culture of our criminal (in)justice system.
When Labour goes into Government, they will ban fracking. But a much harder challenge eco-socialists in this country must prepare for is restraining the deeply embedded commitment to protect capital’s interests held by the state’s many agencies.
As Labour prepares to repeal decades of anti-trade union law, the base of the labour movement and social movements must prepare to unleash unprecedented backlash against British capital through industrial and direct action.
For this to be successful and not repressed, finance must serve the transformative program of a government led by the many. The (in)justice system can no longer defend finance’s dispossession of communities globally. It must be made turn its attention holding it to account.
In the anti-fracking movement we give great care to the welfare of our comrades, from those taking disruptive action to the communities we act in solidarity with.
The state has demonstrated a total disregard for the welfare of protectors defending their community and the climate. They’ve gone too far this time. This may have been a move to silence us. In due course, they will understand they just made us more resolved than we ever thought possible to stop fracking as the first step of irreversibly transforming our society and economy.
Chris Saltmarsh is co-rirector of climate change campaigns at People & Planet. He is active in the anti-fracking movement as a member of Reclaim the Power Oxford. He tweets at @chris_saltmarsh.