by Derek Wall
On the campaign trail for the local elections earlier this month, Green Party leader Natalie Bennett used the opportunity to focus on our support for social justice. She visited a food bank in Norwich, where the Green Party has more councillors than in any other city.

While the Conservative and Lib Dem assault on the welfare society has led Labour to agree that benefits are too generous, Greens are deepening our commitment to greater equality.

The welfare state was created by working people and is funded by our collective wealth. As Natalie argued, demand for food banks is going up every day – but given that Britain is the sixth-richest country in the world, the current attack on the poorest is absurd.

The bedroom tax, council tax benefit cuts and cuts in the disability living allowance have created a tsunami of misery.

It is always easier to make promises out of office, but ironically Labour’s Liam Byrne has promised to make it more difficult for the unemployed to get benefit.

While millions are out of work the mainstream media and politicians are attempting to outdo each other with attacks on jobseekers and migrants.

From the NHS to affordable housing, the god of the market is being used to justify a continuing transfer of resources from millions of us to a small number of millionaires.

Green Party policies from a Tobin Tax on the financial fat cats to cutting Trident and raising income tax on the richest all make an alternative possible to the current neoliberal misery.

Ever since I joined in 1980 social justice has, along with ecological concern, principled non-violence and grass-roots democracy, been one of the four pillars of our party.

However, our commitment to social justice has deepened considerably in recent years.

There are a number of reasons for this. The left is organised in the party in the form of the anti-capitalist Green Left.

Green Left’s councillor Will Duckworth, who is a Black Country ex-maths teacher, became our first working-class deputy leader last year. Many members like myself have been eco-socialists for decades but we have been joined by former members of other left parties.

Most significant has been the influx of young people since the student protests in 2011. This has contributed to a large increase in Green Party membership.

The Young Greens are a force for positive change in our party. A young Green, Josiah Mortimer, tabled a motion at our recent spring conference to deepen our commitment to justice.

Our philosophical principles, which are a fundamental guide to our politics, can only be changed by a two-thirds majority at conference. Yet his motion to rewrite them gained over 70 per cent support.

They now read: “The Green Party is a party of social and environmental justice which supports a radical transformation of society for the benefit of all, and for the planet as a whole.

“We understand that the threats to economic, social and environmental wellbeing are part of the same problem, and recognise that solving one of these crises cannot be achieved without solving the others.”

The motion preamble read: “A system based on inequality and exploitation is threatening the future of the planet on which we depend and encouraging reckless and environmentally damaging consumerism. A world based on co-operation and democracy would prioritise the many, not the few, and would not risk the planet’s future with environmental destruction and unsustainable consumption.”

The motion is a culmination of a number of other changes. An economic democracy motion passed in 2012 commits us to common ownership – it is a clause four moment in reverse.

Whereas Labour, at the behest of Tony Blair, removed any reference to this historic commitment “to secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry.”

There is no contradiction between caring for our environment and caring for social justice. The biologist Professor Barry Commoner argued that the two issues are indivisible.

He noted that any environmental problem when pursued to its origin has social causes. He argued that “the environmental crisis cannot be paid, person by person, in recycled bottles or ecologically sound habits, but in the ancient coin of social justice.”

The massive oil spill by an Exxon tanker at Prince William Sound, the extensive deforestation of redwood trees by the Maxxam Corporation, and the proposed James Bay hydroelectric project that would flood vast forested areas of northern Quebec, to cite only a few problems, are sobering reminders that the real battleground on which the ecological future of the planet will be decided is clearly a social one.

A system based on short-term profit cannot abide democratic ownership. It detests the idea that we have a basic right to a dignified life and above all it rejects environmental care which dents the pursuit of greed.

Climate change, destruction of forests and the islands of discarded plastic in our oceans are products of social forces.

Environmental justice equals social justice. And if we destroy our environment, we destroy our own well-being.

A deepening commitment to social justice in the Green Party is to be welcomed but, at a time when Labour has moved to the right, we Greens need to be vigilant in defending our radicalism and making sure that it is reflected in our practical actions.

Derek Wall is Green Party international co-ordinator and was writing in the Morning Star


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