Anti-frackers keep on winning

Issue section: 

Scarborough’s anti-fracking action group marched in Manchester on 4 October, while Lancashire’s anti-fracking nanas paraded their trademark yellow housecoats and duster headgear.

Occasions like these show that an important section of the campaign not only links the Tories and fracking, but fracking and the Tories’ broad assault.

My own experience is of the North and East Yorkshire campaigns, which have sometimes seemed polarised between reliance on “due process” (on councils to reject planning applications for fracking wells and governments to honour their decisions) and environmental protection, whose focus is on occupying the land.

Each campaign type has had its successes. Preston New Road is the most well-known apparent victory for due process. Wealthy, rural Ryedale last month won a five-year moratorium from its Tory-led district council.

The Ryedale decision is more position statement than policy, since the district council doesn’t have the power to impose its ban. Nonetheless, it gives campaigners the confidence to keep going.

Notable protection camps include Barton Moss in Lancashire and Crawberry Hill in East Yorkshire, where Rathlin pulled out, citing costs.

The two approaches seem poles apart. Occupation comes where due process has failed and is more militant. It relies more on obstruction and vigilance than winning the information war.

But both attempt to defeat fracking locally, well by well. Equally, both methods are stronger when combined with other action, because they otherwise ask people to take action as individuals rather than collectively, or in the case of protection camps to change before we achieve change.

The necessary secrecy and isolation brings a danger of personality-driven politics and fear of industry or police moles. These can be overcome to an extent by solidarity visits.

A union delegation carrying food and firewood is a real boost to campers on a cold night and maintains links with the wider struggle.

Due process in the small Ryedale market town of Malton was accompanied by a march of 1,000 people, most on their first protest, shouting “Frack Free Planet!” The campaign has pulled off public meetings up to 500 and held protests outside banks and planning offices.

On the west coast, too, the mass mobilisations of local people have been vital factors in Lancashire’s success against Cuadrilla at proposed sites Singleton, Preston New Road and Roseacre Wood.

As socialists organising around fracking we have spent anxious moments wondering whether people at our meeting would understand why a firefighter was reading a solidarity message from his brigade, or whether our older anti-frackers would handle a visit to a local protection camp.

We needn’t have worried. The campers were cold but happy and the firefighter received thunderous applause.

Now our fire service is under threat of drastic cuts, the time has come to repay FBU solidarity. The Frack Free Scarborough banner will be on the picket line if they take industrial action.

We have not defeated fracking yet. The Tories have shown their contempt for due process by ordering fast-track fracking decisions, the mainstream media is biased, and campaigns against the 14th round of PEDL licences have only just begun. Many campaigners mistakenly think a centralised national campaign for an outright ban would leave us open to manipulation.

On the other hand, Cameron and co are broadly despised, have a small majority and are divided on Europe. The climate march on 29 November is both a solid call for a broader focus and a rallying point for the campaign.

Trade unions increasingly have good policy on fracking and climate change, and attacking so many areas at once with the latest round of PEDL licences means anti-fracking groups have mushroomed and people have joined forces in solidarity.