Earth First! Winter Moot

Defending the Douglas Valley

Hambach Forest Ocupation

South Lanarkshire COALcil

Mainshill Zine

Coal in Scotland

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msc-protest-5The latest Earth First! Action Update is out with lots of great information, stories and action reports from the struggle against opencast, as well as much more from campaigns throughout the UK and globally. The following article was featured as part of a special on protest sites:

Using experience, tactics and lessons learned from the successes of the anti-roads movement, activists have occupied new opencast sites as a primary focus of campaigns against new coal. But how transferable are these tactics learned in the 90’s? With roads, there were over 500 new ones, with many different contractors taking many contracts. Contractors were put off because continuous occupations and actions made it too costly and because they had the choice to not take contracts. It was OK for the protest movement to lose most of the sites it occupied, as it was the sites that didn’t need to be occupied that were the real victories.

Operators such as Scottish Coal and UK Coal can’t stop digging up coal, it’s what they do and it’s a profitable business. How can we compete on a financial level when the revenue from Mainshill alone is likely to be around £70 million, and seven months of occupation and direct action probably cost the company 2 million at most?

With coal, there’s no ‘programme’ to cancel, no government department to cave in. Expansion is driven by companies taking advantage of ease in planning and increased coal prices. In effect, we need to resist all the new sites, but there aren’t enough for us to have the same effect as with the road protests.

Maybe we need to see the aim of occupying a site as being slightly different to just costing the developer as much money as possible. If we are to be effective, we need to win the sites we occupy, and make change on a political and social level that prevents new opencast. So if direct action alone can’t compete with the resources of an opencast company, what can?

In for the long haul

Occupations could be used to support community struggle and build momentum within existing campaigns. Sites could use the attention, both from the corporate media and the media we create, to get good information out there, whether in the form of independent research, publications, reports or zines.

Sites could also be focal points for a growing ecological direct action movement – and provide space to share skills whether in community engagement or using bolt cutters. They could give back space to surrounding communities that have had it taken from them, providing access to countryside and engaging with local kids. And they could be climaxes of resistance, whether it’s a Raeburn vehicle getting trashed in broad daylight outside Mainshill Solidarity Camp, or 70 people in rural Scotland resisting the onslaught of police and bailiffs.

The lessons learned in community engagement and solidarity at Mainshill could be built on, both in terms of what worked and what we didn’t get right. Sites could be occupied three weeks or so before a mine application goes to planning hearing, with a clear plan mapped out for those three weeks for how the campaign is going to affect the planning hearing and win. We could engage in long-term community struggle in the areas affected by opencasting. What about supporting worker’s control in Douglas’ remaining factory that would really help save jobs? Or helping communities develop small-scale renewable generation schemes and take back control over their natural resources?

Sites could be seen as part of an overall campaign, that starts well before the occupation, and not as ends in themselves. Otherwise there’s a real danger of losing sites while not stopping many coal mines in the meantime.

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