Socialist Alternative

Heatwave chaos is a symptom of capitalist crisis

Crumbling infrastructure, decades of underinvestment, and climate catastrophe

Suddenly the big questions of our time – debated at world summits, argued over at election times, and protested for by working class and young people around the world – are hitting us all in the face along with the sweltering heat. From the NHS crisis, to transport chaos, to unaffordable energy bills, to the climate catastrophe being ever-more exposed, only socialist policies offer a way forward.

Every area of life is being impacted by this heatwave. At the extreme end, we can unfortunately expect thousands of excess deaths, particularly among the elderly and disabled. Most will be a result of the heat itself, with an increased risk of heart attack and stroke, for example, exacerbated by buildings ill suited to such weather. Others will fall victim to a health service yet again crumbling under multiple pressures – before the latest weather crisis, average ambulance waiting times for those with serious conditions (such as a heart attack) was 40 minutes, with one in ten waiting an hour and a half. 

A combination of the social care crisis, the latest Covid surge, and decades of underfunding and privatisation, are causing the NHS to buckle under the type of strain it usually experiences during the more familiar winter crises. The pressure on services and staffing crisis is compounded by the fact that one third of NHS buildings were built before 1965 (and the situation is likely even worse in care homes), so are themselves totally ill-equipped to provide sanctuary from the heat for the sick and vulnerable. The only solution health bosses can find is appealing to people not to phone for an ambulance!  

Infrastructure problems

Other aspects of daily life have been  impacted too. A fault on the runway at Luton Airport caused by the heat meant that airport was closed on Monday. Train speeds on many lines were limited by 50% to avoid dangers from the tracks warping or buckling in the heat, reducing capacity and extending (often extremely hot) journey times. Hundreds of trains have been cancelled at the last minute. Many workers were then faced with the choice of staying at home to avoid transport chaos, or battling their way into air conditioned workplaces because their homes are so uncomfortable in high temperatures. Similar problems exist in schools. Some took the decision, often under pressure from education unions, to close or partially close, while others stayed fully open, with some even insisting on draconian (and in this weather unsafe) uniform policies being fully maintained. 

These infrastructure problems are not inevitable. We all know ways in which ‘hotter’ countries are better adapted to these extreme weather episodes. But we also all know that the average weather here is changing – climate scientists have pointed out that the UK is no longer a cold country – and yet no serious changes are being implemented. The government’s own climate advisors have been warning for ten years of the need to make major infrastructure changes to deal with climate change. Their 2021 report said: “Alarmingly, this new evidence shows the gap between the level of risk we face and the level of adaptation under way has widened [since 2016]. The UK has the capacity and the resources to respond effectively, yet it has not done so… Little preventative action is being taken to address health risks from overheating in buildings, and in homes in particular.”

Capitalism can’t solve these crises

The reason for this failure to adapt isn’t just that the Tories are cruel and heartless, though they are. It isn’t just that the super-rich and their political representatives are most able to cushion themselves from the impact of extreme weather events, though they are. Most importantly, it is because such a restructuring of working practices, construction, transport, energy, health services and education requires a level of integrated planning that is impossible on the basis of capitalism. When in each sector there are a multitude of private companies competing to outdo each other and maximise their shareholders’ profits at the expense of quality and safety, a quick, coordinated, planned, wholesale response is a pipe dream. 

This is the case with all aspects of the impact of climate change – regardless of claimed good intentions and no matter how many international conferences discuss the issue, global capitalism is incapable of acting in a way that will stop the destruction. Scientists say there is a 50% risk that we will cross the critical 1.5°C mark of global heating within the next five years. To stand a chance of staying below this in the long term, carbon emissions would need to be cut in half by 2030. Instead they are predicted to rise by 14%. It could be more, taking into account the impact of the war in Ukraine and resulting rolling back on existing promises to move away from coal and oil extraction, alongside opening up more gas fields and exploration.  

The impacts of this global warming are already devastating. Floods, forest fires and droughts are becoming more common, leading to starvation, displacement and death in many parts of the globe. It has never been clearer that the only way to guarantee any future worth the name for the planet and future generations lies in urgent system change – for international socialism, which can plan the use of the world’s resources to meet these needs, free from the poisonous constraint of the drive for profit. 

Socialist Alternative calls for:

  • Democratic working class’ control of heat crisis measures in workplaces and communities. Organise for the right to set maximum safe working temperatures, to implement working from home for all workers where this is possible, to reduce the working day without loss of pay, to provide as much time off for childcare as necessary for the duration of extreme hot weather, regular rest breaks, provision of free drinking water and a proper uniform policy along with any other measures needed in individual workplaces
  • Tories out! This crisis means yet more blood on their hands – for strikes and protests to get rid of the whole lot. We need a new left party of struggle to offer a real alternative 
  • A massive programme of public works to retrofit environmentally sound heat-reducing, emission-limiting measures to homes, public buildings and transport systems, simultaneously providing millions of decent, well paid jobs and training opportunities 
  • Support the strikes to defeat the government and fight for public services fit for purpose – victory to the RMT and all other unions taking or preparing strike action! 
  • Nationalise the rail companies as a first step towards a fully integrated, modernised, free to use public transport system
  • Mass union action to win a 15% pay rise for NHS workers
  • Emergency investment into the NHS, including expansion of healthcare education places to train the many more professionals needed to fill the gaping hole between capacity and need
  • Strip the contracts from all private social and homecare companies ripping off local councils and failing to deliver decent care as a step towards a totally free, fully-nationalised, integrated health and social care system
  • Invest in high quality, comprehensive education for all. For all schools to be run by democratically elected education authorities. End draconian school uniform policies
  • Nationalise the big polluters – worldwide, 100 companies are responsible for 70% of global emissions. We say nationalise the big polluters, starting with the energy companies, under democratic workers’ control. That way it would be possible to begin to embark on a just transition away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy – safeguarding existing jobs and creating millions more in the process
  • Take the wealth off the 1%. Nationalise the major banks and the top 100 monopolies that control  around 80% of our economy, under democratic workers’ control and management 
  • For a socialist world – free from war, poverty, exploitation, oppression and climate destruction