Vienna: Blockades and Mass Mobilization Against Meeting of Energy Tycoons

From Monday to Wednesday, March 27 to 29, the European Gas Conference (EGC) took place in Vienna. Representatives of the most powerful energy companies in the world, such as BP, Shell and OMV, held meetings with private financial investors and European bureaucrats to decide behind closed doors the future of energy in Europe and beyond.

The champagne party of the magnates was met with fierce resistance. As environmental activists staged multiple blockades on the way to the conference, people flooded the streets to deliver a staunch message to the ruling class bargaining away our future.

Organized as a counter-summit, the Power to the People Conference (24-26.03) reunited climate activists from all across the world. Multiple activist networks and collectives from the Global South were present, including Don’t Gas Africa, Black Earth Kollektif and the Debt for Climate transnational initiative. Connections of the gas industry to war and to the current cost of living crises, as well as the neocolonial character of the debt traps and fossil fuel projects in the Global South were among the most discussed topics.

Direct Actions

The BlockGas coalition employed direct action tactics to crash the conference. On Sunday, March 26, as fossil energy tycoons were heading to the Vienna Airport, activists occupied the pavement and blocked access to the private jet terminal. 

During the first day of the EGC, up to four hundred people organized a blockade of the streets around the Marriott Hotel in which the conference was taking place. The police used tear gas in an attempt to disperse the protesters and detained 143 activists, but the authorities had to release most of them the following day. On Tuesday, another blockade was organized against the Viennese refinery of the Austrian fossil fuel giant OMV, one of the main sponsors of the EGC.

The series of direct actions included the infiltration and disruption of the Gala Dinner of the “Gas Industrial Complex” by activists. Supposedly in a secret location, energy magnates were having dinner with EU and US bureaucrats, UK diplomats, bankers and hedge fund managers—a cesspool of bureaucracy, industrial and financial capital.

On Wednesday, people mobilized for a large march against the EGC. Thousands of people took it to the streets and demanded energy democracy, an immediate end to the expansion of fossil fuel projects and the decolonization of the Global South, among other things. The discontent towards the capitalist system and the distrust in its framework were clearly demonstrated by the presence of slogans such as One Solution – Revolution and the display of various anti-capitalist and anti-colonialist messages.

Protesters accuse the fossil fuel companies of profiting from the current crises as people suffer and of using the imperialist war in Ukraine to spike LNG demand and secure investments from entities like BlackRock. The presence of activists from Africa was also essential to the protest, as the gas industry has announced its plans of expansion into the continent, according to Don’t Gas Africa campaigners. This aggressive push towards extractivism by mainly Western energy companies in peripheral countries which are already facing the dire consequences of the climate crisis is an expression of the existent neocolonial relations.

Energy Security & Our Future: What Comes Next?

In the context of the recent crises, we have seen the climate movement, as well as other mass movements, orientating themselves towards a more radical and anti-systemic approach. The time of ‘symbolic action’ has passed long ago and even direct action tactics are starting to show their limits. Mass mobilization is increasingly becoming the preferred strategy for groups such as Extinction Rebellion, which are updating their tactics according to the practical experience they have gained in the last years.

The movements have also evolved into the direction of practicing the unity of struggles, as proven by the connections with the queer-feminist, anti-racist, decolonial and Kurdish liberation movements visible in the Power to the People Conference and in similar events. This wasn’t a pre-given tendency at the peak of the climate movement in 2019, and is also the result of practical experience and of acknowledging the common origins of these issues—the current capitalist and imperialist system. 

However, in order to challenge this system we need more than protests and temporary blockades. We need to strike the capitalist system using the greatest vulnerability of the ruling classes: their dependence on exploiting our work. We need class solidarity and strike action.

An alliance of the environmental movement with the organizations of the working class, mainly the more combative unions, must be built. This way, strikes and walkouts can be combined with other protest tactics to cause systematic disruptions to the production and distribution chains, which can open up the discussion on how society can work under a different framework and pave the way for the takeover of the factories, roads and offices by the organized workers. Only with the involvement of the working class and society in managing production can a functional economy be planned according to people’s needs and ecological sustainability, rather than to the imperative of profit. 

An important step in this direction is being made by initiatives such as Debt for Climate, which brings together environmental groups and trade unions, mainly from the Global South, under the objective of canceling the debt of impoverished countries as a part of just transition and decolonization.

Events such as the recent protests in Vienna show the already existing international character of the mass movements, highlighting the urgency of building an international united front of all political forces that fight against capitalism, as a first step towards the struggle to build an international revolutionary party, to channel these energies in a revolutionary direction. Such a front necessarily includes the most advanced layers from the existing mass movements and workers’ organizations, to which it must remain connected to avoid bureaucratization and degeneration. In this manner, the existing demands can be brought to the next level—the construction of a revolutionary political program with a transitional character.

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