‘System change not climate change’ – Global Climate Strike

The Global Climate Strike on 20 September 2019 was the biggest climate protest in world history. Here we publish reports by members and supporters from around the UK, as well as from Peshawar in Pakistan and Bandung in Indonesia.

Photo: Steve Eason

Friday 20 September has been the latest in the series of climate strikes. As earlier, the protests were initiated by schoolchildren going on strike, who this time called on trade unions to support the movement with workplace walkouts and actions. This poses challenges particularly in the UK, where the current trade union laws make political strikes not directly related to workplace issues unlawful*.

In the run-up to 20 September, UK trade unions were nominally supportive of the aims of the strike, but seemed to have been overly cautious in their communication considering the legal ramifications. The TUC voted unanimously to support the climate strike with a 30-minute workday campaign action in solidarity with the youth strikers. On the day, however, many workers in several locations did manage to go on strike, some supported by sympathetic management, others using more creative means. Many workplaces held meetings led by workers on how to support the climate movement on the longer term, and thousands joined the youth strikers on their lunch breaks.

The strike globally has been hugely successful, with millions taking the street in numerous countries across the world demanding system change to tackle the climate crisis, often staging the first ever climate protests, as in the case of the report from Peshawar below. The scale of the action will hopefully give workers confidence to push for all-out strikes in future. Below, rs21 members and supporters across the UK and the world report on the actions they have taken locally.

*See note at bottom of article.


Manchester – Photos and report by Kate Bradley and Ian Allinson

Photo: Kate Bradley

Strikers started gathering from 10am in St Peter’s Square, with speeches, music and chanting. Greater Manchester mayor, Andy Burnham, addressed the crowd and was met with cheers, but was forced to admit he had probably not done enough after being questioned by 10-year old Lillia from Oldham about what he had done since he spoke to strikers in April.

Photo: Kate Bradley

Late morning a large crowd of staff and students from the universities marched to join them. Campaigners had been petitioning for weeks demanding that vice-chancellors commit to no sanctions against strikers. Though their responses didn’t go that far, they did give many workers confidence to join the protests, which included banners from UCU and UNISON.

Photo: Ian Allinson

The crowd marched to Great Ancoats Street to stage a die-in at an old retail park which the council proposes to turn temporarily into another car park. Traffic was brought to a standstill as thousands marched and blocked roads. Protests also took place elsewhere across Greater Manchester.

Photo: Ian Allinson


Edinburgh – Photos and report by Pete Cannell and Willie Black

Around 20,000 were on the Edinburgh march, making it almost certainly the biggest (and youngest) march there has been on climate in Scotland.

Photo: Pete Cannell


Photo: Pete Cannell

Carlisle Photos and report by Liz Bishop

There were thousands in Carlisle, and 45 speakers at the rally. The vast majority of speakers were children and young people.

We took over the city. Pavement chalk and street festival atmosphere. Teachers. Unions. Children. Activists. Businesses. Parents. Angry, angry teenagers shouting down politicians.

I couldn’t agree more with this message:

Brighton – Photo and report by Lou Hayton

Today’s climate strike saw an impressive demonstration of 6-7000 people taking to the streets of Brighton. The message is clear: climate action now. School students made up the bulk of the march and were definitely the most vocal section.

Photo: Lou Hayton

This time there were a significant number of adult supporters on the demo, and broadening the action to include workers with more disruptive clout would seem to be a way forward. The students have made this an issue which others are now starting to take up: fantastic work. These protests show no signs of going away, despite the summer break. What do we want?

Hereford – Photo and report by Pete Gillard

There was an amazing turnout with over 500 people – mostly students from the local sixth form college.

Photo: Pete Gillard

Oxford – Photos and report by John Walker

Photo: John Walker

Perhaps over 6,000 people took part in Oxford. There was a large number of adults but the strike was dominated by school students, who controlled the speakers.

Emma Woods, youth speaker. Photo: John Walker

Many people were carrying Extinction Rebellion placards and flags or wearing their stickers. There were large numbers of home-made placards too, even if they were not as visually dominant as on some of the recent demonstrations.

Photo: John Walker

Sheffield – Photos and report by Nick Evans

School student after school student took to the open mic to address a crowd of around 4,000 climate strikers in central Sheffield today. One student, Megan, talked about why corporations and governments have tried for so long to distract us with individual solutions to climate change: ‘Because when we stand together, they are terrified.’

Photo: Nick Evans

The demonstration was joined by feeder marches from schools and workplaces across the city. Young people have shown the power of collective action. At a mass meeting of staff at Sheffield University, one UCU activist reminded her fellow workers of Greta Thunberg’s message: ‘We don’t need admiration. We need action.’ She called on her colleagues to fight to bring down the anti-trade union laws that have stopped many from taking full strike action today: ‘There are no jobs on a dead planet. We need system change, not climate change.’ As another school student, Patrick put it: ‘If we want climate justice, we are going to have to take it.’

Photo: Nick Evans

Leicester – Report and photo by Mike Thompson

Hundreds turned out at Leicester Clock Tower to support the climate strike. There were delegations from various local workplaces and a number of trade union banners.

Cambridge – Photos, video and report by Zareen Taj

A jubilant procession brought over 1000 children and adults from the City Council’s Shire Hall and into King’s Parade to take over the streets for two hours in Cambridge. The walls of Museums of Anthropology and Archaeology resounding with echoes of ‘The Seas are Rising! So Are We!’ ‘Whose Future? Our Future!’

The enthusiasm and sticking power of Cambridge Youth Strike for Climate has carried with them unions and inspired previous apolitical pockets of our communities to unite today. Apart from serious and amusing placards, there were banners from UCU, Green Party and Unite as well as Student CND.

The march around the city centre drew much attention as traffic was held back by XR stewards. A planned ‘die-in’ was scheduled for 11:15 and permission had been given by King’s College for protesters to lie on the lawn in front of the College which many did while others remained on the road blocking traffic.

Stirring speeches were made by individuals from Cambridge’s Eco Council Youth berating adults for frightening them that they should not strike but not taking any serious action themselves! There was a definite celebratory air looking back at how far the movement has come since just March. Two adults were allowed to take the mic. Daniel Zeichner MP endorsed wholeheartedly the strike action declaring that no change had ever come without such action.  The Green Party’s first MEP for the Eastern Region, Catherine Rowett also congratulated the youth strikers.

The youth strikers are focused and determined. This week of action is to continue with weekday vigils from 5pm to 7pm on King’s Parade throughout the weekdays. Each night will be hosted by different schools giving as many local school communities a chance to be part of the action. Apart from raising awareness and encouraging the movement to grow the Youth have clear objectives to see Local and National government fulfil the pledge to beat back our impending climate disaster.

London – photos and reports by Steve Eason, Jonny Jones, Katherine Hearst, Charlie Hore, Arjun Mahedevan and Seth Uzman, video by OpenEye Film

There was a great climate strike protest of Queen Mary University students and staff, joined by local schoolkids, health workers and XR activists. Roads blocked all along Whitechapel High Road, with students leading the way. – Jonny Jones

Photo: Jonny Jones


Photo: Jonny Jones

An Art Workers Bloc was joined by climate strikers from the National Theatre. Katherine Hearst linked the need to address the job insecurity experienced by art workers with the need to address the climate catastrophe: ‘We can envision the role our arts institutions should play, but we feel powerless to direct their paths.’

Photo: Jess Worth

‘So when I talk about the role arts institutions can play in confronting the climate crisis- I am not talking about reusable cups.’

Photo: Katherine Hearst

Workers in Unison union at the Greater London Authority joined the strike.

Photo: Arjun Mahedevan

Charlie Hore reports: Around a thousand people turned out for Hackney Supports the Climate Strikers, held in front of the Town Hall. There were workers from Hackney Council, Homerton hospital, the National Children’s Bureau, Hackney Learning Trust, as well as numbers of teachers accompanying delegations from Clapton Girls’ School and at least four primary schools.

Photo: Charlie Hore

The event began with a sixth-former from Clapton Girls’, and alternated adult and student speakers – the youngest only six years old! The numbers greatly exceeded the organisers’ expectations, and were all the more impressive as several schools had gone directly to the march in central London. It may have been the largest public protest in Hackney since the poll tax!

Photo: Charlie Hore

However, it wasn’t really a strike rally, with most people attending either in their lunch break or with their employers’ agreement – the mayor and deputy mayor of Hackney both spoke, with the mayor praising the activism of their staff and local unions! It was an excellent declaration of support, but one which took the politics of the event in
a different direction.

Photo: Charlie Hore

That said, it was an excellent and spirited event, a lot younger and more diverse than previous climate actions in Hackney, and the more militant the speakers, the louder the cheers.

A group of protesters in central London listen to a speaker, who is standing elevated on the right hand side of the photo.
Photo: Seth Uzman



Peshawar, Pakistan – Photos, video and report by Shahid Ali

For the first time in the history of Peshawar, Pakistan, we organised a climate march and climate strikes.

Even now many people still don’t know about climate change, so this is a start.

Hopefully we will continue our struggle to educate our youth, students and all civil society and make our demands to the government and world leaders.

Bandung, Indonesia – Photos and report by Frans Ari Prasetyo

At midday, environmental activists, students and members of the public gathered to join the climate strike. First, they marched for 2 km through the centre of the commercial and leisure areas of Bandung to Bandung Indah Plaza (BIP) Mall. BIP was chosen because it is the first modern mall in the city of Bandung which is both a symbol of the city and a symbol of consumerism.

Photo: Frans Ari Prasetyo

The climate strikers highlighted the major tropical forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan and the diseases they cause. They were also protesting against the construction of five coal power plants in West Java Province.

The march was escorted by a police car and when it arrived at BIP, it was met with large numbers of police officers and several people carrying weapons. The police are paranoid, but they should fear climate change, not human beings.

Photo: Frans Ari Prasetyo

In the afternoon, the second march took the climate strikers along a further 2 km from the BIP mall to Cikapayang-Dago Park. They were escorted by a police car and found one truck and several police cars waiting for them when they arrived. There were more police waiting in this park than there had been in the mall. Dago itself is a main road, a popular street and identical with the symbol, history of the city which is filled with commercial, office and business areas and close to big universities in Bandung and Indonesia, ITB and UNPAD.

Photo: Frans Ari Prasetyo

Why wasn’t the action in front of the parliament, the office of the mayor of Bandung or the governor of West Java?  This was also a protest against them, because so far they have shown no care for the environment, or addressed climate change through their policies. But the government is mistrusted, and the climate strikers put their trust in the people instead. So the selection of the mall (BIP) and the city park (Cikapayang-Dago Park) as a point of action for the climate strike in Bandung seemed more relevant and enabled strikes to create wider public awareness about the current situation on earth.


*EDITORIAL CORRECTION: The original version of the article referred to the current trade union laws making political strikes not directly related to workplace issues illegal. This isn’t strictly accurate. ‘Illegal’ refers to acts banned by law. Strikes which don’t comply with the anti-union laws are ‘unlawful‘ rather than illegal – they are not permitted or protected by law, allowing the use of civil rather than criminal law against strikers and unions. We will carry an article soon discussing the anti-union laws in more detail. – Available here now.


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