Support the climate strikes!

The climate strike on Friday 29 November coincides with strikes at Higher Education institutions across the UK. The youth strikers have led the way in forcing the climate emergency onto the political agenda, and broadening the conception of the purpose of strike action. Gus Woody discusses some of the ways organised workers and socialists can show solidarity in return.

Climate strike 20 September 2019 (Oxford). Photo: John Walker

With the general election absorbing the focus of most elements of British culture for the last month, it’s important to stress that not all activity is focussed on parliament. This week the members of the UCU union have been on strike, and tomorrow (Friday 29 November) will be the next climate strike.

The climate strikes in September were huge, attracting over 100,000 in London and a further 200,000 across the country. Strikes were held in over 200 UK towns and cities, and millions took part in other towns and cities across the globe. It is crucial a similar attendance and support is achieved in the UK this week.

The current government has a horrific climate record, despite increasing the ambition of the national target to net zero by 2050. It will not reach even this limited target, refusing to do anything but serve fossil capital. The lack of sufficiently bold climate policies and refusal to take part in a climate debate, whilst unsurprising, shows the Conservatives clearly as the party of disaster capitalism. To have large loud climate strikes during this election calls out this failure.

However, the strikes have a wider importance beyond that of the current election. Young people around the world have built a movement demanding all governments, left or right, actually appreciate the scale of the climate crisis. Whatever the result of the election here in the UK, the climate strike movement will continue agitating to ensure climate justice is promoted and defended.

One of the most inspiring features of the climate strike is the rehabilitation of the language of the left and the labour movement. The young organisers of these actions have no problem with encouraging ‘strike action’ from both young and old.

This language has been put further into action. The strikers actively reach out and work with unions to support and organise their events. September had a number of significant unions like the UCU and BFAWU encouraging work stoppages and participation in the strikes. Most notably, it was the UCU who brought the successful motion to the TUC in support of the youth movement. Hopefully, the two movements will work to support each other tomorrow.

End precarity
UCU are striking to defend pay and pensions. Over 50% of university staff are on precarious contracts. Oxford, 25 Nov 2019. Photo: John Walker

For the labour movement and members of socialist organisations, the climate strike offer an opportunity for collaboration and solidarity. The left has a lot to contribute to the young organisers, not least of all in agitating for greater union support and engagement. However, socialist movements also have a lot to learn from this younger generation of climate activists and should give them a platform to do so.

Young people are under constant pressure. Capitalist logics of competition and productivity have forced their way into the education sector at every level. Students and young people feel pressured to perform in exams in chronically underfunded schools. The youth mental health crisis is deepening, while the healthcare meant to support them has been gutted by austerity. Against this grim backdrop, youth are organising one of the biggest environmental movements in recent memory.

This is all the more reason why the left should look for ways to help support the strikes from a place of solidarity. What power and positions do we have that we can use to take some of the burden from the young strikers? Crucially, this has to be done in the ways that the youth strikers recognise and request, rather than assuming we as socialists have all the answers and know what support to give.

What can be done then? The most immediate way to support is to promote and attend your nearest strike. We can use our unions and workplaces to agitate for the strikers’ message, amplifying their actions and demands, taking the UCU response in September as a great example of this. You can download a model motion for your workplaces or union branches here. The UK Student Climate Network have also made an excellent guide for adult allies of the movement. They list a number of preferred ways to support:

  • Enable children you are responsible for to attend the strikes. You can send a permission letter, attend with them if they are young, and more to enable their participation.
  • You can leverage your own position to encourage local authorities and schools to be supportive of the striking young people.
  • Write to local media and other such places to amplify a message of support for the actions being taken.
  • You should let young people lead, recognise your own positionality and do not take up platforms.
  • Use your workplace and union to support and amplify the demands of the strikes.
  • Finally, consider donating to UKSCN

I think beyond this, those on the left should take the time to listen to what climate strikers would actually want from us. We should be asking how we can help to build the climate movement in a world so blighted by crisis.


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