Socialist Worker

After climate walkouts, school strikers say - ‘This is just the start’

A new movement against climate catastrophe is growing across the world. Sarah Bates spoke to the school students who organised the first climate strike in Britain, and who are now preparing for the next round on 15 March

Issue No. 2643

School students protesting during a strike to demand action on climate change on 15 February

School students protesting during a strike to demand action on climate change on 15 February (Pic: Julian Meehan/Flickr)


A new movement for climate justice has exploded onto the streets. Twenty thousand school students walked out across Britain on 15 February to demand urgent action on climate change.

They struck alongside 50,000 school students across the globe as part of the first coordinated climate strike to include Britain. Organised by “Youth Strike 4 Climate”, it was part of the ­worldwide #FridaysforFuture movement.

It was the biggest ever climate strike in Britain—and larger than the school walkouts over the Iraq war in 2003. And now students plan to spread the action with another ­coordinated strike on 15 March.

Many strikers have never been politically active before and the experience left them elated. Cyrus Jarvis, Youth Strike 4 Climate logistics organiser, told Socialist Worker that the huge strike had left him ­feeling “amazing”.

“I feel confident and on top of the world,” he said. “It’s not just the organisers who feel like that but ­everyone who came to the strike.”

Westminster was awash with thousands of strikers spilling out from Parliament Square, demanding that traffic stopped.

Cyrus, who helped organised ­banner-making workshops in the lead-up to the action, was surprised at the turnout. “So many turned up we were struggling to keep control,” he said. “People just kept on coming and coming.

“We couldn’t fit everyone in the area so people just marched off.”

School strikers in London on 15 February

School strikers in London on 15 February (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Similar scenes were replicated in scores of other towns and cities.

Dylan, a 14-year-old student at Fairfield school in Bristol, struck alongside around 20 of his friends. “We need awareness of climate change but we also need ways of preventing it and stopping it,” he told Socialist Worker.

“If we don’t get this dealt with it’s going to get worse and worse.”

Many strikers were incredulous that they are expected to go to school when climate catastrophe is so close.

“You can get all the education you want,” said Dylan. “But if the world is ruined what are you going to use that education on?”

Urgency

A report by the UN’s IPCC body last year warned there are only 12 years left to limit temperature rises to 1.5 degrees. This is much less time than previously thought—and has fed into a sense of urgency in the new movement.

Student from east London Safia Shaikh said, “The future of our generation rests solely on mitigating climate change and treating it like it is.” She said that after 12 years “the world as we know it is lost”.

“We strike because we cannot allow our future to burn before our very eyes,” she explained.

This anger has led strikers to turn their fire to those at the top of society. Safia wants the Tories to stop supporting fracking and leave fossil fuels in the ground—a key demand of the movement.

“The large corporations and government policies may be making money now, but they are gambling with our future and they are losing,” she said. “We cannot allow our future to burn before our very eyes, we must at least try to stop it.”

While teachers’ unions haven’t backed the strikes, there have been some attempts to link up staff and student action.

Students are demanding action to save the planet

Students are demanding action to save the planet (Pic: Socialist Worker)


Dylan said teachers should join in with the walkouts, but their participation should “depend” on how they behaved on the demonstrations. “I’d be fine with teachers striking, but not if they could sanction us at school because of something that happened on the demonstration,” he said.

Trade unionists and workers should take whatever action is possible to support students in this vital battle.

The school strikes are organised by a generation of young people who are told they only care about the perfect selfie or Fortnite video game. And it’s driven by the rage of young people who are patronised by a political elite that tries to kick action on climate change into the long grass.

With more strikes planned for 15 March, their action shows no sign of losing momentum. Cyrus said there is “massive potential” for their ­movement. “We will get what we want,” he said.

“It might not be soon, but we don’t have any ­intention of backing down.”


We’re trying to get more out next time

‘We met up with strikers from another school and travelled to Leeds to join in with the mass rally outside the council chambers in the city centre.

Everyone came at it from a different angle, but we were all brought together over climate change.

When I returned to school everyone was really interested in the strike. They liked the idea of being around others with similar views and the level of camaraderie really appealed to people.

We’re going to try to get more out on 15 March—we’ll be speaking to societies at school.

On the trajectory we’re on at the moment, there’s no reason to let up. I got a detention, but I’ll do it again.’

Ewan Williamson, York


‘We’re told that our opinions don’t matter’

For too long we have felt powerless in a political climate that is shifting to dangerous right wing ideologies. We, as young people, have been told for too long that our opinions don’t matter and that we ought to simply take what is handed to us.

This is extremely worrying when these decisions are being taken by an unrepresentative government.

This world is our future, and we have to take action to make our voices heard and establish the power of the people.

This strike ought to set a precedent. It will empower a generation that are drowning in a dangerous political climate.

Sarah Ainsley, east London


Food system is under ‘severe threat’

A stark report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation has warned that “the future of our food system is under severe threat”. Released last week, it said pollution, climate change and changes in land use were to blame.

The Earth’s population relies on a handful of animal and plant species to produce the vast majority of food.

This makes the food production cycle vulnerable to disease and pests.

Urgent action is needed to provide environments where species can thrive, creating a sustainable future for humans.


Frustration gave birth to a global movement

Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg probably didn’t know she would unleash a worldwide wave of climate strikes when she started her solo walkout last year.

Frustrated at the lack of action over climate change by the Swedish government, Greta protested outside the parliament. From September, she started just striking one day a week, and #FridaysForFuture was born.

It’s estimated that 70,000 struck across 30 countries on 15 February. There were walkouts in 270 cities in Sweden, Germany, Australia, Britain, Switzerland, Canada, Denmark and Finland.

At a European Union conference last week Greta slammed “political leaders wasting decades through denial and inaction”.

“If you think we should be in school, then we suggest you take our place striking in the streets, and striking from your work, or better yet, join us so we can speed up the process,” she said.


System change not climate change is a popular slogan

System change not climate change is a popular slogan (Pic: Socialist Worker)


Do even the rich have an interest in stopping climate catastrophe?

‘System change not climate change’ is a popular slogan on the demonstrations. But what does it mean?

For some it means changes on a system-wide level. So, for instance, new rules and regulations would apply to all companies and countries around issues such as carbon emissions.

But for socialists, it means a break from the capitalist society that has created climate chaos.

Global warming started when fossil fuels began to be burned on a huge scale, around the time of the industrial revolution. And getting rid of the system will be central to any major breakthrough in tackling climate change.

Politicians and big business’s inaction over climate change stems from the fact that they are governed by the logic of profit.

Short-term decisions such as building an oil rig or constructing a fracking well can boost an individual firm’s profits. But the rich know they are creating the conditions for climate catastrophe. So why don’t they stop?

In the long-term they won’t be able to count their money on a dead planet. The answer is because competition is built into capitalism.

If bosses don’t compete with each other to grab a bigger slice of the profits, they will be driven out of business by their rivals.

Competition for resources creates a wasteful system. For instance, Fossil fuel multinationals spend decades competing to find more reserves of oil.

Tycoon

It makes sense for an oil tycoon, as they will have to explain how they are turning a profit to their shareholders. But it makes no sense for ordinary people or the planet to have billions of pounds poured into these efforts.

Climate change is often presented as a process that occurs many miles up by the ozone layer or deep under water. But it’s rooted in humans’ relationship with the Earth.

Right now, every day, natural finite resources such as oil and gas are being depleted, burnt and consumed. This has to stop if we’re going to build any future—let alone a sustainable one.

Frustration at lack of progress can lead to activists focusing on how individuals can change their behaviour. It could be mean encouraging others to be vegan, plastic-free or not having children.

But this isn’t enough. Even if everyone changed their behaviour overnight, we would still live on a planet powered by fossil fuels and organised for the rich’s benefit.

To take on capitalism, we have to fight collectively. This can appear more obvious for workers fighting for higher wages or better working conditions.

But it’s also true when thinking about the biggest threat we face—how to limit the most catastrophic elements of climate change.

That’s why the fight for the planet can’t just be about taming the worst elements of capitalism. It has to also be about building a sustainable, socialist society that’s based on the needs of people and planet, not profit.


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