The school climate strike movement reached a scale no-one could have predicted as classrooms around the world emptied and students took to the streets last Friday
Students struck together in 125 countries and on every continent. The action saw a historic 1.5 million people protest to demand urgent action on climate change.
A 50,000-strong walkout across Britain was over twice the size of the first strike in February. The march in London was like nothing else that’s happened in British politics for years.
Thousands of school students descended on central London—and marched off wherever they felt like.
Much of the anger was directed broadly at those at the top of society. An early breakaway group of several thousand students marched from Parliament Square, up Whitehall past Downing Street and on to Buckingham Palace.
The cops were at a loss as to how to contain them. Barriers were lowered at the bottom of Pall Mall, but the strikers just climbed over them. Police formed a line at the top of the Mall, but the students found a way round them.
At one point police parked vehicles across the road. The students crawled under them. In Britain, the mobilisations have had a strong anti-Tory feeling. “Kick out the Tories,” and “Fuck Theresa May,” were popular chants, although some protesters argued the movement shouldn’t become “political”.
There were some chants for Jeremy Corbyn, but they had much less take-up. It’s an indication that Corbynism—increasingly focused on parliament—is a small element of this street movement for change.
Most of the activists had never been on a demonstration before but were moved to act because of the scale of the problem.
Gregor from north London told Socialist Worker that he joined in because “climate change is honestly the most important issue. It should be everyone’s top priority—it’s above other problems,” he said.
For many climate strikers, a combination of changes to personal behaviour and wider systemic changes will be needed to tackle the climate crisis.
Many carried homemade banners about plastic, water usage, food wastage and pollution.
“I’m a vegan, I advocate that because cows produce so much methane,” said striker Orla. “And people need to think more about the waste and energy they use.”
Her friend Romy argued that “we also need bigger changes such as public transport—more electric cars and buses”.
“We need legislation based on the Paris Agreement—but it needs to go further because that’s not enough,” she added.
The Friday For Future movement’s focus on collective action is a welcome move away from divisive politics that focus exclusively on changing individual behaviour. This spirit of fighting together gives the climate strikes and protests their energy.
South London school student Caoimhe said it was “just amazing” to be part of the climate strike movement.
“We need to come together to and say ‘this is wrong and we need to do something about it’.
“We need the government to declare a climate emergency because this isn’t something that’s happening in the future, but right now,” she said.
The strikes are an attempt to make those responsible for the climate crisis take action.
Matthew argued that “it’s only going to affect young people—it’s not going to affect the politicians making decisions, it’s going to affect us.”
Striker Nighan said, “It’s our future—we’re the ones who will have to deal with it, not adults.”
For others, it’s more a struggle between the rich and ordinary people.
“The only way to change things is to rise up,” explained Orlando from Bedfordshire.
“It’s the rich bastards at the top who won’t be affected but we will.”
Politicians tried to reduce the climate chaos to something that can be solved by banning drinking straws or plastic bags.
But the problem is that oil and gas companies pollute our planet just to get rich—and governments let them.
Priyaanca demanded that “the government stop investing in fossil fuels, and start investing in renewable energy”.
“I want my grandchildren to have a good future,” she said.
“It’s way more important than anything else—climate change means the world is going to end.”
This is a worldwide movement for change
The global Fridays For Future walkout saw action in over 2,000 towns and cities in just one day.
Haven Coleman is a co-founder of US Climate Strike—where 100,000 students struck in almost all states. “Last summer was the worst fire season for Colorado ever,” she said.
“And especially because we have so much fracking and car exhaust pollution, it hurt to breathe. That was scary.”
In San Francisco, protesters chanted for “a green new deal”—a renewable energy investment programme proposed by Democrat politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Around 150,000 marched in Montreal, Canada, where activists are busy organising a nationwide climate strike for 3 May.
Fridays for Future say there were 235 strikes across Italy with 500,000 taking part overall.
In Rome, students marched past the Colosseum towards Piaza Venezia, where thousands gathered for speeches from climate activists.
Student Eveline said she could already see the effects of climate change. “Italy is starting to import olives, because the climate is changing so much that it’s hard to grow olives,” she said.
“And considering we’re one of the biggest producers of olive oil, that’s very worrying. So it’s having a big effect on our crops.”
France had one of the biggest strikes, where organisers say 168,000 struck and 40,000 marched in Paris.
The government held climate change debates at school in an attempt to stop the strike.
Organisers Youth for Climate branded it a “desperate gesture” with the aim of “quelling disputes that are being expressed on the streets”.
Some 300,000 took part in Germany’s walkout. There were at least 37 protests in Ireland, and it’s estimated 16,000 struck.
In Australia around 150,000 students joined the strikes—which were supported by 20 trade unions. Sixteen year old India told Socialist Worker, “Probably the most exciting thing about today was seeing how many people actually came along.
“I was surveying who was in the crowd and just seeing the wide demographic of people—really old white men and young kids all here together uniting for climate action was really beautiful.”
Sydney university student Raquel said, “Half the Great Barrier Reef is gone and each year the heat waves are increasing.
“We’re not politicians, we can’t make massive changes, but this shows them that the youth is screaming at you—I think that says something.”
Two thousand students rallied at the New Zealand parliament.
Alongside the bigger strikes, there were smaller walkouts—in many places where there hadn’t been action before.
In Hong Kong, around 1,000 students marched to the Central Government Offices. Over 500 students struck in Greece.
Some 300 strikers rallied at Kasu Brahmananda Reddy National Park in Hydrabad, India. And in Delhi, student Srijani said people “have to make a choice whether we want to sit and be indifferent or do something for our planet”.
Movement must spread
In just six months the school strikes movement has gone from a solo protest to coordinated action by 1.5 million.
Now there are calls in Britain to demonstrate in Parliament Square every Friday starting from this week, with a major push on 15 April and 24 May.
The strikes were started in August 2018 by teenager Greta Thunberg—now nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. She demanded the Swedish government act on the promises it made during the Paris climate talks.
Following the latest round of climate strikes, Greta released a statement calling for “new politics and new economies”. “We can no longer only focus on individual and separate issues like electric cars, nuclear power, meat, aviation or biofuels,” she said.
“The political system that you have created is all about competition. We need to start cooperating and sharing the remaining resources of this planet in a fair way.”
It’s a welcome development that instead of collapsing into technical solutions for climate chaos, Greta looks at what needs to happen at a system-wide level.
People around the world will be inspired by the actions of the school students. But what’s the next step for the movement?
A good place to start would be in the workplaces. Strikes were bigger in places such as Australia and France because workers supported them.
Sharan Burrow, International Trade Union Confederation general secretary, said, “The students are taking responsibility where leaders have failed.
“We have to thank them for their bravery in confronting the climate crisis. Their courage deserves our support.”
But it’s not enough to congratulate the students without organising concrete action.
Every worker should fight for solidarity with students, as well as organising their own action.
Trade union branches should invite climate strikers to address meetings and bring workers onto the streets for the next big action.
And education workers should refuse to punish climate strikers. Their unions should back them.
Extinction Rebellion activists are building on the momentum created by the school strikes and plan a two-week “international rebellion” of non-violent direct action to start on 15 April.
“Governments prioritise the short term interests of the economic elites, so we have to disrupt the economy to get their attention,” it said.