Five days of defiant action culminated in scenes of unity between school climate strikers and Extinction Rebellion (XR) last Friday.
The day marked the sixth “youth strike for the climate” in Britain—part of the global Fridays For Future movement of millions of school students.
Around 300 strikers braved pouring rain to march in London. The action attracted some who had never struck before. Claudia told Socialist Worker, “This is the first time I’ve been on strike.
“I came because I feel like I don’t know that much about climate change and I wanted to learn more. I’m interested in things like veganism too.
“It’s scary what might happen if climate change gets worse. I think a lot of things need to change.”
XR’s “Summer Uprising” blocked roads in Cardiff, Leeds, Bristol, Glasgow and London. Activists at each occupation organised talks, cultural events, training and direct action.
Around 300 XR activists marched from their camp in Millennium Green park, near Waterloo, to join the school students in Parliament Square. Peter from Wandsworth, south London, had taken part in activity throughout the five-day Summer Uprising.
“I volunteered for a night shift at the camp because my years as a postal worker taught me it’s hard to get people to do those shifts,” he said.
He told Socialist Worker that his involvement with XR began during April’s wildly successful International Rebellion.
“I only went down to Oxford Circus to go and take photos but within ten minutes I was lying underneath the ‘tell the truth’ boat,” he said.
Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell joined the activists last week at the “Polly Higgins” boat parked outside the Old Vic theatre.
Cops banned the boat from joining the demonstration in case activists locked themselves to it.
McDonnell told Socialist Worker, “When XR started I was overjoyed—the direct action has raised the profile of climate change. It helped us secure a resolution on climate emergency.
“The campaign has come under attack from the right, which is a reflection of the success of the campaign. Now it’s about how to translate that into action.
“The next zero carbon 2050 target needs to be brought forward—it’s not good enough.”
Other XR members are keen to get workers involved in the action. Alex came on the demonstration in his doctor’s scrubs and with a stethoscope around his neck.
“I’m wearing my doctor’s uniform because doctors read and act on evidence. Evidence shows we change things through mass civil disobedience,” he said.
“I don’t think the climate emergency has sunk in yet in my workplace. But the idea of workers taking action on 20 September is fantastic—it’s what everyone should be doing.”
And in Bristol, similar scenes saw XR—which had staged a five-day occupation in the city—and school strikers march together through the city centre.
Bristol was the biggest event, with around 1,000 people taking part at some points.
During the week activists locked themselves to a pink bathtub blocking the M32 motorway.
Rebels in London blocked the entrance to a construction site of the new tideway sewer being built around the Thames.
It’s only going to get hotter
A study by the Crowther Lab think tank indicates that in 30 years London will have a similar climate to Barcelona.
The “Cities of the future” report says that temperatures are set to rise by 3.5 degrees in summer and 4.7 degrees in winter.
That will cause massive damage in Britain—it will be life extinguishing elsewhere.
Alongside this dramatic temperature rise, London is expected to undergo regular extreme weather including droughts and flooding.
And the changes will be so extreme it means about a fifth of cities globally will experience conditions not currently seen anywhere on the globe.
Ecologist Tom Crowther said, “We are absolutely not prepared for this. Planning for climate change needs to start yesterday. The sooner it starts, the less the impact will be.”
Workers gear up to take action on 20 September
Groups of workers are throwing themselves into organising action for a global strike for the climate on 20 September.
Organising meetings have started to bring together workers and students in the fight against the climate and ecological crisis.
A meeting in Camden, central London, brought together reps from the Unison and Bectu unions, workers at Soas university, the National Theatre, Camden Trades Council and climate strikers.
It resolved to march from workplace to workplace then join a rally in Parliament Square.
The Bristol XR Summer Uprising occupation hosted a climate strike organising meeting on Tuesday of last week. There was a good turnout from workers from the University of West England and of NEU education union members. The meeting also heard from school strikers.
Activists in York are planning for lunchtime and evening rallies for 20 September.
Jane Loftus, CWU union president, told the Marxism Festival 2019 earlier this month that postal workers were debating action. “We want gate meetings that are visible that day,” she said.
In Tower Hamlets, east London, council workers in the Unison union are preparing to stage action during the strike day.
The Unison branch is also planning to write to mayor John Biggs about supporting workers on 20 September and putting a motion to September’s council meeting about support action.
Organising meetings are a crucial first step in making mass activity on 20 September a reality.
It’s not inevitable that there will be scenes of thousands of people pouring out of workplaces and onto the streets. It will require a tooth-and-nail fight from every activist until workers are out the door.
The historic strikes by teenagers show what can change when people fight back—but workers will be needed to win.
Keep focus on the streets
Last week’s school strikes were smaller than previous ones, and the XR occupations pulled in less activists than April’s International Rebellion.
Yet they are incredibly inspiring movements that have already broken through the political paralysis and changed the entire conversation on climate change.
Partly lower turnout can be attributed to bad weather, holiday season and exhaustion from activists. But it also highlights how, when focus is pulled away from action, it can divert people from the streets.
Labour and the Greens, while not visible on demonstrations, have fought to bring schools strikers behind the banner of a “Green New Deal”.
The focus on radical reforms can be used to suggest that it’s parliament, rather than action that will secure victory. The 20 September workers’ action, and XR’s International Rebellion in October, will be a critical moment for both movements. Everyone should throw themselves into helping make it a success.