By Sarah Bates
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20 September—our chance to strike back over climate change

This article is over 4 years, 8 months old
Issue 2671
School climate strikes have paved the way for workers action
School climate strikes have paved the way for workers’ action (Pic: Guy Smallman)

There’s a big opportunity on Friday 20 September to push the climate movement forward—and we have to grab it. The action follows a year of strikes by school students.

Some two million struck across every continent on 15 March. Now school strike leaders, including Greta Thunberg, are calling on adults to join them on the streets.

Groups of trade unionists are fighting to get protests, stoppages and walkouts. Sheffield school striker Patrick Wakefield told Socialist Worker, “It is going to be really exciting. The strike day is important because of the potential power that workers have.

“Climate change has been produced by capitalism. Workers have a role where they can fight back and stop it.”

A generation of young people has risen up against inaction over climate change and organised a global movement.

In Britain school walkouts started on 15 February, initiated by the UK Climate Schools Network. There have been six strikes so far.

Megan Rose, a student at the University of Glasgow, was part of organising the first strike in February. “It was so nerve-wracking before the first strike,” she told Socialist Worker.

“I thought 30 or 40 people were going to turn up, but there were over 100 there.”


Megan organised the first Glasgow strike by herself, but is now part of a team of 80 students. “It’s a really good network organising publicity, finance, work with trade unions and more,” she said.

Some politicians, including former Tory prime minister Theresa May, accused strikers of not understanding climate change and of “wasting lesson time”.

Megan Rose

Megan Rose

Megan said these accusations are “absolute nonsense”. “Anyone who says that needs to speak to our strikers, who are all so well informed,” she said. “They’re not doing it to skip school—we’ve even got education stalls during the day to make sure everyone leaves informed.”

The strikes are driven by rage at a climate catastrophe that means younger people in particular face a terrifying future of extreme weather.

Their enthusiasm and courage has been inspirational.

But it isn’t enough to be inspired–now wider layers of people and workers have to join them in the struggle.

It’s hugely welcome that some workers are set to join the action this month. Megan said, “Having workers there on 20 September is going to be so important.

“The unions are so important in Glasgow, having banners on the demonstration will be amazing—that means so much to me.

“To see something like this happening has been inspiring—I wouldn’t have imagined it at the start.”

‘We are working as a team to achieve climate strikes in Salford’

Salford City Council is one workplace where trade unionists have been organising to get action on 20 September.

Council workers plan a lunchtime rally, with workers later joining school students on the streets in central Manchester.

Ameen Hadi is treasurer of Salford City Unison union. He expects that hundreds of workers will join the rally.

“The council declared a climate emergency so we said, ‘We’ve got to do something for 20 September,’ and they agreed,” Ameen told Socialist Worker.

Ameen Hadi

Ameen Hadi

“There’s going to be some form of shutdown. We’re encouraging everyone to take part in the event outside Salford Civic Centre at 12 noon.”

And Unison, which has a 4,000-strong membership Salford City branch, is organising transport to the student-led rally in Manchester.

Ameen said workers are preparing for the strike in different ways. “I suspect some workers will take a day unpaid leave,” he said. “Others may take flexi time or leave owing.” Ameen stressed that activists should look to use every method to get workers involved.

“It’s about building up these strikes,” he said. “The way we’re pushing is to say, ‘Go and join the strike,’ across the whole branch, including in the private sector.”

Ameen added that many workers had heard of the climate strikes—and some had children attending—and many were receptive to the idea of action.

“We want to get people participating in this and encouraging others to join it,” he said. “At first we didn’t have that. But now I’ve got stewards who are going to call union meetings and go down as a team together on 20 September.”

There will be walkouts in Scotland

Workers in eight UCU union branches across Scotland plan to hold walkouts on 20 September. The branches are Glasgow, Glasgow Caledonian, Edinburgh, Heriot Watt, Queen Margaret in Edinburgh, Dundee, Abertay University in Dundee and Aberdeen.

In Dundee, unions have called a city centre rally at 12 noon to join striking school students.

Carlo Morelli, president of UCU Scotland, told Socialist Worker how the action came about.

“A UCU activist argued for a motion to be put to the TUC union federation supporting a 30-minute walkouts,” he said. “From that I called an activists’ meeting and I had no opposition from union officials at all. “A mix of people turned up—not just the branch committee members.

“People wanted materials so we circulated a video, teaching materials and a letter calling on universities to disinvest pension funds from fossil fuels.”

Carlo Morelli

Carlo Morelli

Some workers may walk out and join the Dundee rally during their lunch break.

But if there are big numbers, workers could stay out during the afternoon.

Carlo said, “The idea of the climate strike is being taken up widely, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the walkouts are sizeable.

The walkouts are planned as 30-minutes but could easily be longer.”

He added that there haven’t been school strikes in Dundee before, but now strikes are planned at two schools. And there is significant official union support for the struggle.

Dundee city council Unison has donated £150 to the Scottish Youth Climate Strike and helped provide services such as photocopying for flyers. The UCU in Scotland was discussing donating £250 on Friday.

“Trade unions have a major role to play in demanding climate change is addressed,” said Carlo. “We need to support demands for one million climate jobs with decent pay and conditions.

“This can lead to a realisation of calls for system change not climate change.”

Strikes are our most powerful weapon

Being a school striker is an education you can’t be given, you have to learn through experience.

We’ve leafletted one of the main council buildings in Sheffield asking workers to join us on the strike day.

We’ve had a really positive response.

Some workers have said they’re worried about losing money or about how it will affect their pensions.

Patrick Wakefield

Patrick Wakefield

One of the things we’ve been telling workers to do is to talk to their trade union reps and see what they can do.

Of course, we don’t want any negative repercussions and we want people to try to organise in a way that means this doesn’t happen.

It’s so annoying we have to do this—but we’re telling people to try and get their boss on their side.

It’s kind of one of the only ways to do it because of the Tory anti-union laws.

For councils—and especially councils that have declared a climate emergency—workers can hold them accountable.

Workers should say to council bosses, “Ok you’ve declared a council emergency, now let us fight for this.” We did a huge banner drop saying, “General strike for the climate

20 September” over a main road.

This means we can publicise the strike to everyone. A minority of workers are in a union, but we want everyone to be involved in this fight.

The fight against climate change is a fight against the system and strikes are the most powerful weapon at our disposal.

Patrick Wakefield, climate school striker, Sheffield, UKSCN Trade Union Outreach Group

Climate change affects everyone

We’ve got a big day planned for 20 September. There’s going to be picketing in the morning outside the University of Bristol and the environmental agency.

It’s really important to get more people involved, and the trade unions. Something we’ve

tried is reaching out to the film industry in an action called “the film industry strikes back”. We’ve been going into six different studios in Bristol. Most people said, “This is cool”, but quite a few weren’t interested.

When we mentioned the idea of a lunchtime stoppage people were even more interested.

Izzy Smitheman

Izzy Smitheman

It will make a huge difference for workers to get involved. It can’t carry on just being the youth.

The action on 20 September will be about showing solidarity between everyone, because it’s not just the youth who will suffer, it’s workers too.

My message to workers is—turn up on 20 September. Talk to people about it in your workplace. There’s a lot of ways to get involved.

Izzy Smitheman, climate striker, Bristol

We need to hold our nerve

I think people really want to take action over climate change.

For 20 September we’re planning on action centring on air pollution in Tower Hamlets.

In this borough the air quality is so poor that children’s lung capacity is between 10 and 15 percent smaller than average. We’re looking into blocking the roads at three locations to draw attention to the issue, and to act as a focus for walkouts.

The night before we’re holding a public meeting on “This is an emergency” at Queen Mary University.

It’s hosted by the three campus unions alongside school student strikers.

If you’re going to take unofficial action how do you do that in a way that doesn’t lose people’s jobs? The answer to that is big numbers and people coming out and feeling confident that taking action over climate change shouldn’t be a disciplinary offence.

Young people and workers—we’ve all got an interest in saving the planet.

The only thing that will stop it being a success is if we fail to hold our nerve.

School worker, Unison union, east London

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