The fourth day of international school students strikes saw major protests over ecological catastrophe.
Hundreds of thousands of activists who are part of the Fridays for Future movement heeded Greta Thunberg’s call for a globally coordinated strike for urgent action.
School and university students around the world walked out of lessons on Friday with particularly large turnouts in Madrid in Spain, where world leaders were to gather on Monday for the latest UN climate summit, and Sydney in Australia, where protesters demanded action after devastating wildfires.
In Britain, the UK Schools Climate Network (UKSCN) said over 100 strikes were organised. In many places students linked up with striking UCU members on strike to defend pay pensions and conditions.
In London thousands of strikers marched for hours through the streets, at times outpacing a heavy police presence.
A huge banner declaring a “climate election” was one of several on the demonstration. One of the UKSCN’s four central demands is the extension of the right to vote for 16 and 17 year olds.
Beth, a 14 year old from Buckinghamshire, said she would “love to vote” and the question of climate change would be critical on where she put her cross on the ballot paper.
“It’s our future—and we know more about climate change than previous generations.
“We know more facts, we’ve done more research, so we should know what to do. I’d vote for a better government than the one we’ve got now—we need one that will make it a priority.”
Rage at the Tories and Boris Johnson in particular was a common theme throughout the day.
Chants of “where the fuck is the government” swept through the crowd, alongside “fuck Boris” and “less Boris, more forests”.
For many, anger over climate catastrophe fed into worries about austerity and racism.
Lissy had travelled from Surrey with a group of her school friends, all carrying homemade placards made from repurposed cardboard.
“We’re here to put more focus on the issue of climate chaos. We need more action—carbon emissions to go down and more renewable energy.”
“But we need actual plans from the government—we don’t just want promises,” she said.
The eighth national strike in Britain has seen an increasing level of organisation from UKSCN activists.
Students were handing out air pollution masks on the demo, and other activists had First Aid or Legal Observer roles.
Callum has been on every strike and told Socialist Worker that they “just need to stick to it and show we’re not going away”.
“We’re bringing this issue to the forefront and forcing the discussion,” he said.
“Governments need to stick to their own agreements. They’re just not doing enough, especially the Tories,” said friend Aaron.
“Yeah, the Tories’ austerity has crippled the country. We live in an affluent area, but we can see homelessness rise,” said Callum.
Students marched from Parliament Square with an intention to stop at Oxford Circus. But parked police vans and lines of cops blocked the route. They forced the thousands of teenagers to go single file down back streets in Soho.
When cops prevented any route onto the main shopping district in London, the tension started to build between protesters and the Met.
“Police are protecting big business—as usual”, one striker shouted at the line of cops.
Others simply chanted “no justice, no peace, fuck the police”.
As the demo—mostly consisting of teenagers, with some primary school age children and parents thrown in the mix—wound its way down to Piccadilly, it chanted at cars to “turn your engines off” and cheered electric vehicles.
Aster called the behaviour from the Met “obviously bullshit”.
“They’re trying to time limit our disruption—it’s almost like they’re trying to make us palatable. But we need change and we need our strike and they’re telling us we can’t march here but they’re our streets,” she said.
As the students wound their way back to Parliament Square—angrier and louder than when they left—they were greeted by a roar of cheers from striking university workers.
Friday’s climate strike was a brilliant day of action in a period when climate change has never been higher on the political agenda.
But it has to lead somewhere. The courageous and inspiring action by teenagers has to pave the way for a bigger and broader fight for our planet that involves adults, and critically, workers.
These are urgent times.
Friday’s action came after scientists warned the world may already have crossed a series of climate tipping points posing an “existential threat to civilisation”.
And a separate study from the UN’s World Meteorological Organisation revealed that the concentration of climate-heating greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere had hit a record high.
Striking UCU union members, students and other university workers held a lively march for planet, pay and pensions.
They marched from UCL picket lines through central London, down the Strand and past Downing Street.
Marchers chanted, “Money for jobs and education, not for fossil corporations,” and, “Students and workers – unite and fight.”
Clara is part of an Environmental Collective at UCL and joined the demo with her drum. “This is really special because it is workers and climate strikers coming together,” she told Socialist Worker.
“They are groups that are sometimes seen as separate, but they really aren’t. There’s no reason not to be here – there’s so much to fight for.”
The school students’ demo met the march on Whitehall. UCU strikers were enthusiastic about fighting over climate change too.
Kathryn has been on strike at UCL. “These things are all part of the same fight,” she told Socialist Worker.
“It’s neoliberalism that is wrecking our universities and it’s neoliberal policies that are destroying the environment.
“We’re all on the same side and we need to fight together.”
“We all wanted to come and join the climate strike,” added Rebecca from City University.
Groups of school strikers joined the march as it wound through central London, as well as a group of angry students from London School of Economics.
The march took place on the fifth day of an eight-day strike by UCU members at 60 universities.
UCL striker Josh told Socialist Worker, “It’s been very inspiring and our picket lines have been growing in strength through the week.
“People are really up for continuing the strikes. And we’ll be offering those branches that will be reballoting to join future strikes our solidarity and help to get the vote out too.”
Frances O’Grady told a central London rally that she was there “on behalf of 48 unions and nearly six million workers”.
She said the message from the UCU strikes and over climate change was “enough is enough”.
“This is about what kind of world we want,” she said.
UCU general secretary Jo Grady said that “direct action works” on workers’ conditions and on climate change. She said school students who have led the fight to get action on climate change have been “inspirational”.
NEU union members Alex Kenny brought a message of support from Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Corbyn said that “the system has driven our planet to the brink of catastrophe” and that we need to take on the “big polluters”.
He said electing Labour was the way to do this.
40 people held a climate crisis rally in Barnsley precinct on Friday lunchtime. Highlight was 12 year old Freya saying she was there to help save the planet for her generation. Lots of interest from passing shoppers. George Arthur
Thanks to all who sent reports and pictures
Reballots have opened the way to bigger struggle