School students globally have called on workers to join their “Climate Strike” on Friday 20 September, and trade unionists, socialists, environmentalists are mobilising hard to make the most of it. This will kick off a week of action – everyone based in a workplace or active in a trade union should build for it.
Youth climate strikes so far have helped propel climate change, and the urgency of tackling it, back into public consciousness again. The politics and demands of the movement in the UK is, unsurprisingly, very mixed, but it has strong left-wing currents, including or especially among leading young people.
UK Student Climate Network, UKSCN, calls for a fairly bold “Green New Deal” – one which would tackle social inequality and end austerity, votes for 16, and more. This network is strongly associated with the youth strikes.
To tackle climate change, to shift and ultimately overcome capitalism – the systemic engine driving environmental destruction – requires working-class agency. Workers perform the labour that recreate society, are capable of wielding immense leverage through the disruptive power of strikes, and through gaining power at the point of production – and beyond - to reshape society.
20 September provides one step, or starting point, for workers' action around climate change.
We do not expect a general strike on 20 September, or likely even widespread actual strikes. Anti-union laws forbid strikes over political issues, such as climate change, in the UK. The militancy of the UK trade union movement is not yet at a stage where we could expect widespread political strikes, even if that didn't additionally mean illegal strikes. However, actions short of this is a vital start.
Various workers already planning strikes for live disputes on other issues have been discussing re-arranging this to coincide with these climate strikes.
Other workers have been seeking for permission from employers to shut work for that day, with successes to date. Employers might do this because they want to look environmentally-conscious, in some 3cases because they are, or because they have been pressured to be.
Some Labour councils have previously passed motions declaring “climate emergencies”. While such motions generally commit to very little of substance, they provide useful ammunition to pressure councils with. We hear that one or two may be “supporting” the 20 September mobilisations - which should mean committing to not dock pay.
Workers at other councils have discussed taking widespread unofficial strike action or walk-outs, on the basis that the administratively difficulty of docking pay often costs more than paying it anyway.
UCU, following motions passed at their conference, is calling on the TUC to call for a 30 minute work stoppage on the day.
In many workplaces, actions will be smaller still: joining city-wide protests en-masse at lunchtime, lunchtime rallies, or taking group photographs in support of the climate strikes.
From discussions with environmental activists internationally, it seems the picture is similar across much of Europe, at least.
Organising workplace meetings, passing motions in union branches, talking to colleagues and distributing leaflets, are some of the many ways activists are building for it.
Beyond September, we'll be building for larger and bolder actions monthly, and using it as a springboard for organising campaigns within workplaces over environmental questions.
Reclaiming “climate camp” tradition
“Reclaim the Power”, a direct action environmental movement, held a five-day camp on 26-31 July against new gas infrastructure and against the “Hostile Environment” for migrants, close to a gas power station twenty miles north of London. It was bigger than most previous camps that RTP have organised, with perhaps 600 people.
After a couple of days of workshops on a wide range of issues, we held a rally outside the Home Office to demand an end to the government's anti-migrant policies and border regime, on Monday 29 July. This was coupled with activists constructing “tripods” to block the entrance to the coach company Hallmark Connections, demanding that they stop facilitating government deportations.
The following day, we had a range of actions, protests, and banner drops targetting companies constructing new gas infrastructure. On the same day, activists entered and shut down – for the day -SSE's new Keadby 2 gas power plant in Lincolnshire, the only new UK gas power plant currently in construction.
Climate change has already forced tens of millions – or more – people to migrate, internationally. As climate catastrophes progress the number of “climate refugees” will correspondingly escalate. At a time when anti-migrant politics is also on the rise globally, this is a lethal mix, threatening over time, to throw perhaps one billion people into unimaginably horrific circumstances, and stoking the rise of the far-right.
Drawing clear links between the two struggles and taking firm direct action on both has never been more necessary. Reclaim the Power is among the most left-wing of the environmental movements, in many ways the successor of the 2006-11 Climate Camps, and for the most part explicitly anti-capitalist.
Reclaim the Power's key limitation is insufficient class analysis and sparse engagement with the organised working-class. From recognising the central role of capitalism in driving climate change, for the most part they don't make the next logical step, of seeing the central role of workers – who do the labour which creates and recreates capital – in fighting climate change. The other limitation is the lack of positive, offensive demands – society-wide calls on the state.
As well as making the case for class politics in different workshops and with flyers and other literature, we called a workshop on trade unions, class-struggle, and climate change, talking about 20 September among other things. There was a generally good reception to these ideas, although the deep reorientation required in methods of “activism” is a barrier to many putting this into practice.
We're organising with several activists from the camp and beyond to pursue working-class internationalist climate activism.
Local Labour parties call for socialist GND
The Labour for a Green New Deal campaign has been circulating a model motion for Labour Party conference, and with major success – the motion seems to have been submitted by something like 60 local labour parties.
You can read the text here. It includes the appropriately ambitious demand of a zero-carbon economy by 2030. But the measures it advocates to reach that goal are, socialist rhetoric aside, broad-brush-stroke to the point of being woolly.
The Clarion has been circulating a more radical version, with demands based on the emergency motion “For a Socialist Green New Deal” passed at the Fire Brigades Union conference in May. Its demands are more concrete and more radical.
These include full public ownership of energy; public ownership and democratic control of banking and finance to provide the necessary economic resources and leverage; and repeal of all anti-union laws so that workers can drive the process by freely taking action over social and political issues like climate change.
Variants of this motion have so far been passed in six local labour parties, with more hopefully to come. The FBU is also planning to submit a version of its own.
We should fight for these radical proposals to make it to the floor of Labour conference and pass.
The situation is too urgent for tinkering. In any case, for socialists, these kind of demands should be minimum first steps.
Hopefully Labour for a Green New Deal will agree.