It is nearly exactly a year since the first Global School Strike for Climate took place, and whilst the participation and coverage of the movement may appear to have peaked for now, the resolve and commitment of climate strikers across the globe remains strong.
Last year I was a climate striker during my last year of sixth form and I continue to be involved in the UKSCN branch in Newcastle, organising the climate strikes and trying to build links with the local labour movement.
While far from the strongest in terms of numbers, the UK strike movement particularly has taken on a strong political identity, at least at its core. Those involved in the early stages of UKSCN were proudly anti-capitalist, anti-racist, refused to work with the police, and saw workers’ control as the key to combining climate and social justice.
The movement also included many others: young Lib Dem members and even Tory sympathizers engaged in the need to “do something” about environmental issues, although often with a real lack of politics. Serious effort had to be put in by those most politically motivated to convince fellow school strikers that they should be calling for systemic, not individual, climate solutions.
We should recognise the perhaps overlooked achievement of UKSCN through hours upon hours of online organisation and education to create an ever more coherent movement that can call for system change and social justice, that takes a strong stance on against racism, sexism, and transphobia (including taking action within the organisation when issues arise), and opposes anti trade union legislation, as well as dedicating time and energy to ensure the organisation is transparent and democratic, limiting hierarchies amongst activists. This is important for the organisation, and sets a standard for other climate movements to rise to.
The understanding of the problems we face is, I think, pretty good. What is more difficult is forging a path forward. This is where the intersection of class struggle and environmentalism is key. Sure, overarching government legislation is seriously needed and could make a serious difference, but it is through a conscious and radical organised labour movement that we will make genuine change.
If we continue to rely on an inherently ecocidal capitalist state, do we not limit ourselves to a number of “green policies”, essentially on the same spectrum as the “green sprinklings” on the recent Tory budget?
We have to think harder about this. That is not to say the answers do not exist. The 1970s saw green bans in Australia as well as the Lucas Plan, where organised workers posed serious industrial alternatives to environmental destruction and war. We should be inspired by these moments, whilst also recognise the new demands of the 21st century. Many young people undoubtedly oppose capitalism and its destruction of the environment, but are yet to be convinced of the need for working-class action to oppose it. By working in unorganised industries and developing new forms of democratic participation, we can work towards changing this.
The UK climate strike movement has so far failed to inspire a serious upturn in environmental trade union action. But this crisis isn’t going away, and the struggle is only becoming sharper.
Last month Drax in Selby announced several hundred job losses due to the phasing out of coal burning. The labour movement has a collective responsibility to organise for a zero carbon society, and also to protect itself from what is already becoming an extremely unjust transition.
The radicalism of the climate strikers should also inspire a rejuvenated movement, one that stands up to bureaucracy and authoritarianism, and opens more spaces which were once abandoned: for living and working together outside the capitalist model, for creating art and throwing parties.
It is impossible to ignore the fact that the climate strike movement is generating neither the excitement or attention that it was nearly a year ago. But that is certainly not a reason to give up on it. Whilst it may no longer be so trendy, there is a strong core of activists who are committed to carrying it on.
It is crucial that the importance of an organised labour movement is not lost on this group of activists; not only do they need each other, but together they will make a mighty force for change.