I took my seven year old son to the school students’ climate protest on 15 March this year. I’ll most likely do the same on 20 September, but I won’t have to take a day’s leave. I’ll be on strike myself.
The call from Greta Thunberg and student activists for older folks to join them on the third global #Strike4Climate makes perfect sense. We must escalate our action in line with the urgency of the situation we face.
At Global Justice Now, we discussed a simple motion submitted to the union shop and passed it with just a couple of abstentions.
We drew inspiration from three main sources. Firstly from the students. Having been on countless demonstrations in my time, the student protest was one of the most refreshing and exciting I’ve had the privilege to attend.
We were also inspired by those making sacrifices and putting energy into the recent waves of Extinction Rebellion protests. Finally, Jonathan Neale wrote a wonderful article for The Ecologist in May - we took him at his word and responded accordingly.
The work we do at Global Justice Now puts us in contact with climate activists across the world, and our staff body boasts some very accomplished and determined activists. This established record of work in the field ensured a comprehensive vote for strike action.
I’ll react to any predictable backlash. I work for a progressive campaigning NGO and am not taking any risk, as I might be if this were happening in a corporate workplace. Whilst there is some truth to this, we are going on strike, we are losing a day’s pay, we are taking that hit.
We are waiting to hear the response from the trustees of the organisation. We hope they will be sympathetic (they should be!) but that wasn’t a factor in determining our action.
We hope other workplaces will join us. We recognise the differences in the daily realities facing different workers in different workplaces, but we also stress the urgent need for escalated action.
This escalation will be a necessary part of a successful campaign to limit the irreversible impact of climate change. This is all the more pressing given the likelihood of Boris Johnson ending up in 10 Downing Street - he is a man who has a history of repeating climate sceptical myths and who is bankrolled by climate sceptics and deniers.
As Naomi Klein, Margaret Attwood, Nnimmo Bassey and many others wrote in the Guardian: "We hope others will join us: that people will leave their offices, their farms, their factories; that candidates will step off the campaign trail and football stars will leave the pitch; that movie actors will scrub off their makeup and teachers lay down their chalk; that cooks will close their restaurants and bring meals to protests; that pensioners too will break their daily routines and join together in sending the one message our leaders must hear: day by day, a business as usual approach is destroying the chance for a healthy, safe future on our planet."
There has to be a calculation in workers’ decisions. Although there are apparent risks to taking what is political strike action, there are other factors that should not be ignored.
If the next reports from climate scientists tells us that the situation is worsening and the stakes are rising, then the risks we face will be higher than a potential labour dispute over a single day’s stoppage.
AT GJN I heard the argument that individuals can ill-afford to lose a day’s pay, but another colleague pointed out that what we risk to lose if we do not take a stand is far greater than a train ticket to Manchester and back.
Will an employer be happy to be seen taking action against workers taking action to stop climate change? Will such sanctions lead to escalated actions? To consumer boycotts? Could brands suffer damage amongst growing and influential groups of young people? Will workers be happy with attending a hurriedly organised lunchtime event, perhaps following the strikes and protests on illicit glances at their smart phones?
The University and College Workers’ Union (UCU) is campaigning for the TUC to call a nationwide 30 minute stoppage in solidarity with the school students on 20 September. While this is a better than nothing development we hope it is not used by others to suggest the very token half hour is enough (let’s face facts a day is not enough anyway!).
We have learnt from the youth. We are indebted to them for their leadership, and we must not let them down again.
Guy Taylor is an organiser at Global Justice Now where he is also a Unite Union shop steward.