By Josh Lovell, UCU activist and PhD student, Cambridge
Hopefully the 20th September is already crossed off in your diaries, but if it isn’t, you should make sure it is now. The Youth Strikes 4 Climate have made headlines over the past year with waves of school and college walk-outs across the globe, demanding immediate action on climate change. And they’re back again on the 20/09, with this likely to be the biggest one yet, coinciding with the wider call for a General Strike. Regarding the same date, my union UCU (University and College Union) have tabled a motion to the Trades Union Congress (TUC), calling for a 30-minute solidarity walk-out of all TUC-affiliates and student unions in response to this.
The Youth Strikes have been inspiring, and have helped to put the fight against climate change at the top of the agenda within the education sector and sections of the trade union movement. This intervention from the UCU – limited as 30-minute actions may be – explicitly stresses the need for workers to take up the fight against climate change alongside students. Those in the TUC should back this call, build to make this a powerful student-worker day of action, and develop democratic networks and committees to enhance and escalate action moving forward.
This issue isn’t going away, and only in coordination can workers and students take the necessary steps to halt the ecological collapse that has already started.
Though the 30-minute time frame is short, there are actions that can be pulled off. The summer months are a perfect time to organise these irrespective of whether the UCU motion is passed. The nature of trade union laws limits political action by workers hence the need for students to take the lead on some tasks. For action on climate change to be taken at the pace required such legislation will need to be broken/ignored before all restrictive union laws are repealed.
Students organising major direct actions, demonstrations, marches, public meetings, banner drops, flash-mobs, occupations and sit-ins, can help to bring this about when co-organising with workers and trade union branches. We should encourage workers to walk-out collectively and join in these actions where possible. Every one of these must be educational, helping to recruit new people to climate activism and direct action – be they students or workers. Much of this can be done inside 30-minute intervals – though I do not think we should restrict ourselves to this time-limit where it need not apply.
In terms of direct action, where could be targeted and on what basis? University research funding is largely beyond democratic oversight, and often targeted at technology and processes actively worsening climate change. Central to our demands must be a radical call for democratic student and worker control over the financing of academic research to hasten work on fighting climate change. Directing action at the offices of university administration and finance departments – where these sorts of decisions are currently made – would send a strong message that we are serious about shutting down our cities and campuses in the name of tackling climate change.
Where events are already planned in our schools/campuses/towns/cities we must get involved and make sure these are powerful, militant and open up space for future radical action. Where these aren’t already planned, we must build these ourselves.
Get in contact with friends, comrades, allies, local trade unions over the Summer break and find out what people are up for.
What has been missing from much activism yet however is engagement with students who are entering – and workers who are employed in – the energy, technology, manufacturing, agricultural and transport sectors. Universities are the main bases from which organisations recruit into these industries, and without workers on side in the companies that are fuelling climate change, we are never going to effectively transition their output and focus. We should engage with those considering careers in these sectors most responsible for pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and win them around to the idea of changing these organisations from within. For more on this, I would recommend looking into the history of the ‘Lucas Plan’.
Many climate scientists agree that unless there is a fundamental re-wiring of our economy before 2030, then it is (basically) game over. The exploitation of the working class and the unrestricted extraction of finite resources – only fulfilling the needs of the rich at our expense – has driven us to this crisis. In order to avoid climate catastrophe, we will have to overthrow it, and mass action by students and workers is the only route.
Organise now and make September 20th another step on the road to this.
Join the organising Zoom call on Tuesday 13 August at 6pm to discuss how we can mobilise uni students to join the strikes, what specific demands we want to raise as students, how we can get campus workers to join the strikes and take action with us on campus, and how we can link up with and support other labour movement action on this issue.