20th September climate strike: all out in solidarity with the school students

Guest post by Sean Vernell, University and College Union National Executive Committee

Greta Thunberg has called for the next global school student strike on the 20th September. This strike will kick off a week of climate action which finishes on the 27th September. It looks set to be one of the biggest days of action for climate justice yet. According to the Financial Times the employers too are feeling the pressure to move to support the global school student strike on the 20th September.

The UCU NEC has voted unanimously to send a motion to this year's TUC congress demanding that the TUC organise a 30-minute solidarity strike with the school students on the 20th September.

We have launched an online petition calling upon trade union leaders, workers, students and climate activists from across the movement to get behind the call to support the motion calling for a 30-minute stoppage. Whilst some may, understandably, feel that this is not enough, if passed it would potentially give millions of workers a little more confidence to take action on the day to support the school students.

Of course if the motion were to go through at the TUC it would not stop those in more organised branches taking further action on the day. The call for a 30-minute stoppage is not designed to be prescriptive but a bottom line for what trade unionists could do.

Climate change is a trade union issue. The IPCC report last autumn warned that we only have 12 years to keep global warming to a maximum of 1.5 degrees. Global carbon emissions need to be cut by 45% by 2030, and reach zero carbon by 2050 in order to avoid a dangerous tipping point. The future of our planet is at risk if we don't organise now to force governments' to cut emissions in line with the IPCC's recommendations.

Within the trade union movement there are debates many of which reflect those of wider society about the challenge of climate change and how to respond.  Some leaders of unions who represent those who work in the energy industry may be suspicious of calls for a Just Transition.

Calls for solidarity to protect fossil fuel jobs in the energy sector, based upon a mistaken understanding that a Just Transition is a route to low paid unskilled jobs, misrepresent both the urgency of the climate crisis and the demand for a Just Transition.

Those who support a Just Transition within the Climate and Trade Union movement argue for a reskilling of the existing workforce and the re-shaping of the energy industry around using renewable energy sources like wind power. The Labour Manifesto and those calling for a Green New Deal argue for the public investment to make this a reality.

At last year's TUC congress, the Communication Workers Union General Secretary, Dave Ward, warned against the dangers within the trade union movement of sectionalism. That is the working out of positions from the different unions that are represented at congress based on their trade rather than their class interests.  

History is full of examples of trade union leaders putting forward demands and making agreements that benefit a certain section of the movement at the expense of others. During the First World War the engineering union, the ASE, whilst campaigning against conscription, campaigned for a sectional demand rather than an internationalist one. 'Don't take me I'm with the ASE' was their slogan!

Many workers who work in the energy sector would no doubt prefer to use their skills to help the whole of humanity rather than being deployed to help destroy it. Those of us within the trade union movement who wish to see a real Just Transition that places all workers at the centre of this debate need to make clear we do so on the basis of solidarity with all workers across all sectors and all countries.

A lot has changed since last year's congress. We have seen over a million school students worldwide taking matters into their own hands.There have been solidarity strikes where tens of thousands of workers in France and Belgium struck in solidarity with the students. These actions have had a tremendous impact. In the UK, the government has introduced a new climate change target - 'net zero' by 2050. At once a big step forward and well short of what we need, there is so far no sign of the actual policies needed to achieve it. The recently published TUC statement sets out important elements of a Just Transition, but the TUC too needs to go further in recognising the climate emergency and exploring the societal changes, such as democratic public ownership of energy systems, that could genuinely address it.

Greta Thunberg's call for a climate strike and for adults and workers to join the global school students strike on the 20th September gives us the opportunity to demonstrate our solidarity with our school students and show that we won't let our kids fight alone.  

Sign the petition here to call on the TUC to act in solidarity with school climate strikers

(open to all, not just union members)