by Jeremy Brecher, Labor Network for Sustainability

On March 15, 1.5 million young people joined a School Strike 4 Climate in more than 2000 locations around the world. The school strikes have been occurring weekly since thirteen-year-old Greta Thunberg began sitting alone every Friday at the Swedish parliament with a sign protesting inaction in the face of the climate crisis. She says her action was inspired by the Parkland, Florida students who “refused to go to school after the school shootings” until gun-control legislation was passed. By early 2019 thousands of students in Australia, the UK, Belgium, the US, Japan and elsewhere were joining the weekly strikes.

Could climate strikes spread to workers? They already have. According the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) unions in Australia, Belgium, France, Italy, the UK and elsewhere took part March 15 and many others are active in mobilizing their members.[1] The CFDT union in France called for every member to participate in the March 15 climate action.[2]

The most dramatic conjunction of students and workers occurred in Belgium. On December 2, 2018, sixty-five thousand people demonstrated to demand the government take action on climate. On December 29, 2018 two Belgian girls, inspired by Greta Thunberg, announced a school strike for climate. Two weeks later three thousand striking students marched through the streets of Brussels. Meanwhile, Belgian unions launched a “Fight for E14” campaign, (modeled on the American “Fight for $15” campaign) against government wage restrictions. On February 13, 2019 a general strike forced the government to rescind the restrictions.

According to one Belgian activist:

Early in the morning of the general strike, students entering their sixth week of school strikes visited the picket lines to express their solidarity. The day after that, a new group of trade unionists and working Belgians called “Workers For the Climate” showed up to support at least fifteen thousand youngsters in a fresh march through the streets of Brussels, while many thousands more showed up at protests around the country.[3]

On March 15 in the Belgian cities of Antwerp, Bruges, Liege, and Brussels blue- and white collar-workers across the Flemish-Francophone divide and from rival unions joined the student strike. The spokesperson for one large trade union said, “This is the first time we have had a political strike together with young people. Maybe we’re at the beginning of a new era. I hope so. Everyone talks about the climate now. Everyone is aware of it, thanks to the students.” [4]


References:

[1] ITUC, “Students strike now for the jobs of tomorrow”
[2] “Climate strikes held around the world – as it happened,” The Guardian, Mar 15 2019 
[3] Jos D’Haese, “Belgium’s Hottest Winter,” Jacobin, March 11, 2019 
[4] “Climate strikes held around the world – as it happened,” The Guardian, Mar 15 2019 

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