When young people around the world began their Climate Strikes, organized workers began joining in, contributing to the September 20, 2019 tally of more than seven million participants worldwide. Many unions were poised to help make the 2020 Earth Week climate strikes still bigger—when the coronavirus pandemic intervened. But trade unionists and other climate protectors are saving Earth Week by taking it on-line.
t was hardly surprising when a group of trade unions sent a letter to President Donald Trump asking him to provide ventilators and other personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers and all other workers put at risk by exposure to coronavirus.
On March 26, the Labor Network for Sustainability convened a videoconference in which leaders of the environmental, climate, and climate justice movements heard directly from leaders of seven unions about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their members and what they are doing about it.
There have been more than a dozen strikes in the past two weeks by workers striking to protect themselves against infection by the coronavirus. Some have already won increased protection but there is still much needed work to be done to ensure all frontline workers are adequately protected. What do these strikes portend for the future?
While the economic future is a bit unpredictable even in normal times, there are plenty of indications that American workers will be facing unemployment at historic levels for many months or even years to come.
On March 19, New York activist and student Erik Forman wrote, “I spent some of today doing deliveries with a volunteer crew of unemployed Uber drivers, mostly to elderly people living in public housing developments.” He asked for a small amount of funds to continue this work and scale it up, and “build momentum for emergency funds to pay for home delivery of meals as a public utility in the crisis.”
The coronavirus pandemic threatens all of us. People are scared, and rightly so. But when we look to our government officials and employers, whose responsibility it is to provide protection in an emergency, what do we find? In the words of the National Nurses United – a union whose members are risking their lives every day on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic — “Federal, state, local, and employer efforts to fight the coronavirus” are “outrageous” and “ineffective.”
In May 2019, Greta Thunberg and 46 other youth climate activists from around the world issued a call for adults to join the youth climate strikes. They demanded that governments “immediately provide a safe pathway to stay below 1.5 degrees of warming.” Emissions must drop rapidly “so that by the time we will be in our mid- and late-20s we are living in a completely transformed world.”
This is the fourth in a series of commentaries on the Future of Climate Strikes. It describes how the determined action of one young woman – and the determination of millions of other youth to act on climate — led within a year to a Global Strike for Climate with more than seven million participants.