By a school worker
On 15 February, thousands upon thousands of school students across the UK walked out of classes to join rallies and protests in city and town centres. This was the first ever school strike against climate change–and it was an enormous success.
The planning, the political awareness and the courage of the protest must surely put to bed the tired old adage that today’s youth are politically disengaged, apathetic or simply interested in immediate material gratification.
Indeed the fact that this was part of a global movement that is still rising–with the first ever global student strike planned for 15 March–emphasises that young people are in the vanguard of those fighting to save our planet.
The biggest demonstrations were in London, Leeds, Manchester, Brighton and Bristol, where crowds were in their thousands. The home (or school) made placards, along with chants, that were most prominent were those linking the pending climate catastrophe to capitalism, such as: “System change–not climate change”, “Climate over capitalism” and “If the environment was a bank it would have been saved by now”.
The main leaflet for the action was similarly hard-hitting and anti-capitalist in sentiment, pointing out that 100 companies were responsible for 71% of all CO2 emissions. When 10 Downing Street condemned the strike for “increasing teachers’ workloads (!) and wasting lesson time”, Swedish youth organiser Greta Thunberg tweeted back, “That may well be the case. But then again, political leaders have wasted 30 years of inaction. And that is slightly worse.”
As a small, isolated example of the depth of feeling and bravery of the students, I can tell of what happened at my school. For over a week there was intense agitation by a growing but small number of students, initially in the 6th Form but increasingly across all age groups.
Flyers were put up and taken down and put up again. Senior team decided, wisely, to allow students to go–on the condition that parents gave written permission. Very many did go.
However, a number were unable to get permission, so when the bell went after morning break, they held their own protest in the school, soon gathering a crowd of 50 or so students. This went on for 30 minutes, to the exasperation of some members of staff who complained the students involved “did not understand the issues”. But it shows how direct action–strikes, protests, NVDA, etc.–can educate people much more than dry presentations of the facts might do.
Youth Strike 4 Climate is just hitting the shores of the UK but this international movement has been making bigger and bigger waves ever since 16 year old Greta Thunberg held a solo protest outside Stockholm’s parliament. Tens of thousands have been involved from Australia to Belgium.
It’s building towards an international day of strike action on 15 March and a week of direct action starting 15 April. Meanwhile teachers and school support staff are planning a protest in support of the striking students this Friday outside the Department for Education in London.
You can read Red Flag’s leaflet/article written for the build up for 15 February here.