School Strike 4 Climate, in collaboration with unions and university students, have organised strike action for 25 March, in a few days time. Many people — from the media, to older people, and school principals — have asked why students must strike for climate action.
All around the world, workers and their unions have won better living and working conditions throughout history by withdrawing their labour and threatening employers’ profits. In recent months, NSW has seen strikes from the NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association (NMA) and the Rail, Tram & Bus Union (RTBU). In the coming months, we will likely see the same from the USyd branch of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU). Strike action has long been central to making change.
As students, the limitations of our power to make individual change are frustratingly tangible. We can be empowered, however, by collective action: standing side by side to disrupt the status quo.
Student strikes draw from the lessons of labour strikes. In a refusal to attend school or university, we do not shy away from being disruptive. Since Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for Future campaign, school strikers have insisted that education cannot proceed as normal when our very future is imperilled by climate change. Choosing not to disrupt the system equates to politely asking in the hope that politicians answer our prayers, when the urgency of the situation necessitates demanding immediate change.
Additionally, school strikes have provided an opportunity to build relationships with the labour movement. A number of unions have supported and attended climate strikes, and students have incorporated workers’ rights into our demands.
The strikers’ first demand is for 100% publicly-owned renewable energy by 2030.
International climate agreements over the decades have often agreed on market-based solutions to climate change, when they have agreed on anything at all. Around the world, most climate mitigation measures have involved the introduction of various carbon trading schemes, small-scale funding for renewables that does nothing to disincentivise fossil fuel investments, and non-binding emissions reduction targets. The fate of our planet is overwhelmingly in the hands of compromised companies with financial interests in extractive and destructive industries. As such, we have seen an increase in carbon emissions, rather than the drastic reduction required.
The concept of publicly-owned renewables challenges the status quo by allowing governments to direct the transition to renewables, rather than leaving it to the anarchy of the market, where profit imperatives and conflicts of interest reign free. How can we expect private corporations with massive sunk costs in still-profitable fossil fuel investments to fairly oversee such a transition? Further, why should we allow an elite few to profit from this transition, rather than directing any profits to the public and socially productive investments?
The second demand notes that the switch to renewables must incorporate a just transition, meaning that fossil fuel workers and others displaced by the transition will be guaranteed green jobs alongside land rights and jobs on Country for Indigenous people. A transition left in the hands of private capital will, at best, amount to green capitalism and allow for the continued exploitation of people and land. We need to deal with the root issue of rampant extractive capitalism.
Without a just transition, high initial investment costs of renewables would be passed onto consumers. Fossil fuel workers in communities dependent upon the industry would be left behind, rather than guaranteed high-quality climate jobs. Consequently, any move to renewables that doesn’t incorporate a just transition is fundamentally classist. We need a plan to avoid impoverishing displaced workers in fossil fuel dependent communities.
A just transition means that workers’ rights would no longer be pitted against climate action. Moreover, a just transition can safeguard First Nations rights and jobs on Country, challenging the commodification of the natural world and destruction of culture and land.
Finally, strikers are demanding that the government commit to no new coal and gas projects.
The transition cannot wait until 2030 or 2050. The Kurri Kurri gas plant in the Hunter Valley cannot go ahead. Santos must not be allowed to extinguish the Native Title rights of the Gomeroi people to build 850 new gas wells on Gomeroi land in the Pilliga.
The urgency of real, substantive climate policy should seem self-evident. Unfortunately, this urgency is not adequately reflected in the policy agenda of Australia’s major parties.
The Liberals’ environmental policy is rife with spin and excuses: with weak emissions reduction targets of 26-28% by 2030, the Party relies on cherry-picked comparisons with other big polluters like Canada and the USA. Their policy platform emphasises the need to use technology to reduce emissions, demonstrating a reliance on markets to deliver climate mitigation solutions, and an unwillingness to intervene to regulate emissions.
Labor’s commitments are somewhat more ambitious, with a target of 46% emissions reduction by 2030. They have promised to invest in job creation in renewable energy, with funded places for apprentices. All the same, both the Liberal Party and the Australian Labor Party have committed to supporting the Kurri Kurri gas plant. The Labor Party has been resistant to firmly provide an end to the use of fossil fuels, with leader Anthony Albanese recently defending the continued presence of coal mining in Australia.
Despite the best efforts of capitalists and their political allies to ignore climate change, we have a chance to force climate onto the election agenda. Climate action must be a requirement for voters. Big strikes will force climate change further into the view of the public.
Our demands, however, are also a call-to-arms for students, unions, and workers to take direct action outside of parliamentary channels — to win a just transition on every campus and in every workplace. By centering ordinary people in our strike, we are drawing attention to the desire of students, workers, and unions for real climate action. Where governments fail, real change can be won through collective action and disruption.
Join thousands on 25 March as we strike for the climate. Join our USYD friends at 10:15 am outside Fisher Library.