How Are Unions Around the World Responding to the Youth-Led “Climate Strike” Calls? — TUED Bulletin 88

[Note: This is an archived version of TUED Bulletin 88. Please click here for the latest list of union statements and actions in response to calls for global climate solidarity actions.]

August 19, 2019

John Treat

TUED’s next Global Forum—taking place August 28, 2019, 10:00-11:30am EST (web call)—will focus on union responses to the call from young people around the world for a “Global Youth Climate Strike” on Friday, September 20th, and for a “General Climate Change Strike” the following Friday, September 27th. Specifically, we will take up the question: How are unions around the world responding to this call for action by young people demanding an intergenerational effort of solidarity to tackle climate change? To register for the August 28 Global Forum, please email ireneTUED@gmail.com.

This TUED Bulletin summarizes some of the background to this latest call, and lists union statements and actions related to the ongoing youth mobilizations, and in particular the call for solidarity actions in September. We will update the list as new information becomes available. *If you are aware of union statements and / or actions that are not listed here, please send details to johntreat.iplce@gmail.com.

When Swedish middle-schooler and climate activist Greta Thunberg decided one year ago—on August 20, 2018—to skip school and instead stand outside the Swedish Parliament with a sign reading simply, “School Strike for Climate,” few could have imagined that her action would help catalyze a dramatic expansion and intensification of global climate actions led by young people, and a new wave of mobilizations under banners like “Fridays for Future,” “Youth for Climate” and “Youth Strike 4 Climate.” Of course; Thunberg’s action built on the work of many young people and youth-led groups in recent years; nevertheless, her action caught imaginations around the world, much in the way that US Congress member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ championing of the “Green New Deal” led to a new burst of interest in that idea. By December, while policymakers focused on COP24 in Katowice, Poland, young people organized demonstrations in at least 270 cities around the world, in countries including Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States, and others.

Emboldened by the participation in these protests and appropriately frustrated at the continuing failure of policy elites to demonstrate the willingness and ability to take decisive action to tackle the climate crisis, these students have now issued a call for a “Global Climate Strike”:

Young people have woken up much of the world with their powerful Fridays for Future school strikes for the climate. As we deal with devastating climate breakdown and hurtle towards dangerous tipping points, young people are calling on millions of us across the planet to disrupt business as usual by joining the global climate strikes on September 20, just ahead of a UN emergency climate summit, and again on September 27.

Together, we will sound the alarm and show our politicians that business as usual is no longer an option. The climate crisis won’t wait, so neither will we.

As noted in the call, the two Fridays on which the strike has been called fall on either side of the “UN Climate Action Summit,” to be convened by UN General Secretary António Guterres on Monday, 23 September. In March 2019, Guterres had referenced the youth strikes specifically in making his call for the September summit:

My generation has failed to respond properly to the dramatic challenge of climate change. This is deeply felt by young people. No wonder they are angry….

I am calling on all leaders to come to New York in September with concrete, realistic plans to enhance their nationally determined contributions by 2020, in line with reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 45 per cent over the next decade, and to net zero by 2050.

Many unions came out in support of the youth actions earlier this year. Some have issued statements in relation to the September call, and others continue to debate how to respond. The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) came out in support of the “Fridays for Future” protests in March 2019, and is listed as an official “international partner” for the upcoming September strikes.

Education International (EI) also issued a strong statement of support in March for the ongoing student actions, which read in part as follows:

Education International welcomes the energy and engagement shown by students across the globe in their fight for climate justice. Their determination and commitment are exactly what we need at this crucial moment. Students are showing the leadership that too many politicians are lacking….

Education unions stand with the students. We urge governments to make the necessary structural changes for a just transition towards a climate-resilient and low-carbon economy. Climate change is not combatted through the “good behaviour” of consumers. Coordinated and sustained participation of students and workers and their representatives may be the first step towards climate justice. We stand by students in the demand for urgent climate action and a just economic transition.

Also in March, the European Public Services Union (EPSU) issued a statement of support, and an EPSU group joined the March 15 demonstration in Brussels on the “global day of action”:

We walked with school and college students and others, along with a large union block under the slogan “Workers for Climate”. Many other actions took place across the world and the EPSU Executive Committee on 12 March declared its support. Just after the Executive Committee we came together as part of a broad alliance to seek practical solutions to the market-based approaches to climate change and assert that forms of public and community ownership of our energy system are possible.

It should also be emphasized that, for their part, the young people involved in this wave of mobilizations have shown increasing willingness to explicitly express solidarity with working people, and with organized labor in particular, as for instance in this statement from Australia, which includes the following:

The climate crisis is and will continue to disproportionately impact upon working class people….

School strikers stand in solidarity with the union movement in its work to build a more equitable society and fight the unjust systems that are hurting people and our planet.

The only way we stand up to the 1% holding us all back is by working together and showing up for one another when it matters most.

Following is a working list of additional statements and actions from unions in support of the ongoing youth mobilizations, and the September events in particular.

Australia

Additional endorsements and ongoing updates for Australia can be found at this link (Facebook).

Australian Services Union (ASU)

In late July, the National Executive of the Australian Services Union released a statement of support for the school strikers’ call for a global climate strike on September 20. The statement reads in part:

The school strikers are everything that young Australians should be – passionate, active and caring. For them climate change isn’t a problem for another day, it’s something that will directly impact the rest of their lives. And these students aren’t just dreaming of changing the world, they’re going out and doing it. We’ve always had the back of those fighting for a better future and always will.

That’s why the ASU is calling on members and workers to support the school strikers’ Global #ClimateStrike by taking a day of leave to attend a #ClimateStrike rally on 20 September, organising a workplace solidarity selfie, or passing a workplace resolution in support of these young activists.

Australian Education Union Victorian Branch

On August 1, 2019, AEU Victoria Branch passed a motion expressing support for the climate strike call, and encouraging members to “show solidarity with the strike by organising a workplace action on Sept 20, taking leave to attend and passing sub-branch resolutions.”

National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) and National Union of Students (NUS)

Australia’s National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) and National Union of Students (NUS) issued a joint statement supporting a planned August 9 student walkout across Australia. In the words of NTEU National President Dr Alison Barnes, “NTEU members strongly support the stand that students are taking. The federal government is still treating climate change as an inconvenience, rather than the most important issue facing humanity today. It needs to be at the centre of any decisions about future mining and our energy needs.”

Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) Sydney Branch

In early July, the MUA Sydney Branch issued a strong statement of support for the student climate strikers, welcoming the call “for workers to join their next global strike,” pledging to “build for the widest possible stoppage of work to join demonstrations on September 20,” and calling on the MUA national body “to support this action and campaign for stoppages across the global union movement.” The statement makes a demand for public investment, public ownership, and “clear job guarantees, training, and direct transition measures put in place by government for fossil fuel workers.” The statement also makes an explicit call for public ownership of new renewable energy assets:

We call for further commitment of union resources and materials to involve MUA members in an expansion of the campaign, including pressuring all levels of government to rapidly expand an offshore wind industry under public ownership.

Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU)—Bureau of Meteorology

In August, the CPSU at the Bureau of Meteorology, which represents climate scientists, weather forecasters, researchers, engineers and others, passed a motion in support of the climate strike call, which also makes a similar set of demands to those in the ASU ACT Subdivision motion, expressing solidarity with “workers in fossil fuel industries and their communities facing insecure work and an uncertain future,” while calling for a “clear job guarantee from the government for all of these workers as the economy decarbonises.” The motion also reiterates solidarity with indigenous people “in struggles to protect their lands and waters from impending expansion of fossil fuel projects,” while demanding “all necessary rights and resources are provided for Indigenous people to live and work on their land and help it to heal.”

Victorian Trades Hall

On August 9, Victorian Trades Hall, the peak body for unions in the Australian State of Victoria, unanimously passed a motion endorsing the September 20 global climate actions, committing to organize its members to participate “as much as possible.” The motion also authorized the Victorian Trades Hall Council to “help organise unions and unionists to participate in the September 20 Climate Strike” and endorsed the “the calling of an all unions meeting in early September, to build engagement with the 20 September Climate Strike.”

Canada

British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF)

Although it has not formally endorsed the student strikes, Canada’s BCTF thanked “all the students in the #YouthClimateStrike movement” via Twitter during its 2019 Annual General Meeting.

Germany

Note: Special thanks to Mark Bergfeld for support in compiling information on the positions of German unions. Mark has also authored a longer essay titled “German Unions Are Waking up to the Climate Disaster” in Jacobin Magazine.

Verdi (United Services Trade Union)

The General Secretary of Germany’s Frank Bsirske has called (German) or Verdi members to join the climate strike on September 20. The unions has also stated that members should collectively claim a holiday to support the strike or organize an active lunch break. On Verdi’s Twitter account, Bsirske is reported as saying, “Whoever can should clock out and go out on the streets. I will definitely go.”

IG Bau (Construction and Property Services Union)

IG Bau, Germany’s largest construction and property services union, has called (German) on its members on construction sites and in properties to join the climate strike. The union has also called on employers to give employees the opportunity to participate in the Fridays for Future demonstrations. The union is also demanding that Germany reduce its CO2 emissions by 40 per cent by 2020.

GEW (Education and Science Workers’ Union)

The German education and science workers’ union GEW has been supportive of the “Fridays for Future” protests. Since many GEW members are civil servants without a legal right to strike, Hoffmann has stated, “As a union, you have to think very carefully about which actions you call your members for, and the goals must be very clear and concrete.” Still, executive member for schools Ilka Hoffmann argues (German) that climate protection must be seen as “part of a larger context” and expresses a concern that “media hype” around climate protection may lead to broader social and ecological issues being drowned out.

EVG (Railway and Transport Workers’ Union)

Railway and transport workers’ union EVG supports the goals of the movement, and is reported (German) to be in “close contact” with “Fridays for Future” organizers; its members have already participated in Friday demonstrations, and the union will participate in demonstrations on September 20: “We are pursuing the same goals: In our opinion, more climate protection requires a stronger rail network and significantly more investment in rail infrastructure.”

IG Metall

In June, Germany’s largest union, the IG Metall, organized a demonstration (German) demanding a fair and ecological transition. More than 10 trains and 800 buses were chartered to fill the streets of Germany’s capital city Berlin with tens of thousands metal workers. At time of writing, IG Metall is still debating internally whether to support the September climate strike.

Italy

CGIL (Italian General Confederation of Labour)

In July 2019, a CGIL delegation led by General Secretary Maurizio Landini met with representatives of the #FridaysForFuture movement, affirming the shared commitment to the struggle for climate justice. More recently, CGIL has declared support (Italian) for the Global Climate Strike, and is planning a series of activities including an event to be held on 21 September as part of the 2019 “Days of Labor” in the city of Lecce. On September 27, workplace assemblies will be convened to discuss the climatic emergency and the struggle for climate justice. The union notes that these will be opportunities to raise awareness among workers on the issue of climate change, the dramatic consequences for our planet, the need to act quickly and in a radical way to guarantee human rights, social justice and full employment, at all levels.

New Zealand

Note: In New Zealand, the focus of mobilizing efforts is the “General Strike” on September 27, and the call is to “Move New Zealand beyond fossil fuels and get the job done of moving us to 100% renewable energy for all!”

New Zealand Council of Trade Unions (NZCTU)

In March, 2019, the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions (NZCTU) issued a statement expressing support for the student-led climate strikes then taking place. Then in July, the council issued a new statement of support specifically for the planned September actions, encouraging members to participate in actions ranging “from small short actions right through to organised workplace meetings”:

The Council of Trade Unions is standing in support with the students campaigning for climate action…. The Council of Trade Unions will be encouraging people in union to show up and support the collective voice of young people on September 27.

New Zealand Public Services Association (NZPSA)

New Zealand’s PSA—the country’s largest union—has supported the ongoing youth climate strike mobilizations since at least the March 15 “School Strike 4 Climate.” In the words of PSA’s Eco Network organiser Susannah Bailey:

We recognise our role as a union in pushing for faster action on climate change. Climate change impacts our members’ work and workplaces, and we know that work practices also impact the climate. We are one of a number of unions in Aotearoa NZ who support a just transition for workers to a low emission economy.

NZPSA has previously called for “a reiteration of the importance of public ownership and control of essential services.”

FIRST Union

In March 2019, New Zealand’s FIRST Union came out in support of the youth-led protests. According to the union’s Just Transition Spokesperson, Justin Wallace:

The adults who today are blown away by the action from young people need to support them as they show that they want to be a voice heard in this global movement. They are the future workers who need to be assured that there will be work in the new era of Just Transition.

United Kingdom

Trades Union Congress (TUC)

In the UK, the University and College Union (UCU) has put forward a resolution to the upcoming TUC Congress, which will be held 8-11 September 2019 in Brighton. The resolution notes “the tremendous impact of the school students strikes in shifting government complacency over climate change” and calls for “a 30-minute workday solidarity stoppage to coincide with the global school student strike on 20 September.”

Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU)

In early 2019, BFAWU issued an especially strong statement in support of the student strikes. Under the heading “Support the Climate Strike!” the statement reads in part:

The BFAWU urges its members to get involved, if you want a planet fit for your children and Grandchildren we need to take action now.

The last few months and weeks have been amazing. The global movement of school climate strikes and the inspiring actions of Extinction Rebellion have shifted the debate on climate change injecting a new urgency.

The first success of this growing movement has been to force the UK parliament to declare a Climate Emergency. Now we need the action to match the words.

Greta Thunberg has called for a general strike urging others join student striking for climate action. Many trade unionists across the trade union movement have been inspired by the action taken in the last few months by young people determined to defend their future. Now, as trade unionists, let’s stand in solidarity and add our voice to the call for climate action.

Let’s mobilise across the whole of the trade union movement- to put a million climate jobs and a national climate service to deliver a Green New Deal at the heart of the urgent action we need to tackle the climate emergency.

If you are aware of additional examples not listed here, please send them to johntreat.iplce@gmail.com.

By |2019-09-05T18:29:17+00:00August 22nd, 2019|News, Uncategorized|Comments Off on How Are Unions Around the World Responding to the Youth-Led “Climate Strike” Calls? — TUED Bulletin 88