School students who have been striking to demand radical action on climate change have issued a call for workers to join them in their next strike on 20 September.
Climate change is one of the most serious issues facing our society. Scientists calculate that we now have around a decade to take action to avert ecological catastrophe. Failure to do this could lead to droughts, floods, extreme heat, food scarcity, and more, affecting millions of people.
As public transport workers, we work in an industry that needs to be radically expanded to give people a meaningful alternative to high-emissions forms of transport such as cars.
71% of greenhouse gas emissions since 1988 have come from just 100 corporations. Confronting climate change means confronting capitalism’s drive for profit. As workers, whose labour powers the economy, we have a unique potential power to challenge the rule of profit and change the way our society is organised. The Evening Standard estimates that a single day’s strike on the Tube “costs” the London economy £300 million.
School climate strikers know that they need organised labour to act with them if we are to win real change. Their call for workers to join their 20 September strike is a challenge to all of us to step up to the plate and play in a role in saving our planet.
Currently, there are real obstacles our employers and the state have set up to prevent workers taking effective action. For example, anti-union legislation prevents us from striking over “political” issues, meaning we couldn’t hold legal strikes over the issue of climate change in and of itself. Balloting laws make the process of organising a strike bureaucratic and long-winded. Our unions need to renew their efforts to challenge and defeat such anti-union legislation.
We also need to think creatively about how we can support the 20 September call. Two unions, the University and College Union (UCU) and the Bakers’ union, have officially declared their support for the 20 September strike, with UCU encouraging its members to organise mini walkouts. Some branches of Unison in local government and education are also planning action.
Simply walking off the job en masse is not feasible for us (yet!), but we can still act in support of the climate strike on 20 September. Here are three suggestions from us here at Tubeworker:
• Even a small workplace action, such as getting everyone together in the mess room to take a photo holding signs/placards supporting the strike, could have an important symbolic impact.
• Workers at Zone 1 stations could attend the school strikers’ rally, which will take place in central London.
• If we are in a position to call strikes in any of our own ongoing disputes - such as the fight against Transformation, the pay fight, or the ABM cleaners’ dispute - we should consider coordinating action on 20 September. We should also highlight the environmental aspects of our existing demand. The demand for a reduced working week has many resonances in this regard: for example, more time away from work can help reduce emissions by reducing the need for daily commutes. Longer holidays for all workers also mean less pressure to use short-haul air travel and could allow us to use international rail travel instead.
• Longer term, we should look to build disputes which use environmental issues as a workplace organising tool. For example, air quality is a significant issues affecting Tube workers. We should seek to organise a dispute demanding TfL, LU, and the Mayor take further action to improve air quality in and around Tube stations. Workers striking over environmental issues in the workplace could then coordinate with school students striking over the general issue of climate change.
To organise any of this needs an urgent discussion in the workplace about climate change issues, how they affect us, and what we can do about them. It also needs us to ensure these issues are being discussed seriously within our unions.
Without working-class direct action against climate change, we have no future. With such action, a better future is possible.
A workers' climate plan for transport?
To avoid climate catastrophe, we need to demand radical measures from our government, such as public ownership of all energy generation.
But workers can also propose plans for our own industries and workplaces, like Lucas Aerospace workers did in the 1970s when they proposed to repurpose their factory to produce sustainable, socially-useful technology rather than military hardware. As part of a workers’ climate plan for transport, we could demand:
• Expansion of projects to use waste heat/energy generated by the Tube to power or heat homes
• A specific energy contract to ensure electricity powering the Tube is generated from renewable sources
• TfL to audit its vast property portfolio and end the practise of selling off buildings and land to luxury developers; ensure all buildings are sustainbly powered; invest in parkland projects
• Restore the government subsidy
• Democratic workers’ and passengers’ control of transport.