Tens of thousands of young people joined the Youth Strike for Climate school walkouts on Friday 18 February in town centres and outside schools across the UK. It was organised as part of the Fridays for Future school walkouts started by Swedish school student Greta Thurnberg, which have now gone global.
Students from Australia, Austria, Belgium and Germany have also taken part. School students in France walked out on Friday 18th, too. Over 3,000 people attended the London rally in Parliament Square, ranging from sixth-formers to primary-school-age children with their parents. The atmosphere was very militant. Students blocked the road and some climbed on buses and traffic lights with their homemade placards. There were chants of “Hey ho, hey ho, fossil fuels have got to go” and “Fuck Theresa May.”
In Bristol, a few hundred students protested and blocked the road. There were also large rallies in Sheffield, Brighton, Exeter and Glasgow. Most school strikers said that the protests were about raising awareness and demanding young people’s voices be listened to, rather than this or that specific demand to confront climate change. Votes at 16 was a recurring theme. Cody from Guildford County sixth form said “There’s a whole group of us from our school. I first saw it happening on a meme account on Instagram. I put it in a group chat and nothing was really done about it until one of our geography teachers mentioned it to the A Level students, and then some of them decided it would be a good idea.”
“People under the age of 18 can’t vote so this is the best way for us to express our opinions. We have until 2025 until climate change is almost irreversible.
“We’re at breaking point and what’s currently being done isn’t enough to resolve this. We’re still fracking. A large part of our power is still coming from non-renewable resources. We’re funding Trident, a lot of money is going towards nuclear power instead of the future and we’re spending a lot of our time on Brexit.”
Daisy, Aggie, Hannah and Imogen from St. Cecilia’s Southfields said around one hundred students had joined the walkout from their school. They said “We were part of the road block, we got up on the bus. It was amazing — you’ve got hundreds of people, everyone with the same belief as you. If it takes us blocking roads for one day the government should realise that they need to listen to people.
“People think we’re naive and lazy just because we’re young. But people on the bus with us had come here from South London, East London, Essex... People do care. If the government see this and ignore it it’s irresponsible of them.”
Miel, Hana, Nell, Megan, Flo and Amelie from Camden School for Girls said: “We wrote a letter to our Head of Year saying that this is more important than one day of lessons. The teachers knew about it and some supported it.
“From our school, Year Nines to Sixth Formers walked out — overall about one hundred. I think we have to focus on renewable energy and against fossil fuels. We need more education too — everything about the meat industry, for example, and its impact on the environment is hidden.
“We need drastic change. There isn’t just one demand — we want to be heard and show that our opinions matter. We need things like lower bus fares so more people use public transport. There’s too much blame on individuals from big companies. It’s not enough to just stop using plastic straws. Companies need to be cleaner — in their use of water and transport, for example. The government have an institutional responsibility to educate people. “Fifty and sixty year olds are deciding our future and it’s us who will face the consequences, not them.”
The forthcoming Youth Strike for Climate on Friday 15 March will be global. We can expect even more people to take part. This time the walkouts were mainly built on social media rather than by organisation in schools and colleges, with students from the same school often meeting up at the rally rather than walking out of school together. Next time, more students will be able organise in their schools to build the walkout, holding meetings and placard-making sessions, and forming plans to continue organising afterwards.
NUS (the National Union of Students) should support school students taking part in the walkout, producing guides on how to organise and seeking to use them to build lasting organisation in schools and colleges (sixth formers are members of NUS). Young Labour groups should help to build the next walkout and organise students involved. The political demands of the strike, and the focus on social need over profit and the need to take on the power of fossil fuel capital, should make socialists very hopeful. The terms of the debate have been set by the school strikers in a way that promises a real fight against the capitalists and their political servants who are paving the way to hell.