The best guess is that one and half million students, in over 120 countries, struck on Friday 15 March to demand that their governments start emergency action on climate change.
In London, the central rally of school students in Parliament Square was 4,000 or more. Everyone we talked with said there was no ongoing organisation in their school for the walkout. They’d found out about it on social media and come with their friends.
There were also sizeable groups of university students at Parliament Square.
The National Union of Students had officially supported the action, but did nothing to push along the university mobilisation, which was all down to campus activists.
London Young Labour “officially” mobilised for 15 March on social media, but had no visible presence at Parliament Square as Young Labour — no banners, leaflets, sign-up sheets, stalls that we could see.
In Liverpool there were about 800 at the city centre rally, with university students leading the chants but lots of school students.
Newcastle’s rally had about 400. In Newcastle, a “student assembly” (called by an individual student) after the rally drew about 30 or 40. There was action in many smaller cities and towns — in Gloucester, 130 school students turned out for a rally, and an older sympathiser said it was the biggest demonstration in the city he’d seen since he was 17.
Gloucester students are in touch with the organisers of the Stroud and Cheltenham strikes to organise a county-wide meeting.
In Australia, the student protests were estimated to be ten times bigger than those in November which started this global wave of activity.
Turnouts were estimated at 40,000 in Melbourne and 30,000 in Sydney.
In Brisbane, Queen’s Gardens in the city centre was full of student protesters — that’s an area equal to Trafalgar Square in London, which is officially reckoned to hold 20,000 people.
Noticeable in Brisbane, and maybe in some other centres, was that the biggest contingents were from state schools with somewhat better-off catchments (Kenmore, The Gap, and the state’s maths-specialist selective school). In Australia about 40% of secondary students are in fee-paying schools, and some of those turned out too.
There were more specific demands in Australia: stop the Adani coal mine in central Queensland, no new coal or gas, and 100% renewables by 2030.
Australian unions gave strong support to the student rallies.
“System change, not climate change”, and more explicitly socialist politics, got a good reception in many areas.
The push towards climate disaster comes from capitalists wanting to make the biggest, quickest profits from cheaper fossil-fuel energy sources.
To stop them we need democratic and social control over energy production and distribution and over strategic industries like transport.
And that needs socialism. And socialism needs organising.
Hugh Edwards adds a report from Italy:
Against the background of an Italy which had been rendered increasingly passive before the malodorous xenophobic and racist hatred of its coalition government, hundreds of thousands of school and university students along the peninsula marched on 15 March in militant protest on climate change.
A hundred thousand in Milan, 60,000 in Torino, 50,000 in Rome, Florence, 30,000 in Bologna and in Napoli, with thousands more in the streets and squares of the smaller towns up and down the country.
The first of the “stars” of the now-governing “Five Star” movement was meant to symbolise the environment and its protection. But as soon as the “government of change” assumed power, it reneged on commitments to abandon a vastly expensive and pollutant pipeline project in the gulf of Puglia, and to close the country’s notoriously-polluting largest steelworks at Taranto.
(The promise was also to construct, under public ownership, a new pollution-free installation and to protecting the livelihoods of the workforce).
This, in a country where, as its leading scientists have again and again pointed up, and its record of geological and hydrological disasters and tragedies underlines, is exceptionally vulnerable to climate change.
The young protesters’ ebullient affirmation of international struggle against what the Italian government and its similars do and what they represent cannot but recharge the struggle for socialism in this present moment of political retreat.