If it isn’t profitable, it doesn’t happen: that is the law of the capitalist jungle. Scientists have been shouting from the rooftops about climate change for nearly four decades. But even now, with melting ice caps and mass extinctions, the best that the capitalists can offer is a ban on plastic straws.
Capitalism is a defunct system, offering nothing but austerity and instability – unless you are a member of the global wealthy elite, of course. Over the last decade, the ‘social safety net’ of the mid-century has been ripped away. From social care to housing; from healthcare to education, we are offered a stark choice: socialism or barbarism.
But even that sounds rosy when we take the climate into account. The capitalist system is an existential threat to life on earth. The reality is socialism or extinction.
Such has been encapsulated in the slogans of the #SchoolStrike4Climate movement, which point out that we need a fundamental change of the system. On March 15 and May 24, student walkouts mobilised millions of young people across the globe demanding immediate action against climate change.
The next stage of the movement is to link up with workers. At the end of the day, student-only protests are limited. But they can - and must - be a spark for a wider movement of the working class.
To achieve this, students should begin by forming strike committees in their schools, colleges, and universities. These should organise mass meetings to plan for the next walkout. But they should also discuss radical political ideas and take steps to link up with teachers, lecturers, and other staff.
Young Labour groups can play a leading role in this, helping to provide links between students and the local labour movement.
Workers hold an immense potential power in their hands. Without the permission of the working class, not a lightbulb shines and not a telephone rings. Organised and conscious of this power – working together for themselves, and not for the profit-leeching capitalists – the working class can transform society in their own interests.
Whilst big business governments can’t stop climate change, workers’ governments – based on a socialist economic plan of nationalisation and workers’ control – could.
The aim of student protestors must be to dovetail the climate strikes with the struggles of the labour movement. The boldness and militancy of the student demonstrations has been a huge inspiration. School students have shown the way forward, through mass mobilisation and militant action.
This energy and enthusiasm must now be harnessed and replicated across the labour movement. Workers and youth need to unite, strike, and take to the streets en masse in order to boot out the Tories and bring a socialist Labour government to power. Only in this way can we end austerity, tackle inequality, and begin taking serious action against climate change.
Greta Thunberg - the teenage founder and de facto leader of the climate strike movement - has made this point very clearly by calling for workers to join the next international day of action on September 20th.
In an open letter calling for mass resistance, Thunberg urges workers to join the strike. The Swedish activist even makes reference to the women’s march on Versailles during the French Revolution, when thousands of women workers kidnapped French King Louis XVI, effectively ending royal power.
Thunberg’s call for the climate movement and labour movement to unite is 100% correct. But this begs the question: why has it been left to a 16-year-old school student to make this call? When it comes to calls for action and demands for a general strike, where have trade union leaders been for all these years?
Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC in Britain, oversees a trade union movement with over six million workers. Thunberg’s protests, by contrast, started as a one-woman show. The job of figures like O’Grady is to lead the fightback. They have tremendous resources at their disposal for this. But instead they are being upstaged by young activists, starting from scratch.
Many of these more conservative union leaders want a quiet life. In their minds, trade unions are there for negotiation, not action. They believe that it should be possible to sit down around the table with the Tories and the bosses and hammer out an agreement that works for everyone.
But there cannot be any agreement between workers and bosses, when the profits of the latter is based on exploitation of the former. Society is split into classes - the capitalist class and the working class - whose interests are fundamentally opposed.
As Corbyn’s Labour and grassroots Labour activists have correctly pointed out with the campaign for a ‘Green Industrial Revolution’ and a ‘Green New Deal’, the struggle to save the environment goes hand in hand with the struggle to end austerity. Neither can be achieved without first breaking with the capitalist system.
Workers in Britain need housing, jobs, education, healthcare, affordable energy, social services and much more. But none of this is possible without taking power out of the hands of the capitalist class.
We need to nationalise the energy sector – both to reduce energy bills and to rebuild the national grid on a sustainable, green basis. The bosses will never do this, however, since it would cut into their profits.
We need a programme of mass social housing construction, to build high-quality, warm, affordable, low-energy homes. The resources for this could be utilised by nationalising the banks and the big construction firms.
Elsewhere, our transport system is not fit for purpose, resulting in huge, polluting traffic jams all over the country. Delay after delay to HS2 again shows that this can’t be left in the hands of the capitalists and the Tories. We can do it without them!
We urgently need to transform the economy to be run in the interests of the planet and its inhabitants. This means taking control of the key levers of the economy and putting in place a socialist economic plan of nationalisation and workers’ control.
Rather than dragging their feet, the trade union leaders should fight for demands such as these. The first step is to launch a mass campaign to bring down the Tory government and bring a socialist Labour government power.
The student climate movement has put the idea of ‘system change’ firmly on the agenda. It is necessary to link this up to the wider labour movement, and to demand that the trade union leaders take inspiration from the youth and organise coordinated mass strike action to force a general election and kick out the Tories.
As Thunberg has alluded to, school students can’t change the world on their own. But they can inspire workers to mobilise and take militant action. To quote Karl Marx, ideas have a material force when they grip the minds of the masses. Bold socialist ideas are what is needed from the leaders of the labour movement.