On March 15, more than 150,000 school students walked out of class across Australia to demand real action over climate change. A total of more than 60 rallies were held.
The actions in Australia were part of a global day of school strikes to stop climate change. It was the biggest single day of climate protest ever, with more than one million students participating across 125 countries.
It is not hard to understand why so many students responded to the call. January 2019 was the hottest month in Australia in 100 years. Extreme heatwaves, droughts and bushfires raged across a number of states, while cyclones and floods devastated big parts of north Queensland.
Young people see a terrifying future with a climate breakdown happening right in front of them. At the same time no politicians are proposing a viable way forward.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that there are only twelve years left to avoid devastating consequences from climate change. Taking action is extremely urgent.
A poll around the time of the school strikes showed that more than 63% of Australians believe we need immediate and serious action to address the issues.
Pressure from public opinion has forced Scott Morrison, Tony Abbott and Peter Dutton to back off somewhat from their ardent support for coal. The Liberals face electoral losses because of their out of touch views.
While the Labor Party pose as more progressive, Bill Shorten has not come out clearly against the Adani coal mine, and Labor’s emission reduction targets are inadequate. Labor is torn between trying to win people’s votes and keeping their big business backers happy.
Strikes and protests are the best way for school students to exert pressure on both the major parties despite not yet having the right to vote. More mass actions can cause further rifts within the Liberals and Labor and expose their real nature.
Strikes also make the political establishment worried because they have the potential to grow and draw wider layers in. While the actions on March 15 were big, many more students could still be encouraged to get involved.
Interestingly, slogans like “system change, not climate change” are already being taken up by some at these school strikes. Some are beginning to recognise that the capitalist system, with its private control of industry, prevents us from solving this problem.
Not only is big business trashing the planet in the pursuit of profits, but capitalism also pushes for competition rather than cooperation. This is at odds with a high level of international cooperation needed to deal with global warming.
While many already sense that the system is to blame, there is still a question about what type of change we actually need. Socialists say that the only alternative is to bring the top corporations into public hands, under democratic control.
This would eliminate the reckless competition for profits and lay the basis for a planned economy. Then the huge resources of these corporations could be freed up to produce things sustainably on a global scale.
To achieve changes along these lines, the youthful momentum of this movement needs to be maintained and expanded.
We can look at the example of places like the Netherlands and Belgium where students are organising school strikes and protests on a weekly basis. They have realised that one-off actions are not enough.
We need more student strikes like March 15 in Australia. But this poses the need to have a democratic campaign group in every school to build a wider, stronger movement. Students need democratic structures to organise themselves, and to debate strategies to build for future actions.
While the March 15 student strike was a great show of strength, the movement could be made even more powerful with the participation of workers. We should be appealing to the trade unions to call workers out on strike at the same time as future student strikes.
When workers go on strike, it has a big economic impact. The system doesn’t work without their labour. With that latent power, workers are the central force in the fight for change.
By Triet Tran