The March 15 student strike for action on climate change is a great step forward for the environmental movement.
Rejecting the inevitability of an ecological catastrophe caused by capitalism, students have built on the momentum of last year’s walkouts and called on adults to join them. Contingents of teachers, parents, tertiary students and trade unions have begun to offer support!
The protests in Australia take place against the backdrop of an international upsurge of young people. Tens of thousands of students are regularly walking out of class in Sweden, Switzerland and Germany. In Belgium, a climate minister was forced to resign after multiple demonstrations of over 100,000 people. Walkouts and mass protests have now spread to more than 20 other countries.
Events during the summer underscored the urgency of a planned shift away from fossil fuels. January 2019 was the hottest month in Australia since records began in 1910, with extreme heat waves, drought and bushfires across a number of states, and floods ravaging north Queensland.
It is increasingly clear to millions of people that the major parties have allowed these disasters to occur because they refuse to encroach on the profit interests of the country’s largest polluters.
Casting a shadow over the looming federal election is the future of Adani’s monster coal mine. Adani is brazenly moving forward despite public opposition and a string of setbacks. In an attempt to pressure the Queensland state government to grant final approvals before the election, Adani has now launched a media offensive promoting its creation of jobs and calling for the government to give it a “fair go”.
The Labor Party, torn between its loyalty to big business and public opinion in an election year, is vulnerable to being pushed on this issue. The climate movement must drive a wedge between Labor’s claim to care about both jobs and the environment, and the reality that Adani’s coal mine serves neither!
Labor’s promise to not break any contracts signed by Adani before the election can be defeated by mass protests and direct action, alongside demands for investment to create green jobs. A similar approach by a community campaign forced the Labor Party in Victoria to abandon the dodgy East-West Tunnel in the lead up to the 2014 state election.
Young people have taken a much bolder stand than Australia’s union leaders by initiating this strike. It is very positive that a number of unions have offered some support. However, many of these same unions back the Labor Party, despite Labor’s rotten environmental record over many years in power. Shamefully, the Construction, Forestry, Mining, Maritime and Energy Union is campaigning in favour of Adani and for greater investment into coal!
These unions should instead use their resources to draft a proposal for an economic plan to phase out all fossil fuels as rapidly as possible, with guaranteed jobs and paid retraining to workers in obsolete industries.
Workers could instead be redeployed to build clean energy projects, public housing, new schools and other important infrastructure. This could be paid for by taxing the rich and taking Australia’s largest corporations, including the banks, mines and major retailers, into public ownership.
These policies could serve as a rallying point for future strikes, and help to unite workers and students together in struggle for real climate change action. They could also form the basis for a new political party that genuinely represents ordinary people, not the rich – unions could play a key role in an initiative like this.
A catastrophic climate breakdown cannot be prevented as long as economic decisions are made on the basis of private profit. It is staggering that just 100 big companies have been responsible for 71% of all global emissions since 1988. We must continue to grow the movement and make it an international fight for socialist change!
The Socialist Party calls for:
– Trade unions to join students in strike action to demand immediate climate action
– Unions to campaign for an economic plan that phases out fossil fuels while also protecting jobs
– Bring the big mining and energy companies into public ownership, under democratic control, so that a transition to 100% renewable energy can be implemented
– Major investment to create sustainable jobs in the public sector, with a special focus on regional communities
– A democratic socialist plan for society that prioritises the interests of people and the environment
By Jeremy Trott