New York, NY – Later this week, young climate change activists from across the nation and around the globe will kick off eight days of protests designed to compel government leaders to finally get real about global warming — and they are urging workers everywhere to join them in the fight to quit fossil fuels.
“Young people are doing events all across the world [starting] on September 20, and they’re challenging the rest of us to step up to the plate — and that’s what we plan to do in D.C.,” Bill Ragen, longtime SEIU organizer and member of the Labor Network for Sustainability [LSN] told LaborPress.
On September 20, thousands of striking young people and their supporters from the Sunrise Movement, 350.org, Extinction Rebellion, Zero Hour, Fridays for Future and other environmental groups are expected to march from the White House to Capitol Hill in a mass mobilization demanding a just and equitable transition to a new green economy.
In New York City, Global Climate Strike activists, along with international youth movement leader Greta Thunberg, are expected to converge on Foley Square at Noon.
Three days later, while world leaders gather for the United Nations Climate Summit in NYC, protesters back in the nation’s capital will flood intersections in a bid to “shut down the city” and end “business as usual” politics.
“There are a lot of different unions already involved around the world and there quite a lot of unions involved here in the United States as well,” said Amanda Trebach, a D.C. shop steward with National Nurses United [NNU]. “I’ve been really enthusiastic because when I first began organizing around the environment, unions were not as involved.”
Despite persistent protestations from climate change deniers — experts in the field insist that climate change, as evidenced by melting polar ice and ferocious tropical storms like the ones that wreaked havoc across Puerto Rico and the Bahamas — is already happening and will ultimately prove cataclysmic to humankind if societies continue to burn fossil fuels.
“Labor needs to understand that this is a labor issue and we need to get out there and make sure that the responses are the right ones for both the climate and for the working class,” Ragen added.
While the environmental stakes are easily understood, Global Climate Strike organizers concede that many workers, for a variety of reasons, will not be a able to walk off the job beginning September 20, but that doesn’t mean they can’t support striking students.
“Some people can’t strike, we understand that,” Trebach said. “There are options.”
United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America [UE] General President Peter Knowlton said that his union is encouraging its members to “participate in the actions wherever they can.”
“But they need to recognize that they do have a contract — [however[, there will be people who call out from work; there will be people who take personal days; there will be people who take vacation days; there will be people who will take part in activities before or after work,” Knowlton said.
The tragedy of flood- and storm-ravaged communities may be easy to see, but Global Climate Strike organizers view the status quo’s cost to workers everywhere as greater still.
“As cities and states deal with the climate disasters, and having to harden the infrastructure, that’s going to have a huge impact on what money is available for collective bargaining for teachers and other public workers, the healthcare system,” Ragen said. “This is going to directly affect all workers in all sectors of the economy.”
Amalgamated Transit Union International [ATU] Vice-President Bruce Hamilton believes that the need for systematic change is so dire that organized labor should actually be laying the groundwork for a true general strike where the means of production are shut down.
“I like the word ‘strike’, it sounds militant and everything — but, traditionally, we use the word ‘strike’ to mean stopping production, working, organizing together to shut the place down,’ Hamilton said. “They’re attempting to shut down schools and things like that, which is not exactly the same thing.”
That said, Hamilton thinks Global Climate Strike actions happening Sept. 20-27 are “wonderful.”
“It’s wonderful that we have this huge troupe of young folks taking this stuff seriously, which us older folks are not doing,” Hamilton added. “It’s great that they’re taking action. Groups like Sunrise [Movement] and Extinction Rebellion, it’s great that people are actually taking militant action. The single-most powerful force in society is, objectively, organized labor. There’s no combination of world armies that can beat us in any objective kind of fight. And our role ought to be to take the lead in this stuff and actually do a strike.”
As more young people have become increasingly activated around the climate crisis and advancing Green New Deal legislation, they have also become more interested in the rights of workers and their struggles, according to Trebach.
Said Trebach, “Coal miners and other fossil fuel workers — we can’t just say, ‘you don’t have a job anymore.’ We need to have good-paying jobs And a lot of the Green New Deal is talking about that kind of stuff, [and] about the profit driven system and capitalism. We don’t have good health care for people. We don’t have good-paying jobs. It’s not just that we want a Green New Deal, but then we still have people working in poverty and suffering. The Green New Deal would also talk about economic justice as well.”
Even though arrests are expected, Nick Braña, founder and director of Movement for a People’s Party [MPF], said that students and workers teaming up to block traffic in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 23, are working to actually make the actions enjoyable.
“We believe in doing more than just a kind of traditional blockade or protest,” Braña told LaborPress. “It’s a civil disobedience action — it’s also something that’s intended to be fun. We’re going to have kiddie pools, snorkels, we might have a boat in the middle of an intersection [like] has been done in London with Extinction Rebellion. The idea is to make it a cultural celebration as well that many people can participate in. There are roles for those who will be arrested, there are roles for people who won’t. I expect that a lot of people will be arrested and, perhaps, myself as well.”
More than 130 Global Climate Strike actions are expected across the U.S. between September 20-27, with another 600 happening worldwide.