National Sections of the L5I:

Millions make global climate strike a success

Printer-friendly versionPDF version

Globally, the international action week #WeekForFuture was a great success. Millions took to the streets on September 20 and 27, the two climate general strikes and that is clearly not the end of the movement. Fridays for Future, largely based on school and, in some countries, university, students, is part of a bigger, mass mobilisation against the very real threat of environmental crisis and future actions are planned. Extinction Rebellion activists are currently occupying key squares in several major European cities and, probably more importantly, another global day of action is planned for November 29, the Friday before the UN climate conference is due to start in Santiago de Chile.

Overview

The scale of the September mobilisations is clear even from a brief overview of the two days. It started in Australia on September 20, with 300,000 to 400,000 participants, in Germany about 1.4 million went onto the streets. In Berlin and New York alone, according to the organisers, 270,000 and 250,000 respectively joined the demonstrations. London, Hamburg, Sydney and Melbourne all saw 100,000 or more. Other capitals such as Brussels were also strongly represented. Altogether it is estimated around 4 million people in 161 countries came out on the first day.

On September 27, a similar global total has been estimated, with the biggest of all demonstrations in Montreal with half a million. In Austria, 170,000 participated, in New Zealand 170,000. About 6,000 individual actions happened on that day in about 170 states, making the global climate strike bigger than any previous internationally coordinated action to "save the planet", and thereby safeguard the survival of humankind. It was probably the largest internationally coordinated mass action since the anti-war mobilisations in 2003.

The great majority of demonstrators and strikers, and this is undoubtedly a weakness of the movement as a whole, still comes from Western imperialist countries and metropolises. While there is no doubt that it is spreading to countries dominated by imperialism, nevertheless, in Africa and Asia, Fridays for Future's actions can as yet only be counted in hundreds and thousands, not in tens of thousands or millions.

In Cape Town and Johannesburg, there were several thousand demonstrators and there were also protests in Kampala (Uganda), Nairobi (Kenya) and in the oil regions of Nigeria. In India, particularly students took to the streets. Important demonstrations were also held in 14 cities and towns in Turkey and in the Philippines.

In Pakistan, our comrades of the "Revolutionary Socialist Movement" took part in the actions in Karachi, Lahore and several smaller cities. In Brazil and other Latin American countries, FFF is relatively weak compared to Europe or North America, but in Brazil there were important demonstrations against both Bolsonaro and the deforestation and destruction of the Amazon. Here it is the movements of the landless and agricultural workers, the trade unions, the left and indigenous people that are at the centre of resistance, but they are faced with massive repression as well as the passivity of the PT and CUT-leaderships.

What will be decisive for the construction of a truly global movement is whether the mass movement of FFF can connect with other, sometimes much larger and more radical, movements of tenants and agricultural workers, poor peasants, indigenous people or inhabitants of slums and poor neighbourhoods, as well as the workers in the sweatshops of the "new" industries.

Especially in these countries, the links between environmental protection and the struggle against corporate arbitrariness, political disenfranchisement and exploitation by imperialist as well as "native" capital, are often more immediately obvious.

Fridays for Future's Social Base

The fact that Fridays for Future has generated such support, especially in the imperialist countries, is of course an expression of the real urgency of the issues raised. But the fact that it is much stronger in the wealthier countries also refects its social base. First of all, it is a protest by school students – but often not those from the poorest, most oppressed and most precarious classes. So far, it has been those from the educated middle classes and the better paid working class that have shaped both the appearance and the political-ideological orientation of the movement.

The fact that FFF is dominated by these strata is not surprising, and nor is it a reproach. Historically, it has often been the students and intelligentsia who, precisely because of their social position between the main classes or the transitional nature of their social existence, reacted more quickly to new questions and real problems than the masses of the working class. This is especially true when compared to the reformist parties and bureaucratised trade union organisations, whose political strategy and tactics reflect the huge influence of bourgeois ideology in the labour movement.

Such influences can only be overcome if revolutionaries and left forces not only help to build the movement but consciously intervene with a political programme to give it a class-political, internationalist, anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist orientation. In many countries, the global strikes and mass demonstrations also revealed a second aspect that has to be countered. Although Greta Thunberg, FFF's global figurehead, declared a global general strike, in reality the day was far from being a general strike, in the sense of an organised, collective work stoppage of whole workforces.

All the same, the social pressure of the movement, and the fact that hundreds of millions, if not billions, of people now see the "climate issue" as a question of survival, has forced most governments and the media to acknowledge its legitimacy. US Democrats, German Conservatives, Labour and Social Democrats, Greens and Left Parties, they all try to ride the "climate wave" somehow. This undoubtedly also fuels illusions.

On the other hand, on September 20 and 27, it also fuelled mobilisation. The city of New York, for example, released around 1,700 public schools. In Berlin and many other German cities, the state or local governments gave employees the freedom to take part in the demonstration during working hours. This explains, at least in part, why a quarter of a million people took to the streets in both cities and why at least in Berlin a large proportion of the demonstrators, along with pupils, parents and teachers, were public service employees.

At the same time, even here a central weakness reveals itself. The wage earners did not come because of a joint strike action, but because of the "kind-heartedness" of their employer. In Germany, several companies released "their" employees not just for ecological reasons, but also as a PR exercise.

The trade unions, like many parties in the workers' movement, welcomed the global strike, but there were hardly any direct calls for a strike action, let alone a global political mass strike. Above all, the bureaucratic leaders did not even try. In some countries, like Germany or Britain, restrictions on the right to strike or anti-union laws were used as welcome excuses not to call a strike.

This not only limited the mobilisation but also had another, damaging, effect. It reinforced the illusion that a solution to the environmental question could only be achieved through the joint efforts of "all people", meaning a block of all classes, of all governments. In the eyes of many activists, trade unions that do not directly call and organise strikes contribute no more to the success of the action than "reasonable" entrepreneurs or city councils that release "their" employees on a daily basis.

Human problem or capitalism problem?

The dominance of left-liberal and petty-bourgeois ideologies is also expressed in FFF's strategy and demands.

The aim is not to change the balance of power between social forces. Rather, the rulers and all classes of society, poor and rich, capital and labour, should be persuaded to do together "what is necessary" for the climate in order to achieve the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and to limit global warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius. In some countries, this goal has been made a little more concrete but, basically, it is just a matter of general recommendations to "the politicians", which do not become more concrete simply because they have been approved by thousands of bourgeois scientists and climate researchers.

Globally, the mixture of petit bourgeois radicalism and desperate hopes in the ruling elite were expressed in Greta Thunberg's speech to the UN:

“How dare you continue to look away, and come here saying that you are doing enough, when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight. You say you ‘hear’ us and that you understand the urgency. But no matter how sad and angry I am, I don’t want to believe that. Because if you fully understood the situation and still kept on failing to act, then you would be evil. And I refuse to believe that.”

This illustrates the contradictions of the movement. On the one hand, Thunberg openly accuses the rulers of their refusal to act, their hollow "climate policy". On the other hand, she refuses bitterly, but also stubbornly, to accept that they are actually on the other side, that they, and the capitalist system they defend, are part of problem, not the solution.

This illusion, that all classes, all social groups, in capitalism have the "same" interest, because all want to survive, seems to many activists to be the strength of the movement. In reality, it is its greatest weakness.

Even if concrete improvements in the environmental question can be achieved through determined struggle within capitalism, ecologically sustainable production on a global scale is simply impossible in this system. Any market economy is inherently wasteful not only because whether there is an effective demand for a product can only be known after it has been made but, because all producers are trying to expand their share of the market, overall, there is a constant tendency to overproduction. And that is quite apart from the drive for short term profits which means that under capitalism production is not primarily for the satisfaction of human need but for private profit.

In a period of crisis, competition forces firms to use ever tougher methods to maintain their market shares and profits - at the expense of humankind and nature. Since the governments of all capitalist states act as the political executive committees of their ruling classes, it is not surprising that climate protection regularly falls by the wayside.

All this should make it sufficiently clear that it is at best a naive illusion to want to get all classes, all social forces, on board for climate protection. On the contrary, the attempt to do that just wastes valuable time. Effective climate protection is only possible against the interests of the big corporations, not through their "persuasion".

Anti-capitalist!

FFF and the environmental movement must therefore become anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist and they must understand that the "climate question" is a class question, inseparably connected to the capitalist system as whole.

This requires concrete demands, such as taxing the rich, the global phasing out of fossil fuels, huge investment in scientific research and expansion of renewable energy, which all lead to the question of property, control over the means of production and to a democratic and planned economy. That would mean a fundamental reorganisation not just of the economy but of social relations.

Let's just take the question of who should pay for the costs of the ecological restructuring of the economy. The "climate-friendly" companies and bourgeois governments want "market-based" instruments, subsidies or tax breaks to create "incentives" for "ecological" multinationals to redirect investments. In practice, this means that they will only undertake ecologically sustainable production if it is first made profitable for them.

The "pricing" of CO2 emissions through certificate trading or through taxes not only has an extremely low "steering effect", as experience so far has shown, it ultimately requires the very people who have the least influence on the goals, purposes and production methods to pay for it. In this model, it is the mass of wage earners, the farming community, the urban and rural poor who pay. This has nothing to do with the declared goal of climate justice.

Tax increases could certainly be a means of procuring the financial resources for ecological restructuring. But it should be through the massive taxation of corporate profits and large private assets. It should be by forcing the rich to pay. This could be used, for example, to finance state projects for the ecological renovation of housing, the expansion of public transport and, most importantly, not only under the co-management of employees, but under their central control. In addition, the funds could be made available to prevent all redundancies due to ecological restructuring, to expropriate these companies and to restructure them under workers' control and with the help and expertise of scientists.

A real transformation of the economy requires a plan to achieve the climate goals and, at the same time, must include an improvement of the social situation of the over-exploited strata of the working class and the masses in the so-called "Third World". This is not possible without massive intervention in private property, without the expropriation without compensation of large capital and assets, of banks, industrial corporations, service providers, transport and trading companies. At the same time, the debts of the so-called "Third World" must be cancelled without compensation and the borders opened for all climate refugees, in fact, all refugees.

Global Strike - Global Revolution

These goals can only be achieved if the working class becomes the leading force in the environmental movement, if the movement itself becomes internationalist and anti-capitalist.

This requires, of course, cooperation and coordination of all those forces that combine the struggle for a liveable environment with the struggle against capital, that want to build an international movement of workers and peasants. The global climate strike represents an important step in this direction, but it is one that is simultaneously connected with numerous illusions, e.g. in the "world community" of the "United Nations". These illusions are, like all hopes in the actions of "our" governments, undermined on a daily basis - but we must also actively articulate these conclusions consciously within the movement.

One aspect of this undoubtedly also means advocating a change of course in the workers' movement itself. Vague and non-binding "sympathy" with the environmental movement, with FFF and other initiatives will not suffice. Above all, the work of the trade unions themselves must become more political. It is not only a matter of supporting others in the struggle for a liveable environment, but also of becoming active in the companies, the factories and on their shop-floors themselves, in collective bargaining, in political disputes over one's own demands. By raising the ecological question, the question of production control and expropriation of the climate killers in the large corporations can actually become more popular and contribute to a radicalisation of the labour movement.

Finally, it is a matter of taking up the enormous positive momentum of FFF, the international breadth of its actions. We advocate the organisation of action conferences of the environmental movement on a national and international level, which must be open to all currents of the movement. Such conferences would have to have two central and immediate tasks: a) to develop an immediate programme for climate protection in the interest of the global working class and the countries dominated by imperialism, and most affected by the immediate dangers, and b) an action plan for a global general strike to hit the climate killers where it hurts; in their profits.

Such a movement, if the strikes go beyond individual days, would undoubtedly become a powerful challenge for numerous governments. It would raise the question of power, that means the question of social revolution, in whole countries. The movement, therefore, has to prepare itself to answer that question by preparing the working class and its allies for the necessity of the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism, the establishment of workers' governments and a democratic planned economy. Then, but only then, could this global crisis of humankind become a trigger for its liberation.

Navigation