Climate strike in Glasgow Climate strike in Glasgow, Photo: Chris Nineham

Tens of thousands marched through Glasgow on Friday as striking workers led the fight for climate justice, reports Chris Nineham

The first big day of climate protests at COP26 surpassed all expectations. Greta Thunberg had called for the Friday youth strike to link up with the cleansing workers on strike across Glasgow. The response was magnificent. The meet up point in Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Park was overrun as tens of thousands of people poured into the park from all sides.

Many thousands of them were striking school kids from Glasgow and the area around. There were huge numbers of university students but also groups of trade unionists – many with with banners – all joined by groups of environmental activist from around the world.

Climate activists proudly held one of the front banners proclaiming ‘solidarity with the strike’. Right behind them was a big contingent of striking Glasgow cleansing workers and a sea of GMB flags. As the huge demo, estimated at 40,000, wound into central Glasgow, everywhere there were people hanging out of windows cheering. Some had dropped home-made banners saying ‘unfuck the planet’ ‘Glasgae says nae to climate change’ and ‘climate change cop-out26’.

As on all massive mobilisations, there were homemade placards everywhere with a range of messaging from ‘Stop bla bla bla’ to ‘Are you enjoying the warmer weather?’, ‘Eat British Food’ and ‘system change not climate change’.

Climate justice = social justice was one of the most popular slogans and it was clear from the chanting, the banners and the reception for Counterfire that for all the varied ideas on the demonstration, there is a strong sense amongst many of the marchers that dealing with climate change means dealing with a broken society.  

The speeches in a packed George’s Square reflected an impressive political generalisation. Again and again speakers connected the problems of climate change with global inequality and capitalist’s blind pursuit of profit. To huge cheers Frazer Nelson from Strathclyde University talked of how working class people were the first to suffer from the effects of climate change and that far from being the problem, working people would in the end be the solution.

The mini strike wave in Scotland is starting to make this a reality. Everywhere there are discussions about how the strikes connect with the issues of climate change. Shaun Bailey one of the leaders of the cleansing strikes, told me that some of the strikers had at first been sceptical about the environmental activists but once they started working together they realised they had a lot to learn from each other  and a lot to discuss.

The People’s Assembly evening rally at Glasgow University was focussed on exactly that question. How can workers’ anger and militancy provide a lead for the climate movement?   Michael Hogg from the RMT provided one answer when in a barnstorming speech in which he described a joint union campaign for better pay and against cuts on ScotRail. As he said, the politicians tell us to stop using our cars at the very same time as they are cutting 300 trains a day on the railways.

The rail unions have got together to campaign for a different future for the railways, one in which travel is cheap, safe, and accessible for all. Round one went to the unions as management caved in to strike action a fortnight ago and dramatically upped their pay offer. As Michael Hogg put it. ‘They saw sense after we held their feet to the fire’.

The rally brought together strikers and trade unionists with climate activists and other campaigners. Again and again links were made between immediate demands for more public sector funding, better education and services and the wider challenge of climate change. French socialist Daniele Obono summed up the significance of the meeting when she said ‘the pandemic has proved everywhere that in the end of the day it is workers who deliver services, who keep our society running. It is going to be workers who develop the solutions to the problems humanity faces.’

Already, away from the blather of official conference and even before the big demonstration on Saturday, some steps are being made in developing a real strategy for averting climate catastrophe. 

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Chris Nineham

Chris Nineham is a founder member of Stop the War and Counterfire, speaking regularly around the country on behalf of both. He is author of The People Versus Tony Blair and Capitalism and Class Consciousness: the ideas of Georg Lukacs.