This is an issue that unites the class, writes UCU activist Vladimir Unkovski-Korica
Thousands and thousands took to the streets of cities across Scotland to demand action on climate change on Friday 20 September.
I joined a UCU contingent from the University of Glasgow that joined the main demonstration from Kelvingrove Park to George Square. We started out at 11.30 and got to George Square after 13.15, which gives a sense for the size of the march.
You were immediately struck by the breadth of the demonstrations. Young and old, women and men, black and white, veiled Muslim school girls, trade union members, people with signs in different languages like Swedish or Spanish, groups with Palestinian and Catalan flags alongside Scottish ones, and a sea of people with a variety of placards.
What immediately stood out was that the school students were the most organised contingents on the march. They were loud and creative as you would expect. But there was something more deeply impressive about them: they were deeply political.
General placards like ‘Rise before the waters do!’ and the like were flanked by more militant messages ‘Your climate profits are destroying the planet!’ or ‘Make trees, not war!’. The chanting also revealed a deeper politicisation and generalisation: ‘Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here!’ and ‘Whose world? Our world!’.
Such messages brought home the sense that the global climate strike is challenging is in some deep way capitalism itself. The very fact that the day of action is labelled a strike is in many ways significant as it is a nod in the direction that some kind of mass organised labour movement response is necessary if we are to avert the worst.
Labour was indeed visible in a big way for a Friday afternoon march. Besides banners of my own union, I saw Unison and Unite banners and flags representing different workers from across Glasgow and its surroundings. Many people cheered from offices and windows as the march weaved its way to the city centre.
You could also see people off the march expressing solidarity in different ways, like wearing ‘I am with Greta’ badges or wearing shirts with green slogans.
Inevitably, however symbolic the day’s actions were in terms of stopping climate change, they have generated a sense of togetherness across groups and a degree of mass militancy that raise confidence and show ordinary people can change the world.
And it of course raised massive political issues about the way forward. There was a lot of discussion of how global the day of action was on the protest itself and the public transport on my way home. One of my friends pointed out that Glasgow is hosting a major UN climate change summit in 2020. He added suggestively: ‘who would you rather represented us? BoJo or Jeremy?’
That a one-off march will not change the direction of the world is beyond doubt, but it is important to build on a day like this. It shows we need to discuss how to act as part of collective bodies like unions to force change at local, national and international levels.
It also suggests we have the power to change the way the world works, both in terms of a change of government, but, critically, also in terms of systemic change on a world scale. You could sense many people around you also thought that way.
So I was glad I went to the demo today – it made me feel like I have more reasons to be cheerful to go back to work at the start of semester next week. For one, I have found more colleagues (and students!) I can rely on in raising union issues at work on a broader scale – including but not limited to the environment.
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