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Unions Join Worldwide Climate Strike

Inspired by worker activism, high schoolers walked out of classes to call for progress on climate change

Brian Young's picture
Sep 20, 2019

Across the world on Friday students and union members walked out and went on strike. The strike is not against one company, but rather a larger call for action on climate change.

The Global School Walkout and Strike is an event that was organized largely by high school students who were following in the footsteps of the 16-year-old Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg. The call to action is simple. Young people are demanding that governments around the world take action to reverse the effects of climate change before it is too late. By the time the rallies are over, millions are expected to have taken part.

While young people may have organized the event, many unions have mobilized their members in support. Unions like the CWA, AFT, and UNITE HERE mobilized members for the rallies. In a message to his membership, CWA District 1 Vice President Dennis Trainor pointed out that young people were “Pointing to the inspiration of the labor movement, young people are calling to "stop business as usual" and demand action from our elected officials.”

In New York City, AFT President Randi Weingarten was spotted marching alongside members of the UUP (United University Professions) and many New York City students. While NYC allowed students to have an excused day off from school to attend the march, public school teachers were informed that they must report to school, but were allowed to teach about climate change and the strike today in class.

Other unions like UNITE HERE marched in cities around the country. They called on their employers, which are some of the largest hotel chains in the world, to do better in terms of their climate impact. The union called out hotels like Marriott for not taking real action and instead instituting “greenwashing” programs that look good to the public but do little to reduce their carbon footprint. Of course, these policies, like Green Choice which give extra points to guests who refuse housekeeping services, often hurt workers, pad CEO wallets, and fail to reduce the pollution caused by the hotel. Tying in with their “One Job is Enough” campaign, UNITE HERE members chanted “One Planet Should be Enough” and called for a just transition to a green economy.

“From warehouse pickers to delivery drivers, workers on the front lines of climate change are the ones who are forced to work under extreme weather conditions, like wildfires, polar vortexes and the type of extreme heat that sent workers in warehouses across the country to hospitals this summer,” said the International Brotherhood of Teamsters in a written statement supporting the strike. “And as the ones who are so often the first and worst impacted by environmental changes, it is essential that working people have a voice in the conversation about how we address these challenges.”

With millions of people taking their cue from labor unions, actions like these could signal a turning point in the fight against climate change. Perhaps these actions will inspire politicians to take action as they see workers and environmentalist uniting for a common goal. They might even make some meaningful steps towards reducing emissions and creating a just transition for the workforces into the new green economy.

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