The striking climate: If emissions get up your nose, picket

The information below, provided by our trade union group, is intended as a guide for climate activists on supporting striking workers. Of course, 'climate activists' and 'workers' are not mutually exclusive! Join a union

Quick links: How do I support a picket line? - Dos and Don'ts - If you can’t physically get to a picket line (inc hardship fund links)

Strikes - what, where, when

On 1st February, teachers were joined by university lecturers, civil servants and train and bus drivers in the biggest day of industrial action in a decade.

Upcoming strike dates (BBC website)

Why climate activists should support the strikes

Workers on picket lines are challenging the power of their employers, showing bravery and determination and deserve respect. The long days of picketing, cold and wet through the winter, allow plenty of time to build comradeship, find common interests, explore ideas and discuss issues of the day. For millions of trade unionists in the UK, the issue of the cost-of-living crisis is forefront in current struggles. For climate activists the costs to people and planet of the current fossil fuel economy is urgent. For both, we need system change.

As the climate catastrophe deepens, the need for cheap renewable energy to end reliance on fossil fuels will require radical action to ensure people's homes are insulated and transport is electrified using wind and solar energy generation. The fight of workers to be able to afford to heat their homes and travel to work becomes a fight to end the super-profits of oil and gas corporations and stop investment in new coal mines and oil fields when the money should be used for investment in renewable energy and climate jobs.

Whilst the cost of living crisis involves a rate of inflation at above 11%, the current price inflation of staple foodstuffs is running at between 18-30% a year in the UK. The extreme weather events this year alone, caused by accelerating heating of the planet from gases emitted from current methods of production, has seen food harvests severely affected and some completely destroyed, here and across the world leading to food-price hikes and, in the worst cases, famine. 

In the media, public sector strikes are often presented as being solely about pay. In fact they are broader than that, and are a fight against cuts damaging public services which provide the essential social infrastructure of this country. And in some cases these services play a key role in reducing emissions, for example public transport. 

In the short term, rail unions have basic demands like safe staffing levels being maintained. In the long term they generally call for renationalisation of rail. This links directly with climate action: to cut emissions we need investment in electrification of rail, bus and coach services and an integrated not-for-profit public transport system, affordable and dependable to move passengers and freight out of polluting cars and lorries. The strike action is therefore directly linked with environmental issues, and that discussion can encourage trade unionists to take-up climate demands inside their union and with the employer.

COP27 fails on cutting emissions, offers help to pay for loss and damage that will result

The main headline from COP27: after twenty-seven years of climate negotiations, progress on actually cutting emissions is as painfully slow as ever. Meanwhile the chance of staying under 1.5C of warming is rapidly disappearing, and the impacts of climate breakdown are devastating communities around the world.

The Egyptian government saw hosting the summit as an opportunity to enhance prestige, but the international attention also shone a spotlight on its human rights abuses, with a crackdown on protesters ahead of COP27. The most powerful voice at the summit was arguably a man who who was not even in Sharm el-Sheikh, but in prison. Alaa Abd El Fattah, a British-Egyptian pro-democracy activist and writer, who has been in prison for most of the past nine years, escalated his ongoing hunger strike to stop drinking water as COP27 began.

Due to the restrictions imposed on protest in the streets of Egypt , for the first time ever, climate activists marched within the Blue Zone (governed by UN rules). Their slogan, "We have not yet been defeated" echoed the the title of Alaa Abd El Fattah's book of essays, You Have Not Yet Been Defeated. Solidarity climate protests around the world called for the freeing of Alaa and the many other political prisoners in Egypt, that there could be no climate justice without human rights.

Loss and Damage fund finally established

COP27 did produce one big win for countries on the frontline of climate breakdown. After decades of blocking by rich nations, a loss and damage fund was agreed for countries most affected by climate change to cover devastating impacts like flooding and drought. In the run up to COP27, negotiations had been needed to even get loss and damage onto the agenda. This fund is a significant win for powerful advocacy by climate-vulnerable countries and the global climate justice movement, and one which was fought over all the way.

But the new loss and damage fund is, for now, empty. The track record of rich nations on climate finance is not encouraging. Thirteen years ago in Copenhagen, rich nations pledged to provide US$100 billion a year to less wealthy nations by 2020, to help them adapt to climate change and develop sustainably. That promise was broken, not just falling short on the total amount, but also in the substance of what has been provided, which has overwhelmingly been given as loans only, rather than grant funding.

Truss and Sunak face off on climate and energy, in a race to the bottom

The UK desperately needs cheap, clean energy, home insulation and real leadership on the climate and cost of living crises. But based on the showing of the two candidates to lead our country, we won't be getting it any time soon.

At a recent Conservative leadership hustings, Liz Truss promised to change the rules to ensure farming is prioritised over new solar projects. She also vowed to exploit all the gas in the North Sea and said she would allow fracking in locations "where communities supported it".

Rishi Sunak has already indicated his own opposition to the most cost-effective, clean energy, saying he would restrict solar development on farmland and reverse proposed moves by the government to lift the block on onshore wind farm development in England.

Truss also repeated her pledge to suspend 'green levies' on energy bills, despite experts warning that this would save an average household just £150 off their annual bills. Neither this, nor Sunak's pledge to suspend VAT on household energy bills, even scratches the surface of this crisis with rising fossil fuel prices sending average bills to over £3000, and the cost of living rising much faster than wages.

Both candidates have expressed a lukewarm commitment to the UK's legally binding target to reach 'net zero' emissions by 2050. Truss said we needed to find "better ways to deliver net zero" that won't "harm people and businesses", and Sunak warned "If we go too hard and too fast then we will lose people."

At a time when other European countries are pushing to reduce their gas dependency, and just two weeks after the UK's record-breaking 40C heatwave, it seems surreal that the candidates to be the UK's Prime Minister fail to grasp what is at stake.