Climate Strike wins unlikely allies as banks, IT firms and unis come on board

September 4, 2019
Brisbane students at a climate emergency rally on May 4. Photo: Alex Bainbridge

The September 20 global Climate Strike is gaining unprecedented support.

Initiated by school students to demand serious action on the climate emergency, the strike has gained support from unlikely quarters, including tech companies, university administrations and even the big four banks.

The Australian Financial Review reported on September 3 that: “In a sign that staff involvement in climate activism on work hours was possible among Australia's largest publicly-owned companies, the [big four] banks indicated they would consider leave requests from employees who wanted to participate.”

Tech company Atlassian on September 3 publicly encouraged its 3500 employees to join the strike. Billionaire company co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes said Australia had “no credible climate policy whatsoever”, and urged other corporations to do the same.

Altassian is one of the 20 employers that have formed the “Not Business as Usual” alliance that is urging other businesses to support workers who want to participate in the Climate Strike.

Others in the alliance include KeepCup, energy retailer Amber and Future Super, which has said it will be shutting down on September 20 to allow its workers to attend the strike.

Two university administrations have also written supportive messages about the strike to staff.

In an email to University of New South Wales staff on August 29, acting human resources vice-president  Deena Amorelli asked supervisors “to be as accommodating as possible in terms of approving leave and supporting staff in making alternative arrangements to cover their work commitments” as “we understand many staff are intending to participate”.

The email added: “We are sure that staff support the rights of students to participate and though it may cause some inconvenience, we ask that you be accommodating should students seek alternative arrangements for critical assessments and other learning outcomes”.

University of Technology Sydney vice-chancellor Attila Brungs sent out a similar email in August to UTS employees, noting the university “has always focused on concrete and positive actions in relation to climate change”.

Another group that has joined the growing list of trade unions, community organisations, and even churches back the September 20 strike is the Australian Medical Association (AMA).

Reiterating the organisation's position that it accepts the “scientific evidence on climate change,” AMA president Dr Tony Bartone called on the government to act or there would be more deaths from extreme weather events.

As of the end of August, some 50 climate strikes are being planned across Australia.

In Sydney, contingents of students, unions, people of faith and others are being organised to converge on the main protest in the Domain. The organisation going into making these happen is considerable.

In political terms, the student-led networks organising the strikes represents something new and powerful.

Perhaps the closest precedent for such global action was the millions-strong February 2003 mobilisations against the Iraq war. We do not know whether the numbers that come out on September 20 will exceed those, but we do know that this relatively new network will not disappear.

School Strike 4 Climate, who initiated the protests in Australia, has declared that it will not go away because the climate emergency demands we keep organising. They have been organising for about a year and know enough to know that a one-off strike will not defeat the fossil fuel corporations and its minions in parliament.

The student climate movement will have to rapidly digest the lessons and announce its next steps because we only have a year to force the rapid decarbonisation of the atmosphere required to keep global warming to under 1.5o C.

Given the growing support for the strike, we should not be surprised to see a concerted push back afterwards — including from some of those who today support it. This is because strikes — the withdrawal of labour power — can have a big impact on profits.

It may be OK once, but any idea of doing it again will come under challenge.

We will hear that strikes are “too disruptive” and that “negotiations” will get us further. We cannot get sidetracked by those who, ultimately, are not prepared to give up their positions of power.

Capitalism is the source of the current climate crisis. The capitalist system blindly prioritises the race for profits over social and environmental needs.

While we can welcome company and university management supporting the Climate Strike, we should bear in mind that they are not leading the charge for change.

They have been forced into action by the students who are redefining the lines of engagement about what is and what is not possible.

Those who want to live in a world in which humans and the ecology co-exist should not fall for the mistaken idea that capitalism can correct itself.

The only way forward is to challenge the power of those who have led us into this mess.

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