On 15 February, tens of thousands of school and college students walked out of their lessons to join protests across Britain to demand action over climate change and environmental destruction.
Thousands of students gathered in towns and cities all over Britain, including Leeds, Cardiff, Brighton, Glasgow and Sheffield.
In London, tens of thousands of students gathered at Parliament Square from 10am onwards, marching up and down Whitehall multiple times over the course of the day between Parliament and Downing Street.
Chants of “hey, ho, fossil fuels have got to go” as well as chants calling for the kicking out of the Tories and Theresa May reflected not only the desperation among young people to fight for the future of the planet.
It showed the anger against the Tory government for its total complacency and incapability in the face of an impending climate catastrophe.
Socialist Students ran an open mic throughout the day and welcomed students to speak to the crowds, talk about how they had built for the walkouts at their school and college, and what they thought was necessary to fight against climate change and how to build the strongest possible movement against it.
What developed was a genuine discussion and back and forth between those who spoke.
Different views were exchanged on what programme and demands should be central to the movement. Socialist Students and Socialist Party speakers argued that central to the fight against climate change had to be the fight for socialist change.
We pointed towards the fact that only 100 companies had been responsible for 71% of global greenhouse emissions since 1988, to argue that the nationalisation under democratic workers’ control and management of those monopolies was central to fighting against toxic air pollution and climate change.
Calls by Socialist Students to kick out the Tories, the party which defends the capitalist class and the big businesses which have created this calamitous situation, as the first step in fighting climate change, received rapturous applause.
But there was not complete agreement on these issues. Some came along to argue that the issue of climate change was ‘above’ politics. One woman heckled and said that the issue wasn’t party political.
She was welcomed to put her view on the open mic. But despite her arguing that the campaign against climate change mustn’t be political, she also attacked the 100 companies most responsible for climate change!
So perhaps her real disagreement was with pro-capitalist politicians, not socialist policies.
Countless students stood up in front of each other and lambasted the Tories sitting in Parliament behind them, not only for failing to take action on the issue of climate change, but also for cuts to education and over the absence of environmental studies on the national curriculum.
One speaker from the group Extinction Rebellion outlined its previous campaign efforts in mobilising direct actions. These included blocking various roads and bridges throughout central London to bring traffic to a standstill – aiming to force action by the politicians on climate change.
This idea received a good reception, especially by the most militant and fighting school and college students present.
Socialist Students responded to these points by welcoming the desire to ‘shut down’ central London as a tactic – but posed the question of going further than just shutting down roads in the capital.
We raised ‘shutting down’ the country, pointing towards the only force in society capable of bringing that about – the organised working class through strike action.
By the end of the discussion, as the main protest was wrapping up, school and college students were addressing each other and denouncing the inability of capitalism to offer any solutions to the climate crisis – and raising that the only answer to this crisis was the fight for socialism.
The main question which will now be in the minds of all those who attended the 15 February climate strikes will be how best to build for the next round of international walkouts on 15 March.
Socialist Students will be taking this campaign to the school and college gates – talking to students and helping them to get organised.
We will be leafletting schools and colleges, hosting banner-making sessions, organising planning meetings, and bringing together everyone wanting to build walkouts at their schools and colleges and to discuss the socialist solutions to climate change.
Many students we met on the 15 February protests reported that they had been threatened by their schools with detentions, suspensions and exclusions for attending the protests.
There were also reports that three students were arrested for participating in a sit-down protest near Westminster.
Socialist Students totally rejects the idea that students should be punished for fighting for our environment and the future of our planet.
If climate strikers are penalised, Socialist Students will support protests at any schools in defence of the right of students to protest.
We call for the creation of school student unions to help students get organised.
But these attempts to prevent students from protesting underscore the vital importance of trade union intervention into this movement. The education unions, such as the NEU and the UCU, should weigh in on this battle and fight to support students’ right to protest. Parents have been threatened with fines.
But it shouldn’t just be these unions. The trade union movement as a whole – with around six million members in Britain alone – could be key in escalating and building the struggle against climate change and environmental destruction.
It is the working class which has the power to grind all of society to a halt – the teachers who run our schools and colleges, the bus and train drivers who run our transport networks.
Working people create all the goods and run all the services in our society.
The trade unions should also offer assistance in stewarding the next round of protests to protect students from potential police intimidation.
Jeremy Corbyn raised in his 2017 manifesto the nationalisation of the energy companies. But the Socialist Party says why stop there?
Why not go further – to nationalise, under democratic workers’ control and management, the top 150 big companies which dominate the British economy, including the big polluters and the banks?
On this basis – a socialist basis – we could plan what society produces, to bring about an immediate conversion to renewable energy, with guaranteed retraining and skilled work for every job at risk, without loss of pay, funded by the energy companies’ profits.
■ Read more reports and programme at socialistparty.org.uk