On 15 March, millions of school students and supporters came out onto the streets as part of a worldwide strike against climate change. This impressive achievement also reflects the radicalisation taking place amongst the youth on a world scale. Comrades of the IMT have intervened throughout these demonstrations, and we publish here a number of eyewitness reports and accounts of their activities.
The climate strike demonstrations in Italy were some of the biggest youth mobilisations in recent years. 50,000 came out in Milan; 30,000 in Turin; 20,000 in Rome; 10,000 in Naples, and there were at least 1,000 marching in every significant town.
The composition of these demos was mainly high school students (14-to-18-years-old), with a layer of university students and even some primary school students (11-to-14-years-old). In many schools, the demonstration was supported and even joined by teachers. Students arrived in blocs of 200-300 from different schools. Many students came by bus or train from distant towns, up to 20-30 km away. Demonstrations in the evening were of a different composition, with smaller numbers, more older people, and a bigger presence of left-wing activists.
The mood among the young was one of enormous enthusiasm for what was, in many instances, their first mass demonstration. They were very open to discussion, from the question of the environment up to the need for a complete change of the system.
Sinistra Classe Rivoluzione, the Italian section of the International Marxist Tendency, had engaged in a preparatory campaign of leafleting and organising public meetings in the weeks before the protest. On the day of the protest, they participated in 17 demonstrations; two of which they helped organise. Also indicative of the mood on the protests was the fact that the comrades sold more than a thousand copies of a 28-page pamphlet entitled, ‘Capitalism is devouring the environment – A Marxist critique’. The comrades also sold over 1,000 copies of their climate change pamphlet, 171 copies of their paper, Rivoluzione, and got the names of more than 100 people who wanted to hear more about joining a revolutionary organisation.
Following the event, Sinistra Classe Rivoluzione has been organising public meetings on the environmental crisis throughout the country.
In Belgium, more than 50,000 attended the Global Strike for the Future demonstration. 35,000 gathered in Brussels, despite the windy and rainy weather, and another 15,000 in smaller cities, in both the Flemish and the Walloon areas. Again, the energetic school students were spearheading the demonstrations. The general mood was of defiance and self-confidence. This was reflected in the number of homemade placards carried by the school students. The Global Strike for the Future was a culmination of more than two months of mobilisations. In reality, this was the 10th day of school student strikes in Belgium since the latter half of January.
We must go back to the wave of school student protests of 1973 to find such an intensity of school student activism. It is the first such movement since 1986, if we exclude the short eruption of protests in 1996 and 1997 against the (in)justice system. The school students started activity spontaneously in January as a reaction to the call of Greta Thunberg, the young Swedish school student who refused to go to school to protest the inaction of world political leaders on the question of the climate. At the first demonstration in Brussels, 3,000 youths participated (carrying 1,000 homemade placards); at the second 12,000; and then 30,000 at the third, and so on.
The Global Strike was supported not only by school students (under the banner of Youth for Climate) and university students (Students for Climate) but also by many unions. An ad hoc group called Workers for Climate was even established a month ago to draw attention to the workers’ presence on the day of action and to encourage the unions to participate. Almost all the unions have supported the demonstration. Some unions (like the socialist union of chemical, petrochemical and building workers, and the metal workers union) went further and called for a strike that day.
This call for a strike generated heated discussions in other unions, in particular in the socialist public service union and the teachers’ unions. It opened a rift between a layer at the top of the unions, and regional and local bodies and activists. The tops of those unions believed it was not the job of a union to call for strikes “on the climate” as this was not their “core business”. They consider this to exclusively be ‘socio-economic’, rather than ‘political’ or ‘societal’ demands.
But this claim contradicts the whole history of the workers’ movement. It was the unions in Belgium who led the struggle for universal suffrage in the 19th century, and it was the union movement that called for strikes against fascist terror in 1936 in Antwerpen. In 1950, the socialist union played a decisive role in the insurrectionary general strike against the return of the ‘collaborationist’ King Leopold III, and again, in 1996, the unions helped to shut down many factories against the dismissal of a judge, concerning the case of disappeared and assassinated young girls.
The position of the union leaders was rejected by many activists. The internal struggle led left-wing shop stewards to call for strikes, despite the refusal of their national leadership to support them. Local and regional structures followed the lead of their rank and file and gave all the necessary information for teachers, for instance, on how to participate in the strike.
The bosses’ organisations, of course, complained about the strike, with some saying: “Strikes hurt companies who are part of the solution and not of the problem”. This is clearly not the opinion of the youth and worker activists participating in the climate mobilisations. They see correctly that the ‘companies’, i.e. capitalism, are the problem.
In general, the right-wing parties (Liberals, Christian Democrats and nationalists) are completely out of touch with the actual mood in society. They hoped to dominate the political agenda in preparation for the general and European elections of 26 May with a racist, nationalist and right-wing campaign. One of the four environmental ministers of the country claimed that “state security” was scrutinising the school students. This forced her to quit her job. Another arrogant minister announced that the government was going to send “climate coaches” to the school to explain the policy of the government, which only fanned the flames of protest. Since then, these ministers wisely have decided to keep silent.
On the left, the Green parties are quite supportive, as well as the Workers’ Party of Belgium, with its programme for a “social climate revolution”. The socialist parties are also supporting the demonstrations, but some of their leaders stupidly criticised the school students with comments like “strikes should stop”, or “the climate problem is not political…”
A new, national day of joint strikes of workers and students will take place on 24 May, just before the general and European elections. Meanwhile, weekly strikes (on Thursdays) will continue.
There is a general understanding amongst the youth that ‘small, individual deeds’ are not enough and that some kind of systemic change is needed. The most radical aspect in the understanding of the school students is not yet expressed in their programme, which was passed months ago.
The fact that the school students have decided to act in the first place, and have reached out to the unions for a joint struggle is, of course, an enormous step forward in consciousness, compared to when the manifesto of the movement was passed. When general assemblies are held and demands discussed, the participants tend to be further to the left than the official manifesto. Some claim that is the result of left-wing infiltration. In fact, this reflects a real process of radicalisation which has taken place.
The comrades of Vonk/Revolution, the Belgian section of the IMT, intervened in the movement from the beginning. They set up tables at the beginning and the end of the demonstrations, published a bilingual transitional programme for the environment, made a special leaflet with their proposals to advance the movement, and launched the slogan: “no transition [a common Belgian term referring to the transition to an environment friendly economy] without revolution.” They also went to some secondary schools and organised public meetings on Marxism and the Climate.
The comrades also published a special issue of their paper, with articles on Marxism and Ecology, a criticism of the programme of the right-wing and of the Workers’ Party, and with a number of interviews with school students. In general, the response was very positive they had the chance to discuss with the youth. One of the comrades, active in the food couriers’ collective, convinced his colleagues to strike on 15 May, and another comrade played an important role in organising the teachers to pressurise their union into supporting the strike. In the next period, they will continue with the sale of the special issue on the climate struggle and intervene in the preparations for the new strike on 24 May. The longer this movement goes on, and the more workers are participating, the more young people will understand that the only chance for a successful ‘climate revolution’ is through socialist revolution.
The Climate Strike Movement in Switzerland was sparked on December 2018, and since then there has been an increasing turnout on every school strike and demonstration. Last Friday, 15 March, turnout reached a peak of 70,000 striking students throughout Switzerland. Particularly impressive was the turnout in Lausanne, with nearly 20,000 participants.
Meanwhile, the strike movement has also spread to the universities, but the core of the movement is still made up of school students. The mood of these students is very radical, clearly centring around the slogan “system change, not climate change”. Although there is still a certain level of confusion about how to solve environmental problems, there is a widespread and general distrust of the political establishment and of capitalism in general.
The comrades of Der Funke/L'étincelle, the Swiss section of the IMT, participated and sold over 200 papers, as well as 150 pamphlets, while more than 30 people signed up to hear more about joining the IMT. They have intervened in protests, meetings and strikes throughout the whole period that the movement has lasted. At each of these they found a enthusiastic mood with many people eager to discuss the necessity of the overthrowing capitalism and the implementation of a socialist planned economy. That is in spite of the leadership of the movement, which is attempting to keep it “apolitical”.
The comrades are intervening in the movement with papers, books and pamphlets, including a new pamphlet called ‘Capitalism and Climate Change’, and in political discussions. Through this work they are reaching out to the most radical layer of the students, to discuss with them about the necessity of connecting with the working class and of building a revolutionary organisation for the overthrow and capitalism.
The comrades from Revolution participated in several places during the climate strike. They were active at two of the University of Copenhagen campuses, where, among other things, they held discussions on the Marxist analysis of the climate crisis, and a revolutionary solution to it. They were active in the demonstration in the town of Roskilde, which had several hundred participants, and where their speaker received the biggest applause of all who spoke from the stage.
They were also a strong presence on the largest demonstration in front of the parliament in Copenhagen, where more than 10,000 youth demonstrated. The vast majority of these were primary and high school students, who gave an incredibly energetic mood to the demonstration. When the prime minister, who had been hiding in the crowd, was forced up on the stage, he was interrupted several times by booing and chants of: "It is not enough!" While the established organisers were focusing solely on individual consumption as a solution to the climate crisis, it was clear that the youth were looking for more radical measures as a means to solve it.
The comrades of the IMT found a big echo with their systemic criticism of the causes of climate change and the proposal of revolutionary class struggle as the solution. They had the largest and most visible banners in the demonstration, with the slogans: "The system is the problem" and "Climate struggle is class struggle", the last of which was also the headline of their newspaper.
This connected with a growing segment of young people who have long-since realised that individualism is not a solution to the climate crisis. The paper sold itself! And when the day was over, they had sold over 130 copies, with 30 people signing up to join the fight for revolution.
Across the UK, tens of thousands of students in 60 towns and cities went on strike from school, to take part in demonstrations against climate change. The militancy and energy amongst the students were such that the protest in London was constantly moving and spreading across the city. Some students charged onto Waterloo bridge, telling the motorists to switch off their engines. Others marched to Buckingham Palace, where a line of police on horses attempted to stop them reaching the gates. Undisturbed, they found other routes to fill the mall with chants of “Save our planet” and “We want change!”
The climate protests are growing, and while the environment remains the core of these demonstrations, it is clear that the students’ demands are not limited to this. These students make up a generation that has seen austerity and cuts become the norm, with politicians who are totally removed from the day-to-day lives of the rest of us. The entire system must be uprooted for genuine change to occur, and the students made those demands at Downing Street, Buckingham Palace, and all other symbols of the state across the UK.
It’s clear that this movement will grow, and with the student’s instinctive internationalism, what we have before us is the next generation of class fighters.
The climate strike movement was a huge success in Quebec, as 148,500 university and college ("cegep") students were on strike on 15 March and demonstrations were held in all the main cities of the province. In Montreal, the organisers estimated that 150,000 people participated in the demo, which makes it the biggest demonstration since the 2012 student strike. But this time, the demonstration was dominated by thousands of high school students, who skipped class on Friday afternoon to come and participate. This forced some high school authorities to accept the fait accompli and announce that they would not penalise the students for their participation in the demo.
The comrades of La Riposte socialiste organised a socialist contingent for the occasion. They were able to talk to dozens of young students about the need to connect the fight against climate change to the fight for a socialist revolution. With about 20 activists present, they sold 68 copies of their paper and more than 35 students signed up to get more involved with the IMT. One of the comrades gave a spontaneous speech at the beginning of the demonstration, as the students were gathering at the Parc du Mont-Royal:
The IMT contingent was very lively. With 30-35 people at its peak, they chanted revolutionary slogans for over two hours, with people around them joining the group and singing with the comrades:
Here are photos of the IMT contingent:
The mood of the demo was jubilant. Everybody could sense the enthusiasm of the youth, who are seeking to change society. They are getting radicalised, while the capitalist governments around the world stand idle as the environment is being destroyed by the anarchy of capitalist production. Some of the official speeches given by high school students at the end spoke about the need for a system change: this is the way forward!
In Edmonton, Alberta, in front of the Legislature building, more than 300 young students gathered to demand immediate action on climate change. The mood there was electric. For most, this is the first time they have engaged in a mass collective action for an important cause. Youth members of Fightback in Edmonton were present at the rally. Many students they talked to identified themselves as socialists, and one even said that he has been a Marxist for a year now, and that he was glad to run into the IMT. The comrades sold 10 papers and one booklet, and more than 30 students gave their contact information, wanting to get more involved.
Here is a video of the demonstration:
"I hope they're scared", one high school student in Gothenburg commented, referring to the claims of some right-wing journalists that Greta Thunberg was instigating an uprising. "They [the politicians] need to wake up."
In at least 132 cities around Sweden, young students and older supporters gathered to show that they refuse to let the big companies and politicians steal their future. Stockholm saw a huge demonstration of 15,000 people, with 1,000 in Gothenburg, and several hundred in other cities. Everywhere, there were angry students who were proud to be on strike. "Perhaps they [the politicians] want change – I don't know – but they won't do anything, because it costs too much," said one 14-year old student.
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I fredags klimatstrejkade tusentals skolever över hela Sverige och 1,4 miljoner i 120 länder och över 2000 platser över hela världen! Revolution, Marxistiska studenter och Unga marxister var såklart på plats. Här är lite bilder från Stockholm och Göteborg. Det är det kapitalistiska systemet - som är problemet! System change not climate change!
Arguing that we need to organise against capitalism, the IMT intervened in Stockholm, Gothenburg, Umeå, Lund and Halmstad. The students were very interested upon hearing the comrades speak about the potential of saving the planet through socialism: something completely new to most of them. After a short explanation, almost everybody agreed that the big corporations and their political representatives wouldn't do anything about this burning issue, and that we need a different system.
The potential for building the forces of Marxism among these militant students was shown in Gothenburg, where – despite freezing rain – a group of seven comrades sold out all the papers they had brought (24 issues), with 35 people signing up to learn more about the IMT.
There's no doubt that this movement will continue, and sink deeper roots amongst even wider layers of youth. In schools and universities, there are committees being formed, discussing how to move forward to stop climate change. Those who agree that capitalism is the problem and want to fight for a socialist solution, we ask to join the IMT.
On 15 March, high school protests in the Czech Republic marched against climate change. These radicalised young and progressive layers of society have rallied around this question, which is directly linked with the impasse and anarchy of capitalism.
As elsewhere, most of those young people were taking part in mass action for the first time in their lives. Few so-called established activists or socialists were present, but rather the movement was dominated by radical young people, new to politics, who were holding very progressive placards like: "Planet > profit", and "Change the system, not the climate!"
The largest strike and demonstration was in Prague (involving around 4,000 people). But smaller events occurred in the cities of Brno and Ostrava, and even in tiny cities like Třeboň, Rakovník, Český Krumlov and Pelhřimov, with populations lower than 10,000, and where people have long-since been politically apathetic. This represented a big turnaround.
On 15 March, there were demos in 11 Austrian cities, with a total participation of around 50,000 school students. In Vienna, there were about 30,000, who gathered at five meeting points across the city. The different demos then unified at the central Heldenplatz, which was jammed with demonstrators. Many carried handmade posters, and the mood was electric.
After a few speeches and songs, the unified demo went to Prime Minister’s offices, where there was much whistling and shouting, much more than on any trade union protest. From there, the demo visited other ministries. The slogans were centred around climate change, but many were of a very radical character, targeting the existing social order: “We are here, we are loud, because you steal our future!”, “Change the system not the climate”, or simply: “Fuck off!” The more generalised political character was demonstrated by placards asking: “So now, do you want to put us all into preventive detention?”, referring to new laws up for debate to reinforce the oppressive nature of the state apparatus. Many slogans were shouted in English, in tribute to the international character of the movement.
The leadership of the movement is dominated by liberal individuals with media credentials, whose main strategy was to build links with the school administrations. They base themselves on the authority of Greta Thunberg. These leaders are quite inexperienced at organising demos, but this was made up for by the initiative of the students themselves. Also, some of the slogans and their political outlook were very narrow, not putting forward any more concrete demands than: “the politicians must do something”, and that “everyone can contribute through lifestyle changes”.
Obviously, these slogans were also seen on the demos and on placards, but it is wrong to say that this expresses the general mood of the demonstrators. In reality, this orientation to multilateral politics, individualism and liberalism expresses illusions in the government to change the situation, granting the demonstrators no control over their movement and demands at all. To maintain this situation, the organisers wanted to ban flags, which the Marxists openly defied from the start and throughout the day in the demos.
The opposition parties have tried to shyly ingratiate themselves with the movement, while the government has tried to ignore it so far, working exclusively through ministerial orders that striking students may be fined up to €400 and lose their place at school, as has been the law since last year. But this order did not quell the anger and initiative of the school students, other than in schools where the administration has taken a very hard stance. For instance, at one college in Linz, 30 school students have been kicked out since September last year.
The Marxists played an active role at 22 schools all over the country to mobilise for the demo and bring out the students. The comrades had a decisive role in building and organising the strike in Bregenz, in the west of the country. The police report that 1,600 students took part in this demo, despite the rain and cold. In Graz, Köflach and Linz, Der Funke have played an active role in the schools, and in Vienna, they mobilised at several schools and had a big, visible bloc on the demo and at the rally.
In the build-up to the strike, the comrades argued the students should build committees to mobilise and express their demands. Obviously, it is much too early to give a balance sheet, but initial reports indicate that the Marxists found a big echo, also in terms of sales of their paper. In the coming days, Der Funke have scheduled a number of meetings on related subjects to the demonstrations.
The climate strike called by FFF in Germany turned out to be a big success as some 300,000 demonstrators took to the streets up and down the country. There were demonstrations in all major cities and also in quite a few smaller towns in rural areas. For many school students this was the first political demo they had ever attended in their lives.
Many youngsters had prepared placards and banners with their own slogans and the short and sharp speeches above all expressed a thorough distrust towards the leading politicians and the determination to keep fighting against the climate change until decisive measures are taken. In several speeches, the question of the economic system was also raised.
In some of the 16 federal states the school authorities and headmasters had tried to intimidate the students by threatening disciplinary measures and urged them not to strike but to organise demos in the afternoon after school finishes. Yet this did not stop the impressive turnout. Many teachers and the teachers´union GEW declared their support for the walk-out.
In all cases the school students got support from the generation of their parents and grandparents, including veteran activists from the 1968 students‘ movement and the 1978 ecologist movement who were enthused by the fact that youth are moving again.
IMT comrades in Germany around Der Funke were present with their material and special leaflets in a number if cities and will continue to be active in this movement.