A one-day walk-out of high school pupils last Friday was an abject display of the bankrupt perspective of various environmental organisations which seek to prevent any political action beyond fawning and pathetic appeals to the capitalist governments and politicians responsible for the climate crisis.
While it was called by “School Strike 4 Climate” (SS4C) the event can hardly be described as a strike. Little attempt was made to mobilise the vast mass of students and the stoppage was timed to cause minimum disruption, occurring on the eve of the profit-driven and dangerous resumption of mass in-person teaching in New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria, both of which are being hit by the Delta variant of COVID.
Because of this, actions in those states were limited to hour-long Zoom calls. Under conditions in which school students are overwhelmingly at home, because of the pandemic, fewer than 1,000 took part in a call for the entirety of NSW, a state with more than 810,000 school pupils. Given that many of the attendees were union functionaries, adult supporters of environmental organisations and Greens members, the number of kids and teenagers who participated was likely equivalent to one medium-sized school.
While the unusual circumstances of this year’s event may have been a factor, the mass concern among young people and students over environmental degradation and global warming has hardly disappeared. In previous years, the school strikes have been attended by tens of thousands of students, joining with other pupils around the world to condemn the refusal of governments to address the climate crisis.
But the environmental organisations that have politically-dominated these events have worked to neuter them and to subordinate them fully to the capitalist political establishment. This, above all, is what accounts for the major fall in attendance.
The dead-end of orienting to the establishment parties was starker than at any of the previous years’ strikes. Under conditions of massive global upheaval, the SS4C representatives selected to speak at the event said nothing about the pandemic, the massive growth of social inequality, the threat of war, or virtually any other issue.
They spoke about the warnings from environmental scientists, of the rapidly escalating pace of climate change, and pointed to the different manifestations of the environmental crisis, including more-severe bushfires, rising sea levels and the destruction of ecosystems.
But the only call to action, issued at the events, was for students to email and phone senior members of the federal parliament. Throughout at least a quarter of the NSW event, the Zoom screen listed the contact details for the offices of Liberal-National Prime Minister Scott Morison, his environmental minister Sussan Ley and Labor Party leader Anthony Albanese, or their social media details, with music playing in the background.
Among the template of messages suggested by the organisers, were comments such as: “I thought you agreed to keep the future alive? Start acting like you care about us!” and “Scott Morrison needs to hold himself accountable for his climate failures and do better.”
The bankruptcy of these inane, moral appeals was underscored by the fact that they were to be addressed to a Liberal-National government dominated by climate change deniers, and a Labor Party opposition that is an unalloyed representative of the largest banks and corporations. Both have attacked the social rights of the working-class for decades, and have subordinated environmental policies to profit interests.
The entire perspective of “pressuring” capitalist governments to take action on climate has been tried, tested and has failed. At one summit after another over the past two decades, governments have signed worthless emission reduction pledges that they have no intention of honouring, and even if they did, would fall far short of the measures required to halt global warming.
Recent developments in Australia have provided another lesson. The Liberal Party has adopted a target of zero emissions by 2050, but like Labor, will not commit to any measures for substantial emission reductions prior to then.
Labor and the Liberals, moreover, couch their support for the 2050 target, in terms of the opportunities it will open up for corporate investment and new financial markets. This includes carbon-trading schemes that when rolled out internationally have failed to lower net emissions, but have resulted in the emergence of highly-speculative and lucrative sources of revenue for the financial elite.
In addition to begging Morrison, the prime minister most famous for holidaying in Hawaii amid the country’s worst bushfire crisis as his government allowed vast swathes of the country to burn, the SS4C organisers promoted the fraudulent claim that Labor represents a lesser evil that may be more susceptible to popular demands.
None of the organisers provided an explanation for why Labor had not responded in the slightest to the mass climate strikes of recent years. Or, what grounds there were for thinking that moral appeals to this ruthless capitalist party would have any effect, other than turning students and young people down a blind alley.
No reference was made to the class character of Labor or any other party, or to their political record, beyond what they will or will not “commit” to in words. This was significant, inasmuch as the Greens were heavily promoted by many participants. But while they posture on the issue of the environment, the Greens real program as a pro-capitalist parliamentary party is to cement its position in the corridors of power, including through coalition deals with Labor and even the Liberals.
The Greens, for instance, propped up the federal Labor government of Prime Minister Julia Gillard, as it introduced a carbon tax that was not forecast to reduce emissions for years and that imposed further burdens on working people. Greens’ leader Adam Bandt has spent the past several months declaring his ambition to enter into a “power-sharing” arrangement with Labor after the next federal election.
SS4C claims to be “non-partisan,” but it accepts entirely this framework of parliamentary horse-trading, and the capitalist system, upon which it is based.
In reality, however, and as experience has demonstrated in spades, the fight against climate change is a fight against the capitalist system. The rational, coordinated deployment of society’s resources, to overcome global warming and to ensure social needs, including to a habitable environment, is incompatible with the domination of the world economy by a tiny corporate and financial oligarchy. Every necessary measure, moreover, is blocked by the division of the globe into antagonistic nation-states, each advancing the interests of their own capitalist ruling elite.
Among the many political issues passed over in silence at the SS4C events was the pandemic, the worst global health emergency in a century. The failure to mention, let alone address, the implications of the pandemic, was hardly an accident. It has provided this generation of youth with life and death experience, proving the complete bankruptcy of any perspective of orienting to capitalist governments and policies, the very perspective SS4C promotes.
In virtually every country, capitalist governments, whether they claim to be of the “right” or the “left,” have rejected or dispensed with the public health measures, such as lockdowns, travel restrictions, universal testing and contact tracing, and the isolation of infected individuals, required to contain the coronavirus. The failure to institute these policies has resulted in at least five million deaths around the world, with over 700,000 in the United States alone.
Now, governments everywhere, including in Australia, are declaring that the population must “live with” the deadly virus, a program that will result in even more fatalities, along with mass illness and death. As with the absence of measures to address climate change, the “let it rip” pandemic policies of capitalist governments are dictated by the banks and the largest corporations. Everything must be done to ensure full profit-making activities for big business, whatever the consequences for working people.
Just as they said nothing about the official COVID policies, SS4C was mute on the growing resistance they are provoking. In Australia, health care workers, teachers and school students themselves are entering into struggle against the very governments the SS4C representatives are issuing fawning appeals to. Most strikingly, SS4C said nothing about the mass opposition among students to the reopening of schools in Victoria and NSW this month, under conditions in which thousands of infections have already occurred among kids and teenagers.
It is to this emerging movement that students and youth must turn. There is an eruption of the class struggle around the world, expressed most sharply in the largest strike wave of the past 40 years. The stoppages by 10,000 John Deere agricultural equipment manufacturing workers, tens of thousands of nurses, teachers and others, are developing as a rebellion against the trade unions, which have suppressed social struggle for decades, while enforcing the dictates of governments and the corporations.
It is not accidental that SS4C, while promoting illusions in the official parties, presents the trade unions as “progressive” organisations to which students must turn. In Australia, as everywhere else, the unions are an industrial police force. Their role is to prevent strikes, impose sell-outs and block the development of any independent movement of the working class.
The International Youth and Students for Social Equality (IYSSE), the youth movement of the Socialist Equality Party, calls on students to reject the bankrupt perspective of orienting to the Morrison government, Labor and the Greens.
The climate crisis and the pandemic have shown again that capitalism is an outmoded system that offers only a future of ever greater catastrophe. The alternative is to build a socialist movement of the working class, aimed at placing the banks and the corporations under public ownership and democratic control; ending war; unifying the world’s population; and allocating global resources on the basis of social need, not private profit.