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  • Writer's pictureFred Guerin

What Should an Effective Climate Strike Look Like?

Well, for inspiration, we might begin to answer the above question by talking to McDonald's workers in Denmark.

The latter make $22 an hour. They get 6 weeks of vacation and sick pay. All of this is in addition to social benefits in Denmark that include child allowances, health care, child care, paid leave, retirement, and education through college. So how did the people of Denmark discipline a company that is notorious for doing everything possible to discourage unions?

Way back in the late 1980s when Mcdonald's came to Denmark they decided that they simply would not follow the union agreements that governed other hotels and restaurants. They imposed their own pay levels and working conditions. In response, the hotel and restaurant workers organized a series of related union strikes: dockworkers refused to unload McDonald's goods; typographers refused to put McDonald's advertisements in publications; truckers refused to deliver food to McDonald's; food and beverage workers refused to work on McDonald's products; the construction industry stopped working to build new McDonald's restaurants. Then all of these unions picketed McDonald's restaurants and handed out leaflets telling consumers to boycott their products.

As you might have guessed, it worked--and rather quickly. By 1989 Mcdonald's had completely capitulated and immediately signed an agreement in keeping with the terms and conditions of other hotels and restaurants. This strike action worked because organizers did not just strike McDonald's, but every single business related to McDonald's.

That is what real union solidarity is about: joining together in a common cause to fight injustice.

Now...just for a moment...imagine a global climate strike that targeted extractive oil and gas industries and all of their related businesses. Such a strike would, in very short order, shut down the world's economy. It would also very quickly get the attention of governments and politicians who talk a big show about climate warming and then subsidize and encourage big oil and powerful corporations to run the planet.

The Denmark example is instructive. It is a useful analogy that points up the kind of global solidarity we will certainly need if we are going to go up against intransigent corporatized governments and too-big-to-fail extractive industries. Perhaps we might also look for inspiration at the leadership role of Indigenous groups who are putting their bodies on the line to fight for climate justice. The Tsleil-Waututh Nation the Huaorani, Sápara, and Sarayaku Kichwa originary peoples of Ecuador and the Amazon, the indigenous peoples in the Arctic region, and Africa are all agents of change at the forefront of climate action and resilience. They have shown the world what solidarity means in the fight against climate warming.

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People has recognized that indigenous people possess crucial specific knowledge and engage in traditional practices that can help the world understand what it means to respect the earth and care for its natural resources. The point here is that we have plenty of examples that might show how climate action groups and justice movements can work together with unions and other worker groups to take strike action against key industries and businesses in a coordinated way around the planet. The power of the otherwise powerless lies in numbers, and the key to mobilizing climate action is to bring together the voices and agency of the many--climate action groups, social and economic justice groups, Indigenous groups, and labour groups. In short all of those who have been systemically shunned, ignored, or marginalized by the current extractive corporate cabal.

The denialists, skeptics, and those with vested interests will surely say mobilizing such worldwide strike action against fossil fuel industries is just not practical, feasible, or even possible. Perhaps twenty or thirty years ago they might have been right. I wager that this is no longer true today. The world is ready as never before for this kind of dramatic climate strike action. The results of a recent Peoples’ Climate Vote, the world’s biggest ever survey of public opinion on climate change are undeniable proof of this. As United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator Achim Steiner said: "The results of the survey clearly illustrate that urgent climate action has broad support amongst people around the globe, across nationalities, age, gender and education level. But more than that, the poll reveals how people want their policymakers to tackle the crisis. From climate-friendly farming to protecting nature and investing in a green recovery from COVID-19, the survey brings the voice of the people to the forefront of the climate debate. It signals ways in which countries can move forward with public support as we work together to tackle this enormous challenge."

In his critically important book A Good War: Mobilizing Canada for the Climate Emergency Seth Klein uses the analogy of war to emphasize that if the climate crisis we are now in is truly an emergency then we must be deal with it by taking the kind of drastic action such an existential threat demands. This would include huge investments and spending in social infrastructure and the development of a genuine green transition plan. Klein points out that presently politicians appear to accept the science of climate warming and are very adept at using the progressive rhetoric of green transition while remaining in complete denial when it comes to taking action or imposing radical measures to end the extraction of fossil fuels. Klein's thesis is that if the climate emergency is a really existing emergency then instead of indulging in a game of denial this country's governments should be mobilizing to fight the climate crisis just as we did when we fought against Hitler and fascism in the Second World War. He then goes on to detail what a war on climate warming might look like in governmental policy terms.

Klein is certainly right when he argues that a robust government commitment to structural change and a Green New Deal would create millions of good jobs that would greatly advance Canadian health and well-being--especially if these government initiatives were coupled with actions and policies oriented toward economic justice and indigenous rights.

But there is something missing here. Before governments mobilize the country for a war against climate warming, we need to follow the example of Denmark and our courageous Indigenous brothers and realize radical change through dramatic strike action. This means mobilizing all the people who work in every industry related to fossil fuels and organizing all those who deliver services and transport goods with the explicit end goal of stopping the capitalist machinery of big oil and corporate greed. It means that climate and social justice action groups must get together with unions and working people around the world in order to enable the kind of global strike action and solidarity that labour unions were once very good at.

We can and should continue to aggressively lobby governments to take action. We should hold climate action gatherings and engage in civil disobedience in various ways. But perhaps the first step in preparing for 'a war against' climate warming is to mobilize the climate activists and workers around the world to strike in solidarity for a more sustainable future--a future where it becomes immediately apparent that the only way we will radically transform our world is if we work together in common cause.

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