Global climate strike: Employees' views
Rachel Muller-Heyndyk, September 23, 2019
HR magazine joined the global climate strike in London to ask workers why they were taking to the streets and how their organisations had reacted
An estimated 100,000 schoolchildren, parents and workers took part in co-ordinated strikes in the UK last week (20 September), with millions of others around the world doing the same. While some employees came from organisations that fully supported striking, others found themselves threatened with disciplinary action.
We spoke to strikers in Westminster about the roles of employees and employers in fighting climate change.
Caroline Watson, programme director for transport and urban planning, Climate Action
"We have known for 30 years that climate change is a problem, and no-one is really doing anything about it. It’s really important to come out on these streets and support young people, who are incredibly concerned about climate change, and show that the adults need to be acting, because it shouldn’t just be their [young people's] responsibility. I’m here in solidarity but also to give a message to our politicians that this is a huge priority.
"I am lucky enough to come from an organisation where we were all encouraged to come out on strike, but friends I have spoken to have said they can’t because they’ll have to take annual leave. I think there is a desire from people who want to come, but they don’t want to miss work. I find that really sad, because they should be encouraged to come. Especially for the public sector, which is declaring a climate emergency – if that's the case it should be encouraging its staff to come out."
Adam Howard, publicity and marketing manager, Scribe
"My employer is very supportive of us. We received an email suggesting that we go on strike before any of us suggested it. We’ve been tweeting from our work account that we’re here, and we think it’s important to be here. I have friends who work in public services whose employers haven’t said either way, but because they are being paid with public money they didn’t feel they would be able to come out.
"I’ve also got friends who are freelance and don’t feel they are able to take a day off. I think a general strike is one of the most effective forms of direct action that we have, and a mass strike that has an effect on our economy will be what will make politicians take notice. I think the Green New Deal and its potential to create new jobs is really exciting, but that won’t happen with our current government in place."
"Unfortunately I have had to call in sick today to join the strike. It's not something I'd ever usually do, but after we received an email explicitly telling us that we should not take part in the climate strike I felt it was important to stand up to this. I understand that not everyone is going to be able to just leave work, and some businesses might find it hard to cope without the extra support, but I don't think there's any excuse to threaten employees who understand the importance of showing up and telling our politicians that we're running out of time to save our planet.
"There's probably room for a bit of discretion on this. It's time for everyone – government and businesses – to face up to the reality of the destruction of our planet, and employers can definitely get behind this."
Adam McGibbon, senior campaigner, Global Witness
"A group of employees found out about the climate strikes, and we got together and wrote a joint letter to our management team to tell them that we wanted to take part and asked them how we could do this. It’s about sticking to our values as an organisation but also it’s about giving courage to other people to do it. We’re very lucky to work in an organisation that allows people to take part, but we know that’s not the case for everyone. I think the speed at which things are happening requires all of us to do something. There are thousands of businesses across the world, from very small ones to very large businesses like Lush and Patagonia, who have closed their doors today. It just requires a bit of courage."
Poppy Ward, playwright, Writers' Guild of Great Britain
"I’m a playwright. I’m mainly on strike today having seen so much enthusiasm from young people around the climate strike... My stepdaughter’s school didn’t allow her to go on strike today. They said they’d give her detention if she went, which I think is terrible. So I’m here not just for me, but for young people who have no voice politically, who can’t vote and come out and march. I’m here for them. I’m also here with my union, the Writers’ Guild, and I’m extremely proud to be part of a union that supports the climate strike."
Lina Langbeck, union member, Writers' Guild of Great Britain
"This is one of the most important issues of our time. It’s something that employers and unions should get behind. As writers and creatives we have a particular responsibility to shape stories, and we can help to shift the narrative on climate change. We obviously can’t demand that people come out on the streets, because that would require a ballot, but it would be great to see a general strike with everyone coming together."