Strikes and solidarity

fraser jf stewart
4 min readJan 6, 2023

This winter, soaring energy bills driven by fossil fuels prices have plunged millions into fuel and wider poverty. The cost-of-living crisis has squeezed even those who thought they were comfortable until recently.

Alongside this, public services such as health, social care and transport have been starved under a decade or more of austerity politics that has left us without any kind of social safety net of which to speak.

Meanwhile, shareholders and fossil fuel giants are making more money than they ever have before.

Against this backdrop, it is maybe unsurprising that so many workers are heading out on strike to demand better (or just enough to deal with exorbitant rises in cost-of-living in many cases). From the rail workers to nurses to teachers and others, strike action is happening today on a scale that we haven’t seen in some time.

It may also be unsurprising, in light of this, that the current Conservative government is doing all it can to quell people’s right to strike. With the UK as it is, in social and economic disarray and without any sign of compassionate leadership, industrial action is growing exponentially. Moves to suppress rights to strike, then, are an attempt to govern cynically and without consequence — to remove one of the key democratic levers of power that the workers still have in favour of exploitation and private profit.

Conversations have turned frustratingly often to whether it is “right” for nurses or rail workers to go on strike. I would argue that it is not only right but essential — people deserve to be supported and to have work that allows them to live comfortably on a full-time wage, and these are crucial sectors to the economy. They deserve to be rewarded appropriately and are justified in using the power they (currently) have to do so.

What we often miss in these conversations, however, are deeper implications of the strikes — particularly for people and sectors who think it’s none of their business.

One of these deeper implications, which may not seem completely obvious at first (and may not be at the top of the list for reasons workers are out), is climate. These strikes, their causes, their impacts and their resolution are unequivocally a climate issue. People who care about climate across the spectrum have a duty to get behind them.

None of this is to say that we shouldn’t support striking workers for those more obvious reasons, of course. People deserve fair pay for fair work and a decent quality of life as a result of that as a baseline. Support the strikes for that alone and full solidarity to the striking workers, always.

But for middle classes and climate people and everyone concerned with having a fairer and greener society, people who maybe don’t immediately see the current strikes as “their fight” or think this is a bit controversial for them to get involved with, this is a crucial moment that we absolutely have to get behind.

This is for a couple of reasons. First and maybe most practically, the sectors currently on strike are crucial to tackling the climate emergency and its associated impacts. A good, well-staffed, expansive public transport network is critical to reducing emissions and encouraging people to leave the car at home. It is also critical to connecting those millions of diverse, lower-income and working class communities who rely more on public transport than anyone else.

Likewise, especially as people suffer problems due to unaffordable energy bills leading to poor living conditions, health and social care are the backbone of looking after people on the margins of (and right across) society.

But beyond this, there is something even more fundamental about the current strikes and the rights of workers to do so that make them such an important issue for people concerned about climate to get behind.

Strikes are a direct challenge to exactly the same things that are driving the climate crisis — and the energy, cost-of-living and inequality crises for that matter. The greed of shareholders. An economic system that demands the exploitation of people and planet for the sake of profit for the very few. A government obsession with “growth” and capitalism that perpetually excludes those already at the sharp end of inequality and injustice the world over.

The climate crisis is not just a crisis of emissions. It isn’t simply a matter of finding new grants for heat pumps or interest free loans for energy efficiency.

It’s a crisis of social justice that is intrinsically tied to worker’s rights and women’s rights and racial justice and classism and poverty and inequality and every intersection in between, in every single corner of the planet.

This is why getting off the fence to support strikes — and fiercely protecting the right to strike — is so critical to both social justice and the fight against the climate crisis, even if it feels a bit controversial or inconvenient to you.

Because using our rights and voices to demand better is crucial to challenging the systems of government, economy and addiction to profit that underpin all of the major crises we face today.

Because holding leaders, politicians and profit-makers to account means building solidarity across all groups and people who rightly believe that things simply are not working in the interests of all of us.

Because climate and social justice are very much two edges of the same sword.

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fraser jf stewart

Very cool & handsome applied researcher, making clean energy work against poverty and inequality. Believer in big ideas. Scheme bairn at heart.