Why Extinction Rebellion is supporting striking workers

Why we are supporting striking workers and how you can get involved.

Picket line outside London underground station with RMT, XR and Unite flags
XR Trade Unions solidarity with strikers

XR is increasingly visibly supporting workers on trade union strike action as we try to build the critical mass needed for sufficient radical climate action

If, as Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary General, said recently, “…fossil fuel producers and financiers have humanity by the throat”, they have the workers in the industry in an even tighter grip. Across many sectors, and different trade unions, the workers are starting to push for just transition pathways, which deliver sufficient climate action but also safeguard or create green jobs.

However, in Scotland, so far, they have only been met with tinkering around the edges and business-as-usual.

Imagine if your, and your family’s wellbeing was dependent on you going out to work at the local refinery because there was no alternative employment. How would that make you feel? When many of the workers are getting paid near minimum wage, whilst the fossil fuel companies continue to make obscene profits at everyone’s expense, this is clearly a climate-related social justice issue. 

So, for the climate justice movement, showing our solidarity with workers in dispute is starting to feel like a natural evolution as we all have a common need – radical system change! We collaborated successfully in Glasgow through the COP26 Coalition, and now we increasingly see the trade unions promoting the common solution that is beyond politics – assemblies! 

Remember when the home secretary called the thousands of people who make up XR UK ‘organised criminals’?  Well now the government is trying to criminalise striking workers too.  By voting to allow agency workers to cover for striking staff the UK Government has undermined legal strike action. In the same vein, over the last two years the British Government has sought to undermine the right to protest in the UK by using the PCSC Act and the forthcoming Public Order Bill to place conditions on protests in order to render them ineffective. 

Extinction Rebellion and striking workers are both regularly accused by the media of ‘stopping ordinary people getting to work’, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that the public support is far greater than the media coverage might lead us to believe. Pollsters have found that the public now say they support RMT strikes. Recent climate polling by Ipsos also found that 8 out of 10 people in the UK are concerned about the climate crisis and over 50 percent think government plans are inadequate. 

The fight for fairness

Historically, industry workers and the climate movement have been cast as opponents in an apparent battle over secure jobs vs. emissions reductions. But this does not have to be the case. Ultimately, the ‘cost of living crisis’ and the ‘climate crisis’ have the same root-causes and this is increasingly widely understood. This is about lives, livelihoods, health, wellbeing and fairness. If we see our cause as the fight for a future with fairness and care for everyone’s interests at its heart then it is clear that we are on the same side. 

Support on the ground and at the picket

XR Trade Unionists (XRTU) formed in Spring 2022 to further the collaboration and mutual support. With strike action happening across the UK, so how can XR Scotland best support the workers? There may be a number of scenarios where we can get involved, some perhaps to make national headlines, others to contribute to Project 3.5 and critical mass building.

Solidarity upon request from the trade union

You can visibly support strike action at large fossil fuel or energy-related sites where the trade union has specifically asked for XR support, maybe through XRTU. This has already occurred a number of times in England. It has also been requested a couple of times in Scotland although actions were, in the end, postponed. Opportunities to get involved will be highlighted in the usual channels.

Getting in touch with your local picket line

You can demonstrate solidarity by looking at Strike Map and going along to support your local picket line (initially, with no XR banners, flyers, etc.).

We recommend that you go with no XR banners, flags or leaflets on your first visit. Once you have built-up a relationship, ask the picket organisers if they would like a more visible XR show of solidarity. It’s important that you seek permission in case an XR presence causes issues for the cause of strikers.

Strike actions are going to become increasingly widespread, and accessible for local XRS local groups.  When strikers realise the common ground, you may get more rebel recruits to boost your local group and Project 3.5!  As weeks go by, and the disputes progress, the strikers may invite more full visible XR support, right down to the beautiful samba beat!

If the idea of just joining a picket line seems a bit daunting, check these very useful resources out.

Common Weal – Make-ready, show up

RS21 – How to visit a picket line

The key takeway

The key message is, as long as any support doesn’t dilute or divert from the key issues of the dispute, most strikers will be delighted by any show of support. Turn up in listening mode – their bosses and the government aren’t hearing. Turn up with a wee bite to eat too, and you’ll maybe even make friends and rebels for life!

Further information

XR Trade Unionist updates and contact details

XR Trade Unionists on Twitter

Produced by the XR Scotland Political Engagement Circle. You can contact the Political Engagement Circle on xrscotland@gmail.com.