‘Not acceptable’: Youth climate strikers hit back at Edinburgh Council proposal to permit school strikes to one per year

Ben Wray

Council passed emergency motions in March and May permitting school participation in global youth climate strikes

  • Friday Edinburgh Council Education Committee meeting will vote on Council motion proposing to permit one day of school students climate action per year
  • A Global Youth Climate Strike will take place on 20 September, with Scottish Youth Climate Strike notifying Edinburgh Council of plans for a demonstration in the capital that day
  • The Friday meeting comes after the publication of a Council document which found that there was no legal basis for permitting school students to be absent, and that “there are other, more productive ways to demonstrate support for climate change”
  • Council Education committee convener defended the one day per year proposal: “There needs to be a balance and if we allow them more than one day, the issue will be they are missing school.”
  • School Youth Climate Striker Dylan Hamilton: “Allowing us to protest once a year is simply not acceptable and will not let us get across how serious this is to the people in power.”

SCHOOL climate strikers have opposed proposals by City of Edinburgh Council to permit school strikes to just once a year, ahead of a major global climate strike planned for 20 September. 

The proposals will be decided on at a Council Education Committee meeting on Friday [16 August], with the Council, an SNP-Labour coalition, planning to table a motion permitting school climate strikers to “a single day of action per year”.

The Scottish Greens have submitted a motion for the Friday meeting stating that the Council should allow school students to take part in the 20 September Global climate strike, set to be the biggest yet. Tory Councillors are set to put forward a motion opposing any school absence for the purpose of joining a youth climate strike.

The ‘Fridays for Future’ movement inspired by Swedish school student Greta Thunberg has held two days of actions this year which have been numbered in the millions, with school students joining protests in thousands of locations worldwide. 

Thunberg and other movement leaders have called for workers to join the 20 September action to make it a “Global General Strike’ for climate action.

READ MORE: Scottish trade union prevented from joining global youth climate strike due to ‘draconian anti-union laws’

Dylan Hamilton, age 15, an organiser with Scottish Youth Climate Strike, which has notified Edinburgh Council of plans for the 20 September action, said it was “not acceptable” that the Council was seeking to limit youth climate strikes to one a year.

Hamilton stated: “The climate crisis is the biggest threat to humanity, with the group most affected being the children. We are the ones who will be impacted the most, and all we want is a seat at the table with effective climate targets being decided. 

“Allowing us to protest once a year is simply not acceptable and will not let us get across how serious this is to the people in power. Instead of marking us as truants, we should be praised and given help to catch up for adhering to values our schools promote such as celebrating citizenship and being an effective contributor.”

“Our classic educations, such as preparation for exams, may suffer because of the strikes. However, by striking we learn politics, organisation, science, independence and more about society than we’ve ever been taught. To say we are harming our education is untruthful.”

“Furthermore, punishing pupils for attending the climate strikes is a violation of our human right to freedom of expression. We urge Edinburgh Council to take back this proposal and instead focus on fixing the climate crisis, so we don’t feel the need to protest instead of going to school.”

CS FORUM 29 AUGUST: A Green New Deal for Scotland, with Richard Murphy

The Friday meeting is to be informed by a report by Council officials published on the Council website on how to handle the youth climate strikes. The Council passed emergency motions in March and May permitting the school strikes.

The report says that this decision was “not universally popular” and that “some Headteachers commented that the decision devalued the hard work they had undertaken in working with parents who did not value good attendance at school”.

“On closer examination of the legal position and the newly published national guidance, the authority position is that children must be encouraged to attend school and that children should be supported to express their views in ways that will support, not diminish their attendance and attainment,” the report states.

The report goes on: “The theme of the strike was powerful and emotive but should not be the overriding issue in determining whether children are encouraged to be present at school. There are other, more productive ways to demonstrate support for climate change…The most appropriate way to tackle climate change is to use Rights Based learning either at school or coordinated across the city and mechanisms are in place to support this.”

READ MORE: ‘We need to stand up’: The Scottish kids taking part in historic global school strikes

Ahead of the meeting, the Education committee convener, Labour Cllr Ian Perry, defended the plans to permit school strike action once a year.

He told the Edinburgh Evening News: “Having discussed this with a number of people, there’s a consensus we should support the young people with climate change – this is one of the most important issues that’s facing them. However, there needs to be a balance and if we allow them more than one day, the issue will be they are missing school.

“We are confident that one day won’t affect their education. This is an authorised day. If they feel really strongly about it and they strike and say that climate change is more important than their education, that is up to the pupils and their parents and could have the potential to harm their education.”

CommonSpace reported on Tuesday that Unison Scotland, one of Scotland’s biggest trade unions, is planning a day of action on 20 September in support of the youth climate strikes. Unison Scotland’s deputy convener Stephen Smellie said they were prevented from taking industrial action in soidarity due to the UK’s “draconian anti-union laws”.

Picture courtesy of Magnus Hagdorn

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