Image of people in a crowd. One holds a placard saying "Climate crisis = health crisis" another says "People Planet over Profit"

Unions Lead March for Climate Justice

As world leaders continue to sit at COP26 in Glasgow, thousands marched through Bristol today in a global day of action for climate justice. 

Today (Nov 6) was Bristol’s largest protest since last summer, with the high turnout largely due to the heavy presence of unions, with Unite, Unison, the NEU and UCU, the civil service union PCS and health unions all represented. Many activist and community groups were also present. 

Huw Williams, of organising group Bristol COP26 Coalition, said: ‘COP26 actually is not delivering what we need in this world, both domestically and internationally, and we think actually [the] interests of big business is what predominates at COP26, like they’ve done in the previous 25 COPs.’

Huw said this is the ‘first time we’ve had a big buy-in from the unions, and that’s a major step forward.’

The day began at 12pm with a rally on College Green. Coalition members had stalls in gazebos around the edge of the Green, which created a festival feel. 

From 12.15 there were speeches as the crowd gradually swelled to fill the Green. 

With COP26 largely considered a failure already, speakers used their platform to criticise the lack of meaningful action from the UK government, and governments around the world to tackle the climate crisis. 

Eve Miller from Medact, a network of health workers challenging inequalities, spoke of the connections between the climate crisis and health, saying: ‘The climate crisis is the greatest threat to human health in the 21st Century.’

A woman stands on stage and speaks through a microphone. She is wearing medical scrubs.
Eve Miller of Medact speaking on stage. Image: James Ward.

Next, deputy Mayor Asher Craig advocated for a green new deal, and of the opportunities such a programme would present. 

She said: ‘Let’s have an army of highly-skilled, highly-paid retrofitters retrofitting homes.

‘Let’s train people up to install zero-carbon heat pumps and solar panels across the UK. Let’s train specialists in our natural environment and embark on rewilding programmes.’ 

Green councillor Lily Fitgibbon called out the hypocrisy of the government for its continued support of Cambo Oil Field, and of Bristol’s own administration for supporting Bristol Airport expansion. 

She said: ‘until our leaders are listening and worthy of our faith in them, we won’t see change.’

At 1pm the crowd slowly moved off the Green and the march began. Heading along St Augustine’s Parade, Bond Street, up Union Street to Castle Park before returning to College Green via Baldwin Street. 

The size of the march was meant that the whole column took almost 20 minutes to pass through a point. The front had reached College Green whilst the back was still around Bristol Bridge.

The march was colourful thanks to the many union banners, as well as many imaginative placards by demonstrators. Other banners spotted in the crowd included those of XR Bristol, Bristol Airport Action Network, West Bristol Climate Action, the Bristol Labour Party, and the Bristol Green Party. Music was provided by a samba band and a brass band. 

Banner reads "Code Red for Humanity" with a line of skulls below.
XR represented in the march. Image: James Ward.
A giant red balloon with Unite the union's logo on the side.
Unite union leading the march with a giant red balloon. Image: James Ward.
4 women walk with a banner that reads "Parents 4 Climate Action".
Many diverse groups were represented in today’s crowd, including Parents 4 Climate Action. Image: James Ward.

Bristol’s was one of 250 such demonstrations happening across the globe today as global leaders continue to meet in Glasgow for COP26. 

Huw Williams spoke of his desire for today to act as a ‘staging post’ for future organisation between unions and other activist and community groups to continue fighting for change.

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