The question isn’t what happens if you let your employees join the global climate strike on 20th September, it’s what happens if you don’t.

Climate crisis poster by David Solnit

“…this is our invitation. Starting on Friday 20 September we will kickstart a week of climate action with a worldwide strike for the climate. We’re asking adults to step up alongside us. There are many different plans under way in different parts of the world for adults to join together and step up and out of your comfort zone for our climate. Let’s all join together, with your neighbours, co-workers, friends, family and go out on to the streets to make your voices heard and make this a turning point in our history.”

That’s part of the letter Greta Thunberg and many other young people published in the Guardian.

It’s a big deal.

For a minute, just imagine what the 20th September will be like.

Young people will be out on the streets in huge numbers. In March, 1.5 million were out. In September there will be many, many more.  

Unions will be joining them. In the UK, the University and Colleges Union agreed to “support and promote calls for a general strike for action on climate change”. They will be calling on the TUC to do the same. The Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU) has unanimously passed a similar motion to endorse a general strike. 

In Australia, the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) and the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) are joining in.

What will business be doing?

Business leaders, individual men and women will have a choice to make. The options are limited, which should make the decision easier.

Is it a hard decision for business leaders?

Should a leader let employees strike? That feels like a pretty straight forward question. It’s a simple weighing up of costs and benefits surely?

But this isn’t just any cause, these aren’t stable times. Business is fast recognising its responsibilities and the lack of political leadership. Employees, customers, partners, family members want the worst of the climate crisis averted.

The context isn’t one of political stability and steadily growing markets.

Carl Gustav Jacob Jacobi may well hold the key. ‘Invert, always invert’ is the German mathematicians famous quote, which has since been taken up by the investor community. Most notably Charlie Munger, Warren Buffets partner.

In this instance, the more interesting and useful question isn’t what happens if we let our employees strike, it’s what happens if we don’t?

Here’s what will happen.

The leaders who stood up to make their voice heard on climate change will now be counted. The media will be asking business leaders and PR departments challenging questions. The FT has already started.

Employees, customers, shareholders, governments and family members will see how many of their leaders, their friends, their fathers and mothers, husbands and wives, uncles and aunts have since quietly sat back down. These people will have preserved a small amount of profit at the cost of their reputation, self-esteem and social standing.

They will also see the courage of those that haven’t been in the spotlight. Department managers and business unit directors who decide this is too important to ignore. These people will have earned respect and commitment that will undoubtedly deliver better business results over time as people believe more in them and their leadership. 

This is a big deal. What leaders in companies decide to do about the 20th September will be very interesting indeed. 

By David Willans, Director, Skating Panda