By Jane West
The US ‘Occupy Wall St’ protest – which itself marks the emergence of the first signs of a radicalisation in the US in response to the global economic crisis – inspired a global ‘Day of Rage’ last weekend (15th/16th October) focused on the world’s stock markets and financial systems, which saw protests in most of the advanced capitalist countries.
The Occupy Wall St protest itself began on 17th September under the slogan of ‘We are the 99 per cent’ – referring to the disparity between the 1 per cent that own 40 per cent of the wealth in America and the 99 per cent that share the rest.
In New York, where the movement started, more than 20,000 marched from the financial district to Times Square in the largest demonstration organised by the Occupy movement in the US so far. However, even more striking than the size of the protests, is the scale of popular support for the movement. This can be seen in the response to its daily collections and appeals for supplies. Occupy Wall Street organisers have collected $230,000, about half of which has come from the daily bucket collections in Zucotti Park. It has also a warehouse full of donated supplies, including peanut butter, boxes of cereal, tampons, soap, batteries, energy bars and other supplies, including sweatshirts and blankets to take the campaign through the winter.
A US poll found two-thirds of registered New York City voters agreed with the views of the protest, and a poll by Time Magazine found public support for the protest movement is running higher than that for the Tea Party movement. In this light it is not surprising that Barack Obama, with a presidential election next year, has expressed open support for the concerns of the movement. Even Republican politicians have had to soften their rhetoric against the movement. House Republican Majority Leader, Eric Cantor, denounced the protests as a ‘growing mob’ two weeks ago. Now he tells Fox News ‘there is too much income disparity’, that the top 1 per cent should create jobs and opportunity, and he plans a major speech on this theme. Of course his real concern was elaborated by a spokesman who explained that Cantor will talk about on how Washington can assist ‘a single working mom…a small business owner…and how we make sure the people at the top stay there.
While it is correctly pointed out that the movement has lacked clear demands, the fact that it emerged to attack gross unfairness and inequality and focused its wrath on Wall St and corporate America shows its character. Its emergence both represents a progressive dynamic in response to the crisis, and has a wider and deeper progressive impact.
The continuing progressive development of the movement was shown this week when it began to debate adopting a demand that the movement should officially call for a massive public works programme, paid for by ending America’s overseas military operations – a demand that is correct in both its domestic and international aspects.
A movement constructed around such a demand would not only be objectively but also subjectively posing a progressive response to the crisis.
The October 15th Day of Rage global protests saw the largest events in North America, Europe and Japan. But there were also were smaller protests elsewhere in East Asia, in Sydney, in Mexico and Latin America. 25,000 protested against education cuts in Chile where a mass movement led by 23-year-old student Camila Vallejo has been shifting Chilean politics in a similar direction to that seen in the rest of Latin America over the last decade.
The protests were most extensive in Europe, particularly in Italy and Spain. In Rome, police estimated that as many as 200,000 took part in the demonstration on 15th October. The Rome demonstration was also the most militant, ending in violent confrontations between demonstrators and police. The scale of the mobilisation and its anger is an indication of the severity of the situation confronting the Italian economy and a deepening radicalisation of the population in the face of the likely consequences.
Over the summer it became clear that Italy’s debt crisis looked likely to equal Greece in severity. Italy’s economy has been slowing for three decades. The population has been protected from some of the worst effects of this by high government borrowing, leading to a high debt to GDP ratio – currently at about 120 per cent of GDP. This has become less manageable as the credit crunch and Eurozone crisis have made investors risk-shy, pushing up the yearly return on some Italian government bonds to close to 6 per cent, increasing the dangers of default.
As with other governments across Europe, the only response from the weak and right-wing Berlusconi government has been to announce an austerity programme.
With the image of where this could lead, in the chaotically rising unemployment, salary reductions, welfare cuts and privatisations in Greece, it is not surprising that the protests in Rome were the largest in Europe.
The protests were also very large in Spain, including 60,000 in Madrid, 20,000 in Seville and 25,000 in Barcelona. Behind this lies the stagnation of Spain’s economy with 21 per cent unemployment – a record 4.9m out of work. These figures had triggered a number of trade union demonstrations, but the initiative was taken by the youth in May this year. Inspired by the Arab Spring, the ‘indignados’ occupied Madrid’s Puerta del Sol Square for several weeks. After a lull over the summer, 15th October seems to mark a new wave of militancy in Spain. With Zapatero’s embattled government pursuing austerity policies, as opposed to raising investment to restore growth, the Socialist Party’s standing is being weakened ahead of the elections taking place next month (November). Support for the centre-right opposition Popular Party is strengthening, aided by the political framework set by Zapatero.
Turnout was also high in Portugal, where 20,000 marched in Lisbon, with a similar number reported in Oporto. Unions are now calling for further demonstrations and a General Strike in Portugal, where the government has both forecast the economy will contract more than previously estimated next year and announced the implementation of even sharper spending cuts. The Finance Ministry has estimated GDP will shrink 2.8 per cent next year, following a contraction of 1.95 per cent this year and that the unemployment rate will reach 13.4 per cent in 2012. In response, on Monday 17th October, the government unveiled harsh new austerity measures, which it wrongly claims are necessary to keep to its bail-out terms and avoid the fate of Greece. The measures announced include further tax increases, cutting the equivalent of two months salary, in 2012 and 2013, for public workers and pensioners earning above €1,000 a month and increasing the legal working week by half-an-hour without additional pay. These proposals follow previous cuts in health and education, sharp fare rises in public transport, fuel tax increases and a temporary income tax increase in 2011.
Protests in other parts of Europe were generally smaller, but included events in cities including Athens, Frankfurt, Berlin, Vienna, Madrid, Zurich and Paris.
In London an estimated 5,000 took part in the protest under the rubric #OccupyLSX. After the police closed Paternoster Square and prevented the demonstration gaining access, it moved to the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral. Several hundred participants decided to stay on and set up an on-going camp on the model of the Wall St protest.
The development of the Occupy/We are the 99 per cent movement world-wide marks the emergence of new progressive response to the ‘Great Recession’ and the austerity measures that governments are imposing in the imperialist countries, and especially the US itself.
Here as in the US, we are part of the 99 per cent. And David Cameron, George Osborne, Boris Johnson, Philip Hammond and their cronies are not just for the 1 per cent, they are the 1 per cent.