By Andrew Williams
Occupy London Stock Exchange (Occupy LSX), in just three weeks, has demonstrated it is an effective dynamic new movement, driving forward a progressive campaign opposing the current assault on the population’s living standards.
Several hundred people are participating and have set up tents for a continuous vigil at the heart of Britain’s principal financial centre. They are taking inspiration from the global movement that has been occupying public spaces in over 900 cities since the Wall Street protest started seven weeks ago.
By focusing attention on capitalism’s role in the austerity offensive the Occupy LSX protest is succeeding in placing issues of economic injustice on the national political agenda.
The developed economies of North America and Europe are largely stagnant, not making any significant recovery from the Great Recession that started in 2008. This is because at present capitalists are unwilling to expand production, so are continuing to restrain their investment. At the same time they are determined to extract greater profits. Hence both the continuing crisis in the developed economies and the huge attacks taking place on their populations’ living standards.
So the capitalists will not contribute towards increasing the size of the economic cake, but insist on taking a larger slice. To reduce the slice that goes to the majority of the population an arsenal of economic attacks has been unleashed. These include: inflation, wage and pension cuts, plus the slashing of public services and the welfare state.
The new Occupy movements are challenging this economic offensive. Using the slogan ‘we are the 99 per cent’, attention is focussed on how huge resources are being transferring from the overwhelming majority to the very few. It is a hegemonic framework that seeks to unite the bottom and middle layers of society.
Capitalism’s economic offensive is being accompanied by an intense reactionary ideological campaign. In Britain the Tories desperately want the population not to conclude that it is government policy causing the deteriorating situation, so are determinedly whipping up hostility against Muslims, migrants and travellers. Also Labour is being pressed from within, by those such as ‘Blue Labour’, to make further concessions to racism on the issue of immigration.
The climate of racism that has been whipped up has led to the formation of the English Defence League, who regularly and violently take to the streets, targeting the Muslim community and others.
Occupy LSX has adopted an uncompromisingly progressive political framework. Its initial statement says that ‘we want structural change towards authentic global equality. The world’s resources must go towards caring for people and the planet, not the military, corporate profits or the rich’. It makes clear that ‘we do not accept the cuts as either necessary or inevitable’ and that the movement is allying itself with both the trade unions and students mobilising against the cuts.
Decisions at the Occupy London sites, next to the Stock Exchange and in the banking district at Finsbury Square, are made collectively on a consensual basis, through open general assemblies and a series of working groups to maximise participation
Unsurprisingly, from the first day of their protest, the City of London Corporation has worked to expel them from the City’s Square Mile. It totally opposes an anti-capitalist encampment in their exclusive capitalist enclave, where even the writ of universal suffrage still holds no sway.
London’s Tory Mayor backs the City and has insisted the protestors should leave. Also a hostile Tory media opposes the encampment, wildly claiming that protestors do not stay overnight in the tents.
Initially the Anglican Church went along with the City’s demand for expulsion, closing the Cathedral on spurious health and safety grounds. The Church however was divided on the issue of expulsion.
The Occupy LSX movement held firm and continued pressing for the right to protest for social justice. Following some high profile resignations within St Paul’s, the Church’s position collapsed, it relented and agreed the tents can stay. The City Corporation then temporarily put to one side its legal action to evict the protestors, as it has lost the political cover provided by the Church.
Opinion polls indicate the protestors’ message has widespread support, but not their new form of protest. ICM asked (21-23 October) about the ‘protests against capitalism and the financial system around the world’: 52 per cent agreed with the statement ‘the protesters are right to want to call time on a system that puts profit before people’ as opposed to 38 per cent agreeing that ‘the protesters are naive; there is no practical alternative to capitalism – the point is to get it moving again’.
Also when YouGov (27-28 October) asked ‘do you support or oppose the aims of the protesters?’: 39 per cent supported with 26 per cent against.
The form of the protest is less popular, YouGov (27-28 October) reports 47 per cent support legal action to remove the protestors from outside St Pauls with 39 per cent against.
Overall opinion about protest, without any reference to its aims, is similarly less supportive so YouGov (3-4 November) asking ‘do you support or oppose the Occupy London protest outside St Paul’s Cathedral?’ found 20 per cent support and 46 per cent oppose.
The polls suggest the most propitious terrain for the protestors to engage with mass opinion is around their core political message. This needs to be the cutting edge of their profile. Their opponents, on the other hand, will want to make the form of protest the central issue.
So Occupy LSX has been organising a number of campaigning events, including rallies on the steps of St Pauls, a demonstration and a direct action about the banks. The movement also joined up with the 9 November student demonstration and plans to support the 30 November trade union Day of Action.
The movement is having a noticable influence on mainstream political discussion. The Financial Times has even remarked that Cameron’s rhetoric has been forced to the left. However, the Tory party is not sitting idly by whilst Occupy LSX points to the government’s attacks on the majority’s living standards. Cameron is specifically attacking the form of protest taking place, as no doubt he is aware of public opinion.
Ed Miliband, on the other hand, has sympathetically endorsed the protestors concerns and identifies with the breath of constituency (99 per cent) they are defending. To the extent the Labour Partly promotes a similarly hegemonic approach it can only improve its own electoral standing.
Capitalism’s restraint of economic growth in Europe has led to the current sovereign debt crisis. It should be noted that it is the demands of the capitalist markets, not the of the electorates, over this last week, forcing the prime ministers of Greece and Italy to agree to resign. Capitalism wants new governments that will pursue even more draconian attacks on those populations.
In Britain both the capitalists and the Tory-led government have cut their investment, causing the economy to stagnate. What was slow growth at the time of Labour’s last year in office has now been almost eliminated. The Office of National Statistics reports that growth was only 0.5 per cent (in the year to 30 September), down from just 2.6 per cent in the preceding year.
The way that Occupy LSX and the wider Occupy movements are taking up these issues helps bolster all those who stand with the 99 per cent. Their activities should be followed and supported.
The Occupy LSX website is here and it is on twitter at @OccupyLSX