By Andrew Williams
The Occupy movement, which has spread from Wall Street across the developed world, with a dynamic presence in London, marks a new wave of radicalisation in response to the global financial crisis. Its combination of radical forms of protest and a hegemonic political approach – for the 99 per cent – is a positive contribution to the opposition to austerity.
Across North America and Europe, governments are carrying out policies that hit the living standards of the majority of people, in order to increase profits and bail out failing banks. This is meeting an inevitable rise in discontent, but also a political fight over how this disaffection is expressed.
Capital knows its attacks will be unpopular, and so seeks to weaken potential opposition by whipping up a reactionary response which will divide the majority of society against itself, rather than against capital and its political servants. Centrally this means whipping up racism and Islamophobia, but also bigotry and prejudice on immigration, travellers, benefit claimants, the unemployed and other minorities.
This type of reactionary response has gained weight within mainstream politics and spawned new right-wing movements such as the Tea Party in the US. In Europe and Britain, different types of militant extreme far-right organisations have developed that physically attack minorities and movements on the left and in some cases have made significant electoral inroads.
Despite some major struggles in Britain – like the student protests late last year, the TUC’s March protest this year, or the united strike against public sector pension cuts – at the political level a progressive response has so far been weaker and more restrained than the growth of reaction.
The arrival of the Occupy movement gives the progressive struggle its own radical wing. At Occupy’s core is opposition to the reactionary offensive; instead of division it promotes unity. In the words of Occupy London Stock Exchange’s initial statement ‘we are of all ethnicities, backgrounds, genders, generations, sexualities dis/abilities and faiths’.
Opinion polls, in the US and Britain indicate support for the aims of the Occupy movement is stronger than opposition. Millions recognise and reject a society where ‘99 per cent’ are suffering falls in living standards or quality of life while the ‘1 per cent’ are getting richer and richer. Facts speak for themselves; for example the top 1 per cent in Britain already took home 6 per cent of national income in 1979, and this rose to 14 per cent by 2007 (High Pay Commission 2011).
The Tories fully grasp the significance of this new opponent, hence why David Cameron and Boris Johnson are so eager to close down Occupy LSX and drive it off the streets. The violent eviction of Occupy Wall Street in New York indicates how capitalism wants to crush this new radicalism.
The Occupy movement takes its stand with the majority of humanity against the oppressors, the super-rich and their political henchmen, and deserves whole-hearted support.