With six weeks of sustained and creative criticism of the failings of capitalism behind it, Occupy London has persistently promoted peaceful, positive and powerful solutions to the current economic crisis. It has led the political agenda from the start largely because the 99% have identified it as representing their relationship with the powers that be. The UK’s parliamentary system is supposed to provide ventilation for that, via the Official Opposition. However, the Labour Party appears mostly moribund. It leads no social movement any more. The Occupy movement has sprung up in its place. Last week, Edinburgh City Council formally endorsed its local Occupation. At the last count, there are 29 Occupation encampments in the UK and 2,669 worldwide. This global movement is formed of and led by people not the ostensibly powerful institutions. No wonder the established politicians, the high representatives of predatory capitalism and the vested interests spend so much time abusing our good intent.
Much of the criticism has been nothing more than pure abuse. Drinking coffee, using telephones and being more computer literate than those who claim to govern us do not amount to critical flaws in the movement. Our lifestyles are irrelevant too, because we are drawn from every walk of life. We make no pretence to have a fully formulated solution to the crises of capitalism. Neither does anyone else! What we are doing is physically reclaiming space and working out what to do to save our communities from the predatory corporations. This will take some time. We will get there. In the meantime, we have done more to raise the consciousness of the population than any political movement in my lifetime. This is no mean achievement. Protest politics has been alive and well in the UK for decades, thanks to our liberal democracy. Now though, certain phrases are on everyone’s lips: “the 99%” being chief among them.
The immediate battle for public opinion begins properly on Wednesday. The biggest UK General Strike in several generations battles for hearts and minds. The issue is society’s relationship with its public sector workers. If the public sector workers do not obtain the support of the vast majority of the population, the 1% will probably defeat the present movement.
This particular battle is crucial to the movement because it typifies the values that the movement stands for. The Occupy movement has been clear about its aims across the planet: we want to use our resources, skills and knowledge for the benefit of everyone. This means that we want properly organised and maintained public services, with well motivated staff, using the advantages of massive economies of scale. We do not want to abolish all forms of government. Having some anarchists in our ranks does not make us an anarchist movement, much the same as myself and others being Green Party activists does not make the movement a vehicle for purely Green Party politics. It is bigger than all of that. Right from the start, the Occupationists have allied themselves to trades unions with the clear goal of protecting public services, which benefit all of us. We recognise that our NHS obtains leverage in the world’s pharmaceutical markets because of its sheer scale. The thieving Tory bastards’ privatisation plans aim to break up that power, much as Major’s administration did with the Railways. The choice is between a society which favours predatory corporations riding or falling on the whim of consumer trends or one which citizens control by democratic means. This struggle is at the heart of Wednesday’s general strike, which revolves around whether the government is right to steal pension money from public sector workers to solve a crisis caused by corporate bankers. The outcome of that grand battle is too early to call.
On a smaller front Occupy London has redefined politics in the capital in a manner unimaginable only a year ago. It has completely exposed the City of London Corporation for the secretive and anti-democratic beast that it is. It is now inconceivable that its medieval system of governance will continue. This isn’t wishful thinking on the part of the idealist me. Plans are afoot to kill the monster. Across the country, people have long been effectively disenfranchised by living in parliamentary constituencies where their votes counted for nothing because of the ludicrous first past the post system we used to count up their electoral preferences. In the City of London (the square mile inside the rest of London) corporations get more votes than human beings. Occupy London’s encampment was in situ on the crucial date for the registration of electors. The simple truth is that far more people passed through our camp on that date and are entitled to register as being homeless voters in the square mile than there are corporate votes registered in the City. The lists are being drawn up. The voter registration forms will be submitted. Doubtless, the City of London Corporation will resist these registrations. We will defeat that resistance by judicial review. Genuine democracy will prevail in the City and we will open up all the information which has been held secret from us: the cash accounts, the furtive lobbying, the whole damn lot. This may take some time. Being busy with other aspects of our work may distract us but in the time honoured expression, you cannot evict an idea. City of London, you have been warned. Your days of standing against democracy are numbered. We are coming for you. We will uncover your crimes, we will not forget, we will not forgive. Expect us.