Tuesday, January 17, 2012
PROTEST MOVEMENT OR TOURIST ATTRACTION?
Pictures were flashed around the world as there were mass occupations of plazas in Madrid and Barcelona. Whilst the former was largely peaceful there were accusations and indeed evidence of secret police infiltrating the crowds in Barcelona and fermenting violent confrontations.
The 15-M movement, which took its initials from the date of the municipal and some regional government elections in Spain (May 15), was protesting over the financial crisis and unemployment but also about the all pervasive political corruption in Spain.
Whilst 15-M still exists it has been joined by other mass movements one of which deals with the plight of those who have lost their homes through repossessions. The story invariably starts with the victims losing their jobs so they cannot keep up the mortgage payments, and then the bank or mortgage lender has them evicted so now they have no salary or home. The property is sold off cheap and the former householders finds they are responsible for the difference between their mortgage and the forced sale price. Hence not only have they no job, no home but now they owe over 100,000 euros to the bank.
What both the 15-M and other action groups have in common is they are an integral part of the local community. So whilst the world watched Madrid and Barcelona I signed the 15-M petition in Ronda, which has around 35,000 residents then marched in Jerez, the bankrupt Sherry city, with the unions and local protestors. It was the people who were on the streets, young, middle-aged and old, the unemployed, those in work and on pensions, children in arms and in prams, all classes, marching against the injustice that surrounds us.
Which brings me to my native London. At the end of November I was back in town and it was suggested I went to take a look at the Occupy movement outside St Pauls. Given my experiences with the 15-M in Spain I needed little persuading.
In the ‘Fabian Review’ Tom Hampson reveals a new poll carried out by the society and the TUC. In his opening paragraph he writes: “Quietly and without much fuss the British mainstream has shifted. Across the nation, worn out political territory has been vacated and tents have been pitched on the new centre-ground, and middle England has unfurled polite and new placards and banners that read ‘people before profit’, ‘narrow the gap between rich and poor’ and ‘protect the workers’. Tea has been brewed and hardier souls are even sleeping out overnight. Only the new radical fringe – mostly Tory voters – have stayed away from the party.”
Well the 15-M and other Spanish movements would certainly endorse those sentiments but what I found outside St Paul’s was sterile in the extreme. In Spain we marched and the mainstream political parties took note largely because elections were in the offing and they tried the clothes of the protestors on for size. The far left Izquierda Unida found they fitted best but socialist PSOE and the centre-right Partido Popular looked like scarecrows as both parties are the problem not the solution.
I sat on the steps of St Paul’s and listened to one of the speeches and was immediately aware that the audience was largely young foreign tourists – next stop the Tower of London and Madame Tassauds. The woman protestor addressing the crowd even had to appeal for help with her tasks as she was doing the work supposedly assigned to others. I saw nobody rush forward to volunteer to help her.
So here I was in the centre of the City of London, to one side the empty tents of the protestors, to the other tourists taking in the sights, yet nowhere to be seen where the people of Britain displaying their anger over the injustices meted out by the greedy Capital of capitalism.
When I say the people of Britain I don’t mean those in the tents or those who wrap scarves around their faces to destroy property during riots. I mean the angry “young, middle-aged and old, children in arms and in prams, all classes, the unemployed, those in work and on pensions, marching against the injustice that surrounds us” – the same people I stood amongst in Spain.
It is an empty protest outside St Paul’s. It receives a nod from the clerics inside the cathedral, from some politicos and the public’s recognition that they are there. Yet they have failed to capture the mass support of the British public and until or unless they do the Occupy the City movement will be nothing more than a passing tourist attraction.
(The above article appeared in the London Progressive Journal on January 14 2012)