This time last week the UK saw the “March for the Alternative”, one of the largest demonstrations in living (or dead) memory. Unions, NGOs, concerned citizens, and all manners of activists and civil society groups took to the streets of London to support alternatives to the proposed cuts to government social spending. In a characteristically uninformative manner, media news coverage gave little careful consideration to the reasons behind the massive protests and gave no comments or studio debate time on the alternatives that the protestors were advocating, despite this being the march for the alternative. The alternatives advocated by the marchers included a “robinhood tax” on financial speculation[i] and closing tax loopholes that companies currently exploit to the tune of £95bn per year; more than enough to pay for the proposed £81bn four year cuts programme[ii] and still have enough money left over to buy Manchester United, Real Madrid, Arsenal, Juventus, and Inter Milan, twice over[iii].
A march for the good, the rich, and the troublemakers
According to the media there were apparently two “types” of people at the march. First, there was the “good”, that is, peaceful protestors. In contrast, there was also a minority of “troublemakers” involved in “random” destruction of private property. Almost every time we saw shots of these troublemakers we saw red and black flags. Apparently troublemakers also seem to be concerned with waving meaningless flags, as we are often accustomed to seeing in our city centres after throwing out/closing time in pubs, clubs, and bars. Despite my sarcasm, it is clear, to me and to you (probably), that these flag-wielding troublemakers were Anarchists acting as the more militant wing of the movement for alternatives and against cuts. Now I’m not here to condone or chastise these actions, what is morally right and strategically necessary for positive social change is up to each of us to make our own minds up on. And I am sure “good” people will disagree with each other on this, if only based on the appraisals of the effectiveness of tactics such as of destruction of property. I will, however, offer two observations. First, Anarchists (at this point I feel strangely obliged to state my political philosophy: Libertarian socialist[iv]) have historically been involved in pretty much every progressive movement for social change we have seen over the past two hundred years. On my reading and interactions with Anarchist/Anarchism I would characterize it/them as people who are particularly sensitive towards oppression of any kind, the kind of people (forgive the generalization) who are not scared to stand up to bullies and the powerful no matter the personal costs and consequences and of such actions. Having said that, I’m sure that there are as many “bad apples” amongst the anarchists as you get amongst any other broad political grouping one employees. Second, I wish to point out, as the African-American abolitionist Fredrick Douglas once did, that power cedes nothing without struggle:
“If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation…want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightening. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters…. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will."[v]
Still words worth quoting and pondering today. Also, it’s worth bearing in mind that part of the success of the African-American civil rights movement was based on the potential for wide-spread civil disobedience and a potentially destructive force (e.g., Black panthers). Indeed, such militancy allowed people like MLK to say to power, “either deal with me peacefully or deal with those militant guys”. What’s also worth noting is the fact that these troublemakers’ choice of target seemed far from the “random” choices that the news media spoke of. Rather the troublemakers targeted businesses and organizations (e.g., banks) that are to blame (in part) for the current economic crises. While I do not always agree with the kinds of strategies and tactics employed by Anarchists, I share their moral outrage and “understand” their actions.
Finally, it is worth noting that the rich and powerful were, like sensible analysis of the cuts programme and alternatives, entirely missing from the news media coverage. Considering that our news media is supposed to give a “balanced” account of stories it is informative that those who the protestors hold responsible effectively got away without having to address the allegations and questions that the march raised.
The bottom line: UK stand up!
Life in the UK is on course to become much worse (something you already knew). I mean, really much worse. When the affects of the spending cuts cause the recession (economy) to get worse (which it will) those you care about are likely to suffer (more) in all sorts of ways (e.g., health care, mental health, unemployment, and crime, to mention but a few). Over the last ten years or so our economy had been kept afloat by a massive housing bubble (called, unhelpfully, "the credit crunch" by the media – the guys that make you think that you are not clever enough to understand basic economics). This suited the rich and powerful and they made out like bandits until they eventually tanked the economy here in the UK and world-wide. The rich and powerful then got the government to bail them out so they could continue the life of riches and privilege that they were accustomed to. The proposed cuts are another way in which the rich and powerful can make sure the rest of us pay for their lifestyles, with the added bonus (for them, needless to say) of added profit making opportunities arising from the privatisation of social/health services – something that's not such a bonus for the rest of us. Next time you are at your local GP surgery ask your GP about the cuts and privatisation of the NHS. They may (probably) think it's not their place to tell you how you are being robbed, but you'll get a feel for what they think from their faces at least.
At some level, we knew all of this already. At least it felt like somebody was taking the p*ss. What you might not know is that none of this has to happen. The media and "experts" would make you believe that you are dumb, ineffective, and incapable of grasping these "complex" issues, and that there are no alternatives to the cuts. The reality is that you and I are none of the above. Visit www.ukuncut.org.uk and watch some of the short clips and see if it makes more sense than anything you've seen from the media. Then decide what you want to do about it. Even if you don't care about anybody else apart from your self, it still makes sense to join a union at least. Although the media don't tell you that unions are good for workers, they do show how the "troublemaking" unions manage to get their members "too much" pay. Think of London underground, those guys are organized into a good union and if you think they get paid too much (compared to bankers – lol) "for sitting on their ass all day" then you are missing the point: In our economy you get what you can take and as an individual you can't take much. If you join a union or other organisations you can at least get a little more and stop the rich and powerful from taking everything.