The Occupy Movement originated in New York as people banded together to protest against the banks, large corporate companies and selfish institutions who command the majority of the worlds’ wealth despite only making up 1% of the population. The Movement claims to represent the 99% of disenchanted, frustrated citizens. The Movement spread worldwide with protests breaking out on the streets with varying effects. The Arab Spring revolutions aimed to over throw tyrants and dictators in order for the people to claim back their country and their rights. Over here in Britain the protests had a very different feel, almost unrecognisable as connected to the violence breaking out in the Arab world.
In November 2010 British students paraded in London, protesting against the tuition fees rise and cuts in Education spending. Although most remained peaceful there were sporadic outbursts of violence and vandalism resulting in the injuries of both protesters and police. At one point the car carrying Prince Charles and Camilla was attacked. Demonstrations also took place in Cardiff, York, Cambridge, Brighton, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Newcastle, Bath, Scunthorpe, Edinburgh and Liverpool. Events also happened in Universities as buildings were occupied in Oxford, Birmingham, Nottingham and York. There were more protests a year later but with an increase in policing and the threat of plastic bullets things remained more civilised and controlled.
In 2011 the Occupy London Movement realised a statement declaring their intentions to refuse to accept public sector cuts, pay for the banks crisis and protect against pollution. To see the full statement click here.
In 2008 the UK Zeitgeist Movement was founded, which claims the problems of corruption, poverty, war, starvation and homelessness are ‘symptoms’ of an outdated social structure rather than the fault of political policy or institutional corruption or a flaw in human nature. This slightly different view claims to not belong to any particular strand of political thought; it sees the world as a single system and all human beings as a single family. It recognises that all countries must disarm, share resources and ideas and accept one another if we are to survive.
To me the Zeitgeist Movement is very optimistic and not at all realistic. For all countries to essentially become ‘friends’ a miracle in needed. Even after wars end and countries have been rebuilt and new alliances made the thought is always there, niggling at the back of peoples’ minds. For instance, despite WW2 ending in 1945 many of the British population feel the need to shout out to the Germans “two world wars and one world cup”. WW2 was a couple of generations ago; the people who are still holding grudges and sneering at the supposed ‘opposition’ have no right to do so. I’m sure there are similar feelings all over the world in relation to bygone eras. If two countries that get along cannot disperse these racist sentiments how can we expect countries in the midst of war, terrorist attacks and general uncertainty to make peace and drop all weapons?
As for protesting, which the majority of the Occupy Movement is about, do they really work? As we can see with the student demonstrations (an issue close to me), it made no difference. The tuition fees went up and first year students starting this year are going to leave education with higher debts than ever before. Equally, strike action has not seemed to influence government decisions, public sector cuts still happened, large parts of the NHS are being reformed and citizens are more disillusioned than ever.
The big question asked up and down the country, symbolised by the Occupy Movement, is why are we suffering for something which is not our fault and mostly out of our control? Sure many people got into debt but it was the banks who continued lending money to those they surely knew wouldn’t be able to pay it back. The banks essentially gambled their money, a risk that didn’t pay off, and now the public are paying increased taxes so they can receive huge bonuses and retire knowing someone else will come in and sort out their mess.
You can argue governments don’t have a choice but to bail out banks and resort to taxes in order for the economy to stabilise but shouldn’t they at least hold the bankers and business men accountable? No, they don’t. And why? Because they don’t want to cut off the votes and financial support of the wealthy, powerful 1%. What does the other 99% matter when they only command little influence?
Twenty five years ago the top 12% controlled 33% of wealth, now it is the top 1% controlling 40%. The incomes of the top 1% have increased by 18% over the past decade whereas the middle have seen a fall in income. The more divided a society becomes in relation to wealth, the more reluctant the wealthy are to spend money on common needs. The rich don’t rely on the government for medicine, education, security or healthy environments such as parks, they have the means to purchase these for themselves. As riches increase the top 1% become paranoid and will fight against the formation of a strong government who will redistribute their wealth into the majority of the population. A government which is gridlocked will not raise top-rate taxes or decrease bonuses.
Those of a more conservative view will argue the top deserve to be at the top, they worked hard to get there in a meritocratic society. And sure they have examples at the ready, Sir Alan Sugar for one, David Beckham etc. But, by increasing inequality they are also shrinking opportunities and as a result, undermining efficient productivity. With a lack of social mobility society will stagnate and eventually crumble. It really is ‘of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%’.
To make matters worse the globalised marketplace allows for corporations to use cheaper, overseas labour thus denying their countrymen jobs. In July 2011 Government ministers handed over a train building contract to a German company rather than keeping it the UK with Britain’s last train-maker, Bombardier. After years of proud work on British railways and trains many lost their jobs due to the Governments actions. Bombardier, in Derby, had been around for 170 years and at it’s peak produced 200 wagons a week for railways all over the world, but now that legacy has come to an abrupt end to the detriment of many British workers as well as the manufacturing industry.
So the occupy movements have the right idea but can protests really help? Even ignoring the violent clashes that Governments are unwilling to respond to it doesn’t seem like they listen to demonstrations and parades, after all 3 million people didn’t stop Blair from going to war in Iraq what chance do we have this time?
(Images from google)