Anti-austerity protesters "occupy" London

Submitted by AWL on 15 October, 2011 - 6:27

Around 3,000 protestors gathered in front of St Paul’s Cathedral in London on Saturday 15 October as part of the global “Occupy” day of action against the global attempt by the capitalist class to make ordinary people pay for the financial crisis.


For updates: http://twitter.com/#!/OccupyLSX



[More pictures here].


The original intention had been to occupy Paternoster Square, but that had been blocked off by police. So the crowd, after some to-ing and fro-ing, the crowd went to sit on the steps of the Cathedral to discuss what to do. While the police formed lines over the road, stopping traffic, controlling access to the square, and blocking a lot of extra people who wanted to join the crowd outside St Paul's, and a section of the march had a face-off with them, the majority of the protestors took part in an assembly on the steps.

As of 6pm Saturday 15th, people were trying to establish a "camp", or "tent city", by sitting down in the area in front of the Cathedral.

The assembly split up into five groups, all of whom would discuss and then report back to the plenary session. This means of decision making was clunky, diffuse, inefficient and took some time to get going: but it allowed for a high level of participation and a feeling of collective involvement – at least, for those protestors who could hear what was going on through the faulty PA system (not us). The weak electrical PA was supplemented by nearby people repeating the words of the speakers as they spoke, a strange method that made it sound like people were speaking through a giant but inarticulate interpreter.

The politics of the rally, which is still going on at the time of writing, were varied. The crowd was largely young, people in their twenties, with a fair-sized minority of seasoned political activists of different sorts - Trotskyists, lefties, climate camp and direct action types and some organised anarchists.

The majority of the crowd appeared to be made up of students and unemployed graduates who previously had not been engaged in politics. There were a large number of young Spanish people in attendance. There was little of the hostility to "all politics, right or left" which some people have reported from the Spanish indignados movement: Solidarity sold moderately well, and people were happy to take our leaflets.

The “official” politics of the Occupy movement, and the “official” slogans, are vague. Slogans like “we are the 99%” dominated, as did a vague sense that the system had let people down, gambled with their money, and so on. Speakers gave vague criticisms of capitalist excess, and especially of the banks – one speaker put it straightforwardly, saying that the problem boiled down to the world’s central banks and if they were got rid of the problem would disappear. Another speaker suggested going off the gold standard (!). Others argued that the wealth of society should somehow be put under democratic control. The picture was very mixed. There was no visible trade union involvement – unlike in the States, where attempts to reach out to the labour movement have born fruit.

But overall the demonstration was a show of rage against the injustices of capitalism by new layers of people becoming active. It would be wrong to be snooty about a protest movement because all of its members are not fully worked-out Marxists. You would have to wait a long time to see a perfectly-Marxist movement arise!

The global movement of occupations is a show of anger at what the capitalist classes of the world are doing, and it is a search for answers and means of fighting back. There is a need for this movement to link up with the global labour movement, and develop clearer ideas about how to put the economic resources of the world under the democratic control of the majority; and there is a need to ditch simplistic banker–conspiracy ideas. But the movement needs support.

Whether the occupation in the UK will reach a critical mass and be able to hang on, or whether it will disappear today but come back later in another form, or how it will develop – these things remain to be seen, and will be decided by the actions of activists in the next hours and days. Workers' Liberty and Solidarity will carry updates as the situation unfolds.

Edward Maltby

Comments

Submitted by martin on Sat, 15/10/2011 - 19:34

This is the "Occupy London" press release (15 October):

Occupy London Stock Exchange sets up camp in the City

*Between 4000 - 5000 people gather in London’s Square Mile to voice their anger at the social and economic inequality in the UK and beyond

*OccupyLSX holds first people's assembly this afternoon to decide future plans for its occupation

*People's assemblies spring up near St Paul's despite police refusing to allow protesters onto Paternoster Square

*Occupy London Stock Exchange (OccupyLSX) is holding a People's assembly in the heart of London’s financial centre just outside St Paul's cathedral, with more than 4000 people gathering to highlight and address social and economic injustice in the UK and beyond.

OccupyLSX is one of more 950 actions taking place around the world who are coming together under the banner of “United For Global Change” calling for true democracy. Over 20 actions and occupations are happening around the UK.

This afternoon,OccupyLSX held its first General Assembly – open to all – allowing attendees to voice their opinions as well as taking decisions. Together they are deciding the future of the occupation and people are currently working together to set up toilet's kitchens and to decide the future of the occupation. There are plans for workshops, talks and teach-ins.

Jane McIntyre who is planning to stay at Occupy LSX for as long as possible said:

“Whilst the illigitmate G20 finance ministers meeting is happening this weekend, people around the globe are protesting against the inequality and injustice that has arisen because of the failed economic system that governments are pushing onto people everywhere. People are saying enough is enough, we want a read democracy, not one that is based on the interests of big business and the banking system.”

OccupyLSX supporter Ronan McNern said: “Our movement for change transcends political affiliation – you don’t have to be left or right. Come join as we begin to open up a space in London’s Square Mile to start much needed conversations about changes in the financial sector and government, so that they better serve and protect the interests and wellbeing of the country.”

Vlad Teichberg, member of the Occupy Wall Street media collective said: “London – welcome to the revolution! What’s happening around the world with the spread of occupations is the beginning of a global conversation based on the principles of equality, unity and mutual respect about the future of our society. Let’s get together and we can all be part of this.”

The occupation comes as the failings of the financial industry and those regulating it become evermore clearer. The UK bank bailout accounts for about one third of the global banking bailout, with the total cost of bailing out at £1.3 trillion – more than 10 times the entire NHS budget. And still three years on the government continues to subsidise the ‘too big to fail banks’, whilst bankers reward themselves enormous bonuses. This contrasts starkly against the planned £83 billion public sector cuts by 2014-15, predicted to cut the incomes of ordinary people – such as 16.2% for pensioner couples, 6.2% for typical families with two young people on modest earnings and 10.4% for the average working lone parent with two children.

“No wonder levels of social mobility in the UK are the lowest among all developed economies. The financial elite are taking advantage of the rest of the nation, with the top ten percent now have 100 times the wealth of the bottom ten percent. It is time to make a stand for a democratic society for all, in solidarity with the 99 per cent around the world,” added Ronan.

Bringing together a diverse range of people, OccupyLSX is part of 20 actions and occupations happening in towns and cities across the UK and over 950 actions worldwide today. It is supported by groups including UK Uncut, the London-based Assembly of the Spanish 15M movement and others. It has already received phenomenal interest, from the public and media in the UK and around the world, with the OccupyLSX facebook group now having more than 15,000 members.

Submitted by Newcastle on Mon, 17/10/2011 - 00:15

occupy Newcastle, intially march and protest of over 100 on saturday then turning into non-stop camp/ occupation on monument. Which sees between 20 and 40 at any point, though the make up changes often and probably represents about 100 activists. The make up is student and environmental activists, some organised anarchists and socialists, and some new to politics, (or from political campaigns that I hadn't met before)

How this links with workers movment and struggles is yet to be seen, the planning meetings are difficult outside with traffic etc, and new people not used to working together. Weather could also be a big factor in the next few days.

Workers liberty members, and sympathisers are involved, and the Newcastle Free Education Network will hold it's Monday night meeting there tomorrow.

Ed Newcastle AWL

Submitted by AWL on Mon, 17/10/2011 - 09:23

At today’s assembly of over 500 people on the steps of St Paul’s, #occupylsx collectively agreed the initial statement below. Please note, like all forms of direct democracy, the statement will always be a work in progress.

1 The current system is unsustainable. It is undemocratic and unjust. We need alternatives; this is where we work towards them.

2 We are of all ethnicities, backgrounds, genders, generations, sexualities dis/abilities and faiths. We stand together with occupations all over the world.

3 We refuse to pay for the banks’ crisis.

4 We do not accept the cuts as either necessary or inevitable. We demand an end to global tax injustice and our democracy representing corporations instead of the people.

5 We want regulators to be genuinely independent of the industries they regulate.

6 We support the strike on the 30th November and the student action on the 9th November, and actions to defend our health services, welfare, education and employment, and to stop wars and arms dealing.

7 We want structural change towards authentic global equality. The world’s resources must go towards caring for people and the planet, not the military, corporate profits or the rich.

8 We stand in solidarity with the global oppressed and we call for an end to the actions of our government and others in causing this oppression.

9 This is what democracy looks like. Come and join us!

Submitted by AWL on Mon, 17/10/2011 - 09:42

Occupy Edinburgh - Press Release

For immediate release, photos opportunity available. Contact Amabel on 07751211836 for more information.

Anti-austerity protesters occupy St. Andrew’s Square

As part of a “global day of action” inspired by the Occupy Wall Street protests, around 400 anti-austerity protesters in Edinburgh have occupied St. Andrew’s Square, setting up a makeshift tent city. By nightfall, over 100 occupiers from across the political spectrum, outraged by the entire political and economic systems, remained in the square, vowing to stay the night.

Similar protests today took place in over 1500 cities across the world, from Glagow, Melbourne and London to New York, where protesters representing “the 99%,” those from all socio-economic backgrounds other than the country’s richest 1% of individuals, have camped out on Wall Street for weeks, demanding that the wealthiest individuals in society pay fair taxes and that the influence of big business on policy making is curbed.

“It is outrageous that at a time when we are being told we need to tighten our belts, millionaires are excused of billions in unpaid tax. Austerity didn’t work in Greece, it didn’t work in Ireland and it isn’t going to work here in Scotland, in Spain or anywhere else,” said Lewis White, one of the occupiers of the square in Edinburgh, “and we’re here to show the Coalition Government that we won’t let them decimate the NHS, education and welfare to fund the lifestyles of millionaire bankers and tax-avoiders. Whether it’s the IMF, the Government in Westminster or Edinburgh City Council, we can’t let this agenda of austerity and privatisation destroy our society, and we encourage anyone else who feels the same to join us.”

Submitted by AWL on Mon, 17/10/2011 - 16:52

I spent a bit of time at the City of London occupation this lunchtime, and interviewed a few of the participants. I wasn't able to stay long, or take part in any of the collective discussion/decision-making processes, so I can't comment much beyond a few sight impressions. Those taking part were mostly young (20s) and more racially diverse than I expected (everyone I interviewed was non-white). I recognised a few faces from the organised anarchist milieu, mostly slightly older people.

Sacha Ismail

John is an unemployed activist

The occupation is very good, though we were starting with a blank sheet of paper. It’s taken us time to get organised. And it took lots of discussion, through quite an arduous process, to produce our statement of demands. Those demands aren’t set in stone, but they reflect where the majority of the camp’s thinking is at present.

We want an end to the current economic system, which makes the rich richer at the expense of the poor. We do not want to pay for the current crisis – we think the cuts are neither necessary nor inevitable. We want the money wasted on wars to be spent on saving lives instead.

We’re using the slogan “We are the 99 percent”, but obviously the 99 percent are not here! If they were it would be a revolution. We need to reach out wider; I think the statement of demands will help with that. We’re calling on people to occupy and form assemblies where they are. You don’t need to come here. You can occupy your town, or your workplace, or your school or college, and draw up your own list of demands.

If you don’t feel able to do that, by all means come here to visit and support us, or pass a resolution of support in your trade union or student group.

The second group of people I spoke to were two students, a woman aged 19 and a man aged 21

We’re just visiting for the day; we wanted to see what’s going on. We’ve been on other protests before, the student protest, the anti-EDL action in Tower Hamlets and so on.

This is exciting because nothing like it has been done before. And it seems to be part of a global movement, with the riots in Rome, in Greece, even in Peru. We’ll see whether this post is peaceful or if there are clashes with the police.

Not sure that the camp itself will achieve much change, but it can raise people’s consciousness. It needs to reach out beyond young people. A lot of people here wouldn’t agree with this, but it also needs to get politicians involved. How else are we going to change policies?

A lot of people here say smash capitalism, but perhaps the solution is more regulation of capitalism, less spending on wars, curbs on the banks. The system as it’s currently set up doesn’t work for people. A better model is countries like Denmark, which is more social democratic, neither capitalist nor socialist. Denmark has the lowest level of income inequality, and apparently 90 percent of people trust their politicians. Imagine that here!

We should definitely support the 30 November strike. The tradition of joining unions is weaker among young people, but it’s getting stronger because of what the Tories are doing.

I also spoke to two young women who were putting up an awning. One described herself as a “student activist” and one as a “local campaigner”

What we've done so far is build a community, and begun a process of working groups aimed at serving our collectivity. We hope to become a tight-knit community so we can continue the occupation as long as necessary to achieve change.

In terms of its aims, the movement is very much an umbrella. We want wealth distributed equally. We want minorities to have more say. We don’t want a class system, a system based on how much you earn. We want the gap between rich and poor to close. We want a linear hierarchy, not a pyramid.

We want free education. All the politicians had free education, a free NHS and everything but now it’s all been corporatized and privatised.

We won’t win our demands overnight.

People can join our occupation here, or occupy where they are. You can use social media to generate an occupation movement. Online activism is very important. Trade unions and student activists are welcome, but the movement is big enough to engulf these separate identities. There are people occupying all over now – we’ve heard of Edinburgh, Newcastle, Birmingham, Manchester, Southampton… the movement is catching on and spreading, like in the riots.

We don’t like labels like anarchist or socialist, or even anti-capitalist. We don’t need to describe this movement except as “our community”. This society insists that we’re divided into classes, that we have labels stuck on us, but we want to get away from all that.

Submitted by Matthew on Wed, 19/10/2011 - 10:59

By D, an AWL member and RMT activist who works at St. Paul’s station

Saturday 15 October started off with an electric atmosphere, with many desperate to occupy the Stock Exchange in Paternoster Square.

But with heavy police lines and an injunction out to prevent people passing through this area, protesters resorted to occupying the area around St. Paul’s Cathedral, about 100 metres from the Stock Exchange itself.

Tents were soon erected, and the atmosphere changed to become calmer and more relaxed. Music played loudly, people chanted and participated in discussions and mini educational sessions. Banners and streamers along with many placards dominated the area.

After several days, the area has become much more organised, with spaces set up for First Aid and a kitchen area to accommodate all those supporting the cause. Donations continue to flood in, with food, drink, blankets and money, and hundreds attending each night to ensure this area remains occupied.

A few RMT members have made an appearance to show solidarity, and no doubt other trade union members too, but unfortunately there is little visible presence from the trade union movement.

It would be good to see protests like this keep going, and hopefully to spread.

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