Yesterday, Britain was witness to the 'biggest strike in 30 years'. Millions of public sector workers, from road sweepers to teachers to custom officers, staged a mass walk out, which will perhaps be remembered as one of the biggest days of industrial action that Britain will ever witness. While the reasons that led to strike are grounded in the discussions concerning public sector pensions, the strike has come at a time of widespread dissatisfaction with political and economical systems, both nationally and globally.
Britain is believed to have one of the most democratic states in the world, thus there should be a right for every British citizen to have equal say and participation in the political sphere which affects their everyday life. While this is primarily achieved through elections and referendums, protests and strikes are also a legitimate method for voicing dissatisfaction with the Government.
For many, 2011 will be remembered as the year in which the news has been dominated by worldwide strikes, protests, demonstrations and riots – for example, the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions, the Libyan civil war, civil unrest in Bahrain and Syria and mass demonstrations across Greece. Indeed, Britain has had its own fair share of demonstrations throughout the year, perhaps most notably the riots in England in August, and the somewhat controversial Occupy movement. Yet, the question must be asked – why has nothing changed? Britain's own Prime Minister dismissed the biggest strike in 30 years as a 'damp squib', austerity measures are still hitting the most vulnerable the hardest and meanwhile the gap between rich and poor is still widening. Why?
If we take, for instance, the Occupy London movement, a poll by YouGov found that only 20 percent of people supported the Occupy protest outside St Paul's Cathedral, thus one could argue that the movement is still lacking the essential support that is needed to become a successful platform for social, political and economic change. Yet, a separate YouGov poll found that only 31 percent of people are satisfied with the government's management of the economy, while another found that 56 percent of people agreed that the government's spending cuts were being done unfairly. This demonstrates that there is possibly a large proportion of the population who agree with the aims of Occupy London - “a future free from austerity, growing inequality,unemployment, tax injustice and a political elite who ignores itscitizens...” but for some reason do not agree with the protest itself. For Occupy to be successful, we need to know the reason why.
It goes without saying that the media representation of those involved in the Occupy movement has been negative. Headlines such as, “St Paul's may have to cancel Remembrance Sunday service because of Occupy London protests”, “9 in 10 protest tents are empty'” and “Tent city mob get 24 hours to quit” are all written with the intent to detract support for Occupy. Newspapers, such as the Sun and the Daily Mail, have published articles 'exposing' the 'millionaire anarchists' who are leading the movement and these articles have had their desired effect – the general public do not feel that Occupy represent them. But to what extent are these articles true? Can we deny that the Occupy movement has predominantly been led by the middle class?
The state education system has been used by the Government as an apparatus of social control, and as an agent in which to reproduce Capitalism. Under Capitalism it is essential that children are told what to learn not how to learn, as if every child knew how to learn, no longer would there be a cheap and dumbed down work force, nor would there be a large percentage of politically inactive citizens. It is not until one reaches higher education, with a curriculum free from government interference, that education and government indoctrination separates. Yet, only 36% of young people actually get to university and the majority of those young people are from middle class backgrounds.
It would be wrong to suggest that every Occupy activist was middle class and university educated, moreover it would be equally wrong to suggest that those failed by the education system do not participate in protests. What I would argue, is that the Occupy movement has given the impression, from their websites, blogs, and media interviews, that the individuals involved are well educated people. When asked why he had joined the Occupy movement, one man said:
“To show solidarity with other human beings around the world that are victims of a system that keeps the 1% very rich and is expanding the gap between the rich and the poor...I can't afford to buy a house, I cant afford a mortgage, I can hardly afford my weekly shop at Tesco...if anyone actually thinks that politicians run the country they need to think again, it's power and money...”
The fact that this individual comes across well educated and well spoken is significant, because he is likely to help build a stronger and more successful movement than this individual who was asked why he participated in the London riots:
“Normally we can't afford them stuff...cause the government aint making it in our price range, like cutting our parents tax, stuff like that init. Tax and that its taking the majority of the money.”
Ultimately these two two individuals have the same aims, but their methods reflect the apparatus available to them, so why are they not working together? While the Occupy movement has undoubtedly spread their message to a wide audience, could it not be argued that the impression that they are a well-educated and middle class dominated movement, alienate the very people -that is, those at the very bottom of the capitalist hierarchy – whose support they need to succeed. Of course the Occupy activists are not to blame for their 'privilege', but perhaps a change in methods is needed?
The method currently employed will not be successful, as while many people may agree with the Occupy aims, they are not in a financial or cultural position to join the movement. Economic institutions exist as usual, whether Occupy set up camp or not. Should their efforts instead be directed towards putting their message across to the people with the real power, instead of the banks and the government? After all, if the biggest strike in 30 years is a 'damp squib' then it's going to take an army to finally end social and economic inequality for good.