Police stand guard outside Starbucks - one of the businesses targeted for British tax avoidance.
The Trades Union Congress’ (TUC) ‘A Future That Works’ march and rally in London last Saturday is estimated to have attracted 150,000 people in support, less than half of the numbers that marched ‘For The Alternative’ in 2011.
In the aftermath of last year’s demonstration, Education Minister Michael Gove said that ‘we have to take steps to bring the public finances back into balance’. A year on, Britain is only beginning to feel the bite of this structural adjustment, compared to Greece, Ireland or Portugal. But already, each week three food banks are being opened and over 70 people die through suicide or illness after being assessed by the government-employed company Atos and losing their incapacity benefit. A friend of mine who recently returned from Malaga, in Spain, told me that the thousands of holiday campsites in the south are now booked out as permanent residencies by people who have lost their homes.
Structural adjustment – or ‘austerity’ – isn’t working; it’s being revealed for the scam that it is with the most vulnerable in society being made to pay for the economic crisis while those who created it remain in power and unscathed.
Although the numbers supporting the TUC may be down, the numbers who have chosen to be involved in direct action are not decreasing. This could be a result of people turning their backs on party politics drenched in vacuous PR spin, contempt and incompetence, or on account of the rise in actions by the likes of Disabled People Against the Cuts (DPAC), UK Uncut and Occupy in Britain and the other anti-austerity movements in Europe. Or there may be another more compelling reason: people have nothing left to lose.
In a recent post on his ‘Beyond Clicktivism’ blog, Tim Hardy says: ‘That you do not feel comfortable [taking part in direct action] is because you think you have something to lose. That you think you have something to lose is a sign of your privilege.’ Pretty much outside of the public eye, Britain is rapidly accumulating more and more of those who have nothing left to lose.
While the main speeches were ending at the TUC rally, DPAC blocked a main road at Marble Arch by chaining their wheelchairs together. The statistics around the victimization of people with disabilities at the hands of Atos is shameful. That more people had signed up to a petition to protect badgers than the disabled depicts a society that has become dislocated from any form of genuine cohesion. DPAC are highlighting the situation of people with nothing left to lose.
Leading on from DPAC’s blockade, groups that had already started assembling in Oxford Street spent the next three hours flash-mobbing approximately 30 shops owned by corporations well known for tax avoidance. An immediate alternative to austerity was highlighted with each short action outside a Boots, Vodafone or Starbucks as billions of pounds are being taken from the nation in the form of sophisticated tax loopholes.
This year, unlike in 2011, there were no smashed windows, and perhaps as a result of this, the mainstream media drew away from any coverage of people expressing their ideas about what ‘A Future That Works’ must entail. But 2012 has seen groups across Britain and Ireland, from Occupy to Boycott Workfare, Climate Justice Collective, working together and continuing to use direct action to drive home alternatives that address inequality in a far more just and sustainable way than ‘the cuts’.
Solidarity between grassroots movements using civil disobedience and nonviolent direct action can only be a positive development for a Left that is notoriously fragmented. These groups are using smart actions where it’s hard for police to ‘kettle’ or arrest people, as well as cleverer use of both mainstream and citizen journalism. They are more than capable of providing skills and assistance to others. This process will only be accelerated by a public that suddenly becomes aware of how quickly things can change and how soon they may lose the privilege of having something to lose.