New Internationalist

Banks and robbers

June 2011

Sky: blue. Flowers: blossoming. Blood: boiling. As my inner spring lamb dodges the mint sauce, it’s time to ask: who is the bigger criminal? The banker or the bank robber? It would be a Brecht of fresh air to start asking one of the key questions for anyone casting X-ray eyes over this vale of tears we call capitalism.

Incredibly, the wussy contingent of the anti-cuts movement in the UK is buying into the official narrative of the powers-that-be, hurling condemnations at the small vandals reacting against the big vandals, whose vast all-embracing powers render them invisible to the naked eye like quantum physics in reverse.

A generation of youth facing unemployment levels unseen since Thatcher. The National Health Service carved up and handed over to business. Whole swathes of the population forced to move from city centres where they can no longer afford to live, in a clearance programme harking back to the Enclosures Acts which drove the peasantry off the land. Lives are being destroyed, yet the chief concern seems to be a few smashed (but fully insured) plate-glass windows.

Like 500,000 others fed up with the ConDem mash-up juggernaut we never elected wrecking our infrastructure in order to recapitalize the bankers (I feel for you, Greece, Ireland and Portugal), I joined London’s catchily titled March For An Alternative. The Trade Union Congress organized this long-overdue protest like snails staging a marathon. It had only taken them most of the year since the Tories took power and announced what they had in store for us. Sense of urgency, much?

UK Uncut and the Black Bloc protesters, the 26 March demo’s two youth offshoots using two distinctive methods of protest, stole the media limelight with their imagination and energy. One American told me she’d been with friends in ‘the royal grocers’, Fortnum & Mason in Piccadilly, when UK Uncut protesters occupied the tax-avoiding shop. ‘They came in, they sat down and recited poems while we had our tea and cakes, being very careful not to break anything.’ Tea, crumpets and impeccable manners. Proper English or what?

We walked down Oxford Street and watched the aftermath of the Black Bloc’s bonfire in Oxford Circus as they smashed windows and tried to do stupid stuff with ammonia-filled light bulbs. (This last according to the press, so make of it what you will.) Hoodied up for action, they played cat and mouse with the police, venting their anger at the material symbols of privilege. Efforts to turn Trafalgar Square into Tahrir Square were somewhat one-sided: the police giving the youth wing of the protest a drubbing, while all the kids wanted to do was have a party by nightfall.

So, UK Uncut and Black Bloc in two parallel actions. Funny how it was peaceful UK Uncut and not property-targeting Black Bloc who sustained the bulk of the day’s arrests. I guess ideas are even more scary than damage to property.

Front cover of New Internationalist magazine, issue 443 This column was published in the June 2011 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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This article was originally published in issue 443

New Internationalist Magazine issue 443
Issue 443

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New Internationalist Magazine Issue 436

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