Monday, 17 October 2011

Occupy in the sky.....

We are onto day three of Occupy London Stock Exchange Occupy Some Space Near St. Paul's Cathedral. It's a shame because until the end of last year I worked right next to Paternoster Square and I feel like I'm missing out on all the excitement. Now, I can only read about it on news sites or Twitter, or get information from people I know who still work in the area.

While I genuinely admire the spirit of people who are prepared to sacrifice the comforts of home life to live in a tent pitched on concrete, next to a cathedral whose bells ring every fifteen minutes, it's impossible not to point out the utter silliness being spouted by some of the collective. It's very easy for me to make glib comments but then, when people are putting up stupid signs like this, they really are asking for it:

Let's be clear here: protesting about the iniquity of western capitalism is not on a par with the Arab Spring. It just isn't. To compare yourself to the people of Tahrir Square, who were standing up to a military dictatorship for basic political freedoms, is just insulting.

Or there's this one. I love this one.

Courtesy of - who else? - the Socialist Worker. "JOBS, HOMES & SERVICES NOT RACISM". Sorry, I had no idea that this was the choice we were facing. So let me make sure I understand: we are presented with a choice of, on one hand, jobs, homes & services or, on the other, racism? Well, if you put it like that I'll have to go with the former. Can't abide racism. Thanks for putting it so succinctly.

But ooh, ooh, we now have a manifesto of sorts from the Occupy London movement. Nine points in total. Shall we have a look at them? I've added a few thoughts of my own in italics.

#OccupyLSX initial statement
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. One of the nicest features of a democracy is the right to gather and make statements like this. Which, neatly, disproves your point about the current system being undemocratic. Funny eh? But yes, you mentioned alternatives and working towards them. OK, we're all ears. Hello? Are you still there?
2 We are of all ethnicities, backgrounds, genders, generations, sexualities dis/abilities and faiths. We stand together with occupations all over the world. OK. Get to the point.
3 We refuse to pay for the banks’ crisis. Which brings us back to alternatives. The alternative was wholesale collapse of the banking system with nothing else in place. This is why the banks were bailed out - an unpopular measure was taken because the other option was even worse. So now what?
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. I'll give you this one. No major objections. Although not sure I buy the line about government only representing corporations. But we'll move on.
5 We want regulators to be genuinely independent of the industries they regulate. No argument from me here. That would be a good thing. But what regulators and what industries are you talking about?
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. As is your democratic right. See point 1.
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. I can't object to this per se. That would be a good thing. So - what's the plan?
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. Hmmm. Bit vague this one. Which actions of our government? We were quite instrumental recently in supporting the Libyan uprising, for example. The Libyan people were quite oppressed and we helped them. Is it possible that sometimes, just sometimes, we are not the bad guys?
9 This is what democracy looks like. Come and join us! You're right. This is what democracy looks like! You have every right to do this, it's enshrined in law. Hell, even the canon chancellor of St. Paul's has given you his blessing to be there. There is absolutely zero chance of David Cameron sending in the tanks to crush your camp and shoot your ringleaders. Which is why any attempt to claim "solidarity" with the uprisings in the Middle East is so utterly fatuous.

So overall, I'll give you two, maybe three, of your nine points. Not bad.

The occupiers say they are there for the long haul. The temperature is meant to drop considerably towards the end of the week. The people gathered are still no nearer to their stated objective of occupying the stock exchange, but are still sticking it out. This is going to get very interesting....

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Call out the instigators, because there's something in the air....

Are you ready for the revolution? Because it's happening. It's happening today! Can you smell it in the air? Can you feel it in the wind?

No, me neither.

However, a group is currently gathering in Paternoster Square in the City of London with the stated intention of kicking.... something off. The organisers of Occupy London Stock Exchange (#OccupyLSX), inspired by the ongoing Occupy Wall Street campaign in New York, are planning to, well, occupy the London Stock Exchange and, erm, I think that's about the extent of their planning.

Just a couple of problems with this. Firstly, it's a Saturday so the stock exchange will be closed. Even rapacious capital markets stop for the weekend to allow bankers to gather their thoughts before continuing their pernicious campaign to hold us all in financial slavery again on Monday morning. Secondly, the London Stock Exchange doesn't really perform the function that I suspect a lot of these demonstrators think it does. It's an administrative headquarters so, while it no doubt has symbolic value and is certainly the centralised hub of all London share trading, 'occupying' it wouldn't really be very disruptive given that all trading is screen-based and takes place inside the premises of the individual banks and brokers. Perhaps the organisers are expecting to see hundreds of traders, wearing jackets, waving bits of paper and shouting at each other. And they would see this, if they were also able to invent a time machine and visit the old stock exchange prior to October 1986, when the 'Big Bang' ended open-cry equity trading in London.

There is also the problem that Paternoster Square is privately owned and entirely paved. So good luck getting settled and even better luck creating a campsite. I'm not sure how many people are turning out today but they are likely to be greeted (and possibly outnumbered) by bemused tourists visiting St. Paul's Cathedral. Still, there is a Sainsbury's next door, plus a Pret a Manger and Starbucks, etc. I'm sure they'll appreciate the extra weekend revenue.

I'm not entirely unsympathetic to the sentiment behind this gathering. I can fully appreciate why people are angry with the banks, the state of the economy, the scarcity of jobs, the imminent cuts in public spending, the fragility of the entire economic system in fact. But as is so often the case in such demonstrations, beyond the intended (and childish) stunt of occupying the London Stock Exchange, there is barely any coherence in their stated aims, targets or - crucially - any viable alternative proposed. The extent of the argument seems to be: the banks were bailed out, 'bankers' still pay themselves obscene bonuses, normal people are suffering so.... we'll gather here for a bit and maybe Billy Bragg (or, even worse, Penny Red) will say a few words and then, oh, let's see what happens.

The near-collapse of the banking system and the subsequent economic fallout was largely caused by reckless lending on the back of an unsustainable property boom, predominantly in the United States and particularly in the sub-prime market. These mortgages were then repackaged into complex financial instruments and sold all around the world, ensuring that when the property bubble burst, the contagion was spread all over the globe. Attempting to occupy the London Stock Exchange in retaliation does not even make symbolic sense as none of these products would have gone anywhere near it. But hey, it's a financial centre and representative of capitalism and stuff so it'll have to do.

It's this lack of attention to detail, lack of understanding and lack of anything approaching a workable solution that makes this event so utterly futile. If you want further proof of this, have a read of the accompanying 'manifesto' of the wider global movement which conflates first world anger about the recession with the democracy struggles raging in the Middle East.

If there's going to be a revolution, these are the last people on earth that should be leading it.