The Trade Union Congress (TUC) were out on the streets again in October 2012 to protest against the government’s campaign of austerity.
The aim of this article isn’t to debate whether current austerity measures and the cuts are the correct course of action to take – I resolutely believe they are not. If you’re unsure about them or want more information about the cuts then there’s a good range of information here. There are also suggestions about how austerity measures are damaging to the economy, as detailed here and also socially damaging to society as detailed here.
The aim of this article is to stimulate a debate about effective protesting and political engagement.
A Recent History of Mass Protest within the UK
The largest ever demonstration in the UK took place back in February 2003. The ‘Stop The War’ campaign attracted approximately 2,000,000 people to the streets. Did what is sometimes known as the good old ‘A to B’ march stop the government from becoming involved in Iraq again? No it didn’t. But that was an amazing number of politically engaged people wandering about London.
More recently, just as the recession was beginning to bite in December 2009, the English Defence League started to hold relatively violent demonstrations. While their political stance was quite controversial to many, it was the coverage of their activities to the general population that stopped them from becoming a sensationalist & dangerous underground group (as discussed in far more detail here).
In the winter of 2010, a relatively more mainstream political issue reared its head and the students took to the streets calling for the government to stop the introduction of tuition fees. Although some parts of those demonstrations were quite violent, tuition fees were still introduced. Their demonstrations were also such a spectacle that they made many people sit up and become interested in politics.
Fast forward to March 2011, when as previously mentioned – the TUC organised a demonstration that attracted 500,000 people. It was for the most part relatively peaceful and even contained elements of organised disruption from the UK Uncut group. Businesses that failed to contribute to the public sector purse through failing to pay their taxes were targeted and temporarily closed down.
Large scale public-sector strikes also took place in June and November 2011. The momentum of protesting appeared to be gathering pace within the UK.
In October 2011, another method of protesting became popular with the UK’s first Occupy camp established in Manchester at the Conservative Party conference, followed shortly by Occupy camps around the country including the flagship settlement in London. These camps provided spaces for discussion, spaces for new political theories to be established. Maybe the Occupy network would provide a solution to the financial mess the world was experiencing?
In the same month, temporary occupations also occurred such as the Block the Bridge, Block the Bill demonstration, raising awareness of NHS reforms and proposed bill to be passed through government. Instead of marching from A to B in order to be lectured at by a few speakers at a rally at the end, this style of demonstration again provided spaces for discussion. Thanks to this protest and others actions around the country, amendments were made to the Bill but it was still passed through the House of Lords in March 2012.
The Occupy movement in the UK is still active and they recently celebrated their first anniversary. Unfortunately, by the spring of 2012, most of the Occupy camps were evicted from their public spaces and disappeared – along with their place in the public consciousness.
In May 2012, even the Police were motivated enough to take to the streets on a conventional A to B march to protest against proposed cuts to their organisation.
Then in October 2012 came another TUC organised demonstration which attracted just 120,000 people to London. This seemed hard to believe given all the political activity & demonstrations over the past two years.
A Future That Works
Given the dire situation that the Public Sector now finds itself in, it seems all the more crucial that the opposition to austerity becomes organised and attracts even more people to the campaign.
Here are some reasons from people for not attending the 2012 TUC demonstration –
Didn’t even know it was taking place >> It shouldn’t matter whether the press decide to promote a demonstration or not. With the advent of social media, a vast majority of the population could be made aware of any potential demonstrations.
It’s just a nice day out for the family >> So these people do know about the demonstrations that take place & this is a particularly interesting reason for not attending. As already detailed in this article, protest can take place in many shapes and colours. The people who give this reason for not attending peaceful ‘A to B’ demonstrations also seem to condemn any other form of protest, many of which have been seen in the past two years. It may ultimately boil down to the final reason…..
It’s a waste of time and won’t change anything >> It seems ok to hold consistent views about the latest fashions, or films, or music. There aren’t any expectations or expected results associated with holding these kinds of views. There’s nothing to fail at.
Attempting to make a difference to society through political change is like watching paint dry – it can be an awfully long process which makes it tiring & boring too. Why would anyone want to repeatedly have to defend their point of view to others month in, month out and year in, year out without any obvious results? Doesn’t that make those people holding political views look like idiots?
So to avoid the chance of failure, people often choose to engage in politics in a more subversive manner. Take comedians for example. Although they vehemently deny that they’re politically engaged, that’s all they do talk about as examined in this recent documentary. They decide what is good and bad within a society. They decide what should be given approval & what should be supported.
There are a lot more people waiting in the wings, eager to talk about what they are allowed to do in their lives, about how their lives should be organised than is first thought.
Debating about which method of protesting is the best is akin to talking about which film or style of music is the best. There’s no definite answer to that, but it doesn’t stop people from going to the cinema or buying songs from their favourite artists. Unfortunately it does stop people engaging in politics.
Protesting should instead be viewed as an artform. Look – there’s something for everyone! You can go on a nice day out for the family, or if you’re looking for a more active style – you can run into Primark shouting ‘Pay your taxes! Pay your taxes.’ Maybe you feel like going on holiday in the summer and camping out with Occupy? Coming soon – Occupy 2013. Just as popular as Glastonbury…… Or alternatively you can make jokes about it all.
So to anyone who is currently engaged with politics, please take a moment to listen to those who aren’t.
What ever your style, it’s just important that there’s engagement. Just imagine – if politics wasn’t a dirty thing to engage with there might just be 60 million people out on the streets next time there’s a demonstration. And then maybe it wouldn’t be a waste of time or take so long to make a change.