Our society often appears set and rigid. The rules that bind us appear permanent and unchanging. We have a system that was around before we were born and we imagine that it will last long after we’ve gone. When it comes to radical change “not in my lifetime” is the mantra. And yet when we put the evening news on change is all around us. We are living though revolutionary times. Egypt, Tunisia, Ukraine are recent examples but we should add to this uprisings and protests in Brazil, Venezuela and Bosnia. In the case of Bosnia the mainstream media has failed to detail the experiment the population is taking in direct democracy. We can add too, the Occupy movement which saw thousands of people camp out in some of the most powerful cities in the world in the hope of a better system. Of course we should also include the riots in England in 2011 which were triggered by anger at the police and like all of these incidents had their roots in the global economic downturn.
What all of this shows us is that society isn’t rigid. People have the power to change it when they rise with one voice. It’s the rising with one voice bit that is hard to muster. In the UK we have suffered four years of austerity enacted by a coalition government that nobody voted for. Far from being direct our democracy is observed from a great distance and we only occasionally get the chance to participate. The wealthy and most powerful people in the country continue to accumulate great wealth at the expense of the people who actually do the work. It is the bosses who control who is allowed to work where and what they will be paid. Of course they also pay themselves so we shouldn’t be surprised that the wealthy get better percentage pay increases than the rest of us. It is their political friends who control how much benefit people are allowed when they fall on hard times. The bullish nature of the ruling class in controlling the world gives us the impression that progressive change is impossible and it seems that many people truly believe that we have little hope of a better future.
However, those with the power have a tendency to use it most forcefully when they feel vulnerable. In the UK they must
look at the planet and wonder how it is that whilst many areas of the world regularly face uprisings, demonstrations and strikes there has so far been relatively little trouble. Meanwhile, they’re legislating as if the country is about to face a revolution. Changes in the law on protest are making life harder for people to oppose government. Even handing a petition in to your local MP can end up with the police being called, as I found when I tried to visit Richard Ottaway’s office at the start of the year. Last week, Croydon Tories hosted an evening with Boris Johnson, charging a tenner a head to keep out the riff-raff. A number of my Class War Party comrades turned up to ensure that Boris knew that not everyone in South Croydon agrees with him and this resulted in Councillor Fisher calling the cops. When those with power are challenged they act like terrified little puppies.
Last month there was a national protest held outside ATOS offices. ATOS is the firm that the government contracted to assess the disabled with regard to benefit payments. The result of their work has been a series of suicides and increases in mental health issues across the country. Days after the protest ATOS changed their name to OH Assist and asked to come out of the £500m contract early. This is a victory for the protestors although it’s likely another firm will pick up the contract. It was disappointing to note that the Croydon protest had more police than protestors for most of the day. Next time I hope people will come out and swell the ranks.
Of course like all mobs the crooked politicians and the over-privileged have thugs to aid them but the police are at an all-time low in terms of public confidence. There are even calls from some on the left to have the Met disbanded and a new police force created. The problem is that any new force would soon start to replicate the errors of the old one. The corruption goes deep and has been with us a long time. The Met has been heavily involved with infiltrating left wing protest groups. Met officers found the need to steal the identities of dead children and pose as activists within law abiding groups. Some had long term relations with protestors and formed families. Some of the victims have gone on to say they feel as though they have been raped by the state. Why would the police do this if they didn’t fear dissent?
The number of deaths in police custody is shocking. Combined with the details on stop and search in the capital and the issue of institutionalised racism and you soon form a solid impression of why the met is not trusted. Added to this is the more recent judgement that an officer acted lawfully when he shot and killed Mark Duggan. Mark was unarmed and yet on the night of the shooting the police put out a story claiming that he fired first and that an officer was only saved because a bullet hit his radio. This was the first of many lies and the impression they still disseminate is that Mark Duggan was a dangerous criminal.
All of the above is important context in relation to police requests for water cannon on the streets of London. We shouldn’t be surprised that the mayor of London has granted the police they hardware they seek. This dangerous equipment was requested not from a strong position of moral authority and necessity but from a weak position of failure and fear. The failure is obvious whilst the fear is connected to our potential to change the world for the better. It is us that they fear. Radical change is rare but progressive reform is impossible without those seeking radical demands. We should keep up the fight against ATOS, the cuts and curbs to our rights. After yesterday’s budget for the rich we should go further and demand equality and a real democracy; who knows what we might achieve?
Those of us on the radical left can smell the fear of the ruling class and we welcome it.