Protesting Austerity Over There (but not over here)


A mania for austerity is sweeping through the ruling elites of the Western World. The British Government recently announced large increases in tuition fees paid by university students and extensive cuts in education programs. In response, there have been massive student demonstrations in cities and universities all over Britain. Although the students’ actions were mostly peaceful, the police were not so kind – on some occasions resorting to “kettling” the demonstrators, that is, using cordons of police to block off all exits from a small area, effectively imprisoning people for several hours. The students were not deterred, however, and learned to evade the police blockades.

Here’s what one of the student demonstrators, Matthew Hall, writes from London about the protests:

We are protesting because the government is loading our generation with vast debts, under the pretence of a financial crisis we didn't cause. We are angry because of the patronising misconceptions the [government] continues to peddle about what we think, and its insistence that the cuts are "inevitable". And we are taking to the streets and occupying our universities because parliamentary democracy has failed us; we have been directly lied to for political gain.
... The government asks… why the low-paid should have to pay for our education. It is an absurd question: students are taxpayers, too, and the nation benefits collectively from an educated population. …. Education is a public good and should be funded by all of us. There is the money to pay for this. A fairer and more progressive approach to tax where the richest pay the most, not the least, would fund a fantastic university system.
... These are the reasons why students are protesting. Perhaps Cameron is confused about this because he has not come to meet us since the election. Or perhaps it's because, with 18 millionaires in the cabinet, his government comes from a completely different planet than most of us.

British activists think they may bring down the British government:

This movement is already leading, forcing others to adapt, and leaving those who don't adapt eating the dust trails - and in its present form it's only a few weeks old. Imagine what it can do if it keeps growing, and keeps going. Imagine what it can do in coalition with the organised labour movement. And that's something to think about, by the way, if you're a public sector worker facing the sack. These students can shake things up this much in such a short space of time. They've shown that militancy, commitment, imagination and tactical flexibility can do wonders. …But the workers have the power to bring this country to a standstill. The workers have the power to break this government if they want to. The workers have the power to put an end to a system that rewards bankers and [slackers], and punishes the people that keep this country going. (This from Lenin’s Tomb, December 1.)

And some workers have mobilized, according to a report from Reuters:

In October, A 24-hour strike by workers on London's underground rail system disrupted much of the network. The strike forced millions of commuters to struggle to work in their third walkout since September in a dispute over 800 planned job cuts. Another 24-hour strike took place on Nov. 28. Britain's trade unions protested spending cuts to parliament, promising to fight to protect public services.

Indeed, all over Europe people are rising up. Reuters, a mainstream news agency probably inclined to exaggerate the violence, reports from Greece that

Public-sector workers staged a 48-hour nationwide strike. On May 5, a 50,000-strong protest in Athens led to violence in which demonstrators fought police and three people were killed in a petrol bomb attack on a bank. On June 29, Police fired tear gas at rioters shouting "burn parliament" in Athens. About 12,000 people joined marches during a strike against raising the retirement age to 65 for all.
In early July, about 12,000 people marched against pension reform in the unions' sixth 24-hour strike against austerity measures.
Last month, a Greek private sector union… called for a pan-European strike in 2011 to take joint action against austerity measures.
More protest rallies are planned for Dec. 6…, and for Dec. 15 during a nationwide anti-austerity strike.

In the Czech Republic,

the main Czech labour union called a one-day strike of public sector workers for Dec. 8 to protest the government's planned wage cuts and layoffs.
In October, thousands of Italians marched in Rome in a rally organised by the … metalworkers union and backed by the CGIL, Italy's biggest union with 6 million members, to protest the bleak outlook for jobs and demand more rights for workers.
Nov. 30 - Thousands of students streamed through Rome towards parliament, chanting and waving banners with slogans such as 'education is on its knees'. Students, who on Nov. 25 occupied key tourist sites including the leaning tower of Pisa and the Coliseum, vowed to block proposed changes in Education.
Portugal's biggest unions, ...[last month] disrupted transport and halted services from healthcare to banking in protest against wage cuts and rising unemployment in the first joint general strike by the top two unions since 1988.
Spain's first general strike in eight years, called to oppose spending cuts, disrupted transport and factories, [though] the impact was limited as most Spaniards appear to resigned to austerity to trim a massive deficit.

And France, too, has experienced strikes and street protests.

And here in the US? Mostly silence, and here is a protest against that silence from Liam Fox, blogging last week on News Junkie Post.

Nowhere on the planet has the theft of public wealth been [more] blatant [than in the US]. Less than two years after demanding a bail-out of tax dollars the financial sector is flaunting record profits and obscene bonuses. While millions of Americans have lost their jobs – unofficial unemployment numbers exceed 20% as official numbers only include those receiving benefits – and millions more have lost their homes, Wall Street executives are planning parties, hiring entertainers for private events, and purchasing luxury items that the rest of the country can only glimpse as rich folks go by the bus stops in their chauffeured cars.
The American education system is in shambles, the prisons are overflowing with non-violent criminals, and billions of dollars are being spent overseas fighting wars of corporate interest. American people are suffering in the street and the financial elite are laughing, literally, all the way to the bank. Except in this case, they are the bank.
What are the American people doing? Greece, Italy, France, Ireland, Spain, England…. all of them have people in the streets. All of them are protesting. All of them are calling for strikes and trying to force the overthrow of not just their government but the entire financial system that would enslave them.
Yet, in America, the only voice of dissent is one that has been organized, funded and controlled by the corporations that are ravaging our society, to protect against any reforms that may limit their power to do so in the future ... America has the TEA Party fighting for the rights of corporations ....

We are living in a time of crisis. The hegemonic relations of the last fifty years are unraveling. Specifically, the complex set of institutions – banking, credit, the State, and the acquiescence of the population – is on the point of collapse, at least in the West. What this will mean we cannot foresee. Can popular movements seize control, or will forces of reaction and repression ensure that the rich and powerful remain in control through some form of emerging totalitarianism? Can the people of North America form and express a popular will as many of our European cousins are doing? You can expect to hear more about these questions from the Old Mole in the weeks and months to come.


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