Saturday, 2 April 2011

On the necessity of "aggravated trespass" and "criminal damage"

(This latest post has grown from a couple of Twitter posts I made earlier today)

It seems convenient that the dismantling of the welfare state with no clear mandate, suppression of inconvenient polls and the casual, derisive dismissing of peer-reviewed publications that dare to criticize you are all perfectly legal, yet refusing to leave a shop is a crime for which you can be beaten, arrested and humiliated in custody.  It’s yet more evidence that the system under which we live is specifically designed to favour those few who hold the power and wealth over the needs and concerns of the people who ultimately provide them with that power and wealth.  Every aspect of this system is a cog in the machine of the power of the few over the many.

This is not necessarily some great conspiracy, although smaller conspiracies certainly do occur.  It is simply that institutions like corporations are established with the sole aim to make their owners rich and powerful and that this occurs at the expense of those who ultimately create this wealth – the workers.  The ultimate wealth is created by a worker not being paid full value for his or her labour and it is the aim of corporations (and most private employers generally) to drive down the cost of paying a man or woman to do a job.  This doesn’t just have an effect on the wage that is paid.  Anywhere money can be saved is a target.  Health and safety at work, the working environment, time worked.  All of these are ways for employers to get more for less and all have an impact on the lives of the workers.  These issues are ones which have, in the labour movement, traditionally been addressed by Trade Unionism.  But this is now one of many examples where corporation and state have colluded to enrich and empower themselves at our expense. 

And the record of state and corporate collusion in Britain over the past 30 years contributes to the point of this post and brings us back to the very first line of it.  There has been a lot of talk in the media (even media considered left-leaning) that has attempted to distance the mainstream of last weekend’s protest from the supposed “violent criminal element”.  Along with the arrest of the Fortnum & Mason UKuncut protestors this has helped the government and the right-wing press to discredit the most effective aspect of the recent anti-cuts action.  

There is a distinction to make here, and it is a vital one.  It is not, however, between protestor and protestor, but between “crime” and crime, "criminal" and criminal.  Now more than ever it is vital to publicize the reasons for the occupations of banks and stores, the reasons for the broken windows and graffiti and the reasons for the anger against the police, and to draw a distinction between this action and the actions of a coalition government with the interests of the millionaires and not the millions at its heart.  And it is vital to publicize the ideological nature of the cuts.  According to the Daily Mail (yes, the Daily fucking Mail) last year, 23 of the 29-strong coalition cabinet were worth in excess of £1million and this includes 3 of the 4 Lib Dems appointed.  Their ideologies have been shaped by a life of wealth and privilege and their policies reflect this.  With the Tories this is obvious, but with the Liberal Democrats it may be less so.  Yet when you know about publications such as the Orange Book it seems obvious that the "Liberal" component of Liberal Democrats refers more to economic liberalism than to social liberalism.  Every aspect of government is viewed as an opportunity for profit and this necessarily comes at the expense of the people who have to rely on the services which government provides. 

The sacrificing of these services on the altar of greed will be a crime on a massive scale, affecting the lives of millions of the poorest, in many cases removing their only means of support, while the millionaires in the cabinet and elsewhere continue to count their money.  So far, the Labour party and trade unions have been largely ineffective in offering any real opposition to this programme and while, following a general election, we are effectively left with a 5-year dictatorship, people have to offer their own opposition by hitting the millionaires, the corporations, all of the people responsible for the mess the working class are being forced to pay for, where it hurts.  Their bank accounts, their places of business, and it’s vital that the reasons for this are made clear as widely as possible; that people must commit what the mainstream media and those with something to lose will rush to call a crime in order to counter a greater crime which masquerades as necessity.  This is exactly what groups like UKuncut have been doing, and the establishment is petrified of them because they represent something like anathema to the establishment.  That ordinary people, workers, students, schoolkids, the unemployed, can take it upon themselves to try to change society for the benefit of everyone and to the detriment of the rich and powerful, and that they can be effective.

They allow you to march because marching alone is not a threat to them.  But when you threaten their means, their money and their power directly you are a criminal.  Because you are hurting them directly.  The change being sought by these actions will be to the benefit of all.  Marching is a vital act of solidarity and opposition but it cannot be successful alone.  Marching and other action needs to be carried out in a co-ordinated way, with one supporting the other and all in opposition to the status quo.  The status quo is to the benefit of those who seek to profit from our labour, our time and our public services.  If we respect our services, ourselves and each other, the status quo is not an option.  The question about what action to take cannot be coloured with the language of the enemy.  We must decide what constitutes legitimate protest and we must not allow ourselves to be dictated to by the government, the media or the corporations.  We cannot afford to define crime as that which is deemed illegal by the state because some greater crimes are entirely lawful, however morally reprehensible they may be.

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