I was in London last week and, during my ranges around the capital, I spent a bit of time having a look at the anti-capitalist camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral. This is the UK’s response to the anti-capitalist demonstrations that began on Wall Street.
I know a lot of people think that it’s pointless and just another manifestation of young people being ‘disaffected’. But there are people of all ages either staying at or visiting the camp and the mood is one of quiet determination and not, as some would suppose, impotent, noisy rage. The demonstrators have had enough and I’m totally with them.
So what have they had enough of? Capitalism? Is this some kind of socialist thing going on outside St Paul’s? Well, yes and no. Yes, I do think that the demonstrators have had enough of some aspects of capitalism just as some of them would actively espouse socialist principles. But they’re very far from being a ‘bunch of lairy commies’ – unless of course being a ‘lairy commie’ means that you’re sick of corporate greed, fiscal incompetence, governmental hypocrisy and the endless appetite for more of the super-rich. I’d call being against all that just common sense myself, but then I’m like most people, nobody. I don’t matter and, sadly at the weekend, we saw yet another manifestation of how a lot of other people fail to matter.
Last Sunday (23rd Oct) an earthquake measuring 7.2 on the Richter Scale hit the south eastern Turkish province of Van. So far 265 people have been killed and over a thousand have been injured. Rescue teams were quick to arrive at the scene and the police, the army and medics from all over the province are working round the clock. But putting the scenes of pain and tragedy to one side for a moment, what the pictures I have seen from Van so far have told me is that we’re in yet another replay of the 1999 earthquake that affected İstanbul. I was there at the time and what made my blood boil more than anything else was the number of, almost exclusively, new apartment buildings that just collapsed immediately as soon as the earthquake struck. Constructed by wealthy property magnates, it was later discovered that many of these structures were made with poor, useless, illegal materials, including sea sand. It was a scandal because a lot of people died quite unnecessarily and now, given the ease with which some of the buildings in Van have collapsed, it could well have happened again.
Living in dodgy structures is something that rich and powerful people rarely do. They can afford not to. Joe Public, on the other hand, doesn’t have much of a choice. We all have to live somewhere and if that somewhere is badly built there’s not much we can do about it. Joe Public gets the rough end of the deal because corporations, the super-rich, the entire apparatus that surrounds and upholds capitalism says that risk is good. It’s good provided they don’t have to pay and, at the moment, they don’t. All across the globe you can, if you are so inclined, gamble away millions of pounds (or whatever) in the so called ‘futures’ markets, you can build terrible death traps that may well kill thousands, here in the UK you can lend money and charge any ridiculous interest rate you care to dream up and you’ll get away with it every time. Or will you?
I am under no illusion that the St Paul’s demonstration is some sort of new socialist dawn. But what it and all the other demonstrations that are going on in financial centres all over the world are showing is that people have finally had enough. Refusing to accept that men like Sir Fred Goodwin (he who almost buried The Royal Bank of Scotland) should be free to spend millions of our pounds for ruining a bank, refusing to be glamoured by celebrity ‘culture’ Joe Public is looking to his ‘masters’ and he finds them wanting. Because if there are criminals on the streets then there are double that number apparently ‘working’ behind closed doors, ruining economies for their own gain. Who’s bad? The gangsta dealing drugs out of his hummer on the corner of the run down housing estate or the suited and booted gent whose millions finance apartment blocks that fall down without a fight at the first gust of wind? They’re both bad of course, but the one we’ve been concentrating on ‘dealing with’ for years has been rather eclipsed by the other one of late. And you know why? Because no-one has been bothered about the shabbily built housing estate where the dealer plies his trade. The environment has been ignored in our international (and failed) war on drugs. Those who built or financed these hell hole estates where heroin is the only rational response to a life without hope are villains too. And now, with Europe at least, in financial meltdown, suddenly scales have fallen from eyes and people have had enough.
So do I think we’ll have a ‘European Spring’, where we all throw off our useless, greed driven masters? No. We don’t have any Assads, Mubaraks or Gadaffis here. But we do have people who need a damn good frightening and I, for one, hope that’s just what they’re going to get.