Posts Tagged ‘occupylsx’

In a recent article about Occupy St Pauls’, a protestor was quoted saying “I don’t understand the purpose of unions”.

Since unions were smashed by Thatcher in the 80s, and the introduction of further anti-trade union laws first by the Tory government and then by Labour, membership of unions in the UK has dwindled from 13 million in the late 70s, to 7.1 million in 2009.

Right-wing and anti-union commentators often gloat that only a minority of the country is a member of a union, implying that trade union action is insignificant and alienates non-unionised workers and the general public.

It isn’t surprising therefore that protestors at the Occupy camps which have sprung up across the globe have sometimes struggled to make the links between their protests and the work of trade unions and the Labor movement in the US.

But trade unions, despite the decline in numbers, are directly connected to the Occupy movement, in its calls for a more equal society. Every time a trade union takes strike action over pay and conditions for their members and wins, they improve conditions for all people who work in that area, whether they are a member of the union or not.

And by pushing up the benefits of people in the workplace, they force employers to use some of the profits to reward the people who produced those profits with a better salary and better working conditions. In other words re-distribution of wealth from the top to the bottom.

Strike action by trade unions is often portrayed as holding ‘the country to ransom’ or ‘a gun to the government’s head’. When in actual fact, what successful strike action does is make sure that workers receive benefits for the work they do and that any profits from their work are shared more evenly between workers and employers.

This idea of making sure that work is enjoyable, sustainable and rewarding for everyone, not just those at the top, is what permeates all union activities and is what unites us with the Occupy movement. And like the Occupy Movement’s idea of a better, fairer society, this is something that everyone who works, or wants to work or has worked, should aspire to.

Non-unionised workers, many in the private sector, who feel powerless and at the mercy of the whims of their employers are understandably unhappy. A life of unrewarded, demoralised labour and uncertainty, to be then thrown on the scrap heap and left to fend for yourself when you reach retirement age is something that private sector workers are right to complain about. It is indeed a dire existence.

But that is where agreement tends to end. From this point the argument goes 2 ways – either those with better conditions ‘stop whining’, ‘live in the real world’ and everyone is reduced down to the worst possible conditions.

Or, we stand and fight together to bring the level of conditions, pay and pensions up, for every worker. In doing this, we also agree that the money is there and dispute the theory that the ‘pot is empty’, based on the evidence we have seen such as the recent increase in energy-company profits and FTSE company directors’ salaries. That is what a trade union does. And that is why so many trade unionists support the new global Occupiers.

And it’s also why the pensions strike on November 30th is a strike for anyone who works, or who wishes to work, or who has worked, and for all those who strive for a more equal society.

Because cuts to pensions affect everyone and it is another small struggle in the fight for a decent way of life for ordinary working people. It is a stand against those who wish to see a further increase in the gap between the 1% and the 99%.

And so it is important that not only all the members of all those unions come out on November 30th, but also that people from every workplace, as well as students and the Occupy movement, show their support for this strike and indeed for any form of resistance to the greed of the current system. A system which takes money from the poor and lower-paid members of our society in order to increase the wealth of the rich, no matter whether it’s from our pensions, our childrens’ playgrounds, or winter-fuel allowance for the elderly.

Mandy Brown
Lambeth SOS,
Teacher and UCU Member

If you are a a trade union member and support the St Paul’s Occupation, please sign the petition below:

We’re trying to make this a lovely and enjoyable space full of good discussion and immense sense of movement…heh. Some people are campers and some are not, but this may be a good time to test your boundaries, at least for an hour or two! So below is our wishlist and invitation to all the London anticuts groups to come on down and join us, if you’re interested let Andrea know — text would be good or if you don’t have my phone number email and I just might give it to you!

An urgent call to arms to all anti-cuts activists…

Activists representing Lewisham anti-cuts alliance, Southwark SOS and Lambeth SOS finally set up a  gazebo at the Finsbury Square anti-capitalist occupation! The working group at the camp, dealing with tents, were so happy for us to be there that they offered us a prime spot to the front of the camp. Our plot number is 37.

We urgently need donations and volunteers in order to make this as effective as possible! eg Rugs (to go over the ground sheet) / Pillows / Blow up mattresses or single futon or camping mats / LED battery powered lights / Fold up information table / Anticuts banners / Anticuts literature or posters / fold up chairs / Battery powered radio / Hot water bottles / Blankets / Musicians to lift our spirits!

If we make it as comfortable as possible people will not feel it is a chore to stay overnight! Of course only one or two people will need to stay overnight but I would encourage everyone to come down for a few hours and offer moral support.

We started off with just a little gazebo to mark our territory, a roof no more to show that some of the local anti-cuts groups were willing to be present and part of this whole occupation movement that is sweeping the US and the UK. We know not everyone is entirely optimistic that this will be the thing that sparks off a mass movement to stop the utter destruction of the welfare state in order to fund welfare for banks, but something must.

So on Tuesday some folks from Lambeth and Lewisham headed over. We were all working the next day — a reality that makes it difficult to camp out over night, we know. So we didn’t. But we did put up a small gazebo…I fear that it collapsed during the night as I overhead a snide comment the next day, and saw it had been moved to shelter one of the organizational working groups at the occupation (we had offered it for that, so we didn’t mind).

Despite the highly artistic nature of the pictures (the word artistic is preferred to technically challenged), the world is not actually on fire and we are actually solid human beings. We hurried so we could attend the General Assembly at 7 pm. It’s a bit like stumbling into a different world really, the way people speak, the arguments about process. Given that the camp is new, it was entirely logistical I’m afraid. But there is really a delightful feel about the place, there is food and drink, and the technical meeting will have been moved to the mornings so that the evenings can be full of exciting and heated political discussion which we imagine will be exciting to everyone, activist or not. Why are people there? What do we want to achieve? How can we work together? How can we engage more people? We hope that these will be the kinds of debates happening in the days to come.

So last night we returned with a truly splendid gazebo which for now shall remain un-pictured…but it has sides that zip open and closed, and is beautifully waterproof. The goal is to have a space where folks from Lambeth, Lewisham and Southwark can just drop by, hang out, talk to people, get support to save our services. We’d love to maybe have some meetings there, invite the other London anti-cuts groups, engage with this wider movement, play some music or cards or charades. We’d also love to have a rotation of people who can stay, or perhaps plan a Friday or Saturday slumber party…

The blog for the Finsbury Square occupation is here, and you can follow them on twitter and facebook. There’s also a new independant newspaper just started up for the occupy movement, very awesome, you can follow them here. Some pictures from Indymedia are here, and of course you can also read more at the Guardian or the BBC. The second two articles are focused primarily on St Paul’s and its reasons for closing. On a very personal aside, I find that quite ridiculous. The church I was raised with would have opened its doors to the protestors actually, the way it did to refugees as part of the Sanctuary movement, but I suppose everyone interprets giving up your possessions and taking care of others in their own way.

Just a last note, the police are definitely present, but it’s been relatively relaxed as they wander around in pairs…of course, they’re squandering a great deal of resources in surveilling everything, using thermal imaging and helicopters like they don’t have crime to fight! But there’s been no rubber bullets or teargas like Oakland. It’s not a small point that much of this is simply to ensure the UK does not go the way of poverty and repression found in the US.