Tag Archives: economy

Midwinter in Parliament Square with Occupy Democracy

#OccupyDemocracy returned to Parliament Square as planned this mid-winter weekend, with a focus on housing and homelessness.

The turnout wasn’t huge – it was cold, it was just a few days before Christmas – but the quality of debate, entertainment, knowledge-sharing, solidarity-building and the sense of an emerging community of creative and determined change-makers was… inspiring.

Contributors to a full programme of events in and around the Square included:

  • Speakers from the New Era Housing Estate (who this week won a huge victory over the US development firm which had planned to make them homeless), Focus E15 Mum’s housing campaign, Occupy Barnet and Our West Hendon, plus Phoenix Rainbow on squatters’ rights.
  • ‘Dying for Heat’ activists who stripped off outside Downing Street to protest the scandal of deaths due to fuel poverty.
  • Deputy leader of the Green Party Shahrar Ali, speaking about the UK’s democratic deficit.
  • A ‘Fossil Free Nativity Play’ and Shell Out Sounds choir.
  • Green & Black Cross with activist legal advice.
  • Fran Boait from Positive Money, Samir from Stop The War coalition, and Occupy activist George Barda on compassionate revolution.

The  schedule was interspersed with participative assemblies and debates, poetry, carol singing, sharing of food – and a blissfully warming impromptu late night ceilidh dance!

With the high heras fencing around Parliament Square replaced by less robust crowd barriers, an opportunity arose on Saturday evening for occupiers to move through a gap in the barrier and to occupy the centre of  the Square – for the first time since being dragged from the grass two months ago in the infamous Battle of the Tarpaulin.

Displaying a ‘Real Democracy Now!’ banner before continuing a discussion about how much interaction Occupy Democracy should have with party politics, occupiers continued to demonstrate genuine participatory debate and decision making as police vans made haste to the scene, disgorging columns of officers who proceeded to kettle those assembled. Police outnumbered activists and Occupy supporters approximately 4:1. Or maybe more.

Confusion ensued as to whether those in the Square were committing civil trespass, or were breaching a byelaw, or were somehow committing a crime by talking about politics and economics on the lawn outside Parliament.

The Occupy Democracy assembly wound up and a young woman began to talk about Positive Money, a non-profit initiative to make money work for people rather than enslaving us.

Eventually the unjust and draconian Criminal Justice Act was invoked, and those assembled were threatened with mass arrest on the basis that a cable tie on the fence had been broken, and someone had – allegedly – been rude to a Heritage Warden. For these ‘crimes’ the police were prepared to arrest thirty or so peaceful, politically-engaged citizens.

The dreadful absurdity of young people volunteering to listen to a lecture about economics on the Saturday night before Christmas, sitting stone cold sober on cold damp ground to do so, and being forced to move or face arrest… What kind of country, what kind of law, what kind of system, what kind of justice is this?

There was a stand-off during which occupiers asked the police to think again, to think of genuine justice, to uphold the right to peaceful protest and assembly. During this period Donnachadh McCarthy was arrested for peacefully holding a banner.

As the police closed in on the Positive Money discussion, occupiers reached consensus to withdraw from the central lawn of the Square and reconvene on the pavement at its edge. Sometimes the image of mass arrests can be powerful; other times arrests simply serve the purpose of the police in dispersing people and disrupting planned activities.

We chose to take control of events and be free for the night; the cells that had been made ready for us remained empty, save for Donnachadh, who returned to us around 1am.

After a long, cold mid-Winter night on the pavement, dawn saw Occupy Democracy supporters bleary-eyed but unbeaten, continuing to refine a unique but widely appealing list of ‘demands’ that put people, democracy and planet before profit.

Meanwhile, on Charing Cross Road near Trafalgar Square, a squat was opened in an old Nat West bank. On December 25th, Christmas dinner will be served for homeless and hungry people. Until then, it’s an activist networking and skillshare space.

Livestream of some of Saturday evening’s events: http://bambuser.com/channel/Bencavanna

More at occupydemocracy.org.uk

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What’s Occupy about, again?

DISCLAIMER: what follows is just one person’s opinion and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of other Occupiers!

One of the things that attracted me to Occupy is the fact that it is not a ‘single-issue’ campaign. It not only acknowledges the interconnections between issues but actively uncovers, investigates and highlights them. I come from an environmentalist perspective… it was only a year or so ago that I realised how impossible it is to focus purely on the natural world when the attacks on it are rooted in economic and political machinations. Now I want to delve deeper into untangling the unholy mess we’ve made and while economics is a big part of the picture, it isn’t the only part.

Lobbying of politicians by big business; power-mongering by the 1%; gambling and game-playing by financiers; rapacious consumption and correlating ecological destruction; muzzling and oppression of the majority; warping of democracy; secrecy and lies in the corridors of power; war for profit… all these are pieces of the rather nasty jigsaw-puzzle picture of our world.

I do believe that Occupy should focus on causes rather symptoms – I’d rather try to bring down the government than march against the Welfare Reform Bill or house an alcoholic – but I see the root cause of the current unjust systems as being something deeper than the government or our economic house of cards. The bottom line is a screwed up value system that puts profit before people, before planet. Our priorities are all wrong, all over the world. Almost. There are still tribal cultures that favour collaboration over competition and we should emulate them.

I believe that Occupy should be pointing out real-life, practical alternatives to the exploitative and destructive groove that many of us are stuck in. Transition towns, co-operative networks, eco-villages, permaculture projects, guerilla gardening, indymedia, Move-Your-Money and money-free experiments (freecycle, LETS etc) are all occurring already. Some are new, some not. Occupy doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel but can shine a light on these initiatives and use them to demonstrate that our desire to live in a world of social and economic justice and environmental sustainability is not a ridiculous fantasy.

If there was global political will to make the world a better place, it could be done. Politicians must be made to serve the people or be cast aside (true democracy). The 1% need to be taught how to share and if they won’t be taught they must be forced (end tax havens and tax avoidance). Those at the head of giant companies and financial institutions must be held accountable for their actions (investigate, name-and-shame, boycott, blockade, occupy). Lobbying, control of the media and funding of research/think-tanks must be transparent (do it all again).

There’s so much for Occupy to do. It’s all inextricably connected and while it doesn’t form a neat sound-bite, I’ve found that it isn’t difficult to explain to anyone willing to spend five minutes with me. Usually, after a minute, they’ve begun to join in, to explain it to me. We the 99% are not stupid, just tired from struggling against injustice. The recent ‘austerity measures’ have kicked many into awareness. Occupy has added a dash of hope that things can change, that it is possible to challenge the powerful.

We need to keep that up. Spread hope, educate, listen, practice and highlight alternatives to the current system, shame and inflict pain on the powerful, tread lightly on the earth and tend our global networks. Revolutionise banking, okay. But we’re bigger than that and we can do more.

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Workers’ Co-operatives: escape from the rat-race | The Occupied Times

Workers’ co-operatives are an anomaly. They exist within the current system while embodying its antithesis. Maybe that’s why governments have ignored them. Despite a history dating back to the Industrial Revolution and the existence of over 2000 UK-based workers’ co-operatives, there is no legal definition of a co-op in Britain. Recognition may be about to increase dramatically, as 2012 is the United Nations International Year of Co-operatives.

The UN is pouring resources into promoting the co-operative model as an alternative means of doing business, while raising awareness of how invaluable co-operatives are in reducing poverty, generating employment, enhancing social integration and increasing sustainability.

We’re led to believe that competition is necessary in the market-place; that business is all about cut and thrust and cutting costs; that bosses boss and workers work and the former are worth far more than the latter. Co-operatives challenge those assumptions, being comprised of voluntary members who jointly and equally control and contribute to the co-op for their own benefit and that of their community. Guided by values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity, solidarity, honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others, co-operatives emphasise the ‘people and planet before profit’ message at the heart of the Occupy movement.

Workers’ co-ops are based on the idea that a workplace should be controlled by those who actually put the work in and that everyone involved should benefit equally. Only workers may be members of the co-op and all members have an equal say in running the business. Many co-operatives use consensus decision making and workers often take turns to do unpopular tasks. While individual skills, experience and preferences are taken into account, attempts are made to provide training and skill-shares so that everyone has a chance to participate in all areas of the work.

A classic image: Protesters carrying banners demanding jobs. Perhaps some left school or college only to find themselves stumbling uncertainly into a no-hope future. Others face redundancy. Some are long-term unemployed, in benefit traps, increasingly unemployable. Jobs are the obvious answer but they’re not always what they’re cracked up to be. Ask those whose work pays the mortgage but drains the soul. Exploitative McJobs aren’t what those marchers really want but “A living wage and meaningful, creative employment that I can be proud of” doesn’t fit neatly onto a placard.

Workers’ co-operatives are an alternative to oppression in the workplace. They are not an alternative to hard work and often require a degree of commitment and responsibility far higher than that demanded in more conventional employment. The pay-back comes in making ones own decisions, co-operating with like-minded people, being in a work environment that is not all about the money. In a workers’ co-op, the well-being of workers, communities and the environment is more important than chasing profit. That’s radical in today’s society.

Where most companies put profit, we put ethics – right at the heart of what we do. We refuse to compromise for an easy life or a cheap deal.” So says Weirdigans Cafe Co-operative. [1] What does this mean in practice? It means buying organic ingredients, local fresh produce and fair-trade dried goods. It means using a solar-powered, energy-efficient sound system and LED lighting. It means working long hours for minimum wage then sitting around a campfire with a bunch of workmates who’re all equal, who care about each other and wouldn’t dream of playing competitive workplace politics. Caring for customers is high on the list of priorities, as is supporting campaigns against GM foodstuffs and spreading the Occupy message. Lining one’s own pockets doesn’t get a mention.

Footprint Workers’ Co-operative: “As we have no bosses we run [our printing business] as we want, doing interesting jobs for interesting people. We want to be straightforward, friendly, responsible and responsive… We do it as ethically as we can, printing on proper recycled paper, powered by a genuine green electricity tariff and using the least environmentally damaging processes we can find. We also give a percentage of the money we make to worthy projects.” [2]

The socially useful and educational aspects of co-ops come first for many in the movement. Profit-seeking is rare. Sales translate into fair wages and are used to improve both workers’ conditions and service provision for customers. Successful co-operatives often put money back into their communities, donate to charities or support other co-operatives through networks such as Radical Routes.

The Occupy movement – with its emphasis on equality, transparency, democracy and sustainability – is so in tune with the more radical co-ops that it’s difficult to tell their statements apart. This is Radical Routes, a network of co-ops seeking to change the status quo [3]:

Our world is shaped by the forces of greed, capitalism and materialism, where maximum production and optimum profits are vigorously pursued, making life a misery for many and putting us and the environment at risk. The system is ultimately controlled by the rich and powerful, the capitalists and bureaucrats, through the use of many mechanisms such as ownership of the economy (making people slaves to a job) and control of the media (creating a passive culture).”

And this is Occupy London:

With its relentless pursuit of profit at all cost, the present corporate system fits the definition of a psychopath, driving the rapid destruction of our society and the natural environment. This is done only to benefit a small minority and not the needs of the 99 per cent. The way corporations and governments are intertwined fundamentally undermines democracy. Corporations are rarely transparent or accountable to the people… The current system is unsustainable. It is undemocratic and unjust. We need alternatives…”

Perhaps co-operatives are one of the alternatives Occupy is seeking. Occupy and the co-operative movement could co-operate to the benefit of both of their communities and to benefit the 99 per cent currently caught in the lonely rat race of oppression and meaningless or non-existent work. Key messages coming from the UN reflect this.

Co-operative enterprises empower people… improve livelihoods and strengthen the economy… enable sustainable development… balance social and economic demands… promote democratic principles… [provide] a pathway out of poverty… [provide] a sustainable business model for youth…”

The UN slogan for 2012: “Cooperative enterprises build a better world.” [4]

[1] www.weirdigans.co.uk    [2] www.footprinters.co.uk    [3] www.radicalroutes.org.uk    [4] www.social.un.org/coopsyear

Published in The Occupied Times

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What do bankers have to do with oceans, ice sheets and orang utans?

Flooded with requests from members of the public, the media and my family to explain why I’m camping out on the chilly cobbles of St Paul’s, I stormed my own brain and came up with this:

I’m here because I believe in real democracy, social justice and environmental responsibility. I’m here because I passionately believe – no, I know – that we need to put planet and people before profit. I’m not here because I hate bankers, or hate cuts. It’s so much deeper, broader and more complex than that… and it’s got a lot to do with loving this earth we live on.

Environment and economics are inextricably linked. One doesn’t have to understand fractional reserve banking to understand this. The profit-driven economic system we have is not sustainable. By that I don’t just mean it’s not ‘green’, I mean that in a world of finite resources we literally cannot have perpetual growth. It won’t work . It cannot be sustained. Already the financial system in the Western world has begun to implode. We’ve knocked back the ‘good’ times – the greed times – and now we’re lurching about like drunkards trying to pretend we just need a cup of coffee and then we’ll be fine to drive.

I think it’s time the car keys were confiscated because it’s not just economies that we’re crashing, it’s the planet.

Economic and social injustice is what many of us are feeling most keenly at the moment but we can’t afford to ignore the looming dual impacts of climate change and resource scarcity. They’ll hit the most vulnerable first, especially those living in marginal lands – the deserts of Africa, the floodplains of Bangladesh – while the super-wealthy 1% will relocate to the least affected areas and insulate themselves in robust palaces. We can’t wait until our low-lying cities flood, until the glaciers melt and the gorillas are gone before we do something about it; if we do it’ll be too late, we’ll be trapped in a chain-reaction of crises way more severe than job losses and home repossessions.


So, in addition to railing at banks and corporations for stealing our money and corrupting the politicians who are supposed to represent us, we must remember that they are the ones destroying our land – again, for their own profits. Extracting oil from the tar sands of Canada, deep-water oil drilling in the Arctic, fracking for gas in Lancashire, slashing rainforests to grow cash-crops such as palm oil… these environmentally devastating practices need to be stopped.

A British environmental lawyer (Polly Higgins) has proposed to the UN that Heads of State and directors of corporations be required to take individual and personal responsibility for their actions and that ecocide, the environmental equivalent of genocide, becomes an International Crime Against Peace (alongside genocide itself, crimes against humanity, crimes of aggression and war crimes).

While this may give profit-hungry polluters pause for thought, I believe it’s not just the elites who need to re-evaluate; we all do. We need to stop being selfish. Selfishness is behind the unsustainable profit-driven economy, the destruction of environments, over-fishing, over-consumption, pollution and war. We need to look at what is really needed to have a decent quality of life. Let’s try to get those things – food, clean water, shelter, warmth, security, community, education, leisure, meaningful pursuits – for everyone on the planet… and get rid of everything else. Stop lusting, hoarding, competing. Demand that the bankers do their bit but be prepared to do our bit too. If everyone stopped being selfish we have the intelligence and resources to sort it out. For example, an IPCC Report (Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change) shows that with political will and investment we could meet 80% of the world’s energy needs with renewables by 2050.

That would go some way towards heading off environmental catastrophe; towards saving the oceans, the ice, the orang utans and the people. We might even find enough compassion in our hearts to invite the bankers onto the ark.

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