Thursday, January 27, 2011

The world is witnessing a wave of resistance to austerity

The world is witnessing a wave of resistance to austerity that offers to shift power from the hands of politicians and markets and onto the streets argues Ben Beach.

Protests, flames

Across the world a sweeping energy for dissent is emerging. A revolution has forced out a brutal dictator in Tunisia and the Egyptian youth are beginning to mobilise as the tyrant Mubarak nervously watches. General strikes and unrest have engulfed tens of millions, from Algeria and Iran, Greece and France to Spain and Portugal. Meanwhile, in Britain, the biggest student movement in decades has occupied scores of universities, organised massive demonstrations and precipitated national acts of civil disobedience.

All of these movements have a common theme - nothing less than the fundamental remaking of society. The bulwark of the UK student movement is comprised of people who watched as millions protested against Blair in 2003, only to be ignored as two brutal wars unfolded and dispensing with the naive assumption that our leaders would listen. We have seen £1.4 trillion of public money spent on bank bailouts whilst, predictably, the bonus pots continue to run into the billions as the economic shockwaves pulverise our family and friends. Our politicians pacify us with lies before embarking on the task of making us pay for a crises that occurred when most of us were still in school. Youth unemployment has climbed to 20% and the jaws of devastating cuts are beginning to bite. We can see what our future looks like. We don’t want it.

The debate over higher education has been re-centred by politicians onto solely discussing tuition fees, a move that sidesteps the true nature of the stinging 40% cut to the University budget. The trebling of fees to compensate for the £3.1 billion lost in funding shifts the onus onto the individual - “The Consumer” - and paves the way for that most cherished Conservative idea: a privatised, competitive, free market.

As with any competition, there will be losers. The Universities and Colleges Union has warned dozens of institutions will close, whilst representatives of the Russell Group of universities have stated that “it will take just six months” to destroy “800 years of progress”. With universities already heavily over-subscribed, closures will inevitably lead to millions more denied an education that is increasingly concerned not with the promotion of knowledge and free thought, but the needs and desires of the free market. With 100% cuts to Arts & Humanities teaching, the scrapping of outreach programs to the disadvantaged and the prospect of crippling debt, we are faced with a new age of dark philistinism in which education will be sculpted in the image of business and is only available to a select minority.

Nick Clegg and David Cameron responded to the concerns of a sector of society comprising over 2 million undergraduates, postgraduates and academics by declaring that students have not read the proposals. This flagrant patronisation of a movement that is serious, organised and intelligent is symptomatic of an arrogant class of political careerists, who consistently put profits before people.

The unification of the three main parties into the same Neo-Liberal machine has finally come to a conclusion. Thatcher cited her biggest achievement as Tony Blair. Cameron is the “Heir to Blair”. The choice we face is between a Labour, Liberal-Democrat or Conservative version of the same thing - a free market. This is not a choice.

Ed Miliband mused that he “thought about talking to students”. It is little wonder that he can only exploit us for political capital given the vacuous nature of his policies. Those looking to ‘Red Ed’ to stand up and defend them and their communities need look no further than his recent appearance on the Andrew Marr Show to see that help will not be forthcoming from Labour.


In the usual pre-election targeting of the middle-class swing vote, Miliband’s slogan is the “Squeezed Middle”. What about the crushed poor? What about the people on the bottom rungs of society who, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, are going to be hit hardest by the cuts?

Milliband has, in fairness, been the most honest leader in the most recent debates on the crisis. He has explained in detail how “it was a financial crash all around the world” that was the consequence of “not regulating the banks properly” - culminating in the bailouts - that annihilated public finances. He has then stated his intention to force society to pay for a crisis that simply isn’t theirs.

Miliband repeatedly made clear that “our program involves cuts”. His reflections on the past crystallise how New Labour Neo-Liberalism is still at the core of the party’s thinking. Restoring the market involves sacrificing the ordinary people of Britain to pay for its mistakes, and Milliband has chosen the market.

Incessantly the media have tried to label us, from the iPhone generation to the ‘Middle-Class, student protestors’. We are none of these things. We are the disappointed middle-class. We are the urban poor. We are the trade unions. We are the disabled and the unemployed. We are not protestors. Protesting is saying ‘I disagree’. Resistance is saying ‘I will not let this happen’. We are a resistance movement.

We will not let the poor be devastated as a consequence of unashamed greed and moral bankruptcy. We will not allow our futures to be stolen. This is not about the “Lost Generation” - it is about a lost class. Our message is simple: we will not pay for their crisis. The people of Britain, Europe and the World have been failed by the free market and betrayed by the established political elite. No longer are we looking to Politicians for answers, we are looking to each other. See you on the streets.

Ben Beach is a former occupier and Architecture student at University College London

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