Last Saturday, an estimated 250,000 people hit the streets of central London to protest the UK government’s austerity measures. (For those unaware–the UK’s Austerity program is a series of sustained budget cuts to social programs designed to reduce the budget deficit; or in the words of Merriam-Webster, ‘enforced or extreme economy’.) It was the first demonstration of its kind since the Conservative Party won the general election in May. Banners bore a striking selection of slogans. “[Prime Minister] David Cameron is actually a robot made of ham,” “David Cameron is a basic bitch,” and even a rad Mean Girls-themed dig directed at London mayor Boris Johnson, “That’s why his hair’s so big–-it’s full of secrets and bigotry.”
In keeping with the tongue-in-cheek ethos of many of the banners (if you don’t laugh you’ll cry, eh?), Kelly-Anne Freeman joined the march as part of the “Goths Against Austerity” group–jokingly referred to as the “blacker than black” bloc.
“For a group that only came about as a result of someone realizing that a lot of his friends were…[attending] the demo…it was quite a surprise to see over 100 people sign up to his Facebook event,” she explained to Loner. “There was a strong sense of connection within the group and [among] the people we were marching with. It was an overwhelming feeling to see us all turning out for a march, despite the fact…people had been concerned about getting arrested or kettled whilst attending. There are plans afoot to take things further and it’s likely there’ll be a ‘blacker than usual’ bloc at the protest against Osborne’s Emergency Budget on July 8th.”
It’s all very, very black humor indeed. New austerity measures designed to reduce welfare spending by 12 billion pounds ($19 billion US) per year will be announced next month–meanwhile the queues for food banks are increasing as employment benefits are slashed. The disabled death toll has risen sharply thanks to reductive, draconian tests, which fail to take into account a full range of disabilities. Suicides are becoming commonplace amongst those driven to desperation after housing benefit sanctions. The increasing popularity of “zero hours” contracts–by which a person works without guarantee of hours or benefits–is leaving people living on a knife-edge, unsure whether or not they will be able to afford their next lot of bills. Oh, and they’re planning to scrap the Human Rights Act and replace it with something they’ve written themselves. Le sigh. The coalition government, previously comprised of Conservatives in a majority hung parliament with the Liberal Democrats, picked up and accelerated where the newly centre-left, previously left-left, New Labour party had left off. Now, without the “stabilizers” provided by the Lib Dems, the Conservatives (who gained their small majority despite carrying just 37% of votes) are going all out.
Discussing the march in a piece for the website of the People’s Assembly Against Austerity, who organized the event, Ciaran Clarke writes: “[The] next five years are going to be very, very difficult, and deeply unpleasant. We can expect a gradual erosion of public services, increased privatization in the [National Health Service], tax breaks for the most wealthy, and massive cuts to welfare that will affect the poorest and most vulnerable in our society. Think the past five years were bad? We ain’t seen nothing yet.”
Dave Amis, editor of anarchist paper the South East Heckler, tells Loner: “What was good was the number of young people who have grown up with austerity as the background to their lives who turned out. The weird part was the atmosphere, though. Given that it was an anti-austerity protest, there was no sense of anger. In fact, with the samba band and a couple of sound systems, in parts it felt more like a carnival. Which might have been fun for the participants but isn’t going to send shivers of fear down the spines of the ruling class…”
This less-than-confrontational style might be partly the result of the government’s increasing number of crackdowns on peaceful protests. A number of activists who had previously attended anti-government actions and been arrested and bailed were surprised to be issued with last-minute affidavits preventing them from attending the march. This is all part of the government’s plans to eradicate “extremism”.
“What we have seen in advance of the June 20 demo is a crackdown on the most radical elements of the youth movement. It is absolutely disgusting that people have been banned from exercising their democratic right to peacefully march,” Mya Pope-Weidemann of Brick Lane Debates told Al Jazeera.
Despite this, around 200 protesters launched terrifying (ahem) tomato ketchup bombs at riot police near Downing Street.
The next election isn’t coming round again for just under five years. We face a nasty beast in the meantime, make no mistake. It seems that grassroots action and looking out for one another, in the absence of proper government support, are the only things which will get us through.