IssueNovember 2011
Feature by Gabriel Carlyle

The website had asked people to assemble in front of St Paul’s cathedral at 12 noon precisely (“not early or late”), so of course everyone turned up at 11.45am, milling aimlessly with their banners. At noon a sound system was turned on, pumping out a furious electronic beat... and we continued to mill.

It was Saturday 15 October, and “Occupy London” were acting in solidarity with “Occupy Wall St”, initiated by Adbusters in New York on 17 September. The Wall St occupation, which is based in Liberty Square (Zuccotti Park) in New York’s financial district, says on its website: “The one thing we all have in common is that We Are The 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%. We are using the revolutionary Arab Spring tactic to achieve our ends and encourage the use of nonviolence to maximize the safety of all participants.”

Later on 15 October, following a brief, unsuccessful bid to enter nearby Paternoster Square – site of the London stock exchange – and a subsequent attempt to set up a “people’s assembly” in the cold, cramped area by the side of the cathedral, some bright spark suggested that we return to the cathedral’s sun-lit steps, and we all found ourselves back where we’d started.

PN asked a range of participants why they were there and what they hoped to achieve. Inspired by Noam Chomsky’s statement the previous Saturday, at the Rebellious Media Conference, that the labour movement had played a crucial role in the successes of the Arab Spring uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, and that this “ought to be known if the occupy movements, spectacular as they are, are going to have real success”, we also asked folk what they thought about trade unions.

Why are you here today?

  • Young woman: “We’ve had one massive economic crisis in the past few years and we’re about to go into another one. What’s been done to solve this problem hasn’t solved the problem and we’re just going to do more of the same and that’s just going to make the situation worse. There needs to be a rethink about the way in which the whole system is structured.”
  • Palestine Solidarity Campaign supporter: “I’ve been following the Wall Street demonstrations from the very beginning – before it was even in the press – and I’m behind it. It’s about time people got off their bums and got going. I’m so pleased it’s happening in the States!”
  • Young man: “Just to show solidarity with people: people who are losing their jobs and getting pay cuts when the government is spending millions of pounds on wars overseas.”
  • Young woman, early 20s: “To meet some intelligent boys!”
  • Finnish man: “I work in a hedge fund [a private investment company] and so I see quite a lot of very nasty things going on on a daily basis. I think a broad-based popular movement is needed to change things on a very large scale, because a lot of change is needed.”

What do you hope to achieve by being here?

  • Woman with baby: “I’m hoping for more media coverage so we can create more awareness.”
  • Man with two daughters, both in pushchairs: “There isn’t really any specific goal. It’s not like the marches. The last march I went on was the Stop the War march [in February 2003] and the result of that was absolutely nothing so I stopped marching ... But this isn’t about a specific issue, this is about an upsurging of new ideas and dissatisfaction. I’m hoping that we can put our heads together and work out a better way of doing things. There seems to be quite a lot of intelligence here...”
  • Tall man with megaphone: “That’s the most stupid question – they always ask that. I’ve no idea what I’m hoping to achieve, but you’ve got to try haven’t you?”

What do you think about trade unions?

  • Bearded man selling The Land: “There should be more of them really, especially among the young, middle class self-employed post-industrial types. They want to unionise as well really. I think we need, like, hippy trade unions and things like that.”
  • Thin man with glasses: “I love trade unions. There should be a trade union of the unemployed. Everyone should be in a trade union. (PN: What about the bosses?) Everyone apart from the bosses should be in a trade union....
Topics: People power