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Home arrow Sociology arrow Bourdieu and Social Movements: Ideological Struggles in the British Anti-Capitalist Movement

Occupy UK

Preceding Occupy in the UK was the political campaign group, UK Uncut. To some extent this group is the harbinger of Occupy UK as it helped expose and bring to public attention that, while the UK government was making cuts to public funding (justified by the financial crisis and recession), large corporations were (and are) avoiding paying taxes, for example, Vodaphone and Starbucks.

Without doubt the UK Occupy movement emerged to protest against what was perceived to be an unjust economic system, a system that was at best described as an incompetent political system and at worst as a political system that supported the 1 per cent and disregarded the 99 per cent.

One demographic affected by the UK Conservative and Liberal Democratic coalition government is those entering further and higher education. The government abolished the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) and at the same time reduced funding for higher education by ?2.9 billion in 2011. They also lifted the cap on higher education fees, which have now tripled from approximately ?3000 to ?9000 following recommendations from the Brown review in 2010. As a result young people have joined groups such as UK Uncut and Occupy because they have felt at first-hand the impact of the cuts and witnessed staff in multinational corporations and especially banks (who caused the financial crisis and recession and have been subsequently bailed out by the taxpayer) receive excessive bonuses.

It is arguable that economic injustice is taking place. On the one hand the banks that are responsible for the mismanagement of the economy are being rewarded, making a mockery of any notion of meritocracy. On the other, people who are not responsible - students and the next generation of workers - are paying more through cuts and taking on huge debts. Ironically, it is students who will owe vast amounts of money to the very people and organizations that caused the financial crisis in the first place.

The UK Occupy movement emerged on 15 October 2011, with camps being set up in London, Birmingham, Bristol, Edinburgh and Glasgow. Protesters in London attempted to occupy the London Stock Exchange but were unable to due to police presence. However, the protesters moved to St Paul's Cathedral and set up camp there; this camp lasted until late February 2012. Most of the other camps in the UK had been cleared by this point. The London camp moved to Finsbury Park and continued until June 2012.

One of the activists, Gavin, explains why he thinks Occupy UK emerged when it did:

Well I think there was at the time, and I think there still is an underlying anger at the injustice of the system that we live under - the increasing inequalities, the poverty that exists. Generally people who were there had a good understanding of that and a good

understanding that something isn't right____So yeah, that's the

reason why I think people were there. They were angry at the injustice of the system we live under.

In addition, Gavin says:

what I also noticed is that people had their own specific sort of injustice that they come with. So there were people, there were a fair few people who were gay, there were a fair few people who were sort of from migrant backgrounds and stuff like that, and people who had struggled to get on in life in different ways because of some form of oppression that they'd suffered.

The Occupy movement in the UK and elsewhere was very diverse; it was inclusive and as such easy to become involved in. The movement deliberately lacked a formal membership structure and this is one of the reasons that Ben became involved:

So the crash happened as I started my undergrad and then I was getting into these ideas about 2009/10 and then at that time the only movements that were around were UK Uncut and SWP... kind of more formal groups, I suppose. I don't really know what the word is... organizations. Which I wouldn't have really got involved in. Occupy came along and seemed easy to get involved in I think. And I think a lot of people found that, as you could kind of just go along. It was very inclusive, especially at the beginning, it was in a space that was easy to find. Occupy was in a public place and was very easy for people to come to, when compared to these more formal organizations perhaps. (Ben)

Inclusivity and diversity to a large extent was a feature of the way in which the Occupy camps were organized (Graeber, 2013; Roberts, 2014; Smith and Glidden, 2012). However, this inclusivity caused problems too. The camps eschewed formal structures and operated through consensus decision-making practices, which meant people of all different political affiliations could be included from the outset. On the surface this seems reasonable and ideal, yet two key problems arose for the Occupy movement: (1) there was no concrete political plan to progress their politics beyond the camp; (2) conversely, elites do have a clear plan and the resources to carry it out.

 
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