‘You believe in the Palace of Crystal, eternally inviolable, that is in something at which one couldn’t furtively put out one’s tongue or make concealed gestures of derision. But perhaps I fear this edifice just because it is made of crystal and eternally inviolable, and it will not be possible even to put out one’s tongue at it in secret.’ – Dostoevsky, Notes from Underground.
Protest gets exciting and real when things like this happen – one or two lead a charge, the street is occupied, a barricade knocked down, a spill of anger, police running after. It’s always momentary but I love it. Occupations too, like the breath of air taken before diving into water, the excitement of breaking the crystal palace before realising the scary implications of whatever you’ve done, symbolic violence, trangression, an event, whatever term’s preferred. This was a momentary occupation of the street in New Cross that moved down to Deptford before dispersing. It didn’t change anything except disrupting the traffic for about half an hour in all, and we all made the mistake of moving towards Deptford instead of Old Kent Rd, which would’ve attracted more support and been more difficult to stop, but hey.
But the real purpose of talking about crystal palaces is June 30th’s union demonstration against pension cuts. This isn’t just about pensions of course, but will get onto that in a moment. The strikers have good reason to be angry. They shouldn’t have to pay for a deficit caused by the financial sector and the political sycophants they pay for. Given the frozen pay of most public workers already, rising inflation in food and fuel costs, the historically lower pay of public sector workers, which like those in private sector is really low compared to managers and bosses and their golden handshakes, pensions etc., there’s plenty of good reason to be angry. Extra pension contributions works out as a further pay cut in real terms, as well as everything above. Against the Independent’s pathetic editorial today, making public workers pay more into pensions isn’t about increasing life-expectancy either, least not primarily: public workers have paid more than enough in National Insurance contributions and pension contributions to justify a fair pension. The real shortfall comes from the declining tax-collections from the middle-class and rich, as well as from corporations.
In the wider scheme of things, our working and personal lives are getting entirely privatised by financial capitalism, and the concept and practice of neoliberalism which raises finance and free trade to an abstract ideal, like the palace of crystal. The real functions of financial markets, based on esoteric yet entirely machinic trading algorithms and derivatives, have taken capitalism to an eternally inviolable theory to which all social and political life must be submitted to. It’s a great con-trick: the Banking Crisis of 2008-9 becomes like some mythic preternatural crime which we are now all responsible, to which we must now all repay our dues. No. Although the J30 pickets across the UK, and the march in London were only small points of resistance, they will increase. There was an unsurprising amount of local sympathy to the marchers in New Cross. It seems that the more serious impact of public sector cuts began to come into effect from April this year. What began with university and school students is now being filled by teachers, nurses and civil servants. Maybe it’s time to stick our tongues out….
Lastly, plug for this event I’m co-organising with Morten, Becky, Sibi, Sophie and other CCS people next Monday and Tuesday. I’ll be talking about cultural studies on the first day and car-parks on the second. It’s free and everyone is welcome, including your good self, who ever you are – see unfinishedbusiness2011.wordpress.com