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The Point of Occupy

On 15th October, in countries around the world, up to three thousand protesters gathered outside St. Paul’s Cathedral, after failing to reach their initial destination of the London Stock Exchange. In the following days, over 100 tents popped up to create the Occupy London encampment, which has been there ever since.

The Occupy movement has spread all over the world, reflecting the anti-capitalist feelings of ‘the 99%’ who have suffered during the economic crisis while an undeserving 1% have been profiting. But will it make a difference? New York protesters may have been able to occupy Zuccotti Park, but they have now been cleared out and here financial districts have reacted to the protesters like they are nothing more than annoying flies that merely need to be swatted away with a court order. The London Stock Exchange was deemed private property and was guarded by police, Canary Wharf took legal action to prevent any camps being set up there, and protestors were stopped from demonstrating in Parliament Square, even though they claimed to have been granted permission. Apparently the right to peaceful protest means nothing unless you have the right paperwork. Legal action is even set to recommence to remove the movement from St. Paul’s.

We can question whether protests really have any effect. The student protests we saw in reaction to the proposal for a raise in tuition fees evidently didn’t change anything. The protests over the summer against the behaviour of police were overshadowed by the riots, and the powers that be seem to have been so busy punishing offenders that they haven’t looked at the underlying causes. However this one may be harder to ignore.

Two Church officials have resigned over the handling of the protests at St Paul’s and it’s not only here where opinions were spilt. Labour leader Ed Miliband claimed that “only the most reckless” would ignore the feelings of the Occupy movement, while David Cameron retains the “quaint view” that protesting is something that should be done on “two feet, rather than lying down – in some cases in a fairly comatose state.” But, what would he rather? The ‘two feet’ student protests saw violence break out and a boy swinging from the Cenotaph. The protests over the summer sparked opportunistic looting, arson and even deaths. The Occupy Wall Street protesters have been met with mace spray, tear gas and rubber bullets, yet here people are generally concerned with just making their presence known and their politicians sit up and listen.

One may be led to question whether our ‘democratic’ state is really working when the 99% have to fight to get their feelings across. MPs were claiming for garden features and fancy second houses as expenses; banks, bailed out by the taxpayer, are keeping interest rates at an all time low and yet are still handing out millions in bonuses to bankers whose lack of responsibility got us into this economic mess in the first place, while the rest of us face unemployment, sky-high loans and redundancy. However new measures are now being discussed. The Archbishop of Canterbury has backed ideas of a tax to be put on financial trading, nicknamed a ‘Robin Hood’ tax and the government are considering introducing pay structures and giving new powers to shareholders with the aim to attempt to control executive pay. It seems that the issues on the minds of the public have not gone unnoticed.

A common reaction seems to be that protesters need to be clear about what they’re protesting for, not only what they’re protesting against. Arguing against those who receive ridiculous pay cheques that are far above their workers is one thing but we mustn’t forget that some people earn a lot of money and work very hard for it. They’re in the office early in the morning and are still there when we’re eating dinner. They’re still pouring over paperwork during their weekends off and they do it all without stabbing anyone else in the back. As university students, I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that this is where we see ourselves, doing a honest day’s work for a honest day’s pay. It’s true to say that many people get paid next to nothing for doing a hard day’s work, and these people need a voice. But on the other hand some people get paid little because they don’t do more than the bare minimum and call in sick at any opportunity – and these same people complain about those they see passing by them and getting on in life. It’s important that whatever measures are brought in protect the hard-workers at all levels and work against those who are undeserving or just want an easy ride.

Ellis Schindler

Image by Bruno Albutt

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3 Comments on this post.
  • Bryony
    12 December 2011 at 16:16
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    I very much disagree with the conclusion of this article. Whilst I acknowledge that there are those who work hard and those who do not, to make such a “Daily Mail” comment about people not getting paid much because they don’t work hard is unfounded and fatuous. The fact is, the distribution system of wealth is fundamentally flawed, which means that the managers at the top get paid distinctly more than those at the bottom (who may work just as hard as they do). I recommender that this reporter watch a documentary by Michael Moore. You may not agree with his political ideology, but he shows successful companies in America that are run on the true values of democracy: everyone gets equal pay and equal say. This should be the foundation of Western business, not hierarchical exploitation of workers.

  • ES
    18 December 2011 at 20:17
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    Thank you Bryony for your comments, however I by no means meant to imply that I think that all people who are paid a lot of money deserve it as they all work hard and that those who don’t get paid a lot don’t work hard which is what I meant by: “It’s true to say that many people get paid next to nothing for doing a hard day’s work, and these people need a voice.” I was merely referring to people who complain about getting nowhere in life when they don’t actually put any effort in. I fully agree that many people get paid a minimal amount despite the fact that they work incredibly hard. My point was simply to say that if measures are brought in to control executive pay (which I do think is necessary) it shouldn’t work against people who earn a decent wage and work hard for it. It should work for the people who, as you say, work just as hard as the managers who earn a lot more and against those who earn ridiculous, undeserved salaries.

  • Dave
    19 December 2011 at 11:07
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    It’s not as simple as saying that if you work hard, you deserve x amount, and if people work an equivalent level of ‘hard’ then they deserve similar wages.

    Let’s say we’re in the kitchen of a fancy restaurant. On the one side you’ve got Heston Blumenthal, and on the other you’ve got me. Now I’m not fantastic at cooking; I haven’t had training, I don’t have much natural talent and I don’t have much experience of the environment or, indeed, leading a team of other chefs to produce a good result. That said, I’ll give it a go.

    No doubt I would try incredibly hard to make it work. However, all the effort I put in would not stop me from producing late, cold and inedible food, value zero. Heston, with doubtless a minimum of effort on his part, can create fantastic food which far exceeds the value of the original ingredients. That’s why he’s getting paid more than the guy that’s making the soup. They can both be conceivably putting the same amount of effort in, but one is clearly worth far more to the whole enterprise and so he’s –justifiably – being paid far more.

    This obviously isn’t a perfect argument, as the pay disparity can be ludicrous in the real world. It also doesn’t take into account other factors – for example, what if our hypothetical Heston ‘deliberately’ made it difficult for the guy making the soup to understand what needed to be done to get promoted, thus ensuring that hypo-Heston (and only hypo-Heston) could do the role and retain that level of pay. Create enough insider jargon and you can make a business seem completely impenetrable, leaving it only to the individuals who (claim to) understand it.

    However, I just wanted to address the notion that the only measure of how much people should be paid is how hard they work. Experience, reliability and talent are just a few of the other things that obviously have to come into it. It’s a failing of a culture that tries to convince us all that we’re all born completely equal, when quite clearly things aren’t as simple as that. Trying to equate ‘democracy’ with things like equal pay is stretching the concept of democracy way, way too far. At the basic level, democracy is an electoral system (and not a perfect one at that). It’s not a rulebook for a ‘just’ society.

    Society should provide us with equal treatment under the law, and it should provide us all the same rights and responsibilities that we get for being born in a liberal democracy, but no amount of wishful thinking can change the fact that Wayne Rooney was born with more of a talent for football than I was, and no amount of hard work on my part will change that.

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