Workers’ Liberty members have been participating in the Occupy London protest camps (some staying semi-permanently and others visiting) at St. Paul's and Finsbury Square.
The atmosphere at the camps is incredibly febrile — all sorts of politics and perspectives are buzzing around, with impromptu meetings and discussions springing up all the time, and the daily General Assemblies taking in everything from how to liaise with trade unions to setting up “healing spaces”.
Some ideas in the camp AWL members disagree with — there is a religious and spiritualist element, a strong presence from the crypto-anti-Semites of the “Zeitgeist Movement”, and lots of people who think that the camp, rather than a symbolic protest and space for discussion, is the actual embryo of a new society (effectively modern-day utopian socialists). But our presence at Occupy London isn’t about hectoring people we disagree with; it’s about adding our own — working-class, socialist — ideas to the mix and attempting to persuade people about them.
On Saturday 22 October, when a zero-hours worker told the General Assembly that her employers had stopped giving her work with the claim that the toilets she cleans are blocked by the camp, AWL members helped facilitate a large discussion about the occupation’s relationship to workers in nearby workplaces and workers more generally.
The following night, we participated in a working group on worker outreach and helped draft a leaflet for workers in the cafés and restaurants (including multinational chains like Starbucks) around the occupation.
The group also agreed to seek links with RMT Stratford No. 1 branch, which organises workers at the nearby St. Paul's tube station. In discussions, there was substantial agreement for our idea that capitalism fundamentally “happens” in the workplace, and that while the occupation was hugely important, the system it sought to protest against could ultimately only be disrupted and overthrown at its nucleus — by workers, in workplaces.
As well as participating in that kind of practical activity and discussion, we’ve also held pop-up meetings to discuss Marxist ideas. AWL members drew a crowd of nearly 50 people for a performance of the “Great Money Trick” from Robert Tressell's The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. We think this neat exposition of how capitalist exploitation works can help occupiers build an understanding of what exactly it is we're fighting against.
The occupation is in many ways redolent of the Climate Camps at their best. But while that movement contained an organised core of ideologues with an ingrained hostility to Marxist ideas and Trotskyist organisations (selling newspapers or other literature was formally forbidden), people at Occupy London are open and keen to discuss ideas.
The common criticism of the movement — that it is negative and vague, positing only catch-all opposition to “the system” (undefined) without proposing concrete alternatives or any agency to achieve change — is not without legitimacy, but it is not the case that occupiers want to turn that lack of concrete politics into a permanent state of affairs. Talking about ideas is very much the order of the day.