Occupy Wall Street, St Paul’s and 900 other cities across the world challenges the Labour Party to demonstrate that it’s not just a clique holed up in the corridors of Westminster, but a mass campaigning organisation that reaches out to the people and responds to their demands. The second Occupation site now established in Finsbury Square, Moorgate, perhaps to be followed by others in addition, and the resolution to stay on site till Christmas or beyond, marks this out as no passing sit-in or protest march, but rather a determined campaign to bring about radical change in the grotesque excesses of power and wealth where the current parliamentary process is seen as irrelevant or ineffectual. The question is, where is the Labour Party in all this?
Labour needs more than anything an underpinning by a mass social and political movement calling for fundamental change, effectively the ending of corporate-driven neoliberal capitalism by a reassertion of democratic control over the economy and the State. Ever since the Blairites betrayed the Labour Party’s roots by replacing campaigning with sending out press releases and fixing behind-the-scenes deals, the party has had no systematic and persistent national campaigning activity. Yet a party committed to fundamental change cannot succeed without this. The Occupy movement offers just the spark to trigger the mass movement needed.
And Labour has the capacity on its side to offer something which this burgeoning movement itself also needs. A movement seriously aiming at profound change needs a clear vision, plans to bring about those goals, and the structures that will enable the plans to be formulated and carried out. Labour can certainly offer means to help respond to these challenges, as well as establishing the links with other protest movements, not least the public sector strikes agains the asset-stripping of pensions a the end of next month.
What is important is that Labour grabs this opportunity. The popularity in championing such a cause which commands enormous public support would be huge. The hatred against the bankers, the corporations and the super-rich is a spark waiting to be lit. It is reported in the US that Obama, becalmed by the bombed-out housing and labour markets, may be planning to at the Presidential election next year to ‘run against Wall Street’. If the economy bombs again in this country, as seems increasingly possible, and is cast into a Japanese-style stagnation, then ‘running against the City’ could be precisely the potent symbol needed.