28 Feb 2012

Occupy London: What next?

With the Occupy London activists finally evicted from St Paul’s Cathedral, one analyst tells Channel 4 News this is “the end of the beginning, not the beginning of the end” for the group.

Occupy London first set up camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral in October 2011 after a police cordon prevented activists from settling at the London Stock Exchange. Four months on, Occupy London’s anti-capitalist protesters have finally been evicted from the site. Police said 20 people were arrested in the “largely peaceful” operation in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

The long-running court battle between the protesters and the City of London Corporation ended on January 18, when an appeal by Occupy London against their eviction was rejected by the appeal court.

The City of London Corporation said in a statement: “We regret that it has come to this but the high court judgment speaks for itself and the court of appeal has confirmed that judgment.”

However, Occupy London spokesman John Sinha told Channel 4 News it is not the end of the movement.

“I think the eviction has been very good for us. People and the media were beginning to forget about us and most people thought we’d already left St Pauls. The eviction hasn’t weakened our movement, it has made us stronger”, he said.

What next?

An Occupy London campaigner, Spyro van Leemen, told Channel 4 News: “People are quite emotional that we’ve had to leave St Paul’s because it’s a movement we’ve put a lot of work into.”

After four months of protesting at such a high-profile location, what is next for the Occupy London group?

The next major item on the agenda is the ultimatum the group has issued to McDonalds about the company’s work experience scheme, which Occupy says exploits unemployed people. The group says it will occupy one of the company’s stores in central London if it does not withdraw from the government scheme by 6pm on Wednesday, 29 February. It follows a similar protest on London’s Oxford Street on Saturday, in which Right To Work protesters successfully closed down a McDonalds.

Tim Gee has visited many anti-capitalist camps across the UK and is the author of “Counterpower”. He told Channel 4 News these sorts of smaller scale protests can be very effective.

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“After #occupytesco trended on Twitter, Tesco started to backtrack on its policy of unpaid labour. It’s a very credible warning that if protest groups keep putting on the pressure, it’s enough to trigger a result”, he said.

Occupy London spokesman John Sinha told Channel 4 News there are many events being planned, which will be on a more co-ordinated global scale.

“Another occupy might happen in May”, he said. “We want to have a big global event.”

‘End of the beginning’

The Occupy London movement has no intention of quitting, saying it plans to ramp up the pressure on banks, businesses and governments to try and end inequality. But how successful can the group expect to be?

Mr Gee said: “This is a very, very new movement. Occupy is in the early stages of a very long struggle against the elite 1 per cent. However, it needs to start operating on a much larger scale.”

The eviction hasn’t weakened our movement, it has made us stronger John Sinha, Occupy London

As an expert on social movements throughout history, Mr Gee explains that at the moment, Occupy London is at the early stages of what he calls “mass consciousness raising.” The second stage, he says, is building a mass movement, and only when that movement is strong enough can it have real power against the elite.

Mr Gee said: “It is the end of the beginning, not the beginning of the end for Occupy London. The next step has to be coordinating different struggles and giving people support.”

Media spotlight

Occupy London certainly made its presence felt during the four months camped outside the capital’s iconic cathedral, particularly during the early days of the protest. Their cause was already at the forefront of world media attention, thanks to Occupy Wall Street, which settled in New York’s Zucotti Park in September 2011.

On October 21 of that year, the Dean of St Paul’s, the Reverand Graeme Knowles, announced the cathedral would be closed to the public, after he received a health and safety report.

Then came the resignation of Canon Chancellor Reverand Dr Giles Fraser, who told the media he believed “that the chapter has set on a course of action that could mean there will be violence in the name of the church”. Reverand Knowles resigned shortly afterwards, declaring his position “untenable”.

Over the subsequent months, the protesters and the City of London Corporation found themselves to-ing and fro-ing between talks and legal action. There were many points at which it looked like the activists would finally be removed. But it was not until the protesters’ appeal against eviction was dismissed at the court of appeal that their fate was sealed.