Around the world anti-corporate protesters are currently “occupying” the financial districts and CBDs of various major world cities. Of course here in Melbourne there is an equivalent demonstration that as I write is camped in a shanty town in Melbourne’s City Square. But, who are these protestors and what are they demonstrating against?
The occupation protest, obviously modeled on the sixties’ sit ins, seems to have been organized by tertiary students and judging from the correspondence on their official facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/occupymelb?sk=wall) the participants are generally young. That in itself isn’t surprising, youth are always the ones with the energy for such blatant forms of protest, but they are also most likely to have misinterpreted or misunderstood the issues that led them there in the first place. The youthful organizers are also being backed, here and elsewhere around the world, by the Socialists and the radical green movement(http://www.greenleft.org.au/node/49093), placing them right on the political fringes of reality.
This is evident from many of the comments left on the facebook page already, many of which refer to capitalism as a form of government. The last time that I checked Australia still operated under the Federal Westminster system of government- a constitutional monarchy, not a plutocracy. This seems to be the basic incorrect assumption that the protesters have made, that corporations are governing in some capacity. In fact just the opposite is true, corporations are governed. Governed by the laws that are passed in parliament, by economic conditions that are often beyond their control and, perhaps most importantly, by the law of supply and demand. If there was no demand for their services then there would be no corporations.
So what are these occupational protesters hoping to achieve, and can they possibly achieve it? On the surface they seem to want big business to take notice of them and their message- Stop making huge profits! They make a great play out of the fact that the banks in Australia have recorded record profits throughout the GFC and that the huge corporations are exploiting our national resources for mere money but this oversimplifies things far too much to make any worthwhile changes to our consumer society. Confronting corporate Australia with these issues stems from the misinterpretation of capitalism as our form of government and can have no real result because the corporations don’t really care.
If these protesters are serious then they are going to have to take a longer term approach to the issues. If they think that corporations are being allowed to make too much profit then they should spend this effort on getting themselves elected into the real government and change the laws. But of course that would require some real action as well as a much deeper understanding of the issues involved. For instance, how big is big business? Do we therefore set limits on the amount of profit that any business can make? When the corporations have been cut down to size, who is going to employ people? And, most importantly, when the occupation protesters are running the world, who is going to police them?
Forecasts put the potential attendance in Melbourne today in the thousands but so far only around 750 have turned up. I am sure that the youthful participants in these protests will come away with that warm and fuzzy feeling of having done something to fix the world; they won’t be able to say what that something was, but they will have a lovely time while they are camped out in the city square doing it.