Part three of my OccupyLSX feature based on my week long involvement with the movement. This time its about what they want.
Ask anyone at OccupyLSX what they want to achieve and you’ll get a different answer, but what unites the people there is the sense that the system we live under no-longer works for the majority of the country. The world has become filled with institutions from the IMF, to corporations, to think-tanks, to our own government that are non-transparent, unaccountable and whose motivations are unclear. The Middle East is crying out for democracy, their struggles have only highlighted the fact that we need it in this country too.
When talking about what OccupyLSX want it is impossible not to conflate my own hopes for what they will achieve with theirs. Although in many aspects they may overlap I am not an official spokesperson for the Camp, my thoughts have not passed through the General Assembly, but I think I have a pretty clear idea.
Lets begin with corporations and big business, although they may provide us with many of the goods and services we need their immense power completely subverts the democratic process. Corporations began when governments granted charters for companies to perform a specific task, like provide water supplies for a city they could do only that and were acting for the benefit of the public. Since then the legal checks on their power have been corrupted so that they have grown in size to influence all aspects of our lives.
The main problems as I see them are the profit motive and limited liability, all the rest stem from that. CEOs of major corporations are legally obliged, first and foremost, to provide profit for the shareholders. Even if a CEO is a very nice and caring person if he can’t pay to safely dispose of waste and still make money and he won’t dumping chemical waste into a nearby river then he faces lawsuit from his shareholders as he has failed in his responsibility.
If someone discovers how badly polluted that river has gotten they can file a lawsuit against the corporation. Not the person that authorised the pollution, but the corporation as a whole. Of course the people against the corporation still have to raise the vast legal fees required to take them to court and will still be outgunned by the team of corporate lawyers, this means that only the largest and most horrific corporate crimes are even challenged, let alone won.
A corporation cannot be jailed or otherwise punished, only fined. This means that damage to the environment or abuse of the workforce simply becomes an operating cost to be calculated. Multiply the chance of getting caught by the cost of the fine, if it is less than the cost of safe practice then the corporation is obliged to its shareholders to damage the environment.
Corporations operating costs are made external, at all turns they seek pay as little as they can. Releasing CO2 into the atmosphere, repair of roads from damaged by their trucks, costs of their workers poor health and the destruction of the earth in mining and extracting, none of these are paid by the corporations, others are left to pick up the bill.
I’m not saying that all corporations are bad or that they will always seek to cause harm, but the current legal framework means that it is inevitable that abuses happen now and will continue to in the future. If people were held personally responsible for their actions they might think twice about causing harm, if corporations were made to be responsible for their stakeholders, the workers, the areas they operate in and their shareholders they might act more responsibly.
OccupyLSX also realises there are problems with the economy, when we’re talking about the British economy thanks to 25 years of deregulation we’re talking largely about banks. The entire country has been saddled with the debts of Banks, their trading may have been legal(ish) but it was certainly irresponsible, short-sighted and has not been seriously challenged.
At every stage of their passage through the finance system traders greenlighted the toxic Colleateralised Debt Obligations and Mortgage Backed Securities. Whether through stupidity, or willful ignorance traders took the chance to secure their bonus and pass on these dangerous goods, engaging in a game of musical chairs where whoever was left holding the assets when the music stopped got ruined. No one understood the implications of CDOs because no one can read the 1bn pages of text that fully detail the contents of a CDO yet they are still assumed to be safe. There wasn’t a regulator with the power or foresight to prevent banks from making big enough bets to shatter an entire economy, there still isn’t.
The UK’s overreliance on banks now means that we will languish in this recession for even longer. Industry is less sensitive to market fluctuations and can still continue to operate in times of low growth, driving us out of a recession. Now we’re stuck with the vampire banking institutions, who sap our wealth and still refuse to comply with the shamefully weak Project Merlin that suggests maybe they should put some of their £850bn bailout back into the british economy.
Our tax legislation also allows those with the greatest capacity to pay it to be those most able to avoid it. How on earth can it be fair that many banks and corporations pay percentage wise less tax than those on the average wage?
These are just a smattering of the problems that OccupyLSX has identified, sure they may just be complaints at this point, but for most it’s not hard to right the wrong with a small change. Others may slate the aims for being too big to ever accomplish, but why aim lower than what would actually make a difference? Surely that’s what the Labour party is for?
Neither government is able to challenge these fundamental problems, they’re both funded by both the banks and businesses, once they get into power they become even more beholden to lobbying and pressure groups. It’s up to us to drive the change we require, no one else will do it for us.