It seems even the mainstream newspapers are now talking about protesting against the cuts. Johann Hari's excellent piece in the Independent argues against the customary apathy inspired by people thinking that nothing is achieved by protest.
Of course, the impact of the protests has a lot to do with the nature of the protest and depends critically on how easy it is to ignore it. Petitions achieve almost nothing except notifying people that there is or might be an issue to address. Ignoring a petition is very easy.
Strike action on the other hand is much more difficult to ignore. During strike action, the mainstream press always criticises strikers for inconveniencing people, damaging business confidence, hitting profits, and so on, as if the strikers had no legitimate case at all.
In fact, working people resort to strike action because it is one of the few effective weapons against employers who have all the cards stacked in their favour. They have the press on their side, the general apathy of the population, economic power as well as the law, and so working people facing this assembled force cannot hope to achieve their aims using petitions, pleas, and appeals to reason. They have to hit profits and in the public sector they have to hit the government.
And whilst one group of workers can be pitted against another by the press and politicians, using arguments like the inconvenience caused, workers are weakened by their divisions. But where there is solidarity, acting together in mutual support, the strikers are strengthened and their prospects of winning are greatly improved.
This time around it is very starkly a conflict between protecting the interests of the rich and those of the poor. Everyone knows that it was the bankers speculating with entire economies that caused the crisis, and everyone knows that ordinary working people are being expected to pay for it.
Now more than ever, working people have a vested interest in uniting together against the cuts, a blatantly class-based assault on working class conditions and social services. Whilst George Osborne cancels the tax bill for Vodaphone, thousands are being thrown out of work. The issue could scarcely be clearer. Do you support the rich or do you support the poor? The present austerity is about subsidising the damage caused by the rich by making poor people pay for it.
Apathy has always been right-wing, favouring those already in possession of the economic power. But turning the other cheek stops being credible when the second one gets slapped. So now people are starting to realise that unity is what matters, and that there are some things where compromise is the same as a defeat. Half a million jobs lost means half a million people with their livelihoods ruined - that's a crime against economy.
In France, Greece, Spain, and other countries, there are movements fighting the cuts. And all those political liberals who are stridently wrestling with the consciences while they actually do nothing, will eventually urge acquiescence and compromise, an acceptance of defeat even before the fight has begun. But hopefully there will be a strong enough social force to make them irrelevant. Those going on strike are striking for all of us, pushing back against a right-wing government intent on making poor people pay for the damage caused by the madness of the financial markets.
The austerity measures are all about shifting power more towards the owners of capital, away from workers. And working people are being fed stories about the national interest, the public welfare, and our shared future, as if the owners of capital really lived in the same world as the rest of us. But they spend more on lunch than a working class family lives on in a week.
While George Osborne cuts a corporate tax bill, low income families are paying for it instead. That the political and economic reality in our world. And that's why everyone should be supporting the fight against the austerity measures.