david j baileyThe author of a recent article in The Conversation, David J. Bailey, is a politics lecturer at Birmingham University, whose research and teaching focuses on protest movements, political economy, and political participation. He receives funding from the Economic and Social Research Council, funded by the government’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

Bailey’s research, which coincides with the passage through parliament of new laws to restrict strikes, looks at protest events recorded in national newspapers since the late 1970s: “Figures show that the frequency and scale of protest is increasing, with 296 protest events last year compared with 154 in 2010 and 155 in 1980”.

He said that the main change over the past three decades was that workers were no longer the key protesters – though he then went on to instance the action of thousands of junior doctors – surely workers? – who struck over changes to their working conditions earlier this month and followed that by reports that the transport workers’ union, the RMT, is considering industrial action on the London underground against night shifts.

Bailey sees a new age of mass protest emerging as he surmises that more people than at any time since the late 1970s are becoming disillusioned with politicians and seek media attention.

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Andrew Walton offers a more profound analysis, in Beyond Placards and Banners

andrew waltonHe writes, “Richard Swift, in his ‘No-nonsense guide to democracy’, captures the essence of our current political plight when he says that citizens have withdrawn from public life and instead replaced engagement with the pleasures of shopping and various passive entertainments. In his eyes: “People have abdicated their role as citizens and make up for their powerlessness in the public arena through these compensatory activities – jet skis, four-wheel-drive vehicles, computer paraphernalia and the latest designer clothing.”

Andrew comments: ”Birmingham city centre encapsulates this pretty well. Monoliths of commerce tower over people as models peer out from billboard images, smiling insidiously at passers by. They cast shadows over the little snippets of nature that remain there: pigeons and an occasional tree reminding us that we are in fact part of an ecosystem”.

As he urges citizens to re-enter public life and start treating politics as a way of life, not just a five yearly vote, he might have welcomed the public support for Jeremy Corbyn at meetings, in TV and radio audiences – and the focus on the government’s austerity measures with100,000 attendees at the People’s Assembly Against Austerity in June, 50,000 people protesting outside the Conservative Party Conference in October, 30,000 demonstrators calling for the government to do more to help refugees, and 50,000 environmentalists demonstrating in support of stronger government action at the Paris summit.

Meanwhile, complementing protest, we can see a host of innovative thinkers working for a stronger urban and bioregional economy in a healthier environment, ranging from the new council leader John Clancy, to Andrew Walton (Bioregion Birmingham) Ridhi Kalaria (Birmingham Pound), Friends of the Earth, and arch-localiser Karen Leach (Localise West Midlands). They address serious issues such as Birmingham’s youth unemployment, poor air quality, traffic congestion, waste disposal, lack of housing and dwindling food sovereignty.

Implementing their proposals would bring opportunities to the young unemployed and reverse the city’s social and environmental decline.

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