It was a distinctive mix of participants. Lots of older school age children had come with their friends and it was conspicuous how many family groups there were. Making up for the absence of unions and established labour movement organisations there was a strong presence of campaigning groups. You sensed that for many of the younger participants this was one of the first demonstrations they’d attended. It was a very youthful protest.
The demonstration fits into the shift that is taking place in British politics and the end of the almost absolute hegemony of the Tories and Labour. Insofar as any party was in tune with the bulk of the marchers it was the Greens, who’ve now got a much more left wing profile due to Natalie Bennett and Caroline Lucas. Yet you got a sense that a lot of the marchers were political orphans in the sense that they had no affinity with any of the mainstream parties, the far left or even organised campaigns. They had self mobilised.
The young marchers are the new emerging working class. They know that they will leave university with big debts, that it will be impossible for most of them to ever escape from rented accommodation and that they will, for the most part, be offered insecure, low-paid jobs. And to top it all they have a better grasp than most other people of the damage humans are doing to the climate. They have mostly grown up with a feeling that parties and even unions are not terribly relevant to them. This is entirely understandable as they will have seen minimal resistance to austerity from the unions and its embrace by Labour and the Lib Dems, an outfit that some of them had illusions at the last election.
There was a vibrancy and a militancy in the marchers’ spirits. As the photo shows, there was a sit down in the Strand, one of central London’s main roads. The police had originally refused to facilitate this democratic protest and had insisted that the organisers pay for private security companies to close the roads, an expense well beyond the means of any campaign. They were forced to back down but this is an unwelcome straw in the wind about what they might do in future. In any case they found enough officers to make sure that every branch of McDonalds and Starbucks on the route was well protected.
If we were to find one problem with the day it was that this protest clashed with Million Women Rise, an International Women’s Day event that was taking place a short distance away in Trafalgar Square. This may be due to human fallibility but it should be a learning experience which teaches climate change and other activists to check their diaries to avoid conflicts with other significant dates in the political calendar.
It’s hard to put a name to it but we are seeing a new movement of radical young people and the politically homeless trying to create something new. The Greens are the big beneficiaries at the moment electorally and in terms of recruitment. Their combination of anti-austerity politics and environmentalism has really caught the mood.
On a slightly partisan note, the leaflet for the Fourth International’s youth summer camp was well received. People who took it had no problem identifying themselves as environmentalists and feminists. How many of them would call themselves socialists is an interesting question for the left.