The TTIP action in Parliament Square was interesting for me in a couple of ways, especially given my minor obsession with the as-yet-non-existent fight against deregulation at a UK level. (For anyone not familiar with TTIP, this is a good introduction - essentially the latest attempt at a trade deal which allows corporations to ride roughshod over the democratic process.) Because of course, what a lot of people don't realise is that the corporate takeover of regulation is here already, in the form of the ludicrous, undemocratic, brazenly ideological 'one-in, two-out' rule which I blog about with such tedious regularity. We don't need a new trade deal to stomp all over our standards and protections, because the UK government has helpfully already done that.
But for me the TTIP action brought home just how difficult it is to get people fired up about these big, abstract, systemic things, which actually have the most egregious impact on things they care about. People will get out on the streets to demand climate action or workers' rights, but try getting them out to fight the war and not just the individual battles, and it's not so easy. To be fair, the disappointing turnout yesterday might have something to do with demo fatigue, being sandwiched between the big climate march and next week's anti-austerity march. And, of course, austerity is also a big, abstract, systemic thing, but one which seems much easier to communicate and mobilise around than deregulation - why is this I wonder? Is it just that it's so much more a part of public discourse, or is there something more fundamental to it than that?
On the plus side, even if the turnout yesterday was a bit underwhelming (and even if the protest was completely overshadowed by the Kobane protesters on the other side of the square), the TTIP campaign shows that it is possible to mobilise people to fight these things, if they're communicated properly. Two frames which seem to be working for TTIP, and which I think are equally relevant to the UK context:
- Corporate takeover of democracy. Deregulation might be a boring and abstract villain, but unaccountable corporate power is not. The parallels with the UK regime - where regulations are being assessed solely for their 'burden' on business, and these assessments are then passed on to a committee stuffed with corporate lobbyists to be rubber-stamped - are obvious.
- Eroding our hard-fought protections - food standards, workers' rights, environmental laws. Regulation is almost as rubbish a hero as deregulation is a villain: it has to be made real and connected to things that people actually give a shit about. These were the three that kept coming up at TTIP, and I think they work just as well at UK level.
Even if it's not as big as it needs to be, the anti-TTIP movement has grown from nothing into a serious force in an impressively short space of time. We urgently need to learn from and build on this to start challenging the deregulatory consensus in the UK.