Disenchanted citizens promise to fill the streets of financial districts en masse this weekend as they grow weary of bailing out banks. EurActiv Greece contributed to this article.
While people in the US, the UK, and many European countries including Belgium, are mobilising for mass street protests in their cities this Saturday, people in the capital of the EU will put on a comparatively smaller show.
500 protesters expected in Brussels
In comparison to the 4,000 people expected to arrive at the London Stock Exchange, just over 500 people are expected to arrive at Rue Wiertz outside the European Parliament in Brussels.
Belgium has been recently hard hit by financial scandal after it emerged that the CEO of the nationalised Dexia bank has been living at a Brussels hotel three days a week for the past three years.
The bank downplayed Pierre Mariani’s actions, saying he paid for the room by himself. Moreover, figures in the Belgian press indicate that the Dexia bailout will cost €5,000 per taxpayer.
Trade unionists in Brussels claim they have tried to get in touch with the Occupy Brussels movement to show their support but have not had any luck finding a spokesperson.
Patricia Grillo, a spokesperson from the European Trade Union Confederation said there was “no boss, between brackets” because the protestors probably do not want to align themselves with any group or political party to get more people involved.
Asked about the significance of the protests, a spokesperson for the European Commission answered: “How does that concern us?”
The lack of support from EU policymakers has upset followers of the movement who say it highlights why people feel compelled to make themselves heard on the street.
“That really pinpoints why there is such an explosion of activity, and that is the idea that people in places of influence are not worried about what citizens think,” Naomi Colvin, a supporter of Occupy the London Stock Exchange, the UK-arm of the protest, told EurActiv.
The predicted turnout figures in Europe are paltry compared to the number of participants in the US. An umbrella group for the entire movement stateside, Occupy Together, has a total 99,260 followers.
In the last few days, US news media report that the protests have escalated and in some parts, grown personal. Yesterday, thousands of protestors targeted the houses of several billionaires on the Upper East Side of New York.
The London protests, dubbed Occupy LSX, are unlikely to target individuals’ homes, says Colvin, as this has not been agreed at the movement’s General Assembly which has been planning the march.
“It is a bad idea to personalise this. That is a misrepresentation of what we are talking about. We are talking about a systemic problem,” Colvin said.
Colvin explained that the movement had many goals, among which, that action is taken against investment banks and credit rating agencies who allowed sub-prime mortgages to be wrapped up in AAA-rated Credit Default Swaps, swelling a bubble of toxic assets.
Observers lament that the man on the street does not know what they are protesting about but Colvin insists that laymen do understand the actions taken by banks which caused the crisis.
“There is a real danger in assuming that this is too complex for people to understand. It’s like selling medicines that were not labelled properly. Would we want that to happen?” she said.
Since the crisis not a single person or institution has been either indicted or convicted for misleading clients on CDS. Financial analysts in the US believe that banks like Goldman Sachs, which have been selling CDS linked to sub-prime, won’t face criminal prosecution related to these sales because such a move could threaten the financial system.
“The real question is not whether some people are put in prison but whether democracy is restored and the financial sector serves the real economy again. They should be taxed like any other economic sector and become truly accountable to the people,” Sven Giegold, a German Green told EurActiv. The German Greens have called on their electorate to participate in Saturday’s protests.
After the protest, some countries in Europe will enter a phase of general strikes. Colvin hopes a strike in the UK on 6th November will underline the movement’s motives.
This week Greece has been inundated with protests against further austerity measures involving wage and pension cuts and 30,000 planned redundancies.
According to EurActiv Greece, ongoing protests are bringing Athens to a standstill, literally, as a 10-day strike by Greek Petroleum prevented drivers from getting fuel yesterday. Buses, trams and metros stopped purely in protest at the cuts.
These strikes will culminate in a general strike planned for 19 October with many banks, petrol stations, public servants (from municipal administrations to government departments), teachers and students threatening to participate.