London: The 'Toxic Mix' Of Social Deprivation, Unemployment And Austerity

London has been burning down for last few days. Susie has a great post up connecting the unprecedented social unrest in UK with recent austerity policies deployed by the current administration. I wanted to dig into this a little more yesterday. So I asked couple of friends in England about it. I reached out via Twitter yesterday to couple of good friends in London and asked them if they had any recommendations on good reads that give us a sense of the root cause of London riots.

My friend Alex Smith, who is a former aide to Labour Leader Ed Miliband, and of the leading online opinion leaders in UK’s Labour’s grassroots network, immediately fired off this:

Hard to deduce this could've happened in such extremes w/out years of breakdown in trust due to political, financial, media corruption.

Pointing me to this piece in the Guardian discussing how years of “a 'toxic mix' of poor policing of black and minority ethnic communities and social deprivation” in London may have led to last few days of tragic combustion.

Meanwhile, Weldon Kennedy, a brilliant organizer who has been doing great work as “Director of Human Rights Organizing” at pointed to couple of additional articles for context. The “big picture” Nina Power provided in the Guardian is sobering (emphasis added):

Since the coalition came to power just over a year ago, the country has seen multiple student protests, occupations of dozens of universities, several strikes, a half-a-million-strong trade union march and now unrest on the streets of the capital (preceded by clashes with Bristol police in Stokes Croft earlier in the year). Each of these events was sparked by a different cause, yet all take place against a backdrop of brutal cuts and enforced austerity measures. The government knows very well that it is taking a gamble, and that its policies run the risk of sparking mass unrest on a scale we haven't seen since the early 1980s. With people taking to the streets of Tottenham, Edmonton, Brixton and elsewhere over the past few nights, we could be about to see the government enter a sustained and serious losing streak. […]

Combine understandable suspicion of and resentment towards the police based on experience and memory with high poverty and large unemployment and the reasons why people are taking to the streets become clear. (Haringey, the borough that includes Tottenham, has the fourth highest level of child poverty in London and an unemployment rate of 8.8%, double the national average, with one vacancy for every 54 seeking work in the borough.)

Those condemning the events of the past couple of nights in north London and elsewhere would do well to take a step back and consider the bigger picture: a country in which the richest 10% are now 100 times better off than the poorest, where consumerism predicated on personal debt has been pushed for years as the solution to a faltering economy, and where, according to the OECD, social mobility is worse than any other developed country.

Hmm, that all sounds pretty familiar to us doesn’t it? Let’s tick of the similarities after the flip.

First, let’s talk about the wealth gap and underserved communities. Just days ago we saw brand new research on how "the wealth gap between whites and each of the nation's two largest minorities—Hispanics and blacks—has widened to unprecedented levels amid the housing crisis and the recession.” News reports after news reports like this one have come out pointing to the soaring unemployment rate in the African American community in the US. It is currently around 16 percent.

Second, let’s talk about unrest in the labor communities. Just today there is a big recall election going on in Wisconsin, which has been a result of a historic and unprecedented union inspired protest in the Badger state. Meanwhile, just couple of days ago 45,000 workers at Verizon went on a massive strike (full disclosure: I do a lot of work on behalf of the good folks at Communication Workers of America, who are at the forefront of that Verizon strike). There was of course the FAA fiasco that had everything to do with the House GOP’s efforts to bust unions.

Third, let’s talk about tone deaf politicians. Just yesterday brand new CNN poll came out showing how 49 percent of Americans are concerned about unemployment, while 27 percent are worried about deficit. Less than couple of weeks ago a new “bipartisan” poll (a word that Washington is so in love with) came out showing how voters care more about jobs, manufacturing than the deficit by an eye popping 67 percent to 29 percent. There was another poll from the Washington Post couple of weeks ago that came out with one basic message: jobs. Yet as as Digby pointed out the conventional wisdom in Washington seems to be doubling down on austerity showing no signs of being cognizant about real life concerns and policy preferences of overwhelming majority of Americans.

So it is not a stretch by any means to find the similarities between the “toxic mix” that has led to the sad state of affairs in UK, with what is unfolding in the US. The question we are wondering is when exactly our “leaders” will wake up? I hope they don’t have to wait until there is a “toxic” and “tragic” combustion on our side of the pond.


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