30 November. Above the invisible bridge at Blackfriars, red Victorian pilings jutting from the Thames, helicopters dangle like ugly Christmas baubles. They surveil thronging streets. Two million public-sector workers strike today, and tens of thousands of them and their supporters are whooping through central London.
Mary Ezekiel, lifelong Londoner, Highgate by way of Hackney, staff nurse at University College London Hospital, itemizes the effects pension cuts, the action’s cause, will have. She flattens down her red t-shirt. Much British tat is emblazoned with the cloying World War II propaganda slogan ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’. ‘Get Angry’, Ezekiel’s shirt demands instead, ‘and Fight Back’. ‘All the speakers have been amazing’, she says. ‘That’s what I feel positive about. I just hope it reaches Mr Cameron’ — she says the Prime Minister’s name disdainfully — ‘in his mansion.’
Cameron first denounced, then dismissed the day’s action. For the Right, strikes are both devilish and pathetic, have both terrible and absolutely no effects.
‘The perils of marching!’ a young woman laughs, pushing banners out of her face. ‘Lashed by flags!’ A thousands-strong sprawl of bobbing cloth and cardboard. The logo of the Society of Radiographers wobbles near placards of the Worker-Communist Party of Iran. Holding up a huge pink triangle, a young Ugandan man Abbey says, ‘We are helping gay asylum seekers from over the world, especially Uganda, Nigeria, Cameroon, Senegal.’ He’s there to support the workers. It’s all linked, he explains. Cuts to social spending, soaring tuition fees, scapegoating.
Another animal watches from above, like the lion, but this one with relish. Sabbas waves an extraordinary papier-mâché dog head. ‘It’s the riot dog,’ he says. ‘Or the riot dogs, because there’s more than one riot dog over there.’
London homage to Athenian animal rebellion. Loukanikos, Kanellos and Louk. Unfazed by tear gas, canine presences at every demonstration against the austerity demanded by those who do not need to be austere. Matter-of-factly, Sabbas translates the dog’s slogan, its injunction to rulers: ‘“Cut your own throat”.’