London Riots and Simmering Anger

While in London this summer I happened upon an angry crowd. I couldn’t make out the entire chant they shouted in unison, but the last part was “fuck the police.” There were several policemen standing in near proximity. In the nearest telephone booth, I quickly switched from my tourist clothes to my bloggaman cape and started snapping photos.

Crowd gathered outside Chandos Pub, London, June 2011

I stopped after a few minutes and stood trying to figure out what had agitated the crowd so, when I was approached by three young men from the crowd. They demanded to know why I was taking photographs. I bumbled through an answer, but I think it was my American accent that convinced them I was harmless. They soon re-joined their comrades but not before explaining the rally (which more resembled drunken pub patrons stumbling out onto the sidewalk) was in support of the unions which are having their pensions reduced or otherwise attacked.

The crowd becomes angrier and I’m approached, London June 2011

There was a nation-wide strike that day and many schools were closed and Heathrow experienced lengthy delays. I immediately thought back to the last several months in Tennessee and other states in which “greedy teacher unions” seem to have become public enemy number one. I heard later, whether reliably or not, that the government was trying to reduce pensions for teachers who are near the end of their careers and can’t go back and make a different career decision based on the new rules, but rather seem destined for an old age of poverty. Police are exempt from the reductions, which may explain some of the resentment.

Angry Union Supporters, London, June 2011

During our time in both London and Paris we wondered about the large unemployed youths, many of which are Moslem, we had read about in both cities. They were no where in evidence. Of course, if a tourist visits Knoxville they are not likely to see our poorest, most crime ridden areas. Now what seemed like an isolated display of anger has erupted all over England for reasons not entirely clear. It is sobering to consider that a city such as our own could explode virtually without notice. We are fortunate in Knoxville. Still, it’s worth our effort to examine the riots in London and consider whether similar seeds of unrest exist in places much closer to home.