Archive for the ‘corporate Britain’ Category

How

I’ve recently joined a trade union. It wasn’t something I ever thought I would do, nor was it something I thought I’d ever need to do, but I’m working in the British public sector and am facing redundancy. The new catchword it seems is ‘restructuring’, which of course means restructuring in favour of one ideology at the expense of another – business comes first and staff development counts for nothing at all. Instead of training and developing staff to be able to do what you need, the new British management ethic is just to get rid and replace. I’m not going to take it lying down, although there’s no doubt my boss and the institution I work for will get away with it.

It’s symptomatic of the direction in which this society is being led politically – ridding ourselves of job protections, attacking the rights of people living with disabilities and other nonsense, instead of blaming the banking individuals who have instead been allowed to get away with crashing the economy without any comeback, and who are still allowed to dodge paying their fair share of taxation, when people who need our social safety net are routinely denied it (often being compelled to work for nothing at all). Got that? Good. What comes next is a great speech by outgoing General Secretary of the TUC Brendan Barber:

You can’t pick winners. Tell that to Bradley, Jessica or Mo, all supported by targeted funding.

Markets always trump planning, they say. Well look at the Olympic Park, the result of years of careful planning and public investment.

Private is always better than public, they argue. Not true, as we saw all too clearly when it came to Olympic security.

Those summer weeks were a time when we really were all in it together. Not because we were told to be. But because we wanted to be. Athletes, workers, volunteers, spectators, residents, communities – all pulling together.

He’s referring of course to the London Olympics and Paralympics, which have now come to a close, and he’s right in the conclusions he’s drawn from them. There’s a prevailing set of attitudes in the UK which the Tories exploited in the 80’s and are just (with our complicit right wing media) getting away with exploiting now. There are myths about mass numbers of work shy, that greed is good, the super rich are the wealth creators, and that there are benefits cheats lurking around every street corner. Yet London 2012 disproved most of this nonsense, with people from every walk of life cheerfully working together for the greater good without a murmur and (in my experience of them) displaying resolutely good humour.

Now drawing these lessons into politics is a difficult, and possibly an impossible thing. Because people chose to behave the way they did over the last 6 weeks they and most others would be enormously resistant to politicians reaching for quick conclusions. George Eaton’s article goes on to suggest that Ed Miliband follows Bill Clinton’s lead at the recent Democratic National Convention, in trying to paint the Tories as ‘everyone for themselves’ at the cost of ‘we’re all in this together’, but I can’t help but wonder if that could succeed in trumping entrenched attitudes and the British public’s lazy reliance on victim-based myths. The Labour Party of course has its own victims – ‘failed’ asylum seekers, protesters, students, sex ‘offenders’ and others (any plans for social housing, Ed?), which would make a sudden swing to piety look pretty false.

What we need is much more. If Miliband is to be supported he’ll have to break entirely from his New Labour past, eschewing UK Border Agency extremism for a programme of social housing construction, reining in police extremism once more, regaining comfort in the right to protest and re-enabling access to higher education, whilst undoing the recent Tory attempt to destroy the NHS. If he’s really eager to make anything change, and win power in his own right, he’ll have to turn his back on Blair, be prepared to stand up to these so-called ‘wealth creators’ with their ‘restructuring’ crap and ‘business case’ bullshit, and acknowledge how national wealth is generated. It’s enabling people who want us really ‘all to be in this together’ simply to get on with doing so, rather than face constant attack by the super privileged work shy. That would be the greatest legacy anyone could put together from the hugely positive summer that’s just come to a close.

Seumas Milne does the deconstruction work so you don’t have to:

It’s billed as the greatest show on earth. But the closer you get to the London stadium that will be the centre of the Olympic Games in just over a fortnight’s time [now under 2 days], the more it’s starting to look like a militarised occupation zone. East London has become lockdown London. The Olympics are the focus of Britain’s largest security mobilisation since the second world war.

Soldiers are already on the streets. Around 13,500 are being deployed, more than currently in Afghanistan, along with tens of thousands of police and private security guards. Drones will patrol the skies over the Olympic park, barricaded behind an 11-mile electrified fence and guarded with sonic weapons and 55 teams of attack dogs.

Mustn’t forget the law changes which will allow police to move gatherings of two or more on for any reason they can think of. Is the Olympics really worth sacrificing freedom of assembly? As Milne points out later in the article, just what is that promoting? But of course that’s just the tip of the iceberg, as he goes on to explain:

The greatest local outrage has, not surprisingly, been triggered by the decision to site surface-to-air missile batteries, with orders to shoot down any unauthorised aircraft, in six residential areas around the park – including in the former factory buildings where the socialist feminist Annie Besant led the celebrated “matchgirls’ strike” in 1888. On Tuesday, residents of another tower block failed at the high court to stop the army putting missiles on their roof on the grounds that they hadn’t been consulted and could be vulnerable to terrorist attack.

Of course, if the state hosting the Olympics is in the habit of invading and occupying other people’s countries, the likelihood of terrorist attacks will increase. And ever since the killing of Israeli athletes in Munich 40 years ago, Olympic security has been tight. But the scale and visibility of the London operations, including powers to crack down on protest and even remove critical posters from private homes, go far beyond the demands of any potential threat.

People are already getting threatened by the police, merely for having expressed anti-Olympics dissent online. It’s quite unthinkable. What is this supposed to be, China? Have we learned nothing from the police excess around the Royal Wedding, where protesters were essentially arrested (without having done a single thing), for not joining in unquestioningly with the party?

There are other motivations, naturally. In the words of one Whitehall official, the Olympics are a “tremendous opportunity to showcase what the private sector can do in the security space“. But it’s all a long way from the Olympic ideals of promoting peace, internationalism and participation through sport.

Not just security. As he goes on to discuss, it’s a corporate free-for-all. Want to get your money from a non-VISA cashpoint while you’re cheering on Tom Daley et al? Good luck with that. Want to eat healthily, which would sort of be in line with a major sporting event? Enjoy your Big Mac and supersized fries in the largest McDonalds in the world! From The Braiser:

“London won the right to host the 2012 Games with the promise to deliver a legacy of more active, healthier children across the world,” said Assembly Member Jenny Jones, who proposed the motion. “Yet the same International Olympic Committee that awarded the games to London persists in maintaining sponsorship deals with the purveyors of high calorie junk that contributes to the threat of an obesity epidemic.”

I wish the athletes (at least the non-drug taking ones) well, but the event which they’re partaking in is making a mockery of itself. Respect, excellence and friendship? By threatening dissenters, militarising the city and encouraging obesity (yes Coca Cola I’m also looking at you)? What a joke.

Simon Jenkins offers an angry assessment of the Olympics so far:

Early in the London bid process I attended a conference at which the Blairite talk was of holding a “new games”, even a “people’s Olympics“. They would put an end to the International Olympic Committee‘s self-importance, elitism and expense, showing how any world city could afford to host the Olympics by using existing facilities. There should be no question of the Olympics imposing a “white elephant cost”, as on Montreal, Athens and Beijing. Sport would be made to fit the city, not the other way round.

The political ambition of Tony Blair and his team to “win” the games from France blew that to the winds. The IOC’s demands for special stadiums, venues near five-star hotels and Guantánamo-style “fortified villages” were conceded. Huge sums were spent on consultants and buildings. The budget soared. London was sacrificed to extravagance and political kudos, and told it was lucky.

The Games were thus vulnerable to Britain’s prevailing securocrat paranoia, as well as to the logistical chaos that comes with disrupting a large and busy city for a whole summer. There are guards who speak no English and drivers who have never heard of Tower Bridge. Only now are Londoners waking up to the statutory scope that parliament conceded to the IOC back in 2006. It could command London’s police, traffic, advertising and business activity. It could enjoy unlimited access to the British exchequer. A £3bn budget swiftly ballooned to £9bn.

I’ve heard this said elsewhere: the ‘Games’ are epitomising what we now socially crave. We’re so disillusioned and politically apathetic, that we demand spectacle that we can all join in (or delude ourselves into thinking we can). ‘Live’ news, Royal Weddings, Stock, Aiken & Waterman ‘reunions’, you name it, we’ll all come together unquestioningly (and pretty hysterically) for these, in the absence of a political arena we can have any influence over. Blown civil liberties? Who gives a shit when you can afford your holiday to the Costa del Sol? Freedom of assembly? Who needs that, fellow citizen? Don’t you know how much better life would be if you were a GAMES MAKER?

Of course the remaining point is equally true – the security state looked upon the Games with glee as an unparalleled series of opportunities. Just look at the little people whingeing about re-routed traffic, whilst ambulances are banned from GAMES LANES! Just look at how the compliant judiciary isn’t remotely bothered about the military installing missiles on people’s roofs! Londoners aren’t allowed to use the words London, Olympic, Games, 2012 or even to mock LOCOG whilst linking to their website, and woe betide any florist’s, butcher’s or newspapers offering Olympic Specials! They’ll be visited by BRAND POLICE! It sounds comedic but this is all happening right now, amidst the cheering and gasps at the passing of the Olympic Torch. The really dangerous authoritarian elements who had their day in New Labour are laughing up their sleeves.

London won’t gain a thing from the Olympics, other than this transitory ‘feel-good’ blip which we’ve forgotten all about since the Royal Wedding (fancy that). The Tories will continue attacking poor people, the bankers will still refuse to lend to small businesses whilst paying themselves millions in bonuses, and nasty precedents will have been set which won’t have escaped the attention of the securitati in Whitehall, GCHQ (hello) and Downing Street. I’ve been told off for dismissing the positive effect the Games will have on sport, but it remains an utter mystery to me why so many billions need to be spent doing that, and why pushing sport shouldn’t be part of daily life for kids and adults alike anyway. The London 2012 Olympics are epitomising everything that’s wrong in 21st century British life.

This man is detestable. Blair is back, and eager to continue where he left off, not apologising for the abuses of neoliberalism but defending it to the hilt. In an interview with the Telegraph the war criminal is now even suggesting left is right, up is down and the sky is really green:

The approach promoted by Baroness Thatcher’s government is not to blame for the recent financial and economic crisis, Mr Blair says, warning against taking vengeance on bankers and increasing State intervention in the private sector.

We must not start thinking that society will be better off “if we hang 20 bankers at the end of the street”, Mr Blair says.

Noone’s suggested taking ‘vengeance’ on bankers. But when they were the means by which the economic crisis was triggered, why is it that not a single one has been prosecuted?

Big international banks are still the focus of public and political attacks for what critics say was their role in causing the financial crisis.

Mr Blair cautions against letting that anger lead to regulations that could reverse Lady Thatcher’s work to reduce government involvement in free markets.

He says: “Don’t take 30 years of liberalisation, beginning under Mrs Thatcher, and say this is what caused the financial crisis.”

But it was. Is he now so utterly deluded that he actually believes this? When you’ve had a society governed for 30 years by the mantra that ‘greed is good’, and with banking behaviour deregulated by Tories and New Labour alike, what else led to the financial crisis?!

Senior figures from the main parties have suggested that the crisis and alleged wrongdoing of banks such as Barclays should lead to tougher controls on banks.

Mr Blair challenges those calls, and says: “We mustn’t go back to the State running everything.”

But it never did. This is crazy talk. He’s obviously going to try to run as a Tory MP now and depose Dave. The world has gone utterly mad.

From the London Vandal:

we certainly weren’t expecting the late night phone calls that we received from some past artists last night, who got in touch to tell us that they had been raided by the police yesterday (17th July). While graffiti writer’s homes being raided by the police is not a rare phenomenon, this series of raids came as quite a shock to many of the artists as most had given up painting illegal graffiti some 15 years ago.

Some of the people who were arrested had stopped painting graffiti without prior permission over a decade ago, and now paint commissioned artwork for corporate clients, while others haven’t touched a spray can at all in many years. For both types of ex-graffiti enthusiast, a knock on the door from the British Transport Police was the last thing they were expecting.

As they were escorted by officers back to the BTP headquaters in Victoria, the retired graffiti artists overheard radio chatter which made it clear to them that raids were being carried out on addresses across the length and breadth of London. Once they arrived at the station, the ex-graffiti writers spotted thirty or more familiar faces from the past – and realised that they weren’t the only ex-graff scene dweller to be arrested. Retired graffiti artists had been pulled in a big way.

It was around then that the graffiti artists realised what point the police were trying to make with them. Having been arrested, they were questioned about what they considered petty matters – accusations of criminal damage in the ’90s, questions about websites and magazines that they were involved in. After being briefly questioned about these seemingly irrelevant matters, they were told that they were to be bailed until November on the condition that they did not use any form of railway in London (overground, tube or tram), carry spray paint (or other graffiti tools, presumably) at any time, or travel within a mile of any Olympic area. That includes the Olympic Park, the ExCel center and other Earls Court locations, Greenwich park, Hampton Court Palace, Hyde Park, Lord’s Cricket Ground, North Greenwich Arena, The Mall, The Royal Artillery Barracks, Wembley Arena, Wembley Stadium, Wimbledon and a host of out-of-London locations.

Laurie Penny explains why with her usual vigour:

In Britain, private security agents might be hired to do the same jobs as police officers and prison guards, but they’re not accountable to the public in the same way – at least, not yet. The Independent Police Complaints Commission still has no power to investigate private security staff, and the Government is prevaricating over the watchdog’s request to extend its remit – which was supported by G4S – while extending the outsourcing of policing to for-profitcompanies. G4S was recently awarded a £200m contract to take over half of the civilian duties of Lincolnshire police force. Policing employees helping protect the public in Grimsby and Scunthorpe will now wear G4S’s company logo – that discreet sharp slash of red and black.

What difference does it make if the men and women in uniform patrolling the world’s streets and prison corridors are employed by nation states or private firms? It makes every difference. A for-profit company is not subject to the same processes of accountability and investigation as an army or police force which is meant, at least in theory, to serve the public. Impartial legality is still worth something as an assumed role of the state – and the notion of a private, for-profit police and security force poisons the very idea.

The state still has a legal monopoly on violence, but it is now prepared to auction that monopoly to anyone with a turnover of billions and a jolly branding strategy. The colossal surveillance and security operation turning London into a temporary fortress this summer is chilling enough without the knowledge that state powers are being outsourced to a company whose theme tune features the line: “The enemy prowls, wanting to attack, but we’re on to the wall, we’ve got your back.” If that made any sense at all, I doubt it would be more reassuring.

It’s brilliant to look back on this, given the fiasco currently unravelling regarding G4S’s incompetent mishandling of the role they were paid hundreds of millions to undertake at the Olympics. It now turns out there’s no penalty clause in their contract:

Private security company G4S will not be financially penalised for failing to recruit sufficient security guards for the Olympic Games, it emerged last night.

The firm has been accused of letting the country down just two weeks before the Games, with soldiers forced to cancel family holidays to ensure venues are protected. But a senior Government source told The Independent that the contract with G4S did not include a penalty clause.

The revelation appears to contradict a statement by the Home Secretary Theresa May in the House of Commons. She told MPs that while the contract was between G4S and the Games organisers Locog, she understood that there were “penalties within that contract”.

A source said that in fact it was a pro-rata agreement where G4S were paid for each extra security guard they supplied – and not penalised if they did not make the overall target. “The person who negotiated the contract should be shot,” the source said.

 

You know things are bad when the Spectator are on LOCOG’s case:

The real risk, in my view is not so much from the letter of the law. It is from the chilling effect on free speech, created by the rules and their gung-ho implementation. Consider the following:

  • Sally Gunnell photoshoot promoting easyJet’s new London Southend service in July 2011. Locog executive stopped photoshoot of her raising a Union flag above her shoulders. Union flag was removed & she had to change from a white tracksuit to an orange T-shirt.
  • Butcher in Weymouth. Was told to remove his display of sausages in the shape of the Olympic rings.
  • Olympicnic. A small village in Surrey has been stopped from running an “Olympicnic” on its village green.
  • ‘Flaming torch breakfast baguette’ offered at a café in Plymouth to celebrate the arrival of the Olympic torch was outlawed by Locog.
  • ‘Cafe Lympic’ & ‘Lympic Food Store & Off License’. Both had to drop the ‘O’ at the start of their names. But Alex Kelham, a brand protection lawyer at Locog, says: ‘The legislation actually catches anything similar to the word ‘Olympic’ as well. It’s not a fool-proof get-around.’
  • Florist in Stoke-on-Trent. Was ordered to take down a tissue paper Olympic rings display from the shop window.
  • Oxford Olympic Torch stalls. Traders will have to cover up their logos, and can only sell soft drinks from the Coca-Cola product range (inc. bottled water)
  • Webbers Estate Agents in North Devon. Threatened with legal action for displaying makeshift Olympic rings in its windows.

The word soon gets around: if you upset the Olympic censors, they will come for you. And what shopkeeper wants to get landed with a massive lawsuit? You’d sooner not take the risk. If a newsagent has been told (as we were, originally) that it’s illegal to be rude about the Olympics then to stock this week’s Spectator – which is defiantly rude about the Olympics – would be a risk you’d understandably not take.

This can’t possibly be in the spirit of what the Olympics are supposed to be about. Protected by missiles for fuck’s sake? Insane. Missiles forcibly installed on people’s roofs? What sort of country is this anyway? I can’t imagine what sense it makes for chips which aren’t McDonalds’ to be outlawed in the Stratford Park during this period! But G4S not being able to deliver the security personnel it promised, forcing army personnel to police the event, is serious financially (how many hundred million were G4S paid?) and sets an ominous precedent. And PLEASE someone tell me what sense there is in banning cyclists from ‘Games Lanes’ (very Soviet) in the run-up to and during a SPORTS EVENT?! There’s no discussion going on about sport at all, as far as I know! This is crazy!