Archive | July, 2012

East London Police State Stop Olympic Critical Mass

27 Jul

As the Olympic ceremony unfolded the Olympic police state revealed itself. In a corner of east London, just in sight of the stadium, hundreds of cyclists on Critical Mass (a monthly celebration of cycling along London’s roads) were suddenly stopped by hundreds if not thousands of policemen. Van after van after van of police raced down the road where the cyclists had been blocked by some other police. My friend and I and many other critical massers turned back and fled the way we had came back to Mile end – on our way back we saw streets lined with police and police cars heading after us.

Gathering as usual from 6pm just under Waterloo bridge on the last Friday of the month, we were joined by the Forward Intelligence Team filming us from the top of Waterloo bridge and a police helicopter hovering above us. On the ground amongst us, the police liaison officers in their sky blue jackets were trying to mingle. There were about 8 police on bikes who started at the front of critical mass but seemed to vanish quite early on.

As we headed off at 7pm we found that the police had blocked Waterloo bridge to stop us going north of the Thames. We cycled down another road playing cat and mouse with the police – determined to have our usual monthly jaunt around the city. We ended up at Blackfriar’s bridge where a half hearted police line had formed – as hundred of cyclists edged closer, the police line completely broke and we cycled across the bridge.

We spent the next couple of hours cruising the streets of London with sound systems, waving, cheering, dinging our bells to curious and excited passersby. The atmosphere was relaxed and fun as is always the case with Critical Mass.

As we got further east the police tried to stop us again by blocking the road in front of us. We were able to step around these blockades and continue on our way. At one point, a group of cyclists went left down one road which someone then informed us was a dead end. We tried calling them back and headed straight down the main road, we’ve heard reports that members from this group were arrested. We reached a huge bridge where we got a view of the stadium. On the other side of the bridge a couple of police vans had blocked the road again. Suddenly, van after van came screeching down the road. The vans kept on coming. My friend heard a policeman say to his radio ‘this is game over’. We turned and fled. I have never seen so many police in my life. I have never cycled so fast in my life. It was terrifying. It was a mini-police state in that corner of east London. I’m still grappling with what happened, it seems so surreal. One moment we had been waving to cheering east Londoners, the next moment we were being surrounded by flashing blue lights and screeching sirens, watching horrified as what felt like the entire Met police force descended upon a couple of hundred cyclists.

Whilst a good number of cyclists managed to flee, there were still a significant amount who were being surrounded by the thousands of police. They have been arrested and have been bussed to jail.

We raced back along the streets only to pass policemen lining the roads and police cars, marked and unmarked, travelling in our direction.

As we cycled back to south London we passed a poster under a railway bridge – the poster had a picture of a bike with the frame spelling out the word ‘freedom’.

‘Remploy factory workers strike to save jobs’ or ‘Brixton to Barking by bus’

19 Jul

I decided to travel from Brixton to Barking Remploy by bus in order to confirm for you that it’s probably best to take the train from Fenchurch Station in future or find a good cycle route. At times the 6 different buses I took provided me with a wonderful way of exploring a part of London I am not at all familiar with* – but the duration of 3 hours (I went in the wrong direction at one point which meant it took 6 bus journeys there rather than 5 had I not got lost) meant that by the time I arrived at Barking Remploy mid-afternoon, I’d missed the rally and the picketers were packing up and heading home.

Today’s strike and another strike next Thursday at Remploy factories across the country have been called in response to the government’s announcements that they will close down 27 Remploy factories putting more than 1,700 jobs at risk. The government claims that the factories are loss making and old fashioned. Yet, they don’t hesitate to subsidise their friends in the massively destructive banking sector to the tune of billions. In contrast, Remploy workers make things that are actually useful to society such as furniture for schools and libraries (and also Jaguar car parts and chemical warfare suits). And of course, the hypocrisy of the government cutting jobs when they have spent so much of their time bullying people for being unemployed is unbearable.

Those fighting against job losses are not doing so uncritically. Of course average salaries of £13,800 for shop floor workers do not recognise the time and effort that the workers give. Furthermore, there is the debate about workplace segregation. However, the reality for many workers if they are to lose their jobs, is much worse. As one of my friends who works at Remploy told me, ‘we’ll be put on the scrap heap’. He described his fears of ‘mainstream employment’ after his years of torment with bullying workers who in one incident set his trousers on fire and in another physically attacked him. He described his worries that he wouldn’t be able to live on benefits. And this is all too true in what has become, as Johnny Void puts it, ‘the most brutal manifestation of the Welfare State possibly ever seen in a developed economy’.

Despite arriving so late, I received a wonderful welcome from my friend who works there which made the bus journeys feel worth it. He told me excitedly how the day had been ‘out of this world…it’s been brilliant’. He told me how he had been telling the national media that ‘the government’s behaviour is disgusting and disgraceful’. He’d also done lots of shouting for the rally. Reflecting on the day and his commitment to saving their jobs, he remarked ‘I would stand outside for 24 hours if I had to’.



*Having managed to hide away from the Olympics in south London it was interesting to see their parasitical manifestation in east London – Community support police standing guard on Barking high street, Olympic staff in Olympic uniforms, a corner shop wall turned into a Coca Cola advert with the Olympic rings, bus stop signs warning of changes during the Olympics, a huge union flag on a flag pole at the entrance to a school, Anish Kapoor’s costly contorted metal protruding on east London’s horizon.

I was also interested to see the huge amount of boarded up buildings that we passed – particularly old pubs – this brought to mind Owen Hatherley’s comment from his talk on Journeys through Urban Britain (see blog post below) that the present government are embarking on a ‘project of destruction rather than construction’. There was one striking building that had once been a public baths but was now boarded up with steel – wonderfully located in east London a couple of miles away from the Olympic site revealing the government’s true attitude to sport for ordinary people.


Journeys through urban Britain talk

18 Jul

Last Friday I attended a brilliant talk at the British Library called ‘Journeys through Urban Britain’ featuring Owen Hatherley, Laura Oldfield-Ford, and Owen Jones discussing the politics of our urban landscape. My terrible memory and my note taking on a scrap of paper doesn’t really do justice to the discussion – but I thought it might be worth throwing out some of the points that were made.

Hatherley and Oldfield-Ford both reflected on their wanderings, observations, and experiences of London and further afield, whilst Jones was on hand with statistics and a historical context with which to situate the changes in British cities. The picture they painted of British cities today, which are descriptive of the politics, was indeed bleak as more and more boundaries are erected, public space lost, and people forced out of their areas but there have been moments of hope, especially in the last couple of years. The speakers described the student movements, Occupy, and the ‘euphoria’ of the riots as examples of ways in which cities can be lived in and created differently.

Here are some interesting things that I learnt:

‘There are too many people baking cupcakes’ LOF (cupcakes are the apotheosis of neoliberalism right? They promote individualism with the emphasis on everyone having to have their own tiny, perfect little cake rather than people enjoying slices from a big cake. You just can’t share a cupcake as they are the size of one mouthful. Communal cake eating and enjoyment is destroyed by cupcakes as people become preoccupied with having the daintiest, fanciest cupcake they can get to outdo everyone else’s. They’re also slightly creepy as they seem to hark back to and celebrate women’s incarceration in the kitchen in the 1950s in the name of ‘retro’. – me!)

The opening song for the Shard was ‘fanfare for the common man’

Inequality that is built into the Strata tower, in which there are separate lifts for social housing tenants at the bottom of the tower (so they don’t get the good views) and the rest of the tenants, reflects our unequal society– OJ

The drift ‘an important strategy to see how flows of the city have been re-ordered – to see how we can re-configure the urban space’ LOF

Walking around cities allows you to ‘see political processes at work…cracks are really obvious in British cities and that’s what my work brings out’. OH

What do the Tories want? ‘It’s a project of destruction rather than construction’. OH

Coin Street, a community trust housing development, is often held up (by the left?) as an example of how housing could be done, however, OH points out that actually it’s not as pleasant as it seems. They have strict vetting process for who is allowed to enter their ‘community’.

Cities and work

Seeing cities as places other than places of work

To do this – OH – need free time or a job that allows you to walk around the city.

The relationship between cities and work – ‘cities are giving us messages that we should work all the time, even when you’re relaxing having a coffee in Starbucks there’s a sign saying there is wi-fi’.


Woolwich after the riots – there was a sign up saying ‘back to business’ as if to say ‘we won’t learn anything’ OH

What does community mean? ‘the broom brigade showed how nasty and vicious the word community can be’ LOF

The future…?

Unison’s new building on the Euston road has social housing around the back of it, Hatherley would like to see unions getting more involved in housing.

‘I think when Westfield shopping centre is looted and burnt out, it would make a good social centre’. LOF


If these disjointed notes have piqued your interest – I reckon it would be well worth checking out their books (in LOF’s talk, she showed us drawings from her book and they were fantastic!) from your local library before the government tries to close it!

A New Kind of Bleak: Journeys through Urban Britain, Owen Hatherley

Savage Messiah, Laura Oldfield-Ford

Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class, Owen Jones

from boycott workfare to boycott work – some ramblings

5 Jul

Post work politics is creeping into debate on the left – Nina Power has written and spoken about it, but stated that perhaps at this time of high unemployment, it seems perverse to do so. Owen Hatherley laments that we do not seem to have the will anymore to abolish work. But surely, with millions unemployed, millions labouring for free (in internships and workfare), and millions working under rapidly worsening terms and conditions – the myth of work-as-saviour will no longer hold. Now is the time to talk about work and how we can move beyond it.

Alongside the increasing unemployment statistics there is the intensified attack being led by politicians and the media on those who find themselves out of waged work. Young people cannot dress themselves and ‘sit at home…glued to the TV’, disabled people are ‘languishing on benefits’, ‘benefit scroungers’ are everywhere. With European unemployment at 25 million, for politicians and the media that translates to 25 million people doing absolutely nothing.

Anyone who does not conform to the ‘ideal’ of the waged worker is vilified – they are seen as unproductive and valueless. (This sadly is often true of some of the left as well as the right with so-called ‘radicals’ looking to the ‘workers’ to lead us to the promised land). Yet, as the feminists of the 1970s pointed out with the ‘Wages for Housework’ movement women in the home work too, often in caring duties for children or the elderly, and deserve financial remuneration for their labour. As we shouted outside Parliament at the Welfare Reform Bill protests – ‘every mother is a working mother’.

Their argument encourages us to see the other forms of work that are hidden and unrecognised such as that done by disabled people in caring for themselves in a society that is organised without them in mind, and by those people who simply cannot find a job. These people conduct daily activities that are immensely valuable to society however they find themselves demonised for apparently not working. Importantly, Wages for Housework’s argument was not just about recognition of hidden work but was a direct challenge to the nature of work under capitalism.

Yet, decades later these forms of work, that are based around living, are not only still unrecognised but are under intensified attack – the government is set on forcing the poor and vulnerable, regardless of their mental or physical health and of whether they have dependants, and regardless of the actual state of the labour market, into what is often low paid waged work. When there is no low paid waged work to be found, the government has workfare schemes with which to force people to work for free.

However, the government’s enforcement of work within the labour market, when there is so little paid work to be found, has begun to look quite pathetic and defensive – take the image of Chris Grayling re-opening the burnt down Job Centre in Tottenham recently. Or of Ed Miliband trying to outdo the Tories on sanctions if someone refuses his ‘Job Guarantee’. What sort of ‘guarantee’ is it when you have to back it up with the threat of destitution. What are they so scared of? That we may discover an existence that doesn’t involve sitting in front of excel spreadsheets or cleaning up other people’s shit for exploitative wages.

The feminists of the 70s – and the contemporary twitter account Dole Cat Adventures @wrongtowork – raise an important point; one which is even more significant for our present time as those outside the labour market are coerced inside and as conditions for those already inside the market are being rapidly eroded. What is all this fuss about work? As a ‘job-seeker’, a title/mission given to me by the state which I resent more and more each day, I can’t see what all the hype is about. The job adverts are hardly inspiring, I mostly flick through for lulz and to see what I’m not missing out on. I recently saw a job advertised that seemed to take capitalism’s preoccupation with ‘efficiency’ to new levels by requiring the applicant to have an ‘efficient face’. There was one unpaid internship that was looking at suicide statistics for 6 months. Even a job with the thoughtful and inspiring online blog ‘Our Kingdom’ fatuously declared that ‘It is not so much a job as a creative, entrepreneurial role’.

Work is viewed as a natural state – but there is nothing natural about it whatsoever; this is adequately proved by an experience of my childhood. When I was 16 we all went off on work experience for two weeks. After the first morning of filing I rushed to the nearest phone box at lunchtime and cried down the phone to my mum. When it was time to return to school I told my peers excitedly how much I loved and appreciated school; a teacher overheard my eulogy and warned us to make the most of it.

As we challenge the idea of work, we can start to articulate and imagine ways of organising our society in which we do not exploit and devalue ourselves and each other. Post work politics takes us beyond the fetishisation of the ‘workers’ and values everyone in its attempts to re-think and re-make our present situation.

It may seem difficult to imagine what a post-work society would look like, but there are many moments in our daily lives in which we do rebel against and live beyond work – these seem like a useful starting point. Located outside the job market I am able to enjoy some of the aspects that a post-work society might include – a real sense of freedom, the ability to decide what I want to do with my days, variety, no boss – yet within the confines and limitations of our work-based society which means that the unwaged must also deal with pitiful benefits and the related money worries and stress, stigma, bullying at the job centre, and threats of workfare.

Work is so valorised by our society, yet most people are willing to admit to pulling sickies, counting down to the weekend and holidays, feeling brain numbed – surely there are better ways for us to live our lives…With waged work being so difficult to come by, now seems to be the perfect time to re-think work and debate and imagine post work politics. This seems much more appealing to me than wasting time filling out yet another job application form.

NHS supporters shut down Virgin media store and occupy Sainsbury’s

1 Jul

Protesters in Central London targeted Virgin and Sainsbury’s stores this Saturday as part of Keep Our NHS Public’s National Day of Action against private companies profiteering from our NHS.

Dozens of protesters arrived at the Virgin media store on Oxford Street to find that the store had been pre-emptively closed. Having part of their task done for them, protesters stood outside and handed out leaflets and talked to passers by about Richard Branson’s plans to make himself more millions out of our health services.

Conveniently, there is also a Virgin gym just opposite the media store which protesters attempted to occupy but were prevented from doing so by security who closed the entrance to the plaza.

As one protester commented – ‘Virgin trains smell really bad’. There were strong sounds of agreement for this statement. Do we really want this company anywhere near our NHS?

Sainsbury’s is another high street store that is looking to take over our NHS services to further boost their profits. They are currently bidding to deliver pharmacy services at 3 south London hospitals – Guy’s, St Thomas’ and King’s.  Sainsbury’s workers made the company profits of £712 million in 2011/2012 yet the company pays poverty wages. A company that shows such contempt for its own workers will look to repeat these inequalities and injustices in our health system.

The protesters occupied a Sainsbury’s and remained there for 20 minutes speaking with staff and customers about why they were there. On leaving they warned that they would return until Sainsbury’s withdrew its bid for our NHS services.

This is the beginning of a direct action campaign against companies who are trying to privatise our NHS.

Check the Keep Our NHS Public website for further actions or organise an action on your local high street.

Also check out the BlockThe Bill Builders website for more ideas on targets.