Archive | August 2013

Absentee Anderson and the faded-trouser philanthropists

Of all strata of society that perpetuate the current abusive and oppressive capitalist regime, the (ahem) landed gentry and landlord class is one of the worst. Despite the archaic terminology – there is much debate about whether the concept of class is still valid, and you can probably tell I’ve been reading too much 19th century polemic – this concept is still relevant today. In this case, the tradesmen of Tressell’s Mugsborough are students, and the landlord are, well, landlords. Students are shackled with a burden of debt that they will carry well into their twenties and thirties – I am lucky that I will emerge (hopefully) from my academic chrysalis with a degree or two and only (gasp) £30,000 of debt. I pity the poor souls who are paying £9 grand a year, and labouring under the pretence that education is an ‘investment’, rather than a right. To label the pursuit of knowledge such, and to commodify it, is a sore attempt to turn students into automatons who learn to pass exams throughout their schooling and university careers, primed and pumped for the plunge into the ‘real’ world where all but a lucky few are destined as fodder for the machine that turns human labour into gold for the 1% who sit getting fat on it at the top.

Landlords are part of this 1%. They do no work and accrue wealth from those who live in their properties, who are also often given the privilege of paying for their own repairs and being charged extortionate rents. The use of intermediaries (estate agents – the ultimate leeches on society) to further distance themselves from the tenants they are unashamedly ripping off illustrates their unwillingness to engage with real life, and their separation from everyone else.

These people believe they can extort vast sums of money from students who are already burdened with thousands of pounds worth of debt because they can. If all the landlords in an area are doing it, it’s ok, right? Elitist collusion allows this to happen – it’s the same as what’s happening in London and all over the Southeast – rents are being jacked up because everyone’s doing it, and all in the interests of a very few who are pissing themselves laughing at champagne dinners and clapping people like Boris Johnson on the back for “ruddy well doing it again”. Tory legislation, for instance recent laws clamping down on squatting, protects the rights of absentee landlords who are using their properties for diddly squat (excuse the pun), whilst removing a last resort for poor and homeless people and promulgating slanderous propaganda about no-good, jobless squatter junkies and middle-class white kids who go home to get a shower and their laundry done.

None of this is useful to anyone except the few people at the top who extort capital from the poor, and accrue wealth at others’ expense. These are the people who would like to perpetuate the status quo, because it is so obviously in their interest. These are the people that need to be resisted; in small ways, and in ways they understand; taking them to court for demanding more money for ‘damages’, withholding rent, and by tearing down the fabric of their system from around them.

Electric Highwaymen

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Jumping the meter wall in Phase 3

 During my trips to Payatas I learned a lot about something which is at best a sideline in my research, but which goes far deeper than it superficially appears. Illegal electricity abstraction is fairly common in certain areas of Payatas, particularly closest to the dumpsite, and in Phase 3. ‘Jumpers’ who connect wires to the grid cables to extract electricity run the risk of electrocution, house fires and death – the month before we were there someone died from fixing a dodgy connection. The need to connect to an electricity supply in order to be a part of the modern world is just that – a need, albeit produced by globalisation (which is extremely visible in the Philippines). It is not exactly like the appliances people use are decadent – a single light bulb to illuminate what are often dark houses because they are all built so close together; an electric fan to move the sweltering air and keep the mosquitoes away; a TV to feed the desire to consume and reinforce the inequality that is already so huge; a fridge to reduce the drudgery of living literally hour-to-hour, day-by-day. All of this of course if they can afford it. The electric company that supplies Payatas, Meralco, already has most expensive rates in the country, and there are no alternatives in the area except home-generation, which precious few people can afford in the city, let alone in Payatas. Furthermore, they have specific conditions about what type of buildings they will connect to the grid; namely that a dwelling must have a discernible kitchen and C.R. (bathroom). However, the poorest people often live in poor-quality housing that does not satisfy these conditions, making them ineligible for a legal, metered electricity supply. To access the modern world in even the most minor of ways these people must therefore obtain their electricity via a profiteering intermediary, who charges extra for an illegal sub-metered connection to a legal mother-meter, held under a Meralco account. Of course these intermediaries may also be victims of the system of poverty themselves – not racketeering but merely scraping a subsistence wage – but their existence simultaneously perpetuates the system whereby the poorest are charged the most for electricity, and is a symptom of it. It is a clear expression of what Oscar Wilde and Robert Tressell called “altruism” and “philanthropy”, respectively, describing the wage-slavery of the British working classes at the turn of the last century. The poorest people are charged the most money for energy, their money lining the pockets of fossil fuel magnates and corporations in a country that still has an ongoing problem with corruption. This, while the richest ex-pats and elites in their gated sub-divisions and third homes avoid fully paying taxes and electricity rates via creative accounting, reporting and golden hand-shaking. The system that allows companies to enforce poverty by only providing energy to those who are considered to be living in ‘proper’ dwellings, while depriving those very people of such decent housing is itself corrupt, and moribund. The ‘jumpers’ and the middlemen may be doing something illegal in ‘stealing’ electricity in the eyes of the legislature that upholds the status quo, but they are truly victims of an immoral and deformed system; a system that is stealing from them.

7107 islands

After my month doing research (and having fun) in the Philippines, I thought it was only fitting to write down some of my experiences. Mostly I have put things into sections, but some of it is a splurge. Here’s the first instalment (more when I have time to type):

 

yellow head

 

Research

I went to the Philippines primarily to do research for my final year of university. Admittedly it was also a very good excuse for a wicked holiday, but as I got funding for it, it was decidedly more research-orientated. I spent a solid 2 weeks meeting shiny bureaucrats and engineers and took wind measurements twice every day, all for jokes, obviously. I was well angry because I dragged a HUGE water flow meter all the way from Norwich (on my bike) to London, to the Philippines, and then got it to the river, where it was way too dangerous to use because it was rainy season. I couldn’t have been more miffed, honestly, but I can’t say I didn’t expect it. In all, my research went swimmingly – mostly because I had a lot of help in the way of things like Tagalog translation, introductions, moral support, and anemometer readings – thanks Josh. Going in person to meet all of the people that mattered is obviously the way to get things done – as I suspected. Well, it shows you mean business, and sadly in the developing world a well-dressed white girl with a mean look on her face can go a longer way than nameless emails can.

Bureaucracy

If there’s one thing the Philippines does well, it’s bureaucracy; as I found out to my detriment. I got more annoyed than I probably should have done by the amount of red tape surrounding everything, which would be enough to hang an elephant with room to spare. I should have known from the outset when my emails to various government bureaucrats got repeatedly bounced between different offices in a bizarre kind of secretarial ping-pong match. Some Department of Energy officials have something nuts like seven secretaries – that’s the assistant to the assistant to the assistant to the assistant to the assistant to the PA of the secretary to the officer in charge of their specific section, and there are a helluva lot of those… Well, it’s one way of filling an office I guess. To visit the DOE, I had attempted to get in contact for weeks, but to no avail. The department seems to have enveloped itself in an impenetrable thicket of red tape to ensnare all but the most well connected or determined. Unfortunately (or fortunately) I was the former – it took a phone call from a rich Christian bigwig in the PNA who I happened to encounter through Josh’s connections with the charity to a school friend of his to get me a meeting. I was expecting a five-minute splurge, so it seemed odd after all that to see how eager and willing to help these guys were. The man I intended to meet seized a passing colleague, who had more answers than I had questions – he was still going long after my list had been exhausted. They then proceeded to take us on a tour of the whole renewables department, introducing me to (and I don’t mean this lightly) literally everyone he knew in each office. He picked up his friend from a basement office and the two of them – both funny little old men – gibbered away unintelligibly in English (not either of their first language), holding hands and taking us to every office to meet various workers. We only didn’t meet Big Boss Mario, who curtly replied to my emails by palming me off to his underlings, because “he doesn’t have the time for the likes of us”. Josh and I exchanged incredulous looks and suppressed the giggles rising in our throats while we were paraded around through the shiny hallways, cramped offices, and cafeteria.