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The importance of Unions

This article was originally published in Concrete.

 

The statistics we repeatedly hear about graduate employment are bleak – Concrete has reported on the disturbingly high levels of joblessness on many occasions. Nearly half of all graduates are still unemployed six months after finishing their degrees according toTotaljobs,  and EU Agency Eurofound recently pegged the numbers of people under 30 still living with their parents in the UK at just under a third. This is testimony to the difficulty with which young people are finding jobs and homes. Add to this the unsympathetic attitude of the current government, who would like to scrap benefits for those under 25, and the message becomes clearer: austerity disadvantages students.

Trades union have been in decline since their heyday in the middle of the 20th century, and before Margaret Thatcher’s government caused numbers to decline dramatically from the 1980s. The UK Government’s Department for Business and Skills reports that 6.5 million employees nationwide were trade union members in 2013, down from their peak at just over 13 million in 1979. Many people frame this decline in the context of rising affluence and better living and working conditions. However, union membership is important as ever, particularly in these increasingly worrying times. Conditions are not improving for many people: the Joseph Rowntree Foundation  notes that income inequality reached its highest levels since 1961 during 2009-10, and shows a drop in median incomes of 7.8% from 2007-08 to 2010-11. The living standards of poorer households have fallen as a result of welfare cuts and falling earnings, and poverty among working-age adults has steadily risen over the last few years. As graduate unemployment rises, and employers use zero hour contracts to mask the true levels of unemployment among the workforce, union membership can be a key to success.

A demonstration in Barcelona by the European Trade Union Confederation Photo: www.eutc.org

There are several reasons why being in a trade union can be a boon to students. Solidarity comes high up on the list: being part of a union improves one’s chances of achieving change (be it longer breaks, more flexible hours, childcare options, or a pay rise) via collective action. Collective action is often framed negatively, for instance regarding the UCU’s recent action over pensions that threatened to leave year students unable to graduate. Collective action was essential in this dispute, and the support of the students’ union at UEA added weight and credibility to the UCU’s campaign campus. Despite the bad press, collective action and solidarity achieved some of the demands of lecturers, though not all, demonstrating the importance of organising and working with colleagues.

Students are often employed in low-paid, low-skilled jobs such as bar work or retail (despite often being highly qualified). Young people dominate the workforce in industries like these because they are so energy intensive and are easy to enter, but they are traditionally under-represented. This means however, that union representation can be incredibly successful or instance, the Norwich Bartenders’ and Hospitality Union has recently been established, and has so far succeeded in increasing the prospects of many of its student (and non-student) members in an industry that is characterised by low pay, terrible hours and difficult conditions. Workplace organisation and solidarity puts pressure on employers, encourages good practice, and discourages actions that take advantage of young, inexperienced employees. It can educate members their rights and inspire political or labour activism, potentially bringing people with divergent (or perhaps absent) political beliefs and ideologies together under a common cause.

Although political and ideological motivations are important, particularly for those on the left, this can be a turn-off for many people, especially for those in part-time employment with a high turnover, which inspires an attitude of “it doesn’t apply to me”. Trade union membership is arguably even more important for transient jobs because employers have more opportunities to take advantage. Zero hour contracts, for example, allow employers to call the shots – if they don’t like you, you won’t get fired, but you won’t get any shifts either. Students have historically been a politically empowered group society, but the promotion of career and employability skills in British universities has forced a shift in the focus from radical politics to employment and job prospects. Union representation appeals to both of these foci – it can augment one’s work life as well as encourage political awareness and mobilisation – and is therefore a win/win strategy.

Union membership is important to bring together class people, students and the unemployed in a society that has steadily become fragmented, with undue focus on consumerist ideals. The way in which the wage system and capitalism works serves to reinforce inequality between employees and employers and students play an important role in any struggle to create a more equal society, poised as they are between being part of the oppressed working class and as being potential employers, entrepreneurs, and part of the educated middle class. The abolition of the wage system is the focus of more radical trade union such as the IWW but the role of unions is also important to challenge the status quo that separates workers and bosses more dialectically. To build a stronger and more egalitarian framework requires both discursive and practical radicalism, ranging from a centre-left critique of austerity to militant direct action such as sabotage(commonly misconstrued as damage to property, but taken to mean deliberate withdrawal of efficiency).

In the current climate of austerity and the erosion of civil liberties, union membership can present a challenge. As all students are painfully aware, the Coalition government increased the tuition fee cap to £9000 a year, making the average cost of an undergraduate university education upwards of £26,000, pricing many poorer students out of , and into (frequently low-paid) employment. This year, it was also agreed that £900m of student debt is to be sold off to private companies, meaning that students may be forced to retrospectively pay even more for their degrees if private financial institutions decide to increase interest rates in the future. This is part of a wider trend of privatisation, for instance of the NHS, education (shown by the rise of free schools) and public services such as the Royal Mail. Wages are not increasing in line with inflation (for instance, lecturers at have received a real-terms pay cut of 13% since 2008, which was the reasoning for the proposed UCU marking boycott) and a bachelor’s degree is sadly no longer the ticket to success it once was. With the rise in graduate unemployment, more students are using masters degrees to guarantee a leg in the door, though this is a pursuit reserved for those that can afford fees of £5000+ per year. The ONS announced last week that house prices increased by 9.9%, largely driven by swollen costs in London (18.7%). Wages can’t keep up with the inexorable march of spiralling rents and inflated living costs, thereby marginalising those on low incomes, such as students, the unemployed and the working class.

While rents continue to soar, homelessness is on the increase and corporations further marginalise and denigrate those forced to sleep rough, for instance by installing anti-homeless spikes. This is symptomatic of the contempt with which the ruling classes, corporations and governments treat the most vulnerable in society. Right-wing media outlets target vulnerable groups, who fall foul of fear mongering and scapegoating, illustrated by the attitudes of people who believe benefit recipients to be ‘scroungers’ and migrants to be after their jobs. Strong unions create solidarity, improve conditions, and challenge the austerity rhetoric of governments. This erodes the pre-conditions for conservatism and the counters the arguments of extremist groups like Golden Dawn, UKIP, and the EDL, which flourish in difficult economic climates. Trades union represent a challenge because they bring together such broad coalitions of members, and present strength in numbers.

The situation is looking bleak, and apathy and a lack of action are not going to change anything. Students need to reignite a love of radicalism, and embrace trade unionism as a proactive form of activism that can realise achievable and legitimate goals. Collective action can be an empowering and effective tool to challenge the austerity that preserves the privilege of elites while undermining the ability of the 99% to lead rewarding and enjoyable lives. Union organisation works on a multiplicity of scales – from challenging unjust practices in the workplace to contributing to the creation of a better society at national and international level. The struggle against injustice must be fought on all levels if it is to succeed. Collectivism is strength, and only together can we change the world.

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The Russian anti-revolution

My feature article from last edition of Concrete Global. Even more pressing given the start of the games is tomorrow.

 

Russian politics has recently been increasingly splashed across UK media. There are a host of reasons why Russian politics are relevant to us here, not least because Russia represents a significant global power in our corner of the world. Vladimir Putin, the president who has faced significant resistance at home and abroad, is infamous for his virulent homophobia, corruption and surgical attitude towards opposition activists. Themes emerge from recent events, mainly rooted in the traditional, conservative agenda that is pushed by both the state and the Orthodox Church.

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It is apparent that those who challenge the values of the state, church and Russian ‘society’ are repressed and detained. Things have come to a head with the catalyst of the upcoming Sochi Winter Olympics, which has triggered an outward shift in government PR from the image of ‘Vlad the Impaler’ to something marginally more softened. This change of heart, which has granted the “selective amnesty” of high-profile political prisoners such as Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot, as well as members of the ‘Arctic 30’ Greenpeace team, has no doubt been spurred by Putin’s desire that the Winter Olympics must go ahead without further hitch. It is already a scheme that has run afoul; the Sochi games are the most expensive ever, at $50bn, and Putin has been forced to defend himself and his government against allegations of systemic corruption in construction of the facilities.

Pussy Riot were two years ago convicted of hooliganism and inciting religious hatred for performing an anti-Putin song (‘Punk Prayer’) in Christ the Saviour church in Moscow. Two members, Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova were released on the 23 December (the other, Yekaterina Samutsevich, was released earlier in 2012) in an act of what seemed to some like storybook Christmas absolution, but which was called a “disgusting and cynical act” by Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, disparaging the blatantly politicised move made by the government. She added that “selective amnesty was not an act of humanism. It was only aimed at reducing tensions with the West. It happened because Putin is afraid that the Olympic Games in Sochi will be boycotted.” They say their time in prison has made them stronger, and Alyokhina spoke dismissively of the president: “we didn’t ask for any pardon. I would have sat here until the end of my sentence because I don’t need mercy from Putin”. The two recently released singers attended court hearings of other political prisoners arrested at riots in 2012 over Putin’s third inauguration, in what they called a “gesture of solidarity with people who have been in pre-trial detention for over a year although they are innocent”.

Political motivation was again evident in the release of 30 environmentalists. The release of the Pussy Riot protesters was in timely conjunction with the release of the ‘Arctic 30’ Greenpeace activists who were detained without bail for their part in protesting against Russia’s Arctic oil drilling operations. Both groups faced trumped-up charges aimed at instilling fear in them, and in other potential dissenters; were incarcerated in degrading conditions (in the case of the Pussy Riot members, in Siberian work camps disturbingly close to Stalinist gulags); and denied basic rights. Their release is designed to look merciful on the part of the Russian government, to negate their despicable treatment of their citizens, particularly those who do not conform to their conservative societal values. This is perhaps most apparent in their behaviour towards LGBT+ groups in and out of the country.

Regardless of their position on political dissidents, what seems to trouble the Russian government most is homosexuality, which they consider to be an assault on their values and ideology. It is obvious that the Russian government cannot handle opposition, neither to their political ideology, nor their theology, nor particularly to their ‘traditional’ values. The incredibly homophobic ‘anti-gay propaganda’ law, as it has been called, came into force amidst much protest, in June 2013, making it illegal for individuals or organisations to ‘promote’ homosexuality, or “non-traditional sexual relations”. Bizarrely, it also equates homosexuality with paedophilia, a repugnant sentiment further compounded by Putin’s recent comments that homosexuals are welcome at the Winter Olympics, but that they should “leave children alone, please”.

There has been significant concern internationally that LGBT+ people are likely to face discrimination, violence and arrest at the games, with many leading figures, including ex-athletes and well-known figures calling for their boycott. Despite Russian remonstrations about how Putin is “not prejudiced” and how much the citizenry love gay performers like Elton John, the Canadian Foreign Minister rightly “remains concerned” about the regressive propaganda law, and is afraid that LGBT+ athletes and tourists might be targeted.

This concern is well founded, given that only recently a gay man, Pavel Lebedev, was arrested at the Olympic Torch relay for doing nothing more than unfurling a rainbow flag. Unjust arrests such as this are part of a continued media campaign against LGBT+ people that seeks to demonise, criminalise and alienate people that break the rigid standards of ‘normality’. Sadly it is working; many people have been beaten and attacked at gay pride rallies and demonstrations against new legislation, victims of institutionalised homophobia.

Igor Kochetkov, the head of LGBT network, spoke about how the government was pushing people that don not prescribe to their conservative agenda and ideology to the margins of society: “They are making enemies of us – not just LGBT society, but any group in society that doesn’t agree with their politics.”

‘Kissing rallies’ were held outside Russian embassies across the world, demonstrating the sheer scale of international disgust at such regressive policies. Large-scale boycotts of Russian vodka were encouraged amongst the gay community in 2013, and high-profile figures like Stephen Fry have advocated a total boycott of the winter Olympics. Amongst the sporting community, however, there has been considerable debate about this. Many gay athletes feel that boycotting is pointlessly damaging to athletes who have trained tirelessly to compete, while the real focus should be on the host city being unfit, and having discriminatory laws. Outside the sporting world, more people seem to advocate a boycott; Alyokhina of Pussy Riot is calling for “a boycott for honesty”, which she says is “because the current measures are totally insufficient”. Barack Obama has refused to boycott the games, suggesting that he does “not think it’s appropriate”, though America is not sending any highly ranking officials, and none of his nor Joe Bidens’ family members will be attending, in a clear, yet unofficial, statement of disapproval.

In addition to the threat to LGBT+ people at the games, terrorist threats made against athletes of various countries have further called their safety into question. Germany, Hungary, Britain and Italy have all received threats to their Olympic Committees. Although they have been dismissed as “not credible”, the level of security has been stepped up, particularly in the aftermath of suicide bombings in December.

The insanity and homophobia seems to be infectious; in the UK, UKIP councillor David Silvester was quoted to have said that the extensive flooding seen at the end of December was due to David Cameron’s legalisation of gay marriage, which he considered acting “arrogantly against the gospel”. His highly controversial views, which also link the holocaust with abortion laws, have resulted in his suspension from UKIP, in a last-ditch attempt for the party to rescue its deflating image. While Vladimir Putin and David Silvester may believe that gay people are suffering from a “spiritual disease”, most people will recognise that they are at the very least incredibly misguided. Even Nigel Farage, who is rarely known for his moderation or liberalism, has suspended Silvester in an attempt to exorcise “extremist, nasty or barmy views” from UKIP.

At UEA there will be a series of events to celebrate LGBT+ history month, beginning on 31 January with an opening ceremony reminiscent of the Olympics in the Hive at 8pm. Talks and lectures will be happening throughout February, including one from veteran activist Peter Tatchell on 25 January, and no doubt the conversation will continue as the games creep ever closer, at UEA and across the country.

The only war is the class war

Another article under one of my many pseudonyms. http://www.concrete-online.co.uk/global

 

It would be difficult to find anyone who doesn’t know that Nelson Mandela died at the beginning of December, particularly with the timely (or not?) release of the biopic Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.

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Most people are probably also sick of hearing about it – or at least the sycophantic brand of news the established media has been pushing. Although he was of course an admirable figurehead, their doe-eyed representation of Madiba merely serves to reinforce the status quo of capitalist monopoly in South Africa, and across the world. It is apparent even in the way politicians clamoured to praise Mandela and his work, despite in some cases having previously opposed him, in some cases vehemently. David Cameron, who was quick to jump on the ‘we-heart-Mandela’ bandwagon, was in his student days part of a Conservative organisation that campaigned to have Mandela hanged.

Of course Nelson Mandela was a great man – an icon of freedom and justice in an unjust system. Mandela achieved a great many things, bringing issues of state oppression to the fore and contributing significantly to the fall of Apartheid; a horrific, immoral and corrupt system of segregation. He led the movement that facilitated vast improvements for many black South Africans, and greatly changed conditions in the country. However, he stirred controversy in his later years, and many people felt his years in prison left him disconnected from the struggle. More important, though, is the dismissal of the reasons Mandela began to condone violent tactics. The rose-tinted portrayal of Madiba as a “pacifist” is akin to the South African (and other) government’s labelling of him as a “terrorist” in the 1970s and 1980s. Both strategies seek to de-radicalise and neutralise his political acts, and to strip them of their political worth. For the same reasons, no-one outside of the political left ever mentions his socialism – despite the obvious effect his political ideology had on him. By omitting this key fact, and by discrediting Mandela by linguistically taking the teeth out of his activism, the true reasons why he and the ANC were forced to use violent means are masked.

Mandela was famously “not a violent man”, but condoned acts of violence against property in protest against the structural violence (institutionalised oppression and suppression, subjugation and dismissal of citizens by the state, which keeps people in poverty) committed against poor, black South Africans, which amounted to outright class warfare. The state was responsible for acts of physical violence against opposition activists, and against ordinary people who were often unarmed, such as in Sharpville in 1960. Years of imperialism had left a rich, white elite who feared losing their privileged lifestyles, and therefore sought to reinforce the status quo with disgusting, discriminatory and repressive policies.

Apartheid was not just about race; it was about class too. Poor black people in places like Soweto wanted their fair share of the country’s burgeoning wealth. They were angry and the ANC gave them a voice. State oppression, and both physical and structural violence escalated as the elites grew more and more afraid, and the ANC recognised that fear. Violence became the way people expressed their rage at decades and centuries of subjugation.

The ANC’s Freedom Charter, which advocated “national liberation of the largest and most oppressed group — the African people”, was declared an illegal Communist document in the 1950s, and the organisation was forced underground in 1961. Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) was formed when the ANC was banned, promising to “hit back by all means within our power in defence of our people, our future and our freedom”. Differently to the state, MK activists never killed civilians, targeting instead key government buildings in acts of sabotage, whilst also engaging in acts of peaceful civil disobedience. Although the ANC began as a revolutionary organisation, with democratic power it has become less radical and more pro-Capitalist, so much so that current President Jacob Zuma was booed at Mandela’s memorial service.

It has been frequently said that the ANC did not address key problems; nationalist rhetoric changed things superficially, uniting people around a flag while failing to tackle some of the root causes of inequality. The ‘Black Economic Empowerment’ (BEE) program reinforced capitalistic inequity by putting a few black figureheads, like millionaire Kenny Kunene, in charge of private companies, while allowing the majority of poor South Africans to remain in poverty. It is apparent that vast inequality and class warfare still exists today: in the privatisation of key resources like water and the country’s substantial mineral wealth; high poverty and unemployment rates; one of the world’s highest incidences of rape and low female literacy rates; and events like the Marikana massacre that happened just six months ago. Miners striking in Marikana were engaging in peaceful means of resistance against low wages and poor conditions, but were met with the worst violence since Sharpville: many workers were shot in the back, 44 people were killed, and many more were injured.

It is clear that the revolution is far from complete. Mandela, along with a great number of other activists, may have contributed to the downfall of Apartheid, but the rise of the ANC in government has not created real change for poor people. What Madiba achieved was incredible, but we cannot forget how much there is left to change; across the world as well as in South Africa. We should not be fooled by the media and politicians telling us that the fight is over, because that is what they want you to believe – it is not. La Lucha Sigue.

This was prompted by an invitation to speak at an event debating the relative merits of voting, or not, inspired by the Russell Brand/Paxo interview. It’s rough, but mostly encapsulates what I’m thinking about the whole thing at the moment.

 

Voting is one of the most fundamental civil rights we have in society – it is supposedly one of the most significant methods of expressing our opinion as citizens, and exercising our power. However, election turnouts are dwindling, perhaps showing the widespread mistrust of politicians and apathy in the electorate, which begs the question; is it worth voting at all?

 

In my mind, we have one of 3 options:

 

  1. Vote, and choose the best (or least bad) candidate for the job. Collude with the system, affirm it, and contribute only to change from within the system, and nothing to radical change.
  2. Don’t vote, and void any opinions or ideas you might have about party politics, because you did nothing to change the system itself.
  3. Spoil your ballot, register your disgust with the system as a whole, and state your determination to change things for the better, and create an alternative outside of party politics.

 

I will opt for the third option on every occasion, a hundred times over. I respect people who vote, and those who don’t, as long as they can provide reasoning. If you think candidate x will genuinely change things, I can think you’re misguided, but ultimately I will respect that opinion and the fact that you voted. If you are simply voting for someone that you hate because they are the least worst option, I might suggest you think about engaging in politics outside of the ‘legitimate democratic process’, i.e. get involved in union organising, or direct action, or some kind of political movement. Voting tactically makes sense locally – where I’m from in North London, the local Labour MP, Jeremy Corbyn, is a pretty radical bloke, and has achieved a lot of really cool things in the time he’s been elected (some 30 years). In that area, voting Labour makes sense locally, even if it may not make sense nationally – it depends on how you value the trade-offs between local and national politics.

If you don’t vote and don’t engage in politics on any level, I think that in short; you’re an idiot. You have no valid claims to make about politics and you certainly can’t complain about things if you have made zero effort to change things at all. It reminds me of an advertising campaign run during the early noughties elections. If you think everything is absolutely perfect as-is, fair enough, but I doubt you will find a soul who changes their mind about perfection as quickly as the government changes colours. People who engage in politics outside of the party-political pseudo-democratic sphere I can understand – I know a lot of people from the London Left (Dirty Commies and Filthy Reds), who I am most familiar with, having grown up there – opt for this. This is the point of contention for me, and something I have an internal dilemma about. If you actively try to remove the corrupt system that is in place (AKA Smash the State/Crush Capitalism/etc.) and in its place create something better (Transition Towns/Co-operatives/Community Centres/etc.), yet choose not to vote, I can accept your utter rejection of the state in all its forms. It’s a bit purist, but I get it.

My justification for spoiling my ballot is that I am doing the best of both; pursuing a multi-pronged attack. I am a) registering my discontent/disconsolateness/disgust/repulsion (delete as appropriate) with the political system in its own terms whilst b) actively trying to remove it from outside and create a better alternative in its place. I respect those who don’t vote, yet strive to create something better outside of the framework of our so-called ‘democracy’. However, those who seek to cultivate the impression of being left field, living the ‘anarcho’ lifestyle, are just as bad as anyone else who doesn’t vote and doesn’t engage. Narcs who do pretty much nothing but go to demos to bait cops and drink special brew are just as bad as any tabloid-regurgitating square.

 

Ultimately the argument of ‘the suffragettes fought and died for your right to vote’ will come up – I think it is one’s own decision whether or not to exercise that right to vote, and that whatever you decide is valid, as long as you can justify the choice. Engaging with politics on any level, whether its student politics, attending national marches against unjust wars, listening to debates in Parliament, writing letters to MPs, chaining yourself to banks or being a keyboard warrior over the internet (as long as it’s reasoned) is all legitimate – and if you do something on any shade of the spectrum, you have a basis for not voting. It’s only if you refuse to engage in politics entirely – whether its with a big P or a little p – that you should be condemned.

 

Politics is relevant to everyone and everything, yet party politics is such a turn-off. It would help if people were more educated on the alternatives. Doing things and changing things for the better can be so exciting, and could change the way we do things as a society, if only we taught it in schools. I would still encourage people to choose option 3 because it challenges the status quo from within and without, but it only works if you are involved. That’s the crux of the matter – more people need to get engaged, get angry, and get involved.

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.

So. Boris the buffoon plans to demolish Heathrow and… er… build a replica in the Thames estuary. Because a new airport there would be nothing like Heathrow, which “blights the lives of hundreds of thousands of Londoners”… of course. The utter idiocy of this plan is rivalled only by it’s guffawing postulator – and the pointlessness of the idea (to quote Ed Miliband) truly beggars belief. To spend £50bn on a new airport, and presumably far more if the Olympics, or any of Boris’s other ludicrous projects are anything to go by, is insane. The new Routemasters are another lovely case-in-point. It won’t do anything except fuck up the already beleaguered transport system, cause absolute mayhem for a decade or so while it’s being built, and fail to detract from the government policy to promote airport expansion and air travel. There are not enough slots at Heathrow, but there are too many short-haul flights. A few years ago the top 5 flights out of Heathrow included Paris and Edinburgh. Both pretty easily accessible by train; a much nicer mode of transport. Instead of fighting for a ridiculous, polluting, and devastating new airport, supposedly ‘green’ Boris should be pushing for better (international) train services and cheaper fares. Oh, and not selling off National Rail contracts bit by bit.. But then again, this is Boris we’re talking about.. and the Tories. So this is all pretty unlikely. A few years ago when the 3rd runway got quietly shelved by the Tories, we celebrated a small victory. But we all knew the Tories weren’t about to give up on the their expansion targets and plans, because everyone knows building airports creates jobs, stimulates the economy, and attracts business, but trains – Hella motherfuckin’ no – they do exactly the opposite. OBViously. The real point is this: we don’t need to build any more airports. We need to build better sustainable infrastructure, and make it AFFORDABLE. Perhaps now the Tories are cosying up to the ‘working classes’ they will. HA HA HA!!