People may be thinking that London under Occupation may be a little over the top to describe the situation for Londoners living under Olympic rule for the next 18 days, but that is in many way an understatement. Between the rights of corporate sponsorship, the occupation by security and armed forces, and a government that is hell-bent on prioritising the needs of sponsors and security concerns over the rights of citizens for freedom of speech and the right to live in peace, the term “under occupation” is an excellent description of the situation.
From the perspective of the population having the Olympic Games in London comes at a rather high cost. This is not only referring to access to tickets where few, if any, were set aside for those living in the boroughs (Newham, Waltham Forest, Hackney and Tower Hamlets) surrounding the main stadium. These boroughs are composed of mostly poor and working class people with large percentages of people of colour; they are incredibly racially and ethnically diverse boroughs.
Tickets were sold by bidding in a lottery which meant that locals could not afford to bid and win tickets. Moreover, given the fact that tickets are literally impossible to get and that there are large numbers of empty seats for venues which many people would love to get, one can only assume that these are in the hands of corporate sponsors whose workers were not interested in the seats. Supposedly, the locals’ gains would arise from the construction jobs (that didn’t work out) and now the many retail and part-time jobs the Olympics would provide. For all the talk about gains by small shopkeepers due to suspension of Sunday trading laws, in most cases this means that their families (they are often family owned and run shops) would need to work the extra hours. Also, they were unable to sell anything connected with the Olympics not obtained from corporate sponsors. No replications of Olympic materials could be sold unless they were able (at high cost) to open accounts with official sellers.
However, the general problem with the Olympics affects us on a daily level; this is due to the bombardment of corporate advertising, the creation of an up-market mall (where most locals can only look but not afford to purchase; certainly Prada is not hiring us), the introduction of special Olympic lanes where Olympic bigwigs can be ferried to and from events, overcrowded public transport, the militarisation of the city both due to the use of military and private security forces, the placement of SAMs in residential areas, the aircraft carrier stationed in the Thames and the pre-emptive arrests of graffiti artists, the arrests of protestors and the denial of protest permits. In a city where the poor and working class are facing cuts in benefits, the introduction of forced labour as part of welfare reform, job losses (being replaced by part-time low paid jobs), and service cuts (libraries, after-school clubs, cultural centres, education cuts, police department cuts), corporate sponsors were granted complete access and tax breaks as part of the deal for the Olympics being brought to the country.
According to the Financial Times (“A need-go-know guide to London 2012,” 27/08/12, p. 3 ) the costs alone of the Olympic venues start with £40m for a temporary Basketball arena (they are hoping to sell the materials onwards to Brazil), £87m for the Velodrome, £251m for the Aquatics Centre, £295m for the media and broadcast centre, £428m for the Olympic stadium and £935m for the Olympic Village (this will be reconfigured by a Qatari based consortium into 2,800 properties, some of which will be sold for housing for key workers and the rest to create a gentrified area complete with luxury mall; nothing for the desperately needed social housing in the area of Newham). The Olympics were originally set to cost £2.4bn, but it is now estimated that they will cost £9.3bn. According to Al Jazeera, the latest government figures on the costs of the 2012 London Olympics have now risen to $14.5bn of public sector money, and expectations that it could be far higher. Of that current amount, $860m alone will be for Olympic security and this includes the use of 18,200 soldiers to help with security for the games. Interestingly, according to the Financial Times, the public budget for the Olympics was provided by a combination of lottery (£2.2bn), central government (£6.2 bn) and the Greater London Assembly and the London Development Agency (£0.9 bn). British companies won contracts amounting to £7.3 bn and there have been 8.8m event tickets sold. In terms of human presence, there are 10,500 athletes, 70,000 volunteers (hopefully real volunteers, not poor people forced into service) and 21,000 journalists. This is a huge amount of money that is being made available for this event in a country where they are trying to force disabled people off of disability benefit to save money.
The economic benefits of the Olympics look like they may restricted to the corporate sponsors than anyone else. But there is even more interesting news and that is from a business perspective; it seems that London’s top hotels and restaurants seem to find themselves with vacancies. This may be due to the fact that they have upped prices so much, that they cannot find people stupid enough to pay for them; 23% vacancy rates are nothing to sniff at (http://www.bighospitality.co.uk/Trends-Reports/London-2012-Olympics-23-of-London-s-hotel-rooms-currently-vacant-for-The-Games; http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/blog/2012/jul/24/hotels-properties-olympics) especially in an economy which is currently continuing along in recession. In fact, it has shrunk by 0.7% between April and June … which of course they have absurdly blamed on the Jubilee (the extra bank holiday) and bad weather, and of course, Europe, rather than their economic policies. Since they had claimed that the former would be a boost, I am a bit confused again.
In Great Britain, the use of hollowing-out policies (introduced in the US under Bush) has been introduced as part of the austerity measures to destroy the state sector; as such, services that used to be performed by the state sector (like secretaries working for the police) are no longer done by civil servants, but rather private companies. This is affecting not only the NHS and local council provision, but also policing and the military. The number of police officers is at an all-time low due to cutbacks (down 10,000), but volunteer special policemen numbers are up 10.4% to 20,343; this is at the same time that they are being called on to do an increasing number of things, like help with the Olympics security. It is interesting in that most right-wing governments are usually aware that if they are going to introduce draconian economic measures on their populations, having the police and army on your side could prove extremely useful if inevitable problems arise (as they have in Greece and Spain for example); this may be a case of arrogance on the part of the government or again they simply think that the British poor, working and middle classes are so beaten down that nothing could get them angry enough to resist the destruction of their social welfare state; divide and rule is proving a useful tool in alienating private sector workers from the demands of public trade unions given that the former have already suffered substantially in terms of the attacks on their pensions.
I. Commercialism and Branding
For those unaware of what happens when your city is “lucky” enough to win the Olympic Games, there are immediate rules that guarantee sponsors exclusive access to advertising and sales at the Olympics. In fact, you cannot “win” the Olympics without agreeing to these rules. These sponsors contribute money to the Olympics and get a lot of money back in return; Coke for example has contributed anywhere from £53-75m pounds, in return they get exclusive sale of their products at the Olympics and exclusive advertising rights during the Olympic games.
“Corporations can legally become associated with the London 2012 Games in two ways: First, multinational firms may seek exclusive marketing rights through The Olympic Partner program (TOP). The other option is through agreements with the LOCOG, the local British organization. But plenty of non-sponsors will attempt to correlate their brand with the Games, which is widely known as ambush marketing—something the IOC and LOCOG take very seriously.
The Olympic Marks and Imagery Usage Handbook defines ambush marketing as “a planned attempt by a third party to associate itself directly or indirectly with the Olympic Games to gain the recognition and benefits associated with being an Olympic Marketing Partner.” To suppress this type of activity, the IOC established comprehensive guidelines and has engaged in several initiatives to enforce them. For instance, the IOC requires that the host city—London, in this case—takes special measures to control ambush marketing during the course of the Games in and around Olympic venues “in order to preserve the Olympic brand.”
When London was first appointed as the host city for the 2012 Games, the government passed a new law, the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006 (the Act), to supplement the existing laws relating to intellectual property in the UK. Together with the Olympic Symbol (Protection) Act of 1995, these laws protect the sponsors and partners from unauthorized advertising. […] To ensure that local businesses comply with the trading and advertising laws and to protect the Olympic brand and sponsors, nearly 300 Olympic enforcement officers will patrol around venues before and during the games. But local, non-sponsor businesses aren’t the only ones who have to abide by strict rules. Even the paying partners who have privileges and rights have to comply with certain guidelines. (http://www.forbes.com/sites/jacquelynsmith/2012/07/24/olympic-hurdles-for-advertisers-the-games-unique-rules-and-restrictions/)”
There are several different types of Olympic advertisers depending on how much they spend, but in addition to exclusivity of sale and advertising, there is also the benefit of temporary tax “breaks” from UK corporate tax for foreign-based MNC sponsors and their workers (who are given a temporary UK income tax break.
This is happening in a country where austerity measures have been introduced by the government that are destroying jobs, the state sector and our social welfare state and that this is justified due to high levels of government debt; the decrease in corporate taxes and the elimination of the 50% tax on those with the highest income is reprehensible. But to add insult to injury, the fact that MNC Olympics sponsors had taxes on profits earned at the Olympics written off is not only pouring salt on the wounds of the majority, it is a demonstration that the needs of corporations and revenue of the Olympics takes priority over the needs of the citizens and proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that the government’s term of “The People’s Olympics” is not just a joke for people to laugh about, but a slap in the face of those facing impoverishment and job loss. The idea of corporations, those that work for them and Olympic athletes not having to pay taxes for their profits or advertising contracts is simply disgusting.
“New tax rules ushered in as part of the winning Team GB bid include ‘a temporary exemption from UK Corporation Tax and UK Income Tax for certain non-resident companies’.
The legislation is written to include ‘partner’ organisations such as McDonald’s and Visa. Both, along with other ‘partners’, look set to make a tax-free fortune. The former will a monopoly on vending branded food and the latter a total monopoly on venue and ticket payment methods.
The new legislation also exempts all foreign nationals working on the games in the UK from paying income tax on any earnings. Thousands will be exempt from taxation from competitors to media workers (including journalists, technicians and producers) to representatives of official Games bodies and technical officials (including judges, referees and classifiers) along with the athletes themselves (http://www.ethicalconsumer.org/commentanalysis/corporatewatch/thegreatolympictaxswindle.aspx).”
An incredibly successful campaign started by 38 Degrees was launched in response to this article targeting companies that were tax avoiding due to their sponsorship of the Olympics Games.
The responses to the campaign on the part of the targeted multinational corporate sponsors are telling as every corporation responded. All 14 multi-national corporations (MNCs) (including Coca Cola, Proctor and Gamble, Dow Chemicals, and McDonalds) that were targeted by 38 Degrees, have waived their Olympic sponsor tax break or explained that they were not eligible (http://www.marketingmagazine.co.uk/news/1143282/Adidas-EDF-join-top-sponsors-waiving-Olympic-sponsor-tax-break/; http://www.tax-news.com/news/(htOlympic_Sponsors_To_Turn_Down_UK_Tax_Breaks____56452.html).
The seriousness with which exclusivity of advertising is taken by the Olympics committee can be demonstrated in a row which erupted last week when the chair of The London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG), Lord Seb Coe, announced mistakenly that people who were wearing the wrongly branded clothing could be denied entry to the Olympics Games irrespective of their holding tickets to the various events (http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2012/jul/20/coe-olympics-sponsorship-row; http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2176383/London-2012-Olympics-Seb-Coe-lays-law-branding-Games.html). Having images of barefoot and bare-chested people at Olympic events going through my head upon hearing the story when it erupted, it was of little consolation that Seb was actually wrong about this absurd position. What actually concerned me was that clearly Seb Coe did not see a problem with the position he had taken on this issue; Seb has history of making absurd comments on things on which he has little or no information specifically when these relate to corporate sponsorship.
One of the most contentious corporate sponsorships is actually Dow Chemical and a campaign has been waged on several fronts protesting their choice as an Olympic sponsor.
Last week, 6 protestors were arrested after a fake medal ceremony in Trafalger Square where green custard was poured on fake representatives of Olympics corporate sponsors BP, Dow and Rio Tinto that were chosen as the worst Olympics sponsors; clearly performances criticising Olympic sponsors are not deemed amusing .
Anger at the acceptance of sponsorship by a MNC in an Olympics in which supposedly ethical and environmental considerations are constantly talked about is not a small inconsistency. Opposition to Dow derives not only from the catastrophe in Bhopal in which there are lawsuits still underway. Raising the issue of Bhopal has run the gamut from petitions, to an exhibition to a staged die-in by members of the Bhopal Medical Appeal on July 26th.
The use of Agent Orange in Vietnam (of which there are estimated 4.8 m victims, many of them children) had also been raised to question Dow’s sponsorship of the Olympic Games. Seb Coe once again demonstrates his ignorance in response to an appeal concerning Dow by the Vietnam Women’s Union, as John Pilger reports:
“In his reply, Coe describes Agent Orange as “a highly emotional issue” whose development and use “was made by the US government [which] has rightly led the process of addressing the many issues that have resulted.” He refers to a “constructive dialogue” between the US and Vietnamese governments “to resolve issues.” They are “best placed to manage the reconciliation of these two countries.” When I read this, I was reminded of the weasel letters that are a specialty of the Foreign Office in London in denying the evidence of crimes of state and corporate power, such as the lucrative export of terrible weapons. The former Iraq Desk Officer, Mark Higson, called this sophistry “a culture of lying.” (http://www.opednews.com/articles/Blair-War-Olympic-Deals-by-John-Pilger-120719-735.html)”
As Pilger points out, there has been no constructive dialogue between the US and Vietnam on the use of Agent Orange, no recompense paid to the Vietnamese victims, no war-crimes tribunal for the use of chemical weapons that not only destroyed people’s lives over generations, but defoliated the rice bowl of Asia and poisoned the land and water tables. Really, the people that write PR should certainly be bothered to check their facts before letting Seb makes statements that are so blatantly inaccurate. When Seb Coe says things of this nature to justify the inclusion of sponsorship for one of the MNCs that manufactured dioxin for use by the US government, the terms ethical behaviour and environmental concerns are demonstrated as lies; it is money that is relevant and all other concerns not even of secondary importance.
II. Olympic Security and the Militarisation of London
A seriously disturbing thing has been the whole discussion on Olympic security which has several equally unpleasant components. In many senses the level of concern about London Olympic security is part and parcel of the legacy of the “war on terror” that has been used to justify so much of the attack on civil liberties and the strengthening of the power of the security forces both public and private (reading the Government’s security preparations for the Olympics is rather instructive). ”Security” is a big industry these days and Olympic security provides a perfect excuse for the suspension of civil liberties and the payment of big money. We are all hoping this will all go away after the Olympics like the government promises; but one must take into consideration the numbers of CCTV cameras all over Great Britain which record our every action and pray that the abnormal does not once again become “the normal.”
In March 2011, consistent with the whole neoliberal approach that defines recent British government policy, the government hired G4S to cover Olympics security. G4S is a private security concern with a questionable (let’s call this understatement) human rights record to handle security. It is a multinational corporation operating in a number of countries. In the UK, G4S runs 3 immigrant detention centres to house illegal immigrants before deportation (often taking quite some time to complete); it has received 700 complaints, including allegations of assault and racism. There is the additional “issue” of the death of an Angolan deportee, Jimmy Mubenga, in 2010 in their custody after being restrained by G4S agents in a BA flight (for more detail on their history, see: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/9405046/G4S-previous-controversies.html). They also run security in Britain’s private prisons and there is the story of the loss of the master keys leaving prisoners locked up for 24 hours in their cells in 2011; there are also more problems with which they have been associated in their running of security in private prisons.
Then there is their relationship with the Israeli government (http://www.whoprofits.org/company/g4s-israel-hashmira; http://stopthewall.org/g4s-israeli-occupation-palestine-and-emergence-g4s-brazil), Israeli settlers to whom they provide security for illegal settlements on the West Bank and the abuse of Palestinian prisoners.
Putting aside for this moment the obvious point about the privatisation of security, the choice of this company which has a notorious history combined with grotesque failures, is pretty impressive.
Part II of the G4S story is that they were unable to fulfil their contract which is an interesting story on its own.
Reading through various accounts of allegations of responsibility for the insufficient numbers recruited and turning up for work, the cause of the difficulties in fulfilling their contract seems to be a combination of increased demands by the UK government in terms of numbers needed, the company’s insistence that while they trained sufficient numbers (reportedly 20,000 were accredited and trained to cover 10,400 posts), there was a failure on the part of the workers to turn up. The last is disputed by workers who claim that there was a lack of information from the firm telling these recruits where and when they were needed.
One additional point that has been raised is the pay rates for recruited workers: it is unclear who set the wage rates at £8.50/hour. The company insists it was the government that set the wage levels and the government insists that it budgeted for £9-12/hour depending on seniority and level of responsibility. The company insists that it was the government that pointed out the obvious that if you pay workers less, you get a higher profit. The question is whether that constitutes government advice or pointing out the obvious to a company that is in the business of providing labour (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-18898646). I find it odd, that they would not understand one of the basic rules of capitalism. You make more profit if you pay workers less (heck, that was obvious to Adam Smith in 1776), but the other part of the equation is if the job is really crappy, you may not get people to take the jobs irrespective of the level of desperation of the working class. Perhaps that is why the government is working so hard to lower the levels of unemployment benefits and introducing forced labour for the long-term unemployed. Removing as many possibilities of survival without having to work for wages that barely compensate effort and free training is clearly a problematic that must be solved if the flexible labour market that the ConDems are trying to consolidate can be a success.
An obvious question arises that no one seems to have discussed is whether this was a classic scenario which often occurs in a bad jobs market. The company claims to have recruited and trained 20,000 workers to cover 10,400 positions. Given that the jobs only last 18 days at a pretty basic pay for unpleasant work, one wonders if people knew that too many were recruited and trained, decided to cut their losses and try to find a job that they knew they could get and which lasted for a longer period. I was speaking to the cabbie driving me to escape the Olympic who told me a story about a woman that was applying for a job as a sales clerk at a low level retail firm specialising in baby clothes. After spending £400 for cab fares for various interviews and going through the training, it turned out that there were 25 different people recruited for a single job. After spending her savings trying to obtain a part-time minimum wage job, she simply gave up in disgust.
The last question that has yet to be answered by the government is how much G4S will lose from its contract for failing to provide what it promised. We are still waiting to hear clarification from the government about this little thing.
B. The British Military to the Rescue?! Of whom?!
The use of the British military as a component of Olympics security forces was planned in the beginnings; but they were supposed to be supplementary services for G4S and involved in very specific roles for London security (like manning the missiles that they placed in residential areas of London and on the attack helicopters and in the air in Typhoon fighters to shoot down invading Martians over residential areas of London). The fear that G4S would now run around willy-nilly and recruit just anyone to fulfil their security contract has prompted the government to draft in large numbers of British military forces as the main component of security. Many of these members of the armed forces were back in the country as part of a break from tours of duty overseas in Afghanistan.
Having a choice of a private security firm with a dubious human rights record and the British armed forces to do security for the Olympic Games is truly being caught between a rock and a hard place. Does the consolation of the latter being forced to uphold the Geneva conventions make things better?! But there is an additional concern. On the day in which it was stated that there would be an increased military presence to cover for the failings of G4S, the following story (treated as unrelated) was also released raising increased violence on the part of soldiers returning home from war zones:
“One in eight soldiers has attacked someone after coming home from a combat deployment, according to a Ministry of Defence funded study of 13,000 personnel.
The study by Dr Deirdre MacManus, at The Kings Centre for Military Health Research, found an association between soldiers’ experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, and violent behaviour at home.
A survey of around 5,000 Iraq veterans found that nearly 581 were involved in assaults, domestic abuse, and other violence soon after returning to the UK (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-18965076).”
Given this report, perhaps it is better that these people are given support and assistance rather than being sent in as security at the Olympic Games? I surely cannot be the only person thinking that this may not be a good idea.
C. The Militarisation of London
Finally, there is the militarisation of London itself due to surface-to-air missiles being located in some residential areas, attack helicopters on standby, the aircraft carrier and other warships being stationed in the Thames in London, and the use of spy drones. As an understatement this has disturbed many.
In the midst of all the insanity of the Olympics security plans, the one that disturbs me the most is the stationing of SAMs in 6 areas of London. Two of these are on top of populated housing blocks in the middle of residential areas. I am certainly not the only person truly concerned by this piece of insanity; a whole campaign built around stopping the placement of the London Missiles was organised. A lawsuit was filed trying to prevent the installation of missiles by residents of the Fred Wigg tower (just up the street from where I live) by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) making the obvious point that the introduction of these missiles literally turned these places into military targets if there was actually a terrorist attack and raised whether this was a violation of their human rights to live peacefully and securely.
David Forsdick, appearing on behalf of the MoD argued:
Let me repeat that statement: he argued that the credibility of the threat of these buildings becoming military targets was not sufficient to warrant concern. Moreover, that this had been signed off by the Prime Minister David Cameron, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, home Secretary Teresa May and the Defence Secretary (not certain whether this is the current one Phillip Hammond or the previous one Liam Fox) in “Defence of the Realm” is not particularly comforting as none of these people live anywhere near where these missiles are being deployed and quite honestly given the way they treat the poor and working class in Great Britain, they are the last people I would trust to cover our interests. If the threat is not credible, why the hell would anyone think that putting missiles on the top of residential blocks is a good idea?
The ruling on the part of the judge was rather interesting. On the one hand, he argued that there was not only sufficient consultation of residents, but what occurred was “immaculate” and that the military was under no obligation to do that anyhow. But the second point was more disconcerting, the judge, Mr Justice Hadden-Cave stated that the tenants had not understood correctly the situation. That is typical, clearly the stupid and uneducated working class simply are too unsophisticated to understand the notion of deterrance! What Mr Justice Hadden-Cave does not understand is that we most certainly do understand the notion of deterrance; however, we simply do not want them stationed on the roofs of our apartment buildings … perhaps they can put them in Westminster or in Mayfair where the rich live?! Perhaps the rich and famous can understand the need for deterrance more than the working class?
D. Civil Liberties
To end our odyssey into the nightmare of security measures of the London Olympics, we need to address the impact on our civil and human rights. We have already mentioned the arrests of protestors following the fake awarding of medals to the worst of the Olympic sponsors. There is the additional question of the policy of pre-emptive arrests by the Metropolitan and Transport Police. Announced on June 2nd, Scotland Yard has said that they are planning to pre-emptively arrest those that are planning “criminal activity” at the Olympics, specifically groups of thieves and pickpockets. However, the police said that this would not be used against lawful demonstrators asking them to notify them beforehand to protect their right to protest.
But that raises an interesting point which relates to the pre-emptive arrests of 4 graffiti artists to prevent damages to the city. One of those arrested, Darren Cullen, actually has done work legally for Adidas, one of the Olympic sponsors and for other major corporations. Mr Cullen also tries to get graffiti artists to work legally. Yet somehow he has been pre-emptively arrested, bailed, and forbidden from having spray paint cans, using public transport and going within a mile of the Olympics venues:
“These arrests come in light of Wednesday’s court ruling by Lord Justice Richards and Mr Justice Openshaw said that police pre-emptive strikes for Prince William’s wedding a year ago were not unlawful. Human rights activists have voiced concerns about what affect this ruling will have on Games security.
All four have been released on bail, with restrictions forbidding them from holding any spray paint, riding any of the public trains around London, or being within a mile of any Olympic Games venues (http://www.tntmagazine.com/news/london/police-raid-homes-and-arrest-graffiti-artists-in-pre-emptive-olympic-swoop). “
While the Metropolitan police have insisted that they will not stop legal protestors from stating their grievances using pre-emptive arrests, the arrests at Trafalgar Square and the extension of a banning order for two years prohibiting Simon Moore from going within 100 yards of the Olympic torch relay, the games themselves or anything relating to the diamond jubilee. The extension of Mr Moore’s banning order really belies the police’s claim that they will not infringe upon freedom of protest. Moore was originally arrested for blocking access to a building site while opposing the placement of an Olympic practice basketball court in Leyton marshes in April 2012. So, they won’t pre-emptively arrest you, they will arrest you after the fact and extend banning conditions against you.
Finally, remember the point about not stopping your right to protest when the police announced their pre-emptive arrest policy? Well, letting the authorities know when we are planning a protest is clearly insufficient to guarantee your right to protest; quelle surprise! The borough of Tower Hamlets had refused the Counter Olympics Network the right to make speeches at the end of the march scheduled for the 28th of July resulting in Tower Hamlets council being threatened with being taken to court. The march was able to go ahead as scheduled (with the final release of information on July 26th, two days before the demonstration (http://counterolympicsnetwork.wordpress.com/2012/07/26/final-arrangements-for-march-and-event-on-july-28th/), but the whole point of the council doing this is to disrupt the ability of organisers to coherently organise protests; the tactic of first giving permission, then taking it away the right to have speeches, then cancelling the demo and finally allowing it under pressure is all part of the game to prevent people from getting out large numbers as protestors do not know what will happen. Welcome to the games, they take all forms in Great Britain these days!