The Commonwealth Games: Sporting and Fair to All?
There's no question that the Commonwealth Games held in Manchester recently were an astounding success. Athletes, commentators and politicians alike have all sung the praises of Manchester. But, say local activists, the Games could have been better still by being more socially responsible. Belowe we outline their concerns and some of the alternative activities that went on in parallel with the Games.
Corporate Wealth, Common Poverty
There is no doubt that the Games have brought jobs, limited investment, and a general buzz to East Manchester and the city as a whole, but beneath the new glossy surface the Council has painted over Manchester the cracks are still visible. The Games cost a fortune, and the spending of our money was all done behind closed doors. Unaccountable representatives of commercial organisations held power, and the "new money" claimed to have been generated by the bid committee was largely central Government funding for urban regeneration (something the city may have got anyhow, but to spend directly on improving parts of the city).
Questions should also be asked about the type of jobs being created for the people in East Manchester. Asda Walmart, a key player and new business in the area, is notorious for putting local shops out of business and hindering trade union organising. Indeed, the Games could have been a lever for more responsible corporate behaviour. However, when it was suggested to have a stand at the NW Business Club (a temporary quango to promote Manchester to potential businesses) to promote social responsibility, it was met with the response that corporate social responsibility "fits uneasily with the Business Club objectives."
The makeover of East Manchester and the city centre was ridiculous to anyone who lives here. Covering over abandoned buildings and unsightly building sites with huge adverts, painting out graffiti and flyposters, spending millions on footpaths and fencing in the poorer parts of East Manchester, is like giving someone a facelift while ignoring the cancer inside. A council estate in Newton Heath, which suffered years of neglect, was hidden from view with huge hoardings. Local residents, affronted at being seen as an eyesore, took some down, painting on others, "What's the matter with us?" and "Don't you want to see us?"
The Games were not the real Manchester but a corporate-controlled, empty glossy shell. Yes, let's have international sporting events, but let's have some genuine common wealth, not corporate wealth.
The Blitz Festival hit the streets of Manchester with an explosion of artful propaganda, actions and information, to offer an alternative vision to the Corporatised Commonwealth Games frenzy. Blitz, organised by the Northern Arts Tactical Offensive and BeyondTV, in collaboration with many others, highlighted all that is street-level and independent and dissolved the corporate spectacle. The key aspects were:
Brazenly located in the middle of the budding Great Northern shopping mall, this exhibition took over a swathe of unused warehouse space and transformed it into a beautifully presented and ideologically challenging collection of art work. Fine artists and activists kept it sailing the thin line between propaganda and art, enough to attract the most action-orientated activists and impress the least thoughtful critic. Starting from the premise that the third world war will be fought in our heads, through images and on the airwaves, the exhibition housed work from local graffiti artists to a "live sound installation" (read "pirate radio station"). Over 2000 people came through in a week - many taking away radical and anarchist books.
Some examples from Agi-TATE
Cyclists and skaters teamed up for a "critical mass" and lapped round the town, past the thronging Games visitors, bikes bringing up the rear behind a gang of skate kids setting the pace. It was a small but effective demonstration and plans are on for repeats, although the problem of skaters preferring pavements to roads needs to be negotiated...
March for Capitalism
In keeping with the Blitz idea of undermining "glossy" Manchester and confusing the tourists, we held a march for capitalism. It began rather pleasantly with cucumber sandwiches and G&Ts.; An impeccably dressed rabble rallied round a 3-headed corporate monster. The public reacted interestingly to the placards "Bomb Other Countries", "The environment can kiss my ass" and others. Some people boo-ed because they saw through our heavy irony, others because they didn't; some joined in because they were drunk, and others were genuinely bemused, with many mutterings of "Bombs not Bread?" to be heard. The three-headed monster was escorted out of town by the police, despite the fact that he encouraged shoppers to buy more. Meanwhile the rest of the crowd went off to monopolise the queue at WHSmiths with monopoly boards. (Thanks to Undercurrents and Indymedia you can watch a short video of the march)
Spoof Tourist Guide
An alternative guide to the city appeared for the Games. An exact replica of the Council tourist guide, it gave the other side to the Council's spin and directed people to the Blitz events. It laid out some of the less media-worthy details around the Games such as cuts in leisure services in under-resourced communities (see "Save Gorton Tub" in previous Networking Newsletter) to finance the new sports facilities and a critique of capitalism as a whole. Despite the fact that some council workers are rumoured to have read it for up to 5 minutes before realising it was a spoof, they cottoned on in the end and began threatening libel actions.
NATO (0161 226 7192, firstname.lastname@example.org)
No Sweat at the Games
On Saturday 3 August the air of corporatism that was the Commonwealth Games was punctuated with cries for sanity. A 50 strong procession of anti-sweatshop campaigners marched from All Saints Park to the Peace Gardens, St Peters Square, via the City Centre shopping area. The message was clear: the Commonwealth Games are not as friendly as they look - around the world children and adults are working under slave-like conditions to make the sports wear for the companies sponsoring the games. An assortment of banners and chanting ("Corporate Wealth Games... What's disgusting? Union Busting! What's outrageous? Sweatshop wages!") made shoppers question their consciences, and the procession paused outside Gap in St. Ann's Square to highlight the connection between sweatshops and our highstreets. In the evening, MMU Students' Union hosted a night of karaoke, comedy and live music to raise money for Dita Sari, a determined campaigner with FNPBI, the biggest free trade union federation in Indonesia.
More information from the No Sweat campaign (07951 741640, email@example.com)
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© Networking Newsletter (Sept 2002)