The Socialist 8 August 2012
Our health, not their wealth!
Review: The Olympics opening ceremony
The reaction of the right wing to the Olympics opening ceremony says it all. It was attacked in a racist, reactionary, anti-working class article in the Daily Mail (later taken down from the paper's website because of the number of complaints and replaced by one calling the ceremony "Marxist propaganda") and on Twitter by Aidan 'Nazi-stag-do' Burley.
Labour MP John McDonnell summed up why it got this reaction: "Tories railing against Danny Boyle's ceremony because it was our culture and recent history essentially from a working class perspective." An Australian newspaper, the Age, added: "This is a country of royals and aristocrats, but Boyle's show rejoiced in the commoner."
The usual format of this sort of event - the perfectly coordinated parades, intricate human pyramids, feats of pyrotechnics - leaves us impressed, maybe even awe-struck. But Danny Boyle's didn't just impress, it engaged. Every working class person in the country could identify with bits of what they saw - reading under the covers as a child or head-banging at a rock gig - in a way that isn't possible with synchronised gymnasts wearing permanent smiles.
There were royals and celebrities, of course, but these were a side dish, not the main meal. The undisputable stars of the show were the 600 NHS workers swing dancing, the 500 Olympic site construction workers lining the tunnel as the torch made its entrance, the young volunteers jumping up and down on giant beds or dancing together in the two-up, two-down.
It wasn't a programme for socialism. But, in the main, it was a celebration of, by and for working class and young people. 7,500 people volunteered to take part and spent about 150 hours each rehearsing. The Sports Illustrated review called it "a celebration of protest and dissent" - it featured the suffragettes, the Jarrow March, the NHS, Muhammad Ali, three songs that were banned at the time of their release and the first pre-watershed TV lesbian kiss.
Some on the left claimed it was wrong to feature the health service given the attacks it is facing. But it sent a message to the rest of the world - to the Tea Party camp in the US who claim publicly funded healthcare leads to 'death boards' - to show the place the NHS has in the hearts and minds of the people who benefit from it.
The historical scenes weren't the making of a rounded-out history book but they did give a glimpse of the role of the working class. Isambard Kingdom Brunel and his capitalists looked on and directed from afar as the workers toiled and heaved to bring about the industrial revolution.
Yes, the Queen and prime minister sat in the fanciest seats in the stadium. But the scenes of the young couple meeting, nervously but excitedly flirting, texting and changing their 'relationship status' weren't for their benefit. They were for the young people everywhere who know this ritual all too well. The soaps, the pop music, Mr Bean, the giant Voldemort - they were for us.
I sang along with Dizzee Rascal, Bowie and the Sugababes. I laughed at Mr Bean and even, I have to admit, the Queen's Bond sketch. I went 'oooo' when the factory chimneys burst out of the ground and when the Olympic rings were forged. This atmosphere of participation spilled over even into the formal bits of the ceremony. The athletes skipped, laughed and posed for phone pictures in their procession.
Should we point out the construction workers who weren't there because of the blacklisting that took place against trade unionists at the site? Absolutely. Should we highlight the discrepancy between the moving scene of promising young athletes lighting the cauldron to 'inspire a generation' while their peers outside struggle with unemployment and education cuts? We will continue to. Should we shout from the rooftops about the empty seats, the inflated costs and the corporate control? At every opportunity.
But should we allow that to ruin our enjoyment of this fantastic event? No. Socialists are not 'spoil sports'. We can appreciate art, music, sport and culture for the skill and potential of people that they show. Working class people should be able to enjoy entertainment and celebration. And this was one of the better examples of both.
84% of BBC viewers have watched at least part of the Olympics. Tens of millions of people in the UK alone are tuning in every day - people who never expected to care have been caught up in Olympic-mania.
We saw amazing shows of human talent - Jessica Ennis, Mohamed Farrah, Usain Bolt - a cheer roared out whether they were 'Team GB' or not. The Socialist congratulates all competitors and medal winners.
Below, readers of the Socialist report on some of the other Olympic news and share their thoughts on all-things-Olympics - the good and the bad.
Critical Mass arrests - End attacks on democratic rights
Ian Pattison, East London Socialist Party
Film director Danny Boyle's spectacular 2012 Olympics opening ceremony surprised many by featuring protest movements and making light of the establishment.
However, while 27 million in Britain and hundreds of millions more around the world watched suffragettes and cycling doves of peace on the BBC, 400 cyclists were being kettled outside the Olympics Park, 182 of them were brutally arrested.
Those arrested were part of the pro-cycling London group Critical Mass that cycles around London to promote cycling the last Friday of the month since 1994. Some may even have been inspired by Bradley Wiggins Tour de France victory.
Following arrest the cyclists were denied food for hours, only given a small amount of water, with some prevented from using the toilet for almost seven hours - after which police accompanied them into the toilets. A video of the arrests shows a police officer pepper-spraying an elderly disabled man and elbowing him in the face.
A Muslim cyclist fasting for Ramadan, was denied water altogether by the police, even after he began to feel faint. Protesters who tried to give him water to drink were arrested on trumped up charges. This is just the latest example of how the government and the police are using the Olympics to clamp down on the right to strike and protest.
The 182 arrested cyclists have been banned from disrupting other Olympic events, or taking a bicycle into Newham, the London borough that hosts the Olympic site. The state is trying to intimidate other people from protesting around the Olympics or at any other time.
All charges and these conditions should be dropped immediately.
Contradictions and ironies
While I enjoyed 'super Saturday' I've been struck by a number of blatant contradictions and ironies.
A friend told me how as a volunteer he's been instructed to bring a spare shirt so he won't be recognised in his uniform if called on to fill the scandalously empty seats.
While meals for those volunteers have been inadequate no such hardship is suffered by the super-rich who've docked their super-yachts in the east end, replete with chefs and all!
But the most striking thing about the Games is how they give a glimpse of what can be achieved over a relatively brief period of time.
They showcase human ability, when abundant resources are available: the skills of the building workers and technicians; the effort and abilities of the service workers, including the shop workers; the extra hours and patience required of the transport workers, and not least the years of training by young athletes from around the world to reach these peaks of sporting ability.
Will similar efforts be made to build the million affordable houses that are urgently needed by working and middle class people in Britain? This would create many thousands of jobs, and bring far more lasting pleasure to us all.
But now the questioning about the 'legacy' of these Olympic venues will undoubtedly start. They have been built with taxpayers' money so why can't they remain a national asset? Surely they could be used for training grounds locally as well as future national and international events.
Commentators correctly commend athletes for providing the 'inspiration for a generation' but where are working class youth able to exercise and train?
Over recent decades Tory, Liberal and Labour councils have collaborated with property developers to sell off thousands of school playing fields and community sports grounds. The Con-Dems have approved the sale of 21 already and Labour approved over 200 sales during its 13-year reign. For many this leaves only privatised sports centres, which most can't afford, but Cameron and Coe don't want to know about those difficulties.
The whole of the Olympic Park and other venues and facilities should be democratically nationalised to provide homes and leisure and sports facilities for all working class people, and the workers who have run them so well kept on, creating thousands more jobs.
Dave Nellist says: Give away the tickets for the empty seats!
Many in Coventry raised eyebrows after the first Olympic Football match in Coventry stadium - ahead of a national outcry over empty seats for high-demand London Olympics events.
While many people up and down the country were priced out or unlucky to get tickets in the bidding process, it seems London 2012's many sponsors had so many corporate tickets they didn't know what to do with them. Which is exactly what they did... nothing - leaving many arenas and stadiums half empty for events and matches.
Coventry Socialist Party's Dave Nellist has led the fight against Olympics corporatism and has called for the thousands of unsold and unused tickets to Coventry's Olympic events to be given away free to the ordinary people and families of Coventry to enjoy.
He said: "If the Olympic experience means anything, give them away to families, schoolchildren, colleges or local sports clubs. Coventry should lead."
Coventry Socialist Party
Dan Harris, a 28 year old man from Wanstead lay dead after being hit by an Olympic media bus. The tragedy took place in Leyton not far from the games.
Dan's is the tenth cycling fatality in London so far this year and the 62nd in Britain. Aside from the fact that London's provision for safe cycling is woefully inadequate this latest accident clearly illustrates the fact that the Olympic authorities and Transport for London have failed to provide safe cycle routes to and from and around the Olympic park.
I had some experience of this the other day when on the way to photograph the RMT cleaners strike outside Stratford station. The usual route along the canal was abruptly stopped around Hackney Wick by a major armed police roadblock complete with high security metal barriers of the kind that are used in Downing Street and other high security locations.
I then had no alternative but to use very busy and dangerous roads, including passing through the notorious Bow Interchange where two cyclists were killed within three weeks of each other last year.
This is bad enough for regular London cyclists but even worse and potentially more dangerous for tourists unfamiliar with the area. The situation is clearly totally unacceptable and must be challenged at every opportunity.
One of the most important developments at the 2012 Olympics has been the organisers' u-turn. The speed with which the organisers went from "the venues are full to the gunnels, there are no empty seats" to "there are empty seats at every Olympics" was breathtaking.
The casual observer will think this is easily achieved but of course it can only be done after years of dedicated training, preferably as a politician, in the arts of fibbing, being economical with the truth and pretending you never said the opposite in the first place.
So sport under capitalism means arguably the most prestigious event in the world has loads of the seats empty despite huge demand to get tickets. It's a bit like how housing works under capitalism - plenty of empty houses and five million waiting for council housing - what a mad system we live under!
The three headed dog (Cameron, Clegg, Miliband) that guards the hell that is capitalism has pronounced that it's wrong to strike during the Olympics - that it's a time of national celebration. Well the workers at Remploy Newcastle are not celebrating, having been told that the government is closing their factory on 17 August. Yes, during the Olympics and just in advance of the Paralympics. It appears the idea of an Olympic truce only applies to workers and not to the bosses or their government. For them the class war continues.
Norman Hall, Gateshead
Despite the Olympics being an immense merchandising opportunity it was good to see some British protest shown in the opening ceremony. A Socialist Party member, Lizi Gray, who is a descendent of one the original marchers, led the Jarrow Crusade through the stadium dressed as Red Ellen. We also got a glimpse of the suffragette movement which was very welcome. Strange how they missed out the 1926 general strike, anti-poll tax movement, the 2003 anti-Iraq war demo - all things that the British ruling class want to forget about.
In a socialist society we will still have the Games, I think, as human beings won't stop pushing themselves to see how far they can go - in sport, in art, music, in any field. But like anything else we will democratically plan the Games. No wasteful (and corrupt) bidding process, no mad rush to finish the stadium on time, no traffic chaos (and no need for a residents' exodus, as seems to have happened in London this time). And no sponsors or brand police! Far more cities would have Olympic standard sports facilities anyway as sports facilities would be upgraded across the board.
Prime minister David Cameron and London mayor Boris Johnson boasted that the 2012 Olympic games would result in a huge cash boost for the capital's retail outlets and tourist attractions. But while the Games have attracted an estimated 100,000 overseas visitors this pales beside the usual 300,000 tourists who visit London at this time of year.
The Association of Leading Visitor Attractions reported a 30-35% fall in numbers going to museums and theatres, etc, in the past two weeks compared to the same period last year. Chief executive of Nimax Theatres complained: "For my six theatres, last week was the worst this year." West End shops also reported a 12% drop in sales from last year, while hotels have had to slash their high prices as bookings have slumped by 30%.
This is a spectacular own goal for Tory politicians like Johnson - whose predictions of "huge pressure" on the capital's creaking transport infrastructure has clearly put off visitors - and for greedy hoteliers, whose exorbitant charges have priced themselves out of business.
The government was hoping for a £13 billion Olympics "turbo-charge" to the UK's flatlining economy over the next four years. Instead, the bubbly is looking decidedly flat.
"I was at the Beijing Games, in 2008, and one of the lessons that we took away from that is that full stadia create the best atmosphere."
In this issue
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International socialist news and analysis