As the London Olympics approaches, and more and more corporations participate in the spectacle that they stand to profit from, resistance to the Olympics in London takes on an international dimension, with anti-olympics activists standing up and being counted.
Despite constant police vigilance and aggressive policing, the Olympic clock, set up in Trafalgar Square to count down the remaining 500 days until the CON commences, suffered damage from paint bombs and blunt instruments. Activists took advantage of the attempted occupation of Trafalgar square during the March 26th anti-cuts demo to target a recent, but already much hated, symbol of Olympic hegemonic dominance.
The clock is sponsored by Omega who secured the rights to be the official “time piece” of London 2012 in a £25 million deal (a fine piece of “corporate social responsibility”) allowing it to join the ranks of such well known ethical companies as McDonalds, Visa, Coca-Cola, GE and Atos Origin. The depth of Omega’s ethical commitment is further highlighted by its official sponsorship of the 2008 Beijing Games.
That the clock had ground to a halt on the 16th of March, the very day that it was unveiled, was obviously highly embarrassing for both the Olympic Organising Committee and Omega. Given this previous PR disaster, protection of the clock was seemingly a police priority. Throughout the 26th March it had been under guard by 8 police officers who reacted violently to anyone inadvertently finding themselves too near and as people gathered in Trafalgar square after the huge anti cuts demonstration, the Tactical Support Group (TSG) of the Metropolitan Police led several charges of riot equipped officers into the square in order to disperse those gathered around the clock and the surrounding area. However, under cover of darkness, several paint bombs were thrown and apparent attempts made to dismantle the clock by a determined group of 150 people.
As a manifestation of corporate control within the five London “Olympic” boroughs and beyond, it is not surprising that a section of a public square has been “enclosed” to protect a corporate Olympics symbol. Enclosure has been a common theme running through various Olympic schemes: from the plans to build a police base on Wanstead flats, through to the increasingly byzantine machinations of British Waterways in forcing the boating population of London’ rivers and canals out of their traditional lifestyle.
In order to present a sanitised and compliant London in time for the 2012 Games such schemes are common place. Communities such as the Clays Lane housing co-op have been displaced, vast security networks introduced that will eventually link CCTV across London, privatise roads planned for “VIP” and police use only, flying drones employed to spy on people, and green public spaces such as Greenwhich Park and Hackney marshes (soon to become a giant car park) destroyed or made inaccessible. The countdown to an Olympic, corporate-friendly future has been resisted. There is still time to stop it for good.
Pickets of the International Olympic Committee meeting
On 5th April, a picket of around 30 people made up of Counter Olympics Network (CON) and anti- Sochi 2014 activists was held outside the IOC meeting at the Park Plaza hotel near Waterloo station in London. A later picket was held by anti d’Annecy 2018 protesters. Members of CON, ethnic Circassians, and a delegation from the French town of d’Annecy met to protest the London 2012 games, the Sochi 2014 winter Olympics, and the 2018 winter Olympics.
The IOC press conference held in the middle of the day was targeted in order to present an alternative to the corporate dominated message being disseminated inside the conference and universally repeated throughout the mainstream media.
Activists were there for several reasons. First, to highlight the real ‘legacy’ of the Olympic Games for London: a corporate friendly city with vast profits accruing to the likes of G4S, Coca Cola, Atos Origin, etc. Addressing a small crowd gathered outside the hotel a CON spokesperson said “The London 2012 Olympics are being sold to the communities of London using buzzwords like ‘regeneration’, ‘sustainability’ and ’employment’. But the reality is that mega-events like the Olympics, and the competition to stage them, are mounted with the explicit intention of ‘re-imaging’ the city to attract private sector investment and tourists. In other words, London is being ‘cleaned up’ so that it can compete with other global cities to host things like major business conferences and attract high spending tourists and global real estate developers. The question is then, who benefits from these ‘improvements’ and what does it mean for Londoners, now and in the future? The true Olympic legacy for London is one of communities displaced through gentrification, the enclosure of public spaces, and false promises of jobs, training and affordable housing. All this is paid for by Londoners through council tax rises of £20 per person and more indirectly through the diversion of £1.5 billion of lottery money to fund what is nothing less than the corporatisation of London”.
The second reason was to lend support to a Circassian delegation calling for the cessation of the “Russian” 2014 winter Olympics. An event which they claim is only possible due to the ongoing legacy of conquest and displacement suffered by Circassians at the end of the Caucasus war: a conflict spanning almost a hundred years from 1863-1864 in which the Tsarist Russian military crushed several independent peoples, including the Circassians, in the area that includes modern day Georgia, which was itself subject to Russian invasion in 2008.
Despite officially claiming that the Olympic Games promote peace, democratic values and “universal fundamental ethics” the IOC has controversially bowed to pressure from the Russian Federation and chosen Sochi as the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics. This is an insult to a people for whom the city – the site of an infamous massacre in 1864 followed by a forced Diaspora of 90 per cent of the Circassian population – has become synonymous with Russian imperial aggression and the subsequent struggle for ethnic recognition and self determination.
Those Circassians who were present spoke of how proud they were to be able to stand up and oppose the Olympics, yet felt that years of intimidation from the FSB (the Russian secret service) had discouraged others from attending the protest.
The third reason was to show solidarity with activists from the no-to-d’Annecy 2018 campaign. Local campaigners claim that the town’s bid was launched without any local consultation and so far 13,140 people from the towns 60,000 inhabitants have signed a petition declaring their opposition to the Games.
The group says that according to a survey conducted by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) last December, only 51 per cent of city residents are in favour of the bid, calling it the lowest score in the history of nominations for the Winter Games since IOC polls were made public.
In a press release the group says it “denounces a project financially disproportionate to our small city when so many people’s daily needs are not met. Moreover, despite official discourse, the project as designed will seriously affect the fragile ecological balance of our territory. All the Green parties are also against the bid, we condemn also accounting opacity and amateurism of its leaders.”
Accordingly, French activists came to London especially to protest the IOC meeting over the 2018 Olympics. They handed out leaflets outside the meeting for 2 hours, before being escorted away by the police. However, they returned the following day and picketed the meeting for the morning.
At the CON picket a banner was unfurled declaring “NO OLYMPIC CON 2012, NO SOCHI 2014”. It was displayed to delegates and members of the public; and the connections between the London 2012 Olympics and corporate profiteering, greed and corruption were discussed with delegates and interested passers-by. Despite some delegates being keen to engage in dialogue with CON members, the police and private security seemed concerned to keep them inside the Plaza Hotel and away from any alternative narrative about the Olympics. The protest ended after an hour when police moved in to shut down any further dialogue.
Picket against blacklisting
The RMT has called for a second picket in support of Frank Morris who has been sacked from working at the Olympics Media Centre and threatened with violence after blowing the whistle on the use of an illegal blacklist of trade unionists by the Olympics Project. The action is due to take place at the Hackney Marshes entrance to the Olympic site and all active trade unionists and supporters in London have been encouraged to attend. It will take place on Thursday 7th April, 7:00am – 10:00am.