How to build a civic Olympic legacy

We need new museums, galleries, concert halls and academic institutions in East London.

The organisers of the Olympics and Paralympics have rightly been applauded, not just for the way the Games themselves were organised but for having gone much further than most other Olympic cities in ensuring that all the investment that went into them makes a lasting contribution. Much, of course, could go wrong, especially if the economy fails to pick up. But the Olympic Park and the surrounding areas are well integrated into London’s public transport system. Many of the big venues have adaptability built into them.  The future of the Athletes' Village, purchased by deep-pocketed developers, looks secure.  And those in charge of the Park say they are committed to ensuring that the new neighbourhoods will set new standards of modern urban design – though given the absence of any ambitious attempts at large scale urban design in London and the poor quality of what has been done, that won’t be hard.

But successful urban quarters are not just a matter of homes, offices, parks, shopping centres and sporting venues.  They also need civic institutions. And that's where the legacy plans currently look weak.  Daniel Moylan, the man Boris Johnson has now put in charge of the Olympic Park and associated legacy projects, has suggested that The Great Exhibition of 1851 provides a good model of what he wants to achieve.  But the most lasting legacy of the Great Exhibition were the museums, galleries, concert halls and academic institutions of South Kensington, with not a swimming pool or running track among them.  

One of the features of Canary Wharf that gives it the tinny, artificial quality it has, is the absence of these sort of institutions. The development has plenty of private gyms, but no libraries, art galleries, colleges, or theatres, with the exception of the nearby Docklands Museum.  And, of course, East London is badly lacking in all these things - or those that it has are largely of local, not national or international significance.  Even the Design Museum, which did draw people from across London, and well beyond, is moving from its outpost in Tower Bridge to the balmier climes of Kensington. 

One of the top priorities for Moylan and his team, then, must be to create a much richer civic landscape in the Stratford area and beyond.  Birkbeck College, true to its pioneering history, is building a large campus in Stratford, but the area would greatly benefit from similar moves by other some of London’s other top rank academic institutions (UCL are considering but have yet to commit). John Lock of the University of East London has argued that Millennium Mills in the Royal Docks would make a very good public home for government art collections, most of which hardly ever see the light of day.  And East London, which has played host to successive waves of migrants, is surely the ideal venue for a new Museum of Migration, to rival New York’s Ellis Island and similar museums around the world.  Given the international character of the Olympics and the ethnic diversity of GB’s Olympic team, that would be a particularly fitting Olympic legacy project and a good cause for some of London’s many migrant millionaires. 

Ben Rogers is the director of the Centre for London at Demos.

Crowds cheer from windows along the route during the London 2012 Victory Parade for Team GB and Paralympic GB athletes. Photograph: Getty Images.

Ben Rogers is the director of the Centre for London think tank, and the author of 10 Ideas for the New Mayor.

Getty
Show Hide image

Our union backed Brexit, but that doesn't mean scrapping freedom of movement

We can only improve the lives of our members, like those planning stike action at McDonalds, through solidarity.

The campaign to defend and extend free movement – highlighted by the launch of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement this month – is being seen in some circles as a back door strategy to re-run the EU referendum. If that was truly the case, then I don't think Unions like mine (the BFAWU) would be involved, especially as we campaigned to leave the EU ourselves.

In stark contrast to the rhetoric used by many sections of the Leave campaign, our argument wasn’t driven by fear and paranoia about migrant workers. A good number of the BFAWU’s membership is made up of workers not just from the EU, but from all corners of the world. They make a positive contribution to the industry that we represent. These people make a far larger and important contribution to our society and our communities than the wealthy Brexiteers, who sought to do nothing other than de-humanise them, cheered along by a rabid, right-wing press. 

Those who are calling for end to freedom of movement fail to realise that it’s people, rather than land and borders that makes the world we live in. Division works only in the interest of those that want to hold power, control, influence and wealth. Unfortunately, despite a rich history in terms of where division leads us, a good chunk of the UK population still falls for it. We believe that those who live and work here or in other countries should have their skills recognised and enjoy the same rights as those born in that country, including the democratic right to vote. 

Workers born outside of the UK contribute more than £328 million to the UK economy every day. Our NHS depends on their labour in order to keep it running; the leisure and hospitality industries depend on them in order to function; the food industry (including farming to a degree) is often propped up by their work.

The real architects of our misery and hardship reside in Westminster. It is they who introduced legislation designed to allow bosses to act with impunity and pay poverty wages. The only way we can really improve our lives is not as some would have you believe, by blaming other poor workers from other countries, it is through standing together in solidarity. By organising and combining that we become stronger as our fabulous members are showing through their decision to ballot for strike action in McDonalds.

Our members in McDonalds are both born in the UK and outside the UK, and where the bosses have separated groups of workers by pitting certain nationalities against each other, the workers organised have stood together and fought to win change for all, even organising themed social events to welcome each other in the face of the bosses ‘attempts to create divisions in the workplace.

Our union has held the long term view that we should have a planned economy with an ability to own and control the means of production. Our members saw the EU as a gravy train, working in the interests of wealthy elites and industrial scale tax avoidance. They felt that leaving the EU would give the UK the best opportunity to renationalise our key industries and begin a programme of manufacturing on a scale that would allow us to be self-sufficient and independent while enjoying solid trading relationships with other countries. Obviously, a key component in terms of facilitating this is continued freedom of movement.

Many of our members come from communities that voted to leave the EU. They are a reflection of real life that the movers and shakers in both the Leave and Remain campaigns took for granted. We weren’t surprised by the outcome of the EU referendum; after decades of politicians heaping blame on the EU for everything from the shape of fruit to personal hardship, what else could we possibly expect? However, we cannot allow migrant labour to remain as a political football to give succour to the prejudices of the uninformed. Given the same rights and freedoms as UK citizens, foreign workers have the ability to ensure that the UK actually makes a success of Brexit, one that benefits the many, rather than the few.

Ian Hodon is President of the Bakers and Allied Food Workers Union and founding signatory of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement.