The happening place

“I’m standing here, outside a building, where something is going on. Or not.”

It's hard to pin down exactly when it happened, but at some point in the 1990s we started seeing the outside of buildings on the news. It was a boon for architecture students or people who enjoyed seeing houses or offices in all their glory over the shoulder of a serious-looking on-the-spot reporter, slightly less interesting for the rest of us.

"I'm standing here, outside a place, where something is happening," the reporter would say, in the kind of hushed tones reserved for David Attenborough intruding on a couple of copulating gibbons in a rainforest.

"Hang on," I must have pondered the first time I saw it, "what are they doing, standing outside a building? Why do that? Why not show something happening, or nothing happening, or just admit that nothing's happening, and have someone in a studio talk about the nothing that's happening?"

Of course, you're not allowed to say nothing's happening. Something is always happening. Not on camera, but somewhere near where the camera is pointed. And once in a lifetime, looking at the outside of a door has brought joyous success – Bernard Ingham barging John Sergeant out of Margaret Thatcher's way as she crashed his OB to tell the world that she was fighting on in the Conservative leadership battle against Michael Heseltine.

Every other time, though, no. It's just been the outside of a door.

"Here's someone's front door. They might open it; they might not. They're . . . not opening it. Ooh, is that someone behind a curtain? No. It's a leaf blowing in the wind. We'll just stay with these pictures for a moment, in case . . . no. No, I just thought I saw a flicker there, no." And so on.

When the world went mad during the general election campaign last April, you could look at a stalker's-eye view of a door belonging to a house of someone who'd been called a bigot by Gordon Brown. As if we wanted to. Or might be interested in the door. "Oh, there's a door, much like one you can buy in B&Q," we said to ourselves. "And there it stands on its hinges, resolutely staying shut, while something of mild import happens behind it."

There's a new layer of ennui that's been added to the "house where something might be happening" news trope; it's the "football stadium where nothing is actually happening" shot. Transfer deadline day this week saw camera crews rushed to football grounds where the floodlights were off and nothing was demonstrably happening, where players may not have even been, where ink may not even have been applied to contracts with telephone-number salaries on them. But that was the nearest thing to a location, so that's what they filmed.

It's surreal, when you think about it, to have a reporter standing outside a football ground where nothing is happening, reporting on the nothing that's happening, telling you that perhaps something might be happening, then telling you about the "sources" they've been hearing about telling them about what might (or might not) be going on over their shoulder, in that giant stadium that's closed.

More surreal to think that clusters of fans actually start arriving outside these empty stadiums to celebrate/commiserate/burn things, depending on their mood. Are they doing it just because the cameras are there? Which means, all of a sudden, the cameras aren't there in vain; they're finally filming people who've turned up to celebrate the nothing that's happening in the stadium behind them, because someone was on TV reporting on the stadium in which nothing was happening, so they thought they might come down and see what was going on – even if it's nothing.

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
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.