21st Century City

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‘The ice age is coming, the sun’s zooming in

Meltdown expected, the wheat is growing thin’

‘London Calling’The Clash *

 

It’s late summer in 2016. Scientists and engineers across London are developing innovative and life-transforming materials, products and production processes. 

Ranging from aeronautics to earth sciences, bioengineering to product design, these innovations could revolutionise production and consumption. Medical advances could improve people’s quality of life, not just in London but throughout the world. Other new technological developments harnessed to procure profits might change the way people work and live, empowering some whilst making others permanently redundant.

During the Industrial Revolution, factories and steam power transformed people’s lives in London and the rest of the United Kingdom. Working people – labour – found themselves increasingly wage enslaved to the factory owners – capital. London itself became a centre of diverse manufacturing and port city.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, an American neo-liberal ideology successfully dominated British politics.  This neo-liberal monetarism fused with the populist politics of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Thatcherism removed restrictions on capital and warmly welcomed international finance to London. Freed from its shackles, global capital devoured privatised UK public assets and utilities. Capital disinvested from London’s manufacturing base, breaking dependent local supply chains. Similarly, London’s upstream docks were already in decline and decay, caused by a loss of trade, containerisation and battles between owners and labourers.

Global financial interests took over London’s docklands. Capital binged in London over banking, insurance and real estate, spewing forth a global financial and socio-economic catastrophe in 2008-09 – the worst crisis since the depression of the 1930s.

Londoners still experience the unwinding legacy of the 2008-09 meltdown. Rescued by working people’s money, capital’s vortex of powerful vested geopolitical interests – regenerated and radicalised – continues to incite war, hunger, poverty, refugee crises and ecological destruction across the world. These grave crises will impact on generations of 21st Century Londoners as 2100 AD nears – unless this vortex, much of it centred in London, can be controlled.

Meanwhile, the ongoing digital revolution in robotics, driverless vehicles, global financial transactions, communications, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, online retailing, wearable technologies and 3-D printing, means capital needs less labour, fewer human beings. In parts of London, this emancipation of capital from labour has already dissolved working peoples’ economic security. In turn, this continues to fray and even dissolve the social fabric of families, streets, neighhourhoods and communities.

Collective solidarities and block identities built around homes, factories, offices, pubs and pastimes are being eroded and  eradicated. London’s buildings, culture, values are disappearing. Many Londoners themselves are moving out of the city  to seek work and homes they can genuinely afford. Their departure gradually dissolves a London culture and ways of life, established over centuries.

Individualism, real estate speculation, tax evasion, consumption, affluent people from Europe, and absentee global foreign investors and a low wage economy now hold London in their thrall. This perpetuates London’s 21st Century economic and social malaise, a crisis deeply rooted within a market economy that has commandeered central and local government to create a ‘market state’ – where power is essentially handed over to corporate private interests that spread inequality across London.

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Manufacturing in London

De-industrialisation

Thatcherism

 

 

© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, London 2016