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Street Trash

by Brandon Edmonds / Images by Roger Young / 22.08.2011

So much going on. Where to begin? 2011 will be remembered for trashing streets (though the years to come will be so crisis-ridden and wracked with antagonism, will we look back at this one as the moment it all began?). Rage displays spilling over into branded consumer (what used to be known as public) space. We’ve seen a lot of this lately. Young Londoners, poisoned by the Sex Pistol’s “No Future” coming grimly to pass in the slashing of education grants and social services (to pay the bill for the much greater crime of astronomical bank bailouts with public cash), harassed by arbitrary arrest, and ground down by post-meltdown joblessness, trashed streets and stole stuff. What a surprise. The media ritually roots around for a Reason (it happened after Columbine and Rodney King) when the tendentious refusal to see what capitalism is doing to us IS a reason. There are ongoing street protests in Israel, Greece and Spain. Cost-cutting political elites have unleashed an assault on the basic conditions of survival to pay for the greed of mortgage lenders and financial speculators. Even Egyptians are back on the streets to save their revolution from the Generals. People everywhere are discovering their own collective power after conformist decades of being told we’re good for little more than slaving away and lining up at the till.

Closer to home, municipal workers took to the streets last week. They want an 18% pay hike (R2000) which seems like a lot given that just by having a steady job means they’re already in a very privileged position in this chronically unemployed country. It is standard academic boilerplate by now that “liberation” shortchanged the majority while boosting insiders, incoming players and the already-wealthy. The top 10% makes 94 times more than the bottom 10. And that 18% hike municipal workers want is still less than the 23.3% bump in pay executive directors of the top 40 companies on the JSE enjoyed last year. Who earn R4.8 million a year. On average. If you think executive directors “add value” and are far more important than municipal workers enjoy watching your trash pile up over the next few weeks.

SAMWU members recently trashed streets in downtown Cape Town. It looked ugly. Street vendors’ stock was stolen and their stalls destroyed. Destruction is the key word. Value was destroyed in the crash. Resulting bailouts have destroyed what little legitimacy political institutions had in people’s eyes. It makes globalization, the dominant way we’re led to understand our world, look and feel that much harsher, a lot less rewarding. Nobody believes the system is working. Freed from consensus, the official version of the just and the good, people act out. They destroy shit. Executive pay is a fuck you to all of us. It just sucks that street vendors operate where the action is, in public space, while CEO’s sit in the air-conditioned offices of company HQ’s.

Cape Town Municipal Workers Riot

*Images © Roger Young.

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