The Socialist 2 September 2008 |
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Winners and losers at the Beijing Olympics
Many people across the world, particularly young people, will have been entertained and not a little inspired by many of the athletic performances in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Despite the hype, sport plays an important part in many people's lives. Unlike some, such as the editor of Socialist Worker, who maintains that "sport represents a tyranny over human effort by machines, the watch and arbitrary rules" (9 August), most workers enjoy sport and see through some of the commercial excesses committed in the name of sport. The Olympic Games are symbolic of the use of sport by the rich and powerful for their own ends.
The Beijing Olympics may be over but they have left behind a dazzling array of monuments. Chinese workers have been engaged in one of the biggest building projects in human history, yet the human, ecological and financial cost is staggering.
Beijing airport's new Terminal 3, twice the size of the Pentagon, is the biggest building in the world. Designed by Norman Foster (who built the wobbly bridge across the Thames), it cost $3.8 billion and can handle more than 50 million passengers a year!
Beijing airport was completed, amazingly, in less than four years. Jeff Martin, deputy project manager for Siemens, one of the main contractors, said the reason for the prompt completion was simple: "There is so much available labour. If I say we need 500 extra workers tomorrow, then I will get them. In the US, you would have to go through unions and it would take much, much longer."
Human rights trampled
Forced relocation of residents also contributed. Managers say 10,000 people have been "resettled" for this building alone (Guardian 13 September 2007). The Geneva-based Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions claims that up to one million residents of Beijing have been displaced by the Olympic building programmes, many of them evicted against their will.
According to a 2004 report in Architectural Record, China consumes 54.7% of the concrete and 36.1% of the steel produced in the world. China's elite want to project the confident image of a new superpower, with state of the art buildings to match their massive ambition.
The Bird's Nest stadium required 50,000 tons of steel rods, costing $400 million. This was based on low pay. Labourers on the site earned just £3 a day and skilled welders earned £4.40 a day. Seven-days-a-week working was required (The Times 20 January 2008). Ding Zhenkuan, deputy chief of the Beijing Bureau of Work Safety, told a news conference: "There were two deaths in the Bird's Nest, one in 2006 and one in 2007". Believe it if you will.
The total cost of the Beijing Olympics may exceed $44 billion which equates to $100 million per gold medal! But the environmental and social cost of the Chinese elite's drive to make China a superpower is even more costly.
With the Games over, the neglect of the working people of China can be measured on a truly epic scale. A World Bank report, entitled 'Cost of pollution in China', revealed up to 760,000 people die prematurely each year in China because of air and water pollution. The athletes have gone home but the workers and farmers of China still breathe the poisonous air.
In 2007 China surpassed the US as the world's largest emitter of carbon dioxide, putting out 6,200 million tons even in comparison with America's gigantic 5,800 million. This scale of pollution cannot be sustained for long. There is a crisis in Chinese society. The Chinese working class is the only force that can rescue the country from this catastrophe.
Perhaps the most inspirational story of the Olympics was not Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt or Chris Hoy but two elderly women, Mrs Wu and Mrs Wang, both in their late 70s, in poor health and illiterate.
Their story was told by Channel 4 News. Both women were sentenced to a year of "re-education through labour" ie a labour camp, after they applied to protest against the inadequate compensation the local authority offered them when their homes were demolished seven years ago. The fearless women were filmed chasing government spies down the street, which is probably the most meaningful image of the 2008 Olympic Games and a forecast of the coming workers' movement in China.