It’s Only Going to Get Worse

By Grace Kyne-Lilley

This FUSE article from issue 36-1 is available full-text online for your reading pleasure. If you like what you read, please consider subscribing to FUSE or making a one-time donation.

Living in London is difficult to describe. Londoners are full of contradictions. So many of us are keen to leave but are compelled to stay. The cost of living is high and getting higher. Rent is increasingly taking up far too much of our incomes; for me, it wavers between fifty and eighty per cent of my wages. I work part-time as a waitress, with unreliable bits of income from art projects or childcare, and my situation is echoed throughout the cultural sector. Work for most people is increasingly precarious — too much, not enough, unpaid, not contracted, unprotected &c.

In the arts, internships are mandatory, and the need to prove one’s knowledge and capabilities through experience conveniently ostracizes those who cannot be supported while they experiment/administrate/network. [1] Cultural production —in other words, the arts — is thus effectively kept in the hands of the ruling classes. There are current efforts to organize around unpaid labour, [2] but it’s difficult to do so as the social and cultural capital accrued is often dependent on one being available, agreeable and grateful. As long as some of us can afford to work for free, we will all be required to do so. This is part of why the shift in the institutional gaze towards so-called radical politics is dubious. Reading groups in galleries, workshops at biennials — exploring means of “reconstituting radical subjectivities” is all the rage. Well-intentioned social experiments may well alleviate the alienation and fear a lot of us live with, but the revolutionary potential in many of these spaces is limited, as their investment in the status quo is too great. [3] But I’d like to think that we’re somewhere at the beginning of a series of burgeoning cultural shifts, rememberings and resistances, rather than accept a totally cynical suspicion. So we create our own spaces, events, and education, while we try to pay our rent.

The government is taking greater amounts of money away from the provision of public welfare and services — the National Health Service, benefits, universities, the arts &c. [4] Some would argue this is the government withdrawing from the public sphere. It actually means the government and the public sphere are increasingly profit-driven, dispersed and lacquered in purposefully misguiding customer service rituals. The Conservative government (technically in coalition with the Liberal Democrats) branded this the Big Society. [5] Free from the burden of a so-called nanny-state, the provision of formerly government-funded welfare services is outsourced and sold to private companies, or made dependent on volunteers and charities. While this may signal a shift in discourse, it is really only the acceleration of economic policies that have been rumbling on since the 1980s and 1990s under the Thatcher and New Labour governments. Prime Minister David Cameron’s line, “We’re all in it together,” is laughable. Coming straight from the ruling class, this liberal vision of universal experience, underpinned by a nationalist discourse and an inherited Christian work ethic, attempts to mask the rawness of growing divisions between rich and poor, racist and xenophobic fears, and gendered disparities. It makes me think of the Occupy slogan, “We are the 99%.” Blergh.

The riots in August 2011, the student protests and riots in 2010, two million workers out on strike last November —there have been several recent flash points of struggle. The student movement started spectacularly with the storming of part of the Conservative Party’s headquarters in November 2010. Images of red and black flags being waved from the roof of Tory offices created shock waves and marked, in some instances, the beginnings of a change in contemporary political discourse. So too have the university occupations, the police brutalities, the many acts and gestures of solidarity. But although it was a short fight in a seemingly always-losing battle, it did create new communities, and bring together different generations and political factions. The feminist critique on the left, for example, is now more vocal than it has been for years. However, a combination of the lack of political culture, and the fixation around a single issue, meant that what seemed to be a movement quickly fragmented and dispersed. There was a stepping back, a period of quiet. Now we’re just trying to get on.

The city — as a site for marches and voicing our protest, as a map of potential targets and safe places — is becoming increasingly gentrified. After the August riots, #riotcleanup trended on Twitter, and white, liberal, middle-class people took to the streets with brooms. Though state spectacles have momentarily come to an end, the Royal Wedding last year, and the Jubilee and the Olympics this year were blatant attempts to unite people through media coercion; hopefully, their effects will be short-lived. At the same time, changes to housing benefits has led the rise of free-marketeer landlords and gated communities, effectively forcing the working class out of the city. The long-standing tradition of squatting in abandoned residential buildings was recently made a criminal offence; those first arrested were imprisoned for twelve weeks. The UK Border Agency has been illegally stopping, questioning and detaining people on the street in strategized raids for months now. There are phone trees, and people are educating themselves on their rights and how to act in solidarity. The London Metropolitan University had its licence to teach non-EU students revoked and 2,600 students now have to find alternative institutions to sponsor their visas or be deported. As London builds its city walls, we’re searching for our places. We’re in the first throes of a period of major economic depression and fascistic governance. And it’s only going to get worse.

In solidarity.


[1] Though, of course, we all embellish and euphemize — activities endemic not only to
the arts, but neatly articulated and integral to the production of the surplus values we splash around.

[2] See the work of the Precarious Workers Brigade and Intern Aware.

[3] The recuperation of the language and formats of liberation struggles is expected from a bourgeois cultural machine that will plunder and extract value from anything in its attempt to commodify and sell.

[4] In concert with this trend, the names for various types of financial support are radically changing, for instance, “Job Seekers Allowance” becomes “Enterprise Allowance” as we’re all turned into entrepreneurs.

[5] Big Society is a policy initiative designed to blunt the effects of austerity measures
by appealing to so-called “community-driven” projects. It effectively shrinks the influence of the state by endorsing a civic responsibility where organizations that are labelled free schools, community centres &c are fuelled by
free labour.

Working as a waitress in south-east London, Grace Kyne-Lilley is also training to be a Theatre of the Oppressed workshop facilitator with the theatre group, Implicated Theatre. She writes (but is scared to), sews, and enjoys film and filming. Kyne-Lilley is in the early stages of researching for a potential PhD in colonial(ized) photography and children’s education. Her political interests are class, the social and political potential of artistic practices, and questionings of power.

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