Friday, 19 December 2014

All I Want @livetheatre

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I mentioned the visit to see Hope at the Royal Court a few days ago which is the topical play about Council cutbacks.

Another newsworthy play I've just seen is 'All I Want', by Kirsty Housley and acted by Jon Foster. It's just finished its run across London, Newcastle and Leeds.

I saw it just before the BBC broadcast about conditions of work in some of the high-technology factories in the Far East. This was also part of the theme of the play, which illustrated a modern Christmas, with its internet ordering and then fulfilment by timed and tracked 'pickers' in vast centres spread around the U.K. A good proportion of the goods are created in huge factories in the Far East.

Our story followed a Lego depicted Chinese girl (see her balanced on the bus in the picture above). She's leaving her rural pig farming community to travel some 700 miles to a vast complex where she could earn money to support her whole family. Also illustrated with Lego people, we had another family set in Wales, where a massive distribution centre provided fulfilment for tens of thousands of individual items.

The play took a comfortable 'sitting on cushions around the Christmas tree' setting and then projected the implications of our gift giving onto a wider global context. The difficult point showing that in some economies the already low wage is subject to a range of corruption. In China there's alleged to be many forms of worker exploitation - long working days, mandatory overtime, rammed dormitories, exhaustion... the list goes on. There's more at Chinawatch.org - indeed far more than the stories covered in the recent Panorama broadcast.
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The second picture further along the narrative shows a replica of the inside of a small part of the huge Chinese factory. There's nets around the side. You can just make out the blue aproned woman worker standing on the roof. The security guards are looking up. The sun glints from her glasses. Later she'll be joined by others holding placards "我们不是机器人 / We are not robots"

The Welsh fulfilment factory raised further points. Alongside comments about zero hour contracts, there's the question around extensive UK grants.

In the case of Amazon, the Telegraph reported that they filed for £2.4m tax in 2013 and received £2.5m in grants. Not to mention the special subsidy to build their centre in Wales (£8m) and the further EU subsidy to create the new road to it (£3m). The road's name? Ffordd Amazon, of course.

The real Welsh warehouse is a bit bigger than the one we saw in the Lego model. Geoff Robinson has some other photos. Could the one in Peterborough be larger than the one in Wales?

Anyhow, as well as Swansea, there's another six of these big ones around the U.K. plus the 210,000 square foot office in Holborn, spread over 12 floors. After all, in Black Friday discount week, they expected to process 4 million orders.

Not directly discussed in the play, the U.K. subsidy situation is really the tip of a corporate welfare iceberg. Kevin Farnsworth from Sheffield Uni did some work on this last year and published it back in January. We all have opinions about the strange state of U.K. banking. This paints a wider picture across other forms of U.K. industry and services, where various forms of subsidies and capital grants are used to keep things sweet.

There could be a whole further post about adversarial capitalism and the need for businesses to contribute to the corporate welfare bill. Instead, I'll congratulate the whole production team of 'All I Want' on creating a good piece of thought provoking and immersive drama.

And to keep thinking about how to build a better structure from the Lego pieces.
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