dimanche 6 avril 2008

Derilict Capitalism

Armentieres brick works - closed 1984

Armentieres cement works - closed 1981

We are familiar with the smoothly running successes and seductions of late capitalism - its iphones, its laptops on board satnavs, pda's, tgv's 4x4's subprime disasters (mistake here?) and so on to nauseaum, but what is less remarked on is the crumbling ruins it leaves in its wake. Here on the eastern outskirts of the throbbing metropolis that is Armentueres in the North of France, lie the extinct husks of two former factories. They once employed together over 5000 people between them, but with 'modernisation' 'globalisation' and outsourcing the workers all had to face up to realities and reduce their expectations.

There is no longer a 'job for life' - not that there ever really was - unless you count 'til it just killed you. "Love and other things in life are precarious" as Parisot (the head of the French CBI, MEDEF) recently intoned so "what's so surprising about jobs being the same?" The British free market experience is way ahead of her on that one. But over here the idea of a social democratic consensus is still prevelant. Up to a point. Strikes aren't regarded as treachery, solidarity occassionally breaks out and governments still hold meetings with trades union leaders. Not that they have any real effect or, perhaps, any real intention of having any.

But when the inevitable happens and the factories close, the boss has golden parachuted to a Swiss island somewhere and the disappointed workers miss out on their last pay cheques and even L'Humanité has forgotten about it all - the bloody ruins of the buildings where representatives of the vampire class sucked the surplus profit from the veins of the local inhabitants, remain to haunt the minds of the present generation.

For their existence is a permanent haunting. These two examples are no exception. The 'Keep Out' signs are largely superfluous. Sure, the odd bored teen must have invaded the derilict space, had a smoke and quickly sprayed and tagged the outside of the joint (the ex-cement work entrance was decorated with the words "fuck the police" in English I'm delighted to report) and the places look to have been gutted. But the melancholic atmosphere that surrounds both ruins means you don't want to linger for too long. In the late afternon light of a grey April Sunday evening, they loomed luminously by the slow flowing river, their broken windows staring out across the flat farm land as dark clouds obscured the sunset far in the distance.