Work and Volunteering [Primer #2]

Work and Volunteering [Primer #2]

The Commonwealth Games in 2014 will be a spectacular display of world-class sporting talent. But success won’t just be measured in medals. It’ll be measured in jobs and the development of our businesses“.

Commonwealth Games 2014, Legacy statement.


Apart from new sports centres (which should have been built years ago), a transplanted library, and the obligatory ‘young professionals’ moving to Dalmarnock, what is the Games ‘Legacy’ that’s been promised to people who’ve lived in the East End for years? Houses and jobs the city boosters say. In our housing primer we critically assess the false promises of more housing in the East End. In this primer, however, we take a critical look at the promises of more jobs during, and after, the Commonwealth Games, and question whether more work and “the development of business” is really the best solution to our problems and the best means of achieving a lasting ‘legacy’. We repeat the crucial question we always ask: “Who’s really benefiting from the Games?”


The promotional materials that have been posted out, pasted up and printed in the papers over the last seven years have been extremely vague. However, recently some numbers have been mentioned, or rather one number has been mentioned, with no evidence to support it. Fergus Ewing, the minister for Energy, Enterprise and Tourism, said at the end of 2013 that: “Every tourism event attracts a potential new business or leisure guest – and provides more jobs and investment. We are already seeing the benefit of this through the 30,000 jobs supported as a result of the Commonwealth Games”. We asked Mr. Ewing for some more information about exactly what these 30,000 jobs were. We are yet to receive an answer.

We have noticed though that the Queensland’s Government, who will be holding the next (and possibly last-ever) Commonwealth Games, ‘has pledged that over 30,000 new jobs will be created in the Gold Coast‘. A recent email from the ‘Marketing and Engagement Team’ for the Games, informed us of ‘Up to 30,000 Vacancies… to help deliver the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games in the Catering, Cleaning, Hospitality, Security and Waste sectors’ at a ‘Job Fair’ in late January of this year. ‘30,000 contractor vacancies’ were mentioned in a Herald Scotland article in September last year. Maybe things really do work best in units of 30,000? Or maybe this figure has pretty much been invented.

Employment statistics in relation to large scale regeneration projects are renowned for being ridiculously over-inflated. As George Monbiot notes: “There is no nonsense so gross that it cannot be justified by the creation of jobs”. The hotly contested M74 road, routinely claimed by city boosters as a major Games Legacy and lynchpin of the Clyde Gateway project, is a perfect example. In 1994, original estimates stated that 3,000-4,000 jobs might be created because of the road’s construction. By 2003-2004 during a public inquiry into the road, this figure had astonishingly jumped to between 20,000 and 25,000. In their summary, the inquiry reporters found that these claims were “highly suspect” and were “not shown to be robust”. At the most, they stated, 5,000 jobs might be new, but even these figures should be treated with “considerable caution”. Politicians and policymakers like to call this particular form of lying ‘aspirational’. We call it bullshit.


“We have got to find ways of getting more people into the labour force and if we are spending money it should be on getting people back to work. There is no way we can prosper where you have this number of people sitting around”.

Richard Cairns, Glasgow Chamber of Commerce

While the Council have been promising a flood of jobs East of Trongate since the Parkhead Forge closed, the sudden (alleged) influx of exactly 30,000 jobs isn’t going to last long even if it does miraculously arrive. In the words of the Games organisers: ‘The majority of our roles are advertised on the basis of a fixed term contract that will expire after the Commonwealth Games have been staged in August 2014, or sooner in the case of short term roles’. While ‘Precarity’ and temporary poorly-paid work is nothing new for the East End and Glasgow, this extremely short employment duration reflects much deeper, wider structural changes in the labour market. As a recent study by Cumbers, Helms and Keenan (2009) argues: “Since the late 1970s, job opportunities available in the service sector have generally been of a much lower quality – in terms of pay, job security and job satisfaction – than those lost in traditional manufacturing activities”. Despite endless hyperbole about Glasgow’s ‘urban renaissance’, it is worth noting that in 2013 Glasgow still had the most workless households in the UK according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).


The trend is for widespread ‘precarity’: less secure work, worse conditions, no holidays, no pension and more reliance on (ever-reducing) welfare, payday loans and other forms of debt. The Scottish Trades Union Council (STUC) estimates that 85,000 workers may already be on ‘zero-hour’ contracts. The Games will do nothing to change this trend and plenty to exacerbate it. In fact, the Games and the longer-term Clyde Gateway project of which it is a part, will restructure the labour relation for the worse, letting private companies use welfare to avoid having to actually hire workers on the kind of secure contract and wage you can build a passable life around. But then what can we expect, ask Cumbers, Helms and Keenan, from policies that are “developed by middle class bureaucrats and politicians [who] have little real knowledge of the increasingly difficult conditions facing working class people in negotiating the labour market”. In this context, Clyde Gateway Initiative’s promise of 21,000 jobs looks more like a threat than an ‘opportunity’ for the unemployed.

If private companies (the ‘developing businesses’ mentioned in our opening quote), only need to hire workers on short-term irregular contracts, they save on healthcare, insurance, and costly battles with unions, along with all the downtime they used to pay workers for. Let the state pay for these things they say, while pretending with their other face to be in favour of the free market. They even try to blame us for this situation which they’ve created, calling us work-shy skivers, when really their policies are designed to keep us going on and off the dole cutting labour costs, maintaining a desperate surplus labour force, and increasing competition between those in work and those out of work. They are the one’s benefiting from the Games, not us.


The spectacle of the Games will be supported by 15,000 volunteers. This means that a third of those making the Games happen will be receiving no pay packet, no accommodation and only ‘refreshments’ (in other words, no lunch or dinner) for over a fortnight of labour (eleven full days of work). Given how tough it is to make ends meet right now with endless budget cuts for services, frozen wages and welfare cutbacks, the fact that this amount of unpaid work is going into the Games is particularly disgusting. This is especially the case in the East End of Glasgow where unemployment has been particularly acute after the closure of heavy industries. In the multi-member ward of Shettleston, for instance, 26% of the population are income deprived and 21% employment deprived. Meanwhile, in the multi-member ward of Calton (which includes Calton, Bridgeton and Dalmarnock) the figures are even more dramatic: 40% of the population are income deprived and 29% employment deprived.

Volunteering makes a farce of promises of ‘Living Wage’ promises for Commonwealth Games staff. Why is labour paid a wage? Because it creates money for the employer. Someone is earning/saving money from all this free labour. Besides the fact that the work is precarious, insecure and short-term, shouldn’t the workers receive a wage rather than making money solely for the corporate sponsors, assigned vendors, property companies, land speculators, City Council, Games committee, etc, etc, who will all profit directly and indirectly from all this free labour? The volunteering scheme has openly targeted young people in the city as part of its legacy scheme. Youth unemployment (excluding students) is over 25% in Glasgow. One in four young people are unemployed. The promise of volunteering is secure future work, but false promises of precarious, short-term jobs, if any jobs at all, are not a basis for optimism. With no real jobs available, volunteering has become the mantra of choice, backed up by sophisticated promotional campaigns and social media strategies. The Commonwealth Games, with 15,000 voluntary ‘workers’, can be seen as a key experiment for the inculcation of the ‘work ethic’ through unpaid labour.


As with many previous, large-scale regeneration projects, there’s an assumption made that private investment will stream in after the booster shot of public subsidy has been administered. Basically, no one knows for sure if this will happen, including Clyde Gateway/Glasgow City Council. Regeneration promises are guesses based of what they hope private companies will do – especially in the current economic climate. Previous guesswork like this has resulted in half-empty blocks of flats and offices, and abandoned ‘business zones’ all over the city and, down south, increasing inequality and poverty in Hackney after the London Olympics. Promises are one thing, but the evidence of the past is that projects like the Commonwealth Games won’t make things better for those in poverty, and can actually make them much worse. As our upcoming primer on gentrification will argue, the people who’ve been living in the East End up to this point are unlikely to get to stay in the area if ‘regeneration’ really takes hold. With rising house prices and land values, people in the East End will be lucky to have houses, let alone jobs.


It means we shouldn’t buy the message that massive public subsidy, displacement, bulldozing of day care centres and other business-as-usuals’ for the Commonwealth Games will be worth it, because it’s going to sort out the lack of work in the East End. It’s also important to think about whether more jobs is really the only way to make our situation better. While we all want to feel we’re getting to be part of the larger world, to feel useful, and use our skills, is waged-work the only way to do that? We can’t go back to the old forms of mass employment, and the Council and Government’s way forward isn’t going to work. Even when we do have work, ‘working poverty’ has become endemic in Scotland. The wage, meanwhile, is not independent of the rapidly rising ‘cost of living’ crisis (especially related to housing costs) as a recent report from the Jimmy Reid Foundation makes very clear. We need something else. While opposing the Games, we should also take time to think together about what this other way of doing things could be.