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Picnics Or Politics Not Welcome In The New Company Towns
It’s telling, like some mammoth statement of the power of capital it opened up on a random Thursday in March. It lay hidden in hoarding for years, and then just appeared to occupy the landscape, dislocate and redefine the geography of Dundrum. It announced itself everywhere in the media, crowds of shoppers pushed their faces against the glass, and finally its doors swung open while they trampled each other in a rush to stores they’d marked out days in advance. 75, 000 people in the first day - taking some time off work, with or without the boss’s permission. The place looks like the future used to look in films from the 1960’s, conveyor belts drag you back and forth from floor to floor, as regular as an assembly line, while capsules of consumers shoot up and down. Dundrum Town Centre does not bode well for how our lives are being ordered for us.
A dangerous arsenal of picnic goodies.
This is a town centre, the promotional material boosts that ‘at the heart of it all is the community.’ There’s the gloss of a fountain and some benches outside, inside the gloss of a health centre that is yet to open and a crèche. This may be a town centre, but as Noami Klein stated recently enough, this is also an ode to the imperialist ambitions of the brand. But there is no room within it’s terrain for everything once associated with town centers; petitioning political power, celebrations of community and loitering in the sun.
On Saturday a group of about twelve people entered Dundrum Shopping centre with the intention of having a picnic. In short the end result was the creation of a spectacle that highlighted the erosion of public space and the contempt displayed by the Shopping Centers Management towards anyone who attempts to define an alternative cultural use for the space outside queues for sales and cash registers. Those who took part in the picnic were told that they were creating a safety hazard for shoppers. Upwards of ten security personal descended on the picnic as confused and startled onlookers were left puzzled at the commotion. Upwards of 400 leaflets were handed out to passers by. Judging from the reactions of management and security, the dissemination of leaflets critiquing the shopping centre experience and inviting people to join the picnic was their chief cause of concern. While they were happy to argue with those sitting and having the picnic, hurling the usual threat of phoning the police about, two particularly aggressive security personal set upon those handing out leaflets anytime they wandered away from the main hullabaloo. Grabbing and snatching leaflets from hands and eyeing them up with a forehead a menacingly couple of centimeters from their face - one warned “If I had my way, I’d take you all out side now…think you’re a hard man now, don’t you? I’ll show you how hard you are…”
In a hopeless argument with a member of senior management, the pointed question was put: “Would you stop trade unions handing out leaflets?” The reply was telling “Of course! We’ve had trouble with the unions before…” About an hour later activists from the Get Up Stand Up Campaign arrived in the shopping centre to distribute leaflets on employment rights and union contact details. People divided into three groups and took to the three levels of the shopping centre. Over half of those involved in the leafleting were busted and escorted out of the shopping centre by security. One member of the campaign saw a leaflet snatched from the hand of a worker by management.
It’d be easy to dismiss the picnic as a prank, but it has clearly highlighted something that was confirmed by Get Up Stand Up later that day. In Dundrum, the town centre has moved itself into the House of Fraiser, BT2, Marks and Spencer etc etc…all your old civil liberties can be left at the door, here there is a private security force, there will be no picnics unless of course the Bagel Factory is the provider, there will be no distribution of political literature unless of course it comes from Easons – there is nothing outside the sphere of consumption and unless we become totally subsumed to it, there is no place for us. If this is how an elementary attempt to distribute political ideas and union information is treated in a shopping centre, then it’s clear we have a battle on our hands and sadly enough it is a battle for freedom of expression and political organization in the company towns of the new millennium.
THE FLYER DISTRIBUTED ALONGSIDE THE PICNIC:
Welcome to the picnic!
We are here in Dundrum Town Centre to highlight the encroachment of commerce into our leisure and to point out the increasing enclosure of what were, and should be, public spaces in private hands.
In the west leisure time has decreased over the last 20 years, the introduction of mobile communication devices has allowed what used to be time away form work to be used for work. In return for less free time we are given a few more euro and shiny new products to buy every week,
things that we can buy in places like… the Dundrum Town Centre. Increasingly we define ourselves by what we buy and as there is always a “new and improved” or a “special edition” around the corner we are never satisfied with the fruits of our consumption.
To add to this shopping outlets are increasingly pervasive in our town and village centres with the Dundrum Town Centre being the most recent example. Dundrum has lost it’s main street for a shopping centre which is owned privately. In this space you are controlled by the rules of those who run the space, this is not a ‘town centre’ as it is not for the town, it is a controlled space for consumption and nothing more.
So sit down and join us, enjoy your town centre without having to run up a credit card bill!