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Globalisation in 2000

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I wrote this article in October 2000 and it is probably my oldest surviving rant. I am publishing this on-line now as it indicates that my rants are as valid now as they were then. I had correctly identified over eleven years ago the globalisation process as the evil that it is. I have changed almost nothing in this presentation. The addresses and information at the end of the article have been left in for authenticity but none are now valid. The house address was owned by my family for 51 years but has now fallen victim to the asset strippers. Subsequent events are often tending to confirm my concerns. Indeed, every word I wrote twelve years ago has proved prophetic.

The factory that I owned is being turned into flats and the area is regularly losing the few remaining businesses and turning into a dormitory suburb without character but plenty of blight. The construction companies continue to grow rich,

There are few pubs remaining in which to hold meetings and most of those that remain are struggling to survive. Manufacturing is almost unknown in Coventry now. The city that supported me for my lifetime now offers far fewer choices to young people. They enslave themselves to the major or multi-national organisations or suffer a marginal standard of living.

The restoration of the timber framed buildings in Spon Street has been completed by the Spon End Building Preservation Trust and is a viable community facility.

Colin Walker

12 June 2011

 

Globalisation

and

its effect upon a thousand years of progress

 

This is a short quasi-autobiography, a potted approximate history of the area in which I live, and a record of observations I have made over the last four years with regard to profound economic and social changes happening here and in the western world.

My purpose is to highlight the changes we are experiencing and ask whether we wish to continue passively accepting these changes which may have serious adverse, and possibly irreversible, consequences.

Spon End

The inner city suburb of Coventry called Spon End is much in the same as it was when built between 1850 and 1900 and the local community is fighting hard to preserve its best features and recover some of its worst.

Coventry is England’s eighth largest city and exactly at the centre of the country. The village of Spon - (Sponne, Spanne, a river crossing) - was founded around 1130 when Hugh Kevilock, Earl of Chester, returned from a crusade to find his chief knight had leprosy. He build a hospital for him and a chapel which survived until 1850. The village was on the main road between Coventry and Lichfield, the next large town. The bishops of Coventry and Lichfield fought for several hundred years for supremacy over the Diocese of Lichfield and Coventry (or sometimes Coventry and Litchfield) and the village of Spon was an important crossing point over the local River Sherbourne - which means ‘clear stream”. It stands one mile from the centre of Coventry. The leper colony was moved to Alcester after four hundred years.

(sidenote. Peter Sellers appeared at The Hippodrome in Coventry in the nineteen sixties and, suffering a bout of depression, went for a walk. His idle footsteps took him to Spon End which so depressed him he coined the infamous Goon term "I've been sponned".)

The village was later an impound point for collecting tolls on passing traffic in animals and goods and later still became a coaching stop. There was no bridge until around 1600 and when the river was in flood the village inns did a roaring trade. We still use one of them as a meeting place for our local residents’ association. The wayfarer’s chapel of St. James and St. Christopher still stands on the town side of the river, in ruins since the 17th century but still impressive.

The village survived much as it was until around 1800 when the industrial revolution saw much development. The rich merchants who needed to house their growing workforces built small houses in their gardens and many long thin “courts” of houses developed in Spon End, as the village was now called, and in other parts of Coventry.

Coventry

A development on the site of Coventry existed around 800 AD and was thought to be an encampment called “Cofa’s Tree”. A chapel to St. Osburg was known to have existed. The city as we know it was founded when Lady Godiva - the girl who allegedly rode naked on a white horse - founded the priory of St. Mary on the site of St. Osburg’s chapel around 1050. This was one of the largest churches in the land at that time and was very similar in design to the Cathedral at Lichfield. The Priory was the only cathedral totally demolished by Henry VIII at the dissolution. The ruins of the priory foundations can still be seen and have just been the focus of a large and contentious city-centre redevelopment program. The size of the Priory is astonishing and its stones no-doubt built many of the buildings in Coventry for centuries after.

The legend of Lady Godiva claims she rode naked through the city to spite her husband, Earl Leofric who was the big guy in the large central area of England called Mercia. What most probably happened was that Godiva, a local girl made good, fought for her own people to get their taxes reduced. She threatened to ride through the city ‘stripped of her finery’ to show cause with the locals. This meant she would go down-town without her jewellery and fine clothes - a serious insult to husband Leofric. This she did but the Leet ordered all citizens to stay indoors to preserve her modesty - and possibly her head - and this they did.

A later story then has it that one guy wanted to see what was going on and ‘Peeping Tom’ looked and was struck blind. So another legend was born. We never heard if the taxes were cut.

Throughout mediaeval times Coventry was a very rich and prosperous city. Its wealth was founded on wool which was worked along the banks of the River Sherbourne. Today the river is little better than a ditch but must have been a considerable stream in those days. As well as innumerable weavers, tanners and dyers, it supported six mills and was the main sewer for the city. One of our projects is to regenerate the river as an important feature of the Spon End area and good initial progress has been made.

The City of Coventry is the only place outside London which ever held Parliament and the Black Prince stayed here for some years and held court here. He worked in St.Mary’s hall which dates from the 16th century and is one of Britain’s most beautiful and least known buildings. We are very good at hiding our lights in Coventry. The hall boasts a superb 17th century tapestry (a real woven one - the one in Bayeaux, although beautiful, is not a tapestry - it is an embroidery). Ours tells the tale of the life of Henry VI and is an excellent contemporary history book. The tapestry is probably the most valuable work of art of its type on earth. Recent claims suggest that Shakespeare spent some of his life playing theatre in St.Mary’s Hall.

The city built itself a wall in the 15th century which proved a real fortress during the Civil War and Coventry was the centre of many plots, negotiations and battles. No fighting actually took place in the city as the fathers had been wise enough to requisition a canon from Warwick castle and place it in Spon Gate, the gate leading into Spon Street and to the village of Spon. The Royalist enemy knew of this canon and wisely stayed away and it was never actually used. The failed “gunpowder plot” of Guy Fawkes to blow up Parliament was hatched in and around Coventry.

At this time Coventry was said to be “the fairest city in the land”; its tiled roofs gleaming in the sun. After the Civil War, Cromwell sent a number of Loyalist prisoners to be held in our local parish church, St John’s, which had then fallen into disuse. The republican Coventrians shunned them and refused to speak to them. Ever since then, the act of cutting another person dead has been known in England as “Sending to Coventry”.

After the Restoration, the Earl of Northampton - probably Lady Di’s great-great-great-great­-great-great granddaddy, was sent to Coventry to knock down the city wall as punishment for being a republican stronghold.

In those days such orders would normally be taken with a pinch of salt. The soldiers would go and knock down a few stones and the locals would buy them a few pints of beer and everyone would have a good time. But republicans have never had an easy time in England and the wall was almost totally demolished. Two gates and three short stretches of wall now remain. The finest medieval city wall in England almost disappeared. One of the benefits was a host of excellent sandstone walls and houses built near to the wall using the cheaply available debris. Once again Coventry suffered because it was a rich and powerful city and was seen as a threat.

Around 1776 Spon Gate was demolished to allow larger carts to enter the city and the stones were taken along Spon Street to rebuild a former pack-horse bridge across the river Sherbourne at the village of Spon End. The bridge is still here and boasts four sandstone lamp carrying piers which came allegedly from the Coventry Cross. This was itself a mediaeval wonder and was a stone built edifice plated all over with gold. The nursery rhyme known as Ride a Cock Horse to Banbury cross was originally Coventry Cross.

As a hang-over from those days, the Merchant Guilds, which controlled the city for most of the middle-ages, owned most of the surrounding land and held it jealously. Coventry was constrained to grow within the boundaries of the city wall. Ribbon development took place only along Spon Street to the West and Gosford Street to the East. Gosford was the green to which Richard II took Bolingbroke and Northumberland to fight the duel which never happened - according to Shakespeare. Gosford Green is now almost hidden in a traffic intersection.

Spon Street dates from around 1200 and a few buildings survive with provenance going back nearly that far. A group of enthusiasts in our area found, and rescued from the bulldozer, a unique and beautiful row of cottages which they have been fighting for five years to renovate: They survived almost unharmed for 570 years and our City Council has owned them for around 30 years and they are now almost in ruins. They are, as far as I can ascertain, the oldest surviving, in-situ, timber-framed buildings in Britain. Their design is also quite unusual. We have made them the centre-piece of our economic regeneration policy for the decaying inner-city area and are hoping to start restoration work within a few weeks. The row of cottages also includes almost the only remaining Victorian “court” of out-buildings.

The twentieth Century

Until 1920 Coventry had more mediaeval buildings than any other city in Europe. The City Council started serious clearances which continued amid growing concern and opposition until 1933 when an area quite close to the centre was flattened and many of the gems were lost. Still the city was the best in Europe.

Coventry had had its economic ups and downs but by 1800 things were on the up and the weaving of Coventry Blue ribbon was again profitable. Later the city was renowned for the manufacture of watches which was centred on Spon Street and its growing suburbs. Around 1850 the citizens at last wrested land from the guilds and new suburbs were built for the manufacture of ribbon and watches. By 1900 these industries were in decline and sewing machines and bicycles were being built in their thousands.

Soon motorcycles were added and by 1914 Coventry was the “Detroit” of Britain with dozens of car and motorcycle manufacturers. The first world war pushed the manufacture of aeroplanes and all forms of powered equipment and armaments. Coventry was the most concentrated area of diverse industry in England. The first differential gear, the first Jet Engine, artificial silk, telephones, and the largest machine tool manufacturer in the world were amongst her many, many manufacturing achievements.

Coventry boomed from 1900 until 1980 and throughout that time was the richest and fastest growing working city in Britain. By 1935 the city had grown immensely and new suburbs stretched for five miles in each direction and the factories were bursting at the seams. They started moving to new homes on the outskirts of the city, partly as a natural progression, partly as a result of Government plans to take the strategically important factories away from the looming threat of Nazi bombs.

At 6pm on 14th November 1940, a bright, crisp, cold, moonlit night, 600 German bombers, recovered from defeat in the Battle of Britain, started their single most concentrated air raid of the second world war. They navigated by sophisticated radio location beams. After the first wave of incendiary bombs had fallen, the following planes, carrying high explosives, did not need radio location. They could see the burning city of Coventry from 140 miles away on the channel coast.

There is a popular myth that Britain was not prepared to go to war in 1939. The government had funded many factories and when war came they were ready to go. The people may not have been willing - the scars of World War I were still raw - but they were well prepared.

The strategic relocation paid off and the damage to industry was slight. Within four weeks production was back to normal, but the centre of Coventry had been destroyed. Compared to what the allies did later to certain German cities, the damage was moderate, but the bombing had been very concentrated and the mediaeval city centre was no more. St. Micheal’s Cathedral, one of the most elegant in the land, was burned out. Its spire still stands and is truly an inspiration to us all. The city council subsequently bulldozed the vast majority of what was left of the city. Around 20 ancient houses now remain in Spon Street, around six of them original, and the others moved from various parts of the city centre. A handful of other mediaeval buildings remain in their rightful place.

Degeneration and Despair

From around 1850 to 1980 Coventry was in the forefront of the industrial revolution and developed and produced countless products which made it the wealthiest city in Britain. Throughout that period the companies grew and amalgamated and were later assimilated into divisions of world companies.

Between 1980 and 1990 around 80% of its manufacturing capacity was exported to third world destinations. Machine tools were exported or scrapped in their thousands. The “smokestack’ industries disappeared. The high tech ones had to run to keep up. The city as a whole has replaced the 100,000 jobs it lost in ten years but they are no longer in manufacturing and control is no longer local. We have become a low-cost puppet of the international world companies trucking and box-shifting other people's manufactures.

What has happened on the ground is that the industrial and social structure built over 130 years was destroyed in ten years. Within five minutes walk of Spon End there used to be 20,000 highly paid jobs. Now there are none. The factories have been turned into houses and shopping malls, discos and cinemas and the density of the inner city drastically increased. All these people now must commute to work so significantly adding to pollution problems. The public transport facilities have nearly died. Those who do not have access to a car cannot work because the jobs are now at least five miles away. World companies demand shift work and buses do not match shift times. To try to do so would be ‘inefficient’.

In summary the world companies have raped our city in the name of efficiency. It is easy to be efficient when you can dump all your problems on someone else and walk away to pastures rich and new. Those of us left behind have to pick up the debris. How do you deal with the local housing estate - once populated by honest working people - and now populated by the destitute, unemployed, mentally handicapped, aged derelicts and single mothers with children who have not the faintest idea what work means and have not the slightest chance of ever learning so. Employment is probably less than 10%.

How do you recover the 11 year old drug pushers, the 13 year old prostitutes or the 15 year old arsonist who has burned 7 local buildings in three months or the 16 year old gangsters who have just got themselves a gun and are not sure what to do with it? We have to solve these and a thousand other similar problems for which the Gaderine rush to efficiency is not the answer. It is the problem.

Coventry has been, and still is, a place of energy and lethargy, of joy and sorrow, success and failure, building and destruction, progress and horror. We have seen the best and we have seen the worst.

We now have in Spon End an excellent Victorian suburb with a few superb houses and many fine workshops and former watchmaker’s houses and ‘top-shops’. The area is under great pressure as the affluent population continues its flight to the suburbs and the villages, and the centre of the city fills with the less fortunate and over-crowding and deprivation becomes the norm.

We have in Coventry many fine things, one of which is the largest and probably, the best, museum of British cars, motorcycles and bicycles in the world. Many of these are in working order and date from 1890 through to the latest Jaguars and the Thrust-Il, the current holder of the world land speed record, much of which was built in Coventry. Most of the factories are gone but the past lingers and can still be found in many quite corners of the city. What we do not have is innovative industry and the wealth that goes with it. Marconi, (formerly Peel Connor Telephones and GEC) the one shining home-grown example we have left is moving out of town just as soon as it can.

Personal recollections and observations

I have spent my life, including several years in North America, as a committed capitalist. I still believe, and always will, that capitalism is by far the best creator of wealth ever invented but I have had to face some very unpleasant truths in recent years. Modern capitalism is destroying many of our inner cities by walking away. Have you ever traveled by train around the lake through South Chicago? If you ever do, take a pack of tissues; you will need them. I was shocked and in despair that we do this to ourselves. Certain parts of Coventry are beginning to look like South Chicago.

In 1965, as a young man, I emigrated to Canada and lived in Montreal and worked in the North American Aerospace industry. I worked for a company called Jarry Hydraulics manufacturing aircraft flight control systems. The company had set up during world war II, around 1943, when Canadair started manufacturing Mosquito fighter bombers in Laurentian Boulevard. Suppliers were thin on the ground and a local garage had a workshop which was pressed into service manufacturing hydraulic pumps for the Mosquito. By 1965 the company employed 1200 people and was a useful player in the aerospace market.

The company was soon sold to American Brake Shoe which was amalgamated into ABEX and then became part of the conglomerate Illinois Central Railroad. Many of the buildings were sold off and leased back in the first asset-stripping. The company later was sold to Menasco and then Colt Industries and is now part of B.F.Goodrich. As a result of political pressures in Quebec the company moved to Ontario around 1975 and has continued to grow into one of the major players in the aerospace industry.

The people of Oakville have a useful and high-paying employer in a leading industry on their “green site” development. The people of the east end of Montreal, who developed the company, have nothing. There are many factors at work here but the overall sequence of events seems very similar to what has happened in Coventry. Build - initiate - develop - amalgamate - send to green pastures - lose out - inner city deprivation and decay.

I have just been told that a major plant in a small town in Texas has recently been closed and its work sent to Oakville. Somewhere there is a small Texas community which is just about to suffer the fate of Spon End. I wonder how long it will be before the rush for profit makes the Oakville plant redundant and derelict and turns part of that town into an ‘Inner city’ ghetto?

The development of industry is probably inevitable and desirable; but should the major companies buy into cities and societies and then destroy them by walking away when the going gets tough, or to add a few more millions to the directors’ accounts? This is a relatively new phenomenon within the capitalist system and we need new solutions to address the problem. It has attracted the name ‘Globalisation’ and is corporate vandalism on a massive scale.

A businessman asset-strips a complete company and leaves its 5000 employees, and a whole neighbourhood, to rot and he is rewarded with a million pound bonus and a knighthood. A dissident, rejected, employee throws a brick through a window and he is called a criminal and sent to jail. This grossly unjust double-standard is almost exactly what Victor Hugo described in the opening chapter of Les Miserables, nearly 200 years ago. Plus-ca-change!

The capitalist system is a superb generator of wealth but is a lousy way to run a society. It lays lots of golden eggs but deliberately excludes too many people from the trough.

Even More Personal recollections

My own family company was a microcosm within a microcosm; A story which very much mirrored the rise and fall of Coventry’s twentieth century industrial story. The company was started by grandfather in 1918. After the Great War, the need for armaments drastically reduced and he had been “let go” along with several thousand other industrial workers from Alfred Herbert, one of Coventry’s legendary companies. At that time the Alfred Herbert factory was in The Butts in Spon End.

He, together with many of his acquaintances started their own manufacturing companies. Many of them became successful. One or two became world-renowned. Jointly they formed the core of Coventry’s renowned sub-contract manufacturing capacity which fed the expanding car, electrical, electronics, machine tool and aeroplane factories with an endless supply of components, trained men, innovations and expertise.

He did quite well. He ground the bed of his first lathe by attaching a grinding wheel to his wife’s mangle, working in her kitchen. He hired a former stables and moved in a dozen machines. He employed around six men and by the slump in 1928 owned around five houses and a former local Sunday School building. He hired an architect and then proceeded to re-construct the building himself with the aid of one faithful employee, a hand operated cement mixer and occasional help. He took out around 2000 square feet of oak floors and installed a substantial second-story floor of reinforced concrete. He completed in all around 6000 square feet of high quality floors, extensions and other modifications within about three years while continuing to manage and run his business. The facility is still in excellent condition and in daily use. He built well.

He moved into the new premises in 1930 and continued to progress after the slump. His wife died soon afterward and he then relied on his son to run the business. They were both excellent craftsmen and during the second world war made very high profits. They actually benefited very little from this windfall as tax was levied at about 90% and the post-war credits were not repaid until they were virtually worthless. During the Korean war they made a lot of money for a while by being in a position to take advantage of the shortage of chromium used for making certain types of steel. But grandfather was now too old to bother and his son too disillusioned.

Father, who was a superb craftsman, ran the company alone for many years but by 1972 the company was virtually moribund until taken over by my brother and myself. We took over just as Coventry’s industry was feeling the first pangs of “reconstruction”. By 1980 the desolation of the whole of midland’s industry was obvious but we completely changed our product lines three times over the years to accommodate to the needs of our customers.

We eventually began to succeed against the almost total dissolution of the manufacturing base all around us. We bought the latest and best machinery and developed an excellent local reputation. Around 1997 we had a good on-going contract with one of Britain’s best known car companies. They told us we had to double production or lose the contract. We argued and negotiated for a long time as we did not believe such an increase realistic. Much pressure was brought to bear and eventually we spent a very large amount of money on new equipment. We had a pay-back time of around eighteen months and needed twelve months to bring the debt down to a sustainable level. The contract was promised to run for five years so we felt reasonably secure. Three months later a foreign company bought up the British company and the contract was cancelled a month after that. We won a three month run-down period but thereafter were unable to find any replacement work at all. We had thought ourselves reasonably safe as our contract had been with the best-known car company in the world.

We could not balance the books in any way other than by firing the loyal workforce and liquidizing the company. Twenty fine people would have been devastated, including three other members of our own families. We spent months on the phone, writing letters and visiting potential customers but we could find nothing suitable anywhere in the country. To develop high quality work of this nature to the point of profitability takes from six to twelve months and it soon became evident that even if we did find work, we would be exceeding our credit facilities long before the work became profitable.

We sold the company and were soon after fired without cause. The new owner was simply asset stripping. As we are both over 60 years of age, it is highly unlikely that we will find remunerative work again. Three of our former business acquaintances have experienced very similar stories in the last eighteen months. The sub-contract industry in Coventry has followed the major industries and is now rapidly disappearing. My own story exactly parallels that of manufacturing industry as a whole. What happened to us has since happened to the largest British car manufacturer and much of its workforce and sub-contractors. We are fortunate. We are both highly competent fighters and we had put aside enough money to survive until our pensions come due quite soon. Many others are not nearly so fortunate and sink into the pool of dissolution and decay now endemic in our inner cities.

I have told this story not to garner sympathy. I am not bitter but I cannot help but point out that our failure was not because of carelessness, incompetence or neglect. On the contrary we were victims of our own success. Our downfall was brought about by the globalisation process which firstly insisted we invest to compete and then swept us aside without even noticing. Eighty years of excellence was rendered useless overnight and its value taken elsewhere. Many others have suffered similar fates. I have no problem with others making great riches by competent production. Productive competence benefits everybody. I have a great problem with others becoming rich on the proceeds of asset-stripping which benefits only foul thieves.

Finale

These are the thoughts and the result of around four years of enquiry and occasional study. I do not pretend the pre-1900 dates are accurate. I believe the sequences of events are valid. I have attempted to paint a broad picture of development which, in my opinion, is far more important that the accuracy of specific dates or events. One day I might use this as the basis for a more professional presentation and would, of course, better research the material to ensure minimum inaccuracy. Never-the-less I believe the picture I have painted is essentially correct.

The very personal experiences portrayed here clearly illustrate the processes at work and contribute to the experiences of this city and this nation. Similar things are happening in the US and I know they are happening elsewhere. The phenomenon of globalisation is quite new and we need new postulates, new ideas and new policies to deal with its depredations upon society. Coventry, an ancient and honourable city, is being rapidly degraded by the process of globalisation.

Colin Walker

20 Minster Road

Coventry CVI 3AF

Tel (024) 7622 3809

Email CoIlywobbIes@compuserve.com

http://www.sponend.org.uk

16th October 2000

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