by Neil Jameson for The New York Times

April 3, 2012

Britain last hosted the summer Olympics in 1948, just after World War II when we were broke and our aspirations were low. The Stadium was dominated by a quote from the founder of the modern Olympics, Baron Pierre de Coubertin: “The important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part. The essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well.” This time around, Londoners can do more than take part: we can win.

It was in 2004 that London began to prepare its bid to host the 2012 Olympics. London Citizens, Britain’s largest community organization and an affiliate of Citizens UK, was eight years old and had built up its membership to 85 diverse local institutions (schools, churches, mosques and community associations), located in East and South London. We had learned that if you are well organized, everything is an opportunity, and if you are disorganized, most things are a threat! We saw the bid as an opportunity, especially because the site chosen was right in our back yard.

Our members put together what we called the People’s Ethical Guarantees for the London 2012 Olympics. As the largest community organization in town, we stated that we would not support the London bid if these were not included as an appendix of the bid – meaning they would be in writing in an official document, before the bid was submitted to the International Olympic Committee. We convinced Mayor Ken Livingstone and Sebastian Coe, the chairman of the 2012 Games bid, that London would be more likely to win if there were a framework of ethical, economic “deals” included concerning the jobs, pay, skills training and the legacy of housing for local people. We agreed that if London won the bid, then:

  • everyone employed on the site would be paid a new “London living wage” (£8.30 an hour, up from the state minimum of £6.08);
  • a construction skills academy would be built immediately to prepare East Londoners to get first in the queue for the skilled jobs being created;
  • money would be invested in local schools and health care;
  • and the land available for housing after the Games would be in a community land trust, to provide affordable family homes for local people.

To most people’s surprise, in 2005, London won the bid, and now this agreement is in action. Two new construction training academies opened in 2009, two new schools and a health center have been built on the site, and the stadiums themselves will be available for local use after the Games end this summer.

In 2011, London Citizens (now standing at 230 member institutions across most of London) met again with Lord Coe, now the chairman of the 2012 Games, and reached a deal applying the new living wage not just to the construction phase but also to the 40,000 new contract jobs that will serve the Olympics over the summer. When it looked like the private sector contractors who were commissioned to recruit for these jobs were having difficulty recruiting local people, London Citizens opened our member schools, mosques, churches and students unions and turned them into job centers – so far recruiting nearly 2,000 locals into these unique living wage jobs.

So from London Citizens’ perspective, London is already much better off because of the Olympics with our landscape and our future transformed. However it is crucial that we stay organized and independent in order to insist on the final piece of the People’s Ethical Guarantees: a legacy of affordable and decent family housing for local people from 2013 onward. This struggle has yet to be won, but the signs are positive.

London Citizens is following the advice of Baron de Coubertain: we know that the important thing is taking part, as we have over the last eight years. We will enjoy the Games and the summer as much as we can, and will continue to fight. After all, the legacy here in East London is our future.

Correction: An earlier version of these comments misstated the year that London was selected to host the 2012 Olympics. It was 2005, not 2007.

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