Britain: Sunderland’s 2021 Bid for the “City of Culture” will not benefit the Working Class

By Dave Tate, RCIT Britain, 08.11.2017,




Sunderland’s 2021 bid for the city of culture was launched on 2nd November 2017. All the rhetoric used to legitimise the bid aims to portray the success of winning the award will lead to a renaissance for Sunderland. From being a major ship builder and coal mining area for the nineteenth and twentieth centuries it will follow the so-called post-industrial success of Liverpool, the first City of Culture and the most recent Hull. At least that is what is being sold to the people of Sunderland and the wider community.


The City of Culture was introduced by Labour’s Culture Secretary Andy Burnham in 2009 following the perceived success of Liverpool’s European City of culture. Justifying such a scheme he argued that “culture and creativity should be viewed as part of the answer to tough economic times and not as a distraction or a luxury”.


However, like most rhetoric justifying capitalist reality this has proven to be narrowly focused. Previous winning cities have never led to much of an improvement in workers lives as it was never meant to be an improvement. Success of the scheme is seen narrowly through how much new revenue is generated, in the case of Liverpool it was estimated that the local economy benefitted by some £800m.


The bid that Sunderland is making for 2021 is taking place in a city with a high proportion of food banks, it is also estimated that some 17000 children live in poverty, the cruel Universal Credit, which has rightly been seen as a direct attack upon the working class, is now being rolled out with all of the accompanying horrors of late payments and increased destitution.


In the work force the public sector pay cap which has seen wages being cut for the last ten years hits cities in north east disproportionally as more workers are employed in the public sector. The scourge of zero hours contracts and minimum wage jobs also will not be tackled by being designated a city of culture, if anything what will result will be a deepening of such conditions of non-union, zero hours, and minimum wages as the jobs created by a city of culture is just this type of employment.


The physical benefits will also be concentrated in and around the city centre while the outlying regions of Sunderland will continue to languish. You can also bet that from all the exhibitions few if any will highlight the socialist/radical history of Sunderland. The exhibitions may be interesting, but they will not challenge the capitalist ethos of accumulation for the sake of accumulation.


It seems to me that there is something fundamentally wrong when the wealth which is created socially should be used for collective benefits not individual benefit. There is enough wealth being created to build decent, habitable houses and to provide income that feeds workers etc. However, knowing this does not bring us closer to ensure that wealth being created is used for the working class rather than the narrow segment of the capitalist class. As workers we need to struggle to ensure that our needs are met. That housing, employment, welfare stops being a method for the capitalists to get rich. We need to widen our strikes make them political that is increasingly challenge the corrupt house of commons and the criminal capitalist state that protects the corrupt House of Commons. By doing this then we can build a humane future and for the first time bring culture truly into workers lives by making it ours and not the plaything of the wealthy or a way to make money.