Whatever the rights and wrongs of trade unions "targetting the Olympics", as suggested by Len McLuskey, it's possible to spot some rationality in what he suggests. Compare this suggestion to an observation in Timothy Mitchell's paper (aka the best piece of social science I've read in about two years) 'Carbon Democracy' (now developed into a book I've not yet read). Remarking on the rise of coal as a source of industrial power in the 19th century, Mitchell writes:
Great quantities of energy now flowed along very narrow channels. Large numbers of workers had to be concentrated at the main junctions of these channels. Their position and concentration gave them, at certain moments, a new kind of political power. The power derived not just from the organizations they formed, the ideas they began to share or the political alliances they built, but from the extraordinary concentrations of carbon energy whose flow they could now slow, disrupt or cut off. Coal-miners played a leading role in contesting labour regimes and the powers of employers in the labour activism and political mobilization of the 1880s onwards. Between 1881 and 1905, coal-miners in the United States went on strike at a rate about three times the average for workers in all major industries, and double the rate of the next highest industry, tobacco manufacturing... The militancy of the miners can be attributed in part to the fact that moving carbon stores from the coal seam to the surface created unusually autonomous places and methods of work.
By contrast, Mitchell sees oil as transforming labour relations in the post-1945 era:
The material qualities and physical locations of oil made things different from with coal. Since it comes to the surface driven by underground pressure, either from the water trapped beneath it or the gas above it, oil required a smaller workforce than coal in relation to the quantity of energy produced. Workers remained above ground, under the continuous supervision of managers. Since the carbon occurs in liquid form, pumping stations and pipelines could replace railways as a means of transporting energy from the site of production to the places where it was used or shipped abroad. Pipelines were vulnerable, as we will see, but not as easy to incapacitate through strike actions as were the railways that carried coal.
This politics of bottlenecks recurs in what McLuskey is proposing for the Olympics.
Applied neoliberalism, in contrast to Hayek's imagined form, involves particular notions of national space and national public spheres. As David Harvey argues, and various critical geographers have explored, neoliberalism needs a form of nationalism and shared purpose in order to operate. It cannot only operate around logics of privatisation. And nowhere is this clearer than in its valorisation of competitive rituals and financial waste such as the Olympics. The Olympics, in Bataillian style, is the pressure valve for an otherwise entirely calculable, privatised worldview (needless to say, it is a carefully regulated, expertly governed pressure valve, and not a complete potlatch, although the money being wasted is akin to a form of wanton destruction).
The Olympics requires high level political organisation and co-operation in order to be 'delivered'. It is a staged demonstration of who 'the British' collectively are, and how successfully we 'as a people' can manage projects. There is a crypto-socialism at work here, that is rather more explicit and popular than the crypto-socialism at work in (say) the public involvement in finance. While banks depend on the Treasury for bailouts and The Bank of England for occasional free money, they are relatively independent of the public sector for their day-to-day operation: Canary Wharf has private security, private drivers (or taxis) and quasi-private spaces. Finance depends on public support, but - like oil - it flows freely, liquidly between institutions, without there being bottlenecks that any of the rest of us can influence or disrupt (other than switching bank accounts). This makes it such an antidemocratic force in public life.
This is obviously not true of the Olympics, which as a form of public-economic good has properties closer to that of coal, in Mitchell's analysis. There is political and democratic risk attached, which creates some exotic forms of paranoia such as banning certain authors from libraries. Whether McLuskey is smart to be picking this fight is another matter; but opportunities to control a bottleneck in the modus operandi of neoliberalism do not come around every day, and it would be strange if unions didn't at least consider using that power, in the same as the coal-miners considered using their's in the 1880s and 90s.