November 14th was a date for Europeans to get some attention for the condition of society on the other side of the Atlantic. For many Americans Europe might as well be on the other side of the planet instead of across a common body of water. Our common culture springs from the Enlightenment of the 17th century, yet many Americans consider them to be socialist Martians. Many others, of course have the sense that we are all interwoven fabric of culture, economics, and shared history. What is happening in Europe should not be seen as something thats happening “over there.”
The Growing Global Movement Against Austerity
The general strike that swept across Europe Nov. 14 had its genesis in the deepening crisis in Spain, Portugal and Greece. As a result of the global economic collapse in 2008, Spain is in a deep financial crisis. Unemployment has surpassed 25 percent, and among young people is estimated at 50 percent. Large banks have enjoyed bailouts while they enforce mortgages that an increasing number of Spaniards are unable to meet, provoking increasing numbers of foreclosures and attempted evictions. “Attempted” because, in response to the epidemic of evictions in Spain, a direct-action movement has grown to prevent them. In city after city, individuals and groups have networked, creating rapid-response teams that flood the street outside a threatened apartment. When officials arrive to deliver the eviction notice, they can’t reach the building’s main door, let alone the apartment in question.
The general strike across Europe ranged from mass rallies in Madrid, with participation from members of Parliament, to protests in London, to outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, to high atop the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy, where protesters flew anti-austerity flags and banners. In calling for the first pan-national general strike in Europe in generations, the European Trade Union Confederation hoped to express “strong opposition to the austerity measures that are dragging Europe into economic stagnation, indeed recession, as well as the continuing dismantling of the European social model. These measures, far from re-establishing confidence, only serve to worsen imbalances and foster injustice.”
Back in the U.S., a group from Occupy Wall Street, which itself was inspired in part by the Spanish M-15 movement against austerity that began on May 15, 2011, has taken a creative approach to the blight of debt that is afflicting millions. Calling itself “Rolling Jubilee,” after the ancient practice of forgiving all debts every 50 years, the group is buying debt from lenders, for pennies on the dollar, and canceling it. This discounted debt market exists primarily because collection agencies and “vulture capitalists” acquire bad loans that people have stopped paying for 2 to 3 cents on a dollar, and still make a profit by hounding people to pay back some or all of that debt. Rolling Jubilee, according to its website, “believes people should not go into debt for basic necessities like education, healthcare and housing. Rolling Jubilee intervenes by buying debt, keeping it out of the hands of collectors, and then abolishing it … to help each other out and highlight how the predatory debt system affects our families and communities. Think of it as a bailout of the 99 percent by the 99 percent.” To date, Rolling Jubilee has raised $175,000, which it says will be used to abolish $3.5 million in debt. The amount may be symbolic, but an important message to President Obama and House Republicans as they wrangle over the future of the U.S. tax rates, deficit reduction and how to fund so-called entitlements. Sarah Anderson of the Institute for Policy Studies prefers to call Social Security and Medicare “earned benefit programs, because these are programs that American workers are paying into over their lives, and they have a right to that money, to have these basic social programs that have made us a much stronger society with a stronger middle class.” Anderson told me, “The approach to the debt should be to look at the ways that we could raise revenues through … taxing financial transactions … cutting fossil-fuel subsidies and using carbon taxes, and cutting military spending. That kind of combination could raise trillions of dollars over the next decade.”
As the movement for that strong social safety net grows around the world, and locally here at home, the mandate is clear: Austerity is not the answer. POST A COMMENT
© 2011 Amy Goodman
Distributed by King Features Syndicate