The Battle Over Austerity: Where Is It Going?

 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.”  

European General Strike 14 Nov 2012

The Growing Global Movement Against Austerity

Amaia Engana didn’t wait to be evicted from her home. On Nov. 9, in the town of Barakaldo, a suburb of Bilbao in Spain’s Basque Country, officials from the local judiciary were on their way to serve her eviction papers. Amaia stood on a chair and threw herself out of her fifth-floor apartment window, dying instantly on impact on the sidewalk below. She was the second person in two weeks in Spain to commit suicide as a result of an impending foreclosure action. Her suicide has added gravity to this week’s general strike radiating from the streets of Madrid across all of Europe. As resistance to so-called austerity in Europe becomes increasingly transnational and coordinated, President Barack Obama and the House Republicans begin their debate to avert the “fiscal cliff.” The fight is over fair tax rates, budget priorities and whether we as a society will sustain the social safety net built during the past 80 years.

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.

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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.”

How general was the strike of 14 Nov 2012

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

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About carlos

I'm a curious person, of reasonable intellect, "on the beach" (retired) and enjoying my interest in anthropology, language, civil rights, and a few other areas. I've been a hippie/student/aerospace tech writer in the '60s, a witness to the Portuguese revolution in the ‘70s, a defense test engineer and witness to the Guatemalan genocide in the '80s, and a network engineer for an ISP in the '90s. Now I’m a student and commentator until my time is up. I've spent time under the spell of the Mesoamerican pyramids and the sweet sound of the Portuguese language. I've lived in Europe, traveled in Brazil, Central America, Iceland, New Zealand, and other places. My preferred mode of travel is with a backpack and I eat (almost) anything local. Somehow, many of the countries I have been to have had civil unrest (for which I was not responsible). I'm open to correspond with anyone who might share my liberal, humanist interests. I live in San Buenaventura, California.
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2 Responses to The Battle Over Austerity: Where Is It Going?

  1. ritaroberts says:

    Hi Carlos, The osterity measures are certainly having a bad effect on the greek people here.Many of them cannot afford to live and are begging in the streets of Athens. The students cannot afford their expenses and their parents cannot help either.It is so sad when they are trying hard to study.Let alone the parents who are going without proper food .They cannot afford to pay bills and don’t know where to turn next. Where will it all end ?

    • carlos says:

      I agree, obviously. So many Americans have access to the international press but can’t draw parallels between the European experience and Republican demands for shrinking government (austerity) until it can be drowned in a bath tub.

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