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Trans-Iberian

Covering everything from the major news of the week and burning social issues, to expat living and la vida local, EL PAÍS’ team of English-language bloggers offers its opinions, observations and analysis on Spain and beyond.

Uniting the left of Europe: Owen Jones in Barcelona

Por: | 22 de mayo de 2014

The policies of austerity are in full destructive swing in Spain: the public sector is being cut to the magnitude of €38 billion, low-wage, short term contracts are the norm, draconian housing laws unfairly evict tenants who have lost their jobs due to the rise in unemployment (currently at 26%), and tax is avoided by multinational companies on a scale of €80 billion a year.  The struggle against these policies in Spain has been well documented and despite attempts by the government to outlaw protest, the fight continues.

It was to this situation that Owen Jones, author of Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class, spoke to sold out audiences in both Barcelona and Madrid this week.  The Guardian columnist, who has sold more books in Spain than anywhere else outside of Britain, called for a unity of the left in Europe against the continuing spread of this neoliberal agenda.  “All social gains and rights”, he told the audiences “were won through the struggle and sacrifice of those from below, not handed down by the goodwill and generosity of those above.”

Much of Jones’ work and thinking are deeply relevant to Spanish society today and it’s no wonder he’s gained such a high Iberian readership. La Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca (PAH), who have over 200 subsidiary groups spread across Spain, have for five years been loudly showing up outside apartments that are due to evict their tenants. Defaults on mortgage payments have risen along side spiralling unemployment rates following the 2008 crisis and have become a symbolic example of the fight against austerity.  Here in Spain the importance of the PAH is not simply the success of stopping evictions – 800 and counting.  Rather, as Jones argued for in his lecture, the left must resist certain ideas becoming commonsense, mainstream and acceptable. Throwing out a tenant who has defaulted on their mortgage, while forcing them to continue paying 40% of that mortgage once they are homeless – all the while thousands of properties stand vacant - is not an idea that has been allowed to become mainstream. 

One of the main reasons, Jones explained, that austerity policies have increased at such a rapacious speed is that when the financial collapse took place, the left as a movement offering a coherent alternative to how society was organised with a mass popular base was fragmented and demoralised.  Since 2008 the PAH have collected 1.5 million signatures across Spain and have set out their demands: an end to evictions, an end to liability for an un-payable debt, and an end to empty apartments. While the crisis has raised long-standing concerns about Spain’s regional constitutional settlement, a movement like PAH is one that uniquely unites the left across the whole country in the interests of homeowners on the verge of homelessness. 

 

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 Owen Jones. Álvaro García.

Intently listening the audience pressed their headphones close to their ears to the translation as the author spoke of organizing against tax avoidance.  In the UK a non-party political organization he campaigns with, named UK Uncut takes grassroots action against companies that pay disproportionate amounts of tax in contrast to their sales.  This movement has successfully edged the issue onto the political agenda in the UK, so much so that while commitments may be hollow, the Conservative Chancellor George Osborne has spoken of new plans to discourage tax avoidance. 

Questions on mobilizing a pan-European movement in support of these issues were risen in a long Q&A session.  The important question on the relationship between the neoliberal policies embedded in the structures of European Union and its members states was asked, and the importance of fighting for women’s representation in politics was strongly applauded – something that seems more pertinent in Spain this week given the fallout from the European Union election debates.

Jones’ second book is due for publication towards the end of the year.  Titled “The Establishment: How They Get Away With It”, it explores the murky world behind our democracies that preserves the power of a small elite.  I’m sure he’ll be back next year to speak again with his Spanish readers.

A video of the Barcelona lecture is available online at http://vimeo.com/95968689

You can follow Chris Finnigan at @chrisf3757

Hay 1 Comentarios

Owen Jones is really an interesting writer. I read him since before he had published this book, when he was writing for The Independent -where there are another interesting journalists such as Patrick Cockburn or Robert Fisk- and not still for the Guardian -a newspaper I really, without any exageration, love. However, I feel a bit of melancholy when -regardless of the evident merits of the Owen Jones work for being translated- we don't see, and much more when we talk about that necessary union of the anti-capitalist forces, translated some works from Spanish authors -from Santiago Alba Rico, Pablo Iglesias, Juan Carlos Monedero, Juan Torres, Vicenç Navarro, Gerardo Pisarello, Esther Vivas- that are also quite interesting. I have the impression that we tend to translate -in this case, with a good reason, as Owen Jones work is excellent- much more than are translated to another languages, and dialogue normally occurs bidirectionaly.

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Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of Andalucia.com and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at korenhelbig.com.

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area perelloplus.com. @JuliePybus

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Spain-Holiday.com. Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check: www.lookingfordrama.com.

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