November 2012, Week 3


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Sat, 17 Nov 2012 12:52:24 -0500
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The Growing Global Movement Against Austerity

By Amy Goodman
Democracy Now!
November 15, 2012


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.

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.

c 2011 Amy Goodman


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