Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Challenging Tourismophobia in Barcelona!

 by Brian Bamford
ACTIVISTS in Barcelona have recently targeted tourists as part of a campaign against overcrowding, rising rents and house prices.  Responsibility for a recent attack on a sightseeing bus near the Nou Camp football stadium was claimed by Arran Jovent, a group linked to the anti-capitalist, Catalan pro-independence party, Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP).  

There is a precedent for the current anti-tourist sentiment that is now flourishing in parts of Spain that has a long history that goes back at least to 1963, when I was first there. 

 'The representative of financial institutions told us that the Spanish legislation was great.  He says this when people are taking their own lives because of this criminal law, I assure you—I assure you that I haven't thrown a shoe at this man, because I believed it was important to be here now to tell you what I’m telling you. But this man is a criminal and should be treated like one.'
  These words came from the anti-eviction activist Ada Colau 
in the Chamber of Deputies of Spain in February 2013.

In February 2013, Ada Colau who has since become the mayor of Barcelona, was giving a evidence to a Spanish parliamentary hearing.  Colau had helped to set up a grassroots organisation, the Platform for Mortgage Victims (PAH), which championed the rights of citizens unable to pay their mortgages or threatened with eviction. Founded in 2009, the PAH quickly became a model for other activists, and a nationwide network of leaderless local groups emerged.  

At that time people across Spain were joining together to campaign against mortgage lenders, occupy banks and physically block bailiffs from carrying out evictions. 

Ada Colau was there to discuss the housing crisis that had devastated Spain.  Since the financial crisis began, 400,000 homes had been foreclosed and a further 3.4m properties lay empty.  In response, Colau had helped to set up a grassroots organisation, the Platform for Mortgage Victims (PAH), which championed the rights of citizens unable to pay their mortgages or threatened with eviction. Founded in 2009, the PAH quickly became a model for other activists, and a nationwide network of leaderless local groups emerged. Soon, people across Spain were campaigning against mortgage lenders, occupying banks and physically blocking bailiffs from carrying out evictions.

Others believe Ada Colau and her supporters will have difficulties in transforming the two-party democracy that has ruled Spain since the days of General Franco.  

'I don’t think the ideas of a city can be based on what a citizen’s assembly wants – it’s absurd,' said Francesc de Carreras, a constitutional law professor at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. 'Democracy doesn’t mean that everyone expresses their desires and they come true by some miracle.
'It’s not a good idea to have citizens participate in these things. We’re not the ones who have skills in these areas,' he said. 'I don’t go into a restaurant and tell them how to cook.'

'The Barcelona model is in decline,' said journalist Marta Monedero, referring to the ideas that guided the city’s growth in the late 1980s and early 1990s and helped put Barcelona on the world map.  'The model was a way to understand the city and bring it closer to the people – there wasn’t a lot of money so they came up with things like having lots of squares and intensifying the social fabric of the city through organisations.'

Monedero recently co-edited a book called The Dream of Barcelona: A City in Which to Live or to See?, in which she and journalist Núria Cuadrado asked residents from various sectors of society about the issues facing the city.  What they found was that the model that had once been so successful in guiding the city was now deeply out of sync with everyday reality.  Unlike in the late 1980s, today around 17% of the city’s population is foreign born.  Housing activists say that some 15 residents a day were evicted from their homes in 2014.  Until recently like other cities across Spain, unemployment remains stubbornly in double digits, while the young and educated continue to leave the city in hopes of finding work abroad.
Image result for Eduard Masjuan Bracons
Eduard Masjuan*
In 2006, the anarcho-syndicalist Spanish CGT trade union federation in Barcelona at the request of Tameside Trade Union Council in Greater Manchester, sent an expert on urban housing, Eduard Masjuan Bracons, to speak at Manchester Friends Meeting House about the problems of urban living, housing, planning and design.  The then active Manchester Social Forum was also party to the invite of Eduard Masjuan from the Universitat de Barcelona (Historia Economica), and the Manchester electricians in the then EPIU branch 1400/07, who later were famously in the forefront in exposing the blacklist in the British building trade, were present at the presentation fresh from fighting a case at the Manchester Employment Tribunal. 

The Manchester electrician, Steve Acheson, told the meeting about the problems of health and safety and conditions on the building sites, and what at that time were perceived as being victimisation against trade unionists and safety representatives on the local building sites.  The Calalan academic, Señor Masjuan addressed the urban problems in the city of Barcelona:  the shifting of local residents out from the central barrios to the peripheral suburban areas; and the corruption that was evident in the politics of all parties in the city. 

The predicament of the residents of Barcelona and the electricians on the British building sites were not so dissimilar in 2006.  The young people of Barcelona could not afford the rising prices of appartments in the Catalan capital, and in the same way even today we learn that many of the construction workers who work on building sites can't afford to buy the buildings they are errecting.  

In 2013, when Ada Colau addressed the parliamentary committee, ten minutes into Colau’s 40-minute testimony she broke from the script.  Her voice cracking with emotion, she turned her attention to the previous speaker, Javier Rodriguez Pellitero, the deputy general secretary of the Spanish Banking Association:   
'This man is a criminal, and should be treated as such.  He is not an expert.  The representatives of financial institutions have caused this problem; they are the same people who have caused the problem that has ruined the entire economy of this country – and you keep calling them experts.'

When she had finished, the white-haired chair of the parliament’s economic committee turned to Colau and asked her to withdraw her “very serious offences” in slandering Pellitero.  She shook her head and quietly declined.

The 'criminal' video became a media sensation, earning Colau condemnation in some quarters and heroine status in others.  A poll for the Spanish newspaper El País a few weeks later revealed that 90% of the country’s population approved of the PAH.  The group’s work continued.  In July 2013, Colau was photographed in Barcelona being dragged away by riot police from a protest against a bank that had refused to negotiate with an evicted family.


*  Books by Eduard Masjuan:
    • E. Masjuan, H.M. Elena & D. Saurí, "Conflicts and struggles over urban water cycles: The case de Barcelona",
    • E. Masjuan, "La cultura de la naturaleza en el anarquismo ibérico y cubano", Signos históricos, 15 (2006), p. 98-122.
    • E. Masjuan, "El pensamiento demográfico anarquista: fecundidad y emigración a América Latina (1900-1914)", Revista de demografía histórica, (2004), p. 153-180.
    • E. Masjuan, "Medis obrers, conflictivitat social i innovació cultural a Sabadell (1877-1914)", Recerques, 47-48 (2004), p. 131-155.
    • E. Masjuan, "Procreación consciente y discurso ambientalista: anarquismo y neomalthusianismo en España e Italia, 1900-1936", Ayer, 46 (2002), pp. 63-92.
  • Altres publicacions:
    • E. Masjuan, Un héroe trágico del anarquismo español. Mateo Morral, 1879-1906, Barcelona: Icaria editorial, 2009.
    • E. Masjuan, "Élisée Reclus (1830-1905) i la nova cultura de la naturalesa en els medis obrers de 1900-1936", a Ciència i compromís social. Élisée Reclus (1830-1905) i la geografia de la llibertat, Barcelona: Residència d'Investigadors CSIC-Generalitat de Catalunya, s2007.
    • E. Masjuan, Medis obrers i innovació cultural a Sabadell, (1900-1939), Bellaterra: Servei de Publicacions de la UAB, 2006.
    • E. Masjuan, La Ecología humana en el anarquismo ibérico. Urbanismo orgánico u ecológico, neomalthusianismo y naturismo social, Barcelona: Icaria editorial, 2000.
    • E. Masjuan, "El urbanismo ecológico de Patrick Geddes y Cebrià de Montoliu", a Arturo Soria y el urbanismo europeo de su tiempo, 1894-1994, Madrid: Fundación Cultural del Colegio Oficial de Arquitectos de Madrid, 1996, pp. 51-65.

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