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21 de Mar 2013
English

Mari Otxandi
Translated by Rob Dyas

 
Marin Ledun was made redundant from his job as an investigator at France Telecom. He has written the book Perros de Porcelana (Porcelain Dogs) about his time at the company. We talk to him about the modern workplace and its connection to our lives. 

 

 
 
Marin Ledun, 37 years old, worked for seven years as an investigator in France Telecom (Orange). His time with the company ended in 2007 when the privatization of the company, brought into effect in 1998, was beginning to fundamentally change the internal personnel management approach within the organisation. An aggressive cost cutting strategy called the NExT plan was in course during 2006, attempting to deteriorate working conditions to such an extent that workers were psychologically pressured into resigning. Six years after the introduction of NExT, around 60 employees of the company have committed suicide. French public opinion has turned on this "tidal wave of suicides" to condemn modern management practices and the sufferring they cause. In July 2012, the CEO of the company was placed under investigation for "psychological harassment". This is the first time in history that a CEO of a multinational will face such charges in a court of law. Ex-employee, Marin Ledun is now a writer of black novels and in one of his works, Porcelain Dogs, he describes his experiences there with the action set in a call centre. 
 
In your novel, Porcelain Dogs, the protagonist, a workplace doctor, cures the ailments of the characters but is also in a privileged position to analyze the company world in its entirety.
The characters that can talk about the modern day company are few. To understand a little of the mechanisms of suffering at work, interconnected with the new labour organisations, the new management methods, you need a certain familiarity with medicine, psychology, the psychodynamics at work, the sociology of these organisations, etc. Although it´s very rare for a work doctor to be taught the workings of these subjects, I have tried to construct the character that would know most about such things. Maybe I "over-invest" in her an understanding of the question, but this is so that she can testify as to how it works, relations between people, what is going on in their heads and details about the workings of the company machine.
 
Medical reports give the story a rhythm. They allow the reader to take breath and characterise, from my point of view, a certain kind of dehumanisation because of their cold and distant nature.
 The idea of these reports was to remind us that the company is not what the protagonist lives, this kind of empathy that she has for the people, the human relations that exist despite everything. What predominates is the clinical manner, really cold, in which men and women are seen as numbers, statistics, like a calculation of "symptoms". And above and beyond a certain number of serious symptoms, it is decided that it is not profitable. Everything must be input into Excel spreadsheets. My intention was to remind that the company was of this type, really cold, very mechanical. The initial idea of Perros de Porcelana could be summarised like this: there exists the fiction characterised by the doctor, and there is exists the reality, the reports. And each time we enter a report, we enter into reality.
 
 Why the process of dehumanisation of the people in the company? 
 That is due to the dehumanization mechanisms already established in individuals in general society. The corporation is a product of a number of processes; the quality control processes  that appeared in the ´80s and ´90s for example, and, something on which I place much emphasis because of their symbolic quality: the periodic employee evaluation or personal development interview. It is the mechanism par excellence for commodifying the individual, made up of three very important elements to which the individual will be reduced: knowledge (training received), "know-how" (experience acquired) and the personal development / evaluation interview, which entails a new element that consists of the entirely arbitrary measurement of something that does not exist known as "behavioural targets". This can mean anything and is absolutely impossible to measure. 
 There are many things included here that cannot be measured, quantified, but they use them specifically because of this, because this allows them to subjugate the individuals and produce a kind of double mechanism: control of the people - direct control that allows for the "tightening of screws"; if extra pay depends on the interview then the workers are obliged to play the game - and auto-control - the individual internalises all these mechanisms so that they can better anticipate them. They are destructive mechanisms.
 
Does work still represent an instrument of socialisation?
From the moment work is no longer perceived as something collective. when it is converted into a purely individual act, with individual trajectories and mechanisms, then, necessarily, it will no longer have any socialisation function. But if one considers that work is not limited to the company, which is itself also precisely a mechanism of socialisation and of life, then one may say that the unemployed too work, and much more: when someone does "no work", that is work in the salaried sense of the term, they are still working nevertheless. Someone who decides to detach themselves from the world of work and live simply from their small-holding in self-sufficiency, is working. They are not working in the tripalium sense, a torture instrument, in the salaried sense, exploitation etc., but they are working. And in this sense, work remains an instrument of socialisation. There are those that are militantly opposed to the notion of work but, in the end, they are working. It´s simply that they do not have a salaried job. They have rejected by choice this subjugation, or sometimes because they have no other option.
 
What is the crux of this subjugation?
The question of subjugation is laid out in the novel and I planned to include it from the outset. Whilst I was contracted to France Telecom in 2004, my purpose was to observe and begin to investigate the mechanisms of subjugation in the workplace. In the end I was caught and was forced to leave, and not on good terms, but once I had time to digest the situation, I remembered that this was however part of my initial objective.
The objective that I had planned was to work under the double mandate made up of the subjugation in work and subjugation in consumption. I set out on the principal that the two were entirely interconnected. It is because we take out loans, because we consume, that we are subjugated in the workplace. This is self evident, but typically the mechanisms of production and the mechanisms of consumption are analysed independently of eachother. Today, when we operate as workers, we are workers in work, in the office or on the production line, but we are also workers permanently situated in everyday life: in our fitted kitchen, with our dishwasher, our food processor, all the things we have bought because they supposedly simplify our lives so that we might work longer hours.
 
At the end of the novel, there is the sensation that we have assisted in the triumph of Fordism. 
It is exactly that. In fact, in the masterplans, it is predicted that the scientific organisation of labour will coincide with the scientific organisation of consumption. Historically this was not in the end viable because the Eastern societies were not yet prepared for such consumption as they have been since the ´60s. The plan was delayed somewhat but they´ve made up for lost time since then. The designers are somewhat cynical when it comes to these methods - or sometimes sincere which is even worse - they had predicted the use of these mechanisms. Meanwhile, they have gone about adding other things, such as unemployment, which is also organised scientifically and is an integral part of these two entities.
 
The Spanish press have highlighted a particular phrase of yours: "Rest or be free" 
This in fact is a quote from Cornelius Castoriadis. It is the idea of the somewhat personal aspect of the work of yesteryear: moments to reflect and formulate questions about our mode of being, the way we work, consume, all of this is itself part of work. It is even more than the job: it is essential. I´ll use an example from a case I was told about (maybe the figures are not correct): a study carried out by two psychiatrists on workers in an abattoir who were given three minutes to carve up an animal. Some technicians arrived one day and decided that the animal could be carved up in two minutes. The workers tried this and agreed that yes, it was possible. So from then on they did it in two minutes. And little by little symptoms such as depression, physical problems began to emerge.... Technically and physically, they were able to do the job in two minutes, but they were missing an unquantifiable minute, that corresponded to a minute of humanity, of respect for the animal that they had just killed, the contemplation of death. And, to rest or be free, is exactly that: they needed, at a given moment, that personal part of the job that was not quantifiable and was implicit in the initial calculation.
 
To rest or be free" is also to prefer not to see things, not intervene so as to avoid problems. 
To rest is to close ones eyes, for the purposes of general comfort, due to cowardice sometimes. In work, we have all experienced one day or another where somebody did not come to our aid when we were suffering an aggression in which they might have helped, but they do not do so because it is not in their interest. This is to rest. It is the antithesis of freedom, of the mechanisms of liberation, of aspirationvtowards collective and individual autonomy, as Castoriadis says. To rest is to allow things to play out by themselves. I do not implicate myself, I do not stir anything up, I do not join a union. In the end it is not worth it, afterwards I will have problems, I won´t receive bonuses. I will not vote because in the end it is pointless, but I don´t look for alternatives either and I don´t want to complicate my life being a militant, reflecting on other means of struggle. The traditional means of struggle, unions, politics, the traditional political parties etc, all this is obsolete, it is dying (and that´s the truth). What is more there are only extremists on the left, radicals, anarchists, libertarians, this thing or the other...So then I rest, I don´t do anything.
 
 
When you say that the political world should take on the subject of the world of work, what are you trying to say?
The politicians will not do it. The extreme left itself has not taken up the cause of the suffering that is going on at work which is, for me, a formidable lever to discuss all the themes: capitalism, globalisation, "collateral damage", as they call it. It´s a shame. From the moment there is even a single case of suicide due to working conditions in companies such as Renault or France Telecom, it is already too many. It is not just a private issue, it does not concern only the company, it should become political. We all have something to say. To begin with, the employees themselves that do not have this right over their instrument of work. They should be able to replace the shareholders, the capital, the general directors that are paid millions at a time to put in place whatever marketing strategy they like because there is "only" one person dead and because that falls within the budget of costs and quotas... At the moment of crisis in France Telecom, the director general, Didier Lombard, was only concerned with the deteriorating image of the company. It´s really scandalous.  
The fundamental thing is that employees re-appropriate their instrument of work, whether that be through a union or another route. How they go about this is something that should be collectively decided. And in these companies, the employees are in no position to do so, psychologically. In France Telecom, there are a certain number of deaths by suicide each year and there is no mobilisation, although there should be a revolution in the company. There are colleagues dying!
 
They rest, in one sense...
Not really. There is a physical consequence for them also: they are physically incapacitated to react. They are in a survival state. It should also be added that the company machine does all it can to ensure they are unable to react. This is why the issue needs to be politicised once more. It is us, the citizens, that should say collectively that there is a problem that concerns us all: this company is part of the society in which we live, we all use telecommunications. And this is related to all companies, large and small: they employ the same organisational models. Maybe France Telecom is a laboratory, but this concerns all companies. The people who are suffering in the workplace today, physically and / or mentally, are of all ages, at the end of their career or at the beginning, they may have very good salaries or might be paid peanuts, they might be experienced or not, generally they have a family life that is more or less happy...The condition of suffering at work is not that of the unionist, of 50 years old, the civil servant, depressive and alcoholic. It can happen to anybody. The mechanisms of suffering are generalised in the workplace. They are then lived out in very different ways: in some cases they translate into what is discussed in the novel, depression, suicides, murders etc. But on the whole, the situation could be summarised with the title of a book by a French work doctor: Not everybody died but all were affected.
 
By way of conclusion? 
The reply we can give as of today, which is the opposite of what we are told; the world of work is not failing just because the economy is going badly. It is failing because the work practices imposed upon us lead to its failure. This is my conviction. It is not viable on a human level. And, contrary to what some say, sometimes rather moralistically, those that have known work in the ´60s or ´70s, the more ancient ones, that are familiar with the more paternalistic companies, the company has really changed its mode of operating, radically, although we still have difficulty in measuring this.
To work on a production line today is certainly less difficult than in the era of Zola or in the ´20s or 30`s. The duration of work has been reduced, there are protections (that are now being removed in full view). It is ¨better¨ to work today than 100 or 150 years ago. But on the other hand, psychologically, working on a production line today is completely different from working on a production line 30 or 40 years ago. There is not the same solidarity, the same collectivism is not there. Before, these paradoxical orders that are given today did not exist, there was not the same policy of numbers, there was not the commodification of our "mental schedule", at work and in consumption, and all this has catastrophic consequences. It is imperative that we now think of work in another manner. //
 
 
Overtime without the log book
“I was talking with a union member from Peugeot who explained to me the moment in which they changed the way bonus payments were paid. Before, it was the same for everyone: the team was the important thing, the collective. Then they introduced the personal evaluations and the bonus payments were decided by what each person did individually. At the beginning this didn´t seem like such a bad thing to the workers because: ´In the end, when someone else isn´t pulling his weight, when I´m working harder, there´s no reason I shouldn´t be paid more than him, it isn´t fair to slow down the whole line´. But after some time, they began to notice the suspicion that had been implanted amongst them: the bonuses became a taboo subject, a kind of competition became prevalent amongst the workers, they suspected so-and-so of earning more bonuses...
And it is with these kind of very simple processes that they can introduce the mechanisms that in the end result in an entirely dehumanised company."
   
17 de Ene 2013
English

By Richard Crowbar / Translated by Rob Dyas and Susana Macías Pascua

The recovery of abandoned buildings to be used as social centres soars in Madrid. We talk to some of the activists of these new “free centres”.

Casablanca social centre / Photo: Olmo Calvo.

After the occupation of the Puerta del Sol during June 2011 and the initiatives of the 15M movement focused in the neighbourhoods, the occupation of abandoned buildings to be used as headquarters for social initiatives has soared in Madrid. Despite the continuous evictions, the number of “social buildings” has increased during this time from 10 to 18.

These kind of initiatives have emerged in both humble and affluent neighbourhoods such as Usera and Salamanca. Some time ago activists occupied a building La Osera in Usera, a working class neighbourhood. After 7 months of intense activity the activists were evicted from the building last July. In another example, the Salamanquesa project (which ended last May due to another eviction) developed in the affluent neighbourhood Salamanca. However, the project is still alive since a new building was opened up in Moratalaz in November.

“Now we find that the local people are much more involved in our activities”, said Silvia, one of the occupiers of an abandoned public school. This centre has large sport courts, kitchens and a canteen that has already been used as a conference centre. Such infrastructure is rare in the social centres in Madrid. The local meetings of the 15M assembly take place in this new building, something that was not possible in the former one. “This is a sign of the commitment of the people to the centre. In addition, a lot of kids use it, and I do not believe this is just because it was a school in the past”, Silvia says.

The social centre La Morada opened in Chamberi in late September following an initiative started by the 15M assembly of the neighbourhood. Although some of the activists had a pre-15M militant background (mostly the middle-aged), many of them were young militants who started their activism during the protest in May 2011. Remarkably, Chamberi is an upper middle class neighbourhood which generally follows the most conservative policies. In fact, the Partido Popular (right wing parliamentary party) obtained 62% of the votes in the neighbourhood in the last election. Obviously, this is the first self-managed social centre in the district.

Julia, who used to participate in the assembly at the Casablanca social centre in the Lavapiés neighborhood (evicted last September), states that “social centres existed before the 15M movement made them meeting points for working groups and the various assemblies that grow from such mobilisations”. This has provoked “a change in the profile of those that are now using social centres. Maybe this has opened the way for a new kind of social centre, much more open and inclusive. With less prejudices and less decisions taken a prori, there now exists a peoples movement in which the social centres are trying to participate, leading to a necessity for them to become more flexible and listen more”.
 

La Morada social centre / Photo: Álvaro Minguito.

 

With barely five years under its belt, the Patio Maravillas social centre – they call it a Multiuse Self-managed Space – could be considered a veteran. This project can be found in the Calle Pez, near one of the emblematic sites of the urban-politic polemic from Gallardon´s time as mayor of Madrid, the so called Triangulo TriBall (a gentrification experiment in Madrid). Both their sites have to date resisted successive attempted evictions and the transformation of the neighbourhood (the second of the two sites, evicted in 2011, is more a “subsidiary” located in an old local government building). The latter taking the form of the much lauded gentrification process whereby new tenants, with greater buying power, move in to displace the original population. Despite the difficulties, Cristina, one of the participants at the Patio, has noted “a growing legitimacy” of occupying as an activity. “The stigmatisation of these spaces is less than before. A much greater number of people consider the social centres as legitimate political subjects that have something to say and give to the city”, she believes. The Patio Maravillas could be considered a veteran with only 5 years behind it. It has resisted evictions and a transformation of the neighbourhood

Jota, one of those that participated in Hotel Madrid thinks that the opening created by the mobilisations on the 15th October 2011 from the abandoned hotel “served to jump-start multiple occupations which allowed for the establishment of social centres in other neighbourhoods”. In reference to the relation between the 15M movement and the social centres, he comments that both “have influenced each other reciprocally. The camp occupation of Sol (center of Madrid), made many of the principals (of occupied social centres) its own and thereafter the 15M has itself impacted on the dynamic of these centres and in the concept of occupation itself. Due to the movement, a whole sector of society that was not previously familiar with activism and militancy has now assumed these traits”. This activist stresses “an inclusive nature, media potential and the recuperation of public spaces as places of political participations” as the principal contributions of the movement. “With them, the social centres have been converted into an extension of the plaza”, he affirms.

A support network for social centres

Over the last few months a new space has emerged in Madrid called the Support Network for Social Centres. According to one of its participants, Álvaro, it involves“a bringing together of some of the social centres, based upon the acknowledgement of the diversity and autonomy of each social centre through, for example, the rejection of any all-embracing formula, such as a coordinating committee or a single communal positioning on issues”. At the moment, besides sharing experiences to resolve common problems, the network wants to work towards participatory research that highlights the role of the social centres in the transformation of the city.

Being an activity which is categorized as a crime in the Criminal Code since 1995, evictions and maintaining continuity of projects always pose a problem. Alvaro believes that “despite the fact that a social centre is being evicted almost every month, the number of them stays the same as others emerge. We have a double course of action in the network: dealing with the maintenance of the projects beyond the evictions and creating the conditions for the emergence of even more spaces”. He concludes that “there may even come the day when decreeing an eviction will be an unpopular measure and it will have a political cost ”.

Resistance to the Government Delegation drive

Threats from the Government delegate of Madrid have already translated into action on the ground: two social centres have been evicted in the last twenty days. On the 8th November, it was the turn of the Centro Social Okupado (Squat-CSO in the Spanish abbreviation) "16.0" in Malasaña (a neighbourhood in Madrid) and, on the 28th of the same month, CSO La Gotera in Leganés - a southwestern neighbourhood, 11 kilometres from Puerta del Sol, Madrid -  was removed.

Another of the veteran spaces within the social centre community in Madrid, La Traba, opened in 2007, announced at the end of November that had been summoned to appear at civil trial, which would take place the 10th of December. Unable to collect the 60.000 € expenses to appear at court, the assembly decided not to attend and instead to accept the imminent eviction warrant.

On 12th October, in response to the Casablanca Social centre’s eviction, the same building that had hosted the original project was occupied under the name of Magerit Social Centre. Within hours a large crew of riot police appeared to evacuate the building. Gonzalo, a member of the Casablanca’s assembly, commented: “this quick eviction was a heavy blow for those who were intending to continue with the project”. In spite of these events, on the 17th of November, an announcement was made that a new building located in the Calle Mesón de Paredes had been taken (a property of the recently bailed-out entity Bankia). With major restoration works ahead, as Gonzalo also says, on this occasion the project will be carried out under the name of Raíces (Roots).

[This article was originally published in Spanish on December 17th, 2012]

16 de Nov 2012
English

By Blanca & Co. / Translated by Rob Dyas & Juan Martín Rodríguez

In the middle of the current economic model’s ongoing crisis, alternatives are developing that appeal to a more human form of management. In this article we will be taking a journey through the geography of the diverse initiatives of localised social currencies in the Spanish state through the experiences of the people involved.

There are obviously variations in approaches but we want to place the emphasis here on the common elements . At the same time we hope to highlight that, although still in a minority (with just short of 5,000 users nationwide), the projects have considerable potential. We do not disclose here the sources of the information other than that they are all promotors, producers and consumers of the “puma”, the “zoquito”, the “boniato” and all the other projects within the family of the solidarity economy.

KM. ZERO, WE START WALKING. Experiences of the past can serve as stepping stones at the beginning of our journey. Innovations that have appeared throughout history in response to gaps that the mainstream currency was unable to fill: in the ’20s and ’30s in the US or in Germany and Canada in the ’80s, Argentina during the “corralito” (freezing of bank accounts)... We also have at our disposal the references provided by the social currencies of the past within the Spanish state such as the ’kas’ from the barter based exchanges of the ’80s and ’90s, along with the experience gained through the new wave of currencies: the ’zoquito’ in 2008, the ’eco’ from Monseny in 2009 and the Tarragona ’eco’.

– Hi, I'd like to settle up please. – Do you know how it works? – I think so but explain it to me… – This is a network of trust where the members make transactions with a currency that we call ’puma’. We have not created a physical currency but we all have an accounts book that reflects the transactions. The entry is negative or positive depending on whether it is a sale or purchase.

Apart from the small variations owing to different local realities, this step is all that is necessary to begin a functioning local currency. Amongst these variations would be the necessity for promotors to register to offer goods and services, contribute a certain amount to the maintenance of the network, the choice between an internet or paper based accounts system etc.

FIRST STEP: HOW DO WE BEGIN? With an account book or without, digital or physical? Now we can begin to address these small conundrums that concern any new network that aims for “equality of economic relations based on real work.” As the majority of the users of these currencies confirm, we are dealing with a tool that does not produce interest, the accumulation of which makes no sense: “This eliminates the the possibility of speculating with it and facilitates its efficient circulation (attributes that favour interchange). As such, there never occurs a lack of the currency, rather there exists as much wealth as exists real work.”

HELLO, IS ANYBODY THERE? We continue with our journey, stopping a while to refresh ourselves with a local beer, natural and organic for just one and a half pumas. We pay either with the paper tokens that can be purchased in the market that is held every second Saturday of the month or with our account book. In some of the projects the account book balance starts at zero, in others at 20 and in others tokens are used but in all there is a similar logic: “The essential concept of the currency is not to put new bills into circulation but to have a system within which the sum of the total balance will always be zero. We create wealth from nothing because every negative in one account is a positive in another.”

I TOO HAVE SOMETHING TO OFFER. Following untrodden paths is an exhausting business. Fortunately we find ourselves a therapeutic massage that leaves us like new for only 30 ecos. We take advantage of the break to share our knowledge of photography with a passerby and thereby increase our credit by 10 moras. What is more we can now give a value to this kind of knowledge. This is the kind of knowledge that we all hold but rarely contemplate how to share because it is disregarded by the conventional economy.

1+13-4+2… HOW MUCH DID I HAVE? Keeping track of the exchanges is not difficult given that nearly all these currencies have a registry system in common: the Community Exchange System, where we can both find the products and services that are being offered and requested and control our balance. This is important to overcome one of the obstacles that has been highlighted by users: the offering of services without requiring anything in return. This is something that might lead to the stagnation of the economy. All such obstacles require us to “unlearn things to relearn them afterwards”, break with the world from which we come where “we have been told since we were small to save before we spend, which makes sense for currencies that earn interest such as the euro, in order to avoid enslavement and dependency, but is almost fatal for social currencies.”

THE RICH EXCHANGE. We must now therefore reevaluate our own value in order to fully appreciate the the extent of what we can offer the community. This is something that at times we only achieve thanks to the examples and advice of those around us.

We can then contemplate in fascination the wealth of assets we can access without the need for a single euro. In the diverse lists of services, along with the offerings for things like “listening”, we can find the following:

“Individual qualified in legal rights and specialist in conflict resolution and mediation offers legal and extrajudicial advice to solve your problems” (10 moras / hora).

“Plumber. Central Heating. Gas. Solar power: servicing of heated swimming pools. Biomass heaters. Rain water recycling. Training and presentations on plumbing and solar energy.” (5% of total in boniatos).

“Graphic design for flyers, posters, emails, business cards, logos... (and for larger scale work such as websites, corporate images etc).... I would like to exchange my services for food as I am currently unemployed and don’t have enough to eat. Thanks!”

This last extract is an example of direct barter exchange whilst most people take the opportunity to grow the network by using work hours or social currency as the means of exchange.

OH MARY, A BIT OF THEORY! Like any tool, coins themselves are neither good nor bad, “because in themselves they are nothing; it is the monetary system which favours some behaviours above others”. Therefore, it could be useful, without writing a thesis, to learn certain precepts from those who have started these initiatives. In understanding these precepts we can then evaluate the initiatives properly and from there become an active part of this vibrant movement. Initiatives have been described variously as local, social, complementary; cultural, provisional, transgressive or parasitic. There are others that say “there is no need to complicate your life looking for specific differences, the essence is that, in contrast with a centralised system riddled with problems, such as the current monetary system, a social, local, complementary, community or parallel currency is that which circulates in order to meet those needs that centralized money fails to address”.

Apparently, there is consensus agreement about the importance of the mutual credit system where, unlike the trustee system, the security comes not in the form of the national currency or in the deposit of goods but rather “the security is given by the creditor by the offer of goods available for purchase without the common currency. That is to say, each person that receives credit in the moment they need to pay for something, secures their loan with the offer of goods and services available for everybody else up to the value of the credit taken.”

MIXED BUT SEPERATE. The best way to understand the respective needs and potentialities of each situation is in understanding the idiosyncrasies and individual realities of each place. In this way, new examples and experiments spread to other neighborhoods or nearby towns, never integrating the existing structures but promoting diversity and uniqueness. However, there are also attempts to coordinate the existing local currencies always with the objective of reinforcing the regional and local economy.

LOOKING BACK TO SEE AHEAD. Taking a break to consider some challenges: how to overcome the lack of basic commodities in a town such as food (because nobody in town produces it) and the lack of houses that can be partially paid for with social currency? How to introduce it to conventional stores? How to include a feminist perspective to avoid a sexist division of the goods and services and politicise the project towards sustainability?

There are still a lot of unknown factors surrounding these vibrant initiatives that are yet to be considered. Depending on the focus, we can talk about obstacles and constraints or about “potentialities and successes, because questions arise from existence, and this is an achievement in itself; we then are faced with turning these problems into wealth”.

PARTICIPATE, BEFORE THE DROUGHT. In the 2000s, the Simec currency competed with the Italian central bank in its monopolistic role, and in just two months managed to circulate Simecs with a total value of $1.9 million. It is not the government of the State that regulates its operation but rather the community decides upon the value of labour and the basic needs of the same. We have gone ten kilometers shall we keep walking?

What does complementary currency have to offer?

- Soap producer: “On the one hand it reinforces the sense of community that is already there, since we share other things in the neighborhood. On the other hand it promotes the feeling of freedom, giving you the chance to do something without depending on external organizations. Above all, you are supporting a social alternative, an activity aiming for a greater future”.

- Purchaser of bread and a ring: “Today for example, I have managed to get rid of things that I didn’t want to take to the new house I am moving to. I sold a pair of trousers and then I purchased some bread and a ring without spending a single euro. This system allows me to escape the tyranny of money knowing that I can exchange my possessions and knowledge for goods and labour from other people. I find this initiative very useful and positive since it gives an opportunity for creative projects that otherwise would have no place in any market. Personally, I prefer to buy it here than in any store which helps the classic monetary system”.

[This article was originally published in Spanish on November 9th, 2012]

06 de Ago 2012
English

By Patricia Manrique / Translation: Ocupar y traducir.

With several thousand people involved in two years, this project seeks to construct an integrated economic alternative. Its model is being spread in various parts of Spain.

The Catalan Integrated Cooperative (CIC) began two years ago; it now has 850 members and several thousand people who participate in debates and projects. Under the label "integrated," the Cooperative functions as a political project seeking to tie together consumer and labor initiatives "and many others, such as education, mechanisms to create a cooperative basic income, eco-stores, collective stores, meetings and events, and a legal structure to help the formation of eco-networks and other similar projects in Catalonia," explains its communication team.

The Catalan Integrated Cooperative is a step beyond consumer cooperatives, because it also seeks out the contribution of services, creating a network of trust that allows the people associated with the Cooperative to cover many of their basic needs, with a will to transform" explains Gema Palamós from the legal team. Legally, the CIC is a ’mixed cooperative’ according to Spanish and Catalan law, meaning that it doesn’t limit itself to any one activity.

The term "integrated" alludes to the Cooperative’s political project, although it’s not a second-level cooperative—a cooperative whose partners are also cooperative members. Rather, it’s a "first-level cooperative whose partners are physical people" clarifies Palamós. The project brings together various eco-networks that function throughout Catalonia, connecting them and providing a legal structure for the physical people associated with them. This legal structure benefits the CIC in financial and legal terms, as well as in labor matters. "If we all were conscious of the advantages of the cooperative model when it’s goal isn’t profit, but rather living from your work, there would be a lot more cooperative projects," points out Palamós.

An inclusive economic project

Angels Vendrells has been a participant in the CIC since its beginnings. She explained how she decided to cook for the eco-network of Montseny in her house, a result of a brainstorming session in 2009 between a group of people looking for a way to decide how they wanted to live. After this eco-network was founded, others were formed throughout Catalonia. In December 2009 they held a seminar on economics and from there began to work on the CIC, which was launched in June 2010. The CIC ties together all of these eco-networks and contributes legal protection for the exchanges between members as well as those in the whole movement," says Vendrells.

Today the CIC boasts buying centers (spaces to store the collective purchases that reduce the costs of products by cutting out intermediaries), an alternative currency called the eco, various people receiving a basic income in euros and ecos for their work, a collective bus and, recently, Ca L’Afou, the new project of a post-industrial, post-capitalist eco-colony that hopes to respond to the basic need for housing.

Anyone associated with the CIC can acquire products and services through a system of virtual community exchange (CES or Community Exchange System) as well as in fairs and barter markets. "I cultivate a garden and I hardly buy any food in euros: I acquire everything I need in the eco-network and through the CIC with the ecos I earn by selling my vegetables," explains Vendrells. Buying within the CIC allows others to live from what they produce. "While many people are excluded from the euro, that’s not the case with social currency because anyone has some abilities that they can offer to people and with that, acquire what they need." Currently they’re working on creating access to health centers through the use of eco.

A model for extension

But these fairs, markets, eco-networks, and the CIC that ties them together are also spaces to share life in. "Going to the markets and the fairs is like recreation, it’s meeting up with friends and family in a spiritual sense," reflects Vendrells. The fairs generally last one day, and are intermittent. In the markets, that occur less frequently, local associations also participate.

The political project of the CIC includes spreading the model. The members give talks about eco-networks, the cooperative, and social currency in various parts of the country. As a result there are seeds of integrated cooperatives en Basque Country, Madrid as well as in Valencia, where another integrated cooperative, Amalur, has been functioning since 2010. In Valencia, La Madrágora association has been organizing practical workshops on what the Integrated Cooperative is, and how to create one.

For Gorka Pinillos, a member of the CIC that works on spreading its ideas, the work of generating networks by means of integrated cooperatives is fundamental, but when these type of initiatives multiply, mutual aid among cooperatives will be essential. “In this moment, when they gain strength and expand," she points out, "the level of solidarity between these processes will be a very important form of protection against the possible interference of the State.

[This article was originally published in Spanish on October 25th, 2011]

16 de Jun 2012
English

By F. Fatale / Translated by Susana Macías Pascua and Esther Ortiz

The Greek activist Yorgos Mitralias, member of a committee against sovereign debt, on tour around Spain, states the need for a European movement against debt and austerity policies.

"Soon the struggle will be synchronized", thought aloud Yorgos Mitralias, the anti-debt Greek activist at ten sharp on Saturday June 9 while casseroles were clanging opposite the Madrid’s Puerta del Sol as a result of the Spanish bailout perpetrated by the Eurogroup acting in collusion with the IMF. With just a few days before the second Greek general election, Mitralias has begun a journey travelling across several European cities -especially those located in the Iberian Peninsula- as part of a Citizens’ Debt Audit Platform action.

Having the polls in Syriza’s favor, the anti-austerity radical left-wing coalition in whose foundation he has participated, Mitralias’ message is an upbeat one: conveying the momentous importance of the Greek elections and their consequences on other countries. He was interviewed when passing by Madrid after a round table held in Plaza del Carmen, the Sol Economy Working Group’s hangout, about the euro’s role.

DIAGONAL: Now that your journey is almost over, what are your impressions?

YORGOS MITRALIAS: It’s a miracle I am alive. I have been in Belgium, then in seven Portuguese cities and finally in five more in Spain during my three-week European journey. I have met with trade unionist besides anti-capitalism socialists and anarchists fellows; I have been interviewed many times… My viewpoint is that something it’s moving on in Europe. The great news is that in the forthcoming Dutch elections, the emblematic triple-A country, the SP, a socialist radical party, is leading the polls while the two main parties are expected to drop dramatically. The other feeling I have is that the citizen’s audit movement is luring many intelligent, skilled and enthusiastic people. This is the first time that the chances of starting something big, possibly a huge unitary mass movement, are for real.

D.: At this time what is the Greek message to convey?

Y. M.: Greece is going to report the historic importance of the forthcoming events as well as the consequences that the Greek elections are going to have in other countries, under the form of a European political homogenization rather than an economic one. Faced with a Syriza’s victory within a fragile European system, the UE is panicking and the chain is activated.

D: Which are the expectations regarding the elections on June the 17th in Greece?

Y.M.: We are optimistic. Even the rightist Greek is coming to terms with Syriza’s victory, with its possibility to achieve the absolute majority. There is an extreme polarization between Syriza and the Right, but Syriza keeps a huge stock of votes. For example, in big cities it enjoys an absolute hegemony. The chance of its victory must be seriously taken. If not, it would be very irresponsible. But there aren’t certainties. Everything is to be tried again.

D: Although Syriza has stated that it does not oppose leaving the eurozone, Is it compatible to be against austerity while remining in the eurozone?

Y. M.: 80% of the Greeks is against austerity and 80% is in favor of staying in the Euro. I don’t think this is a contradiction. On the contrary, we should not seek the solution to the crisis in the isolation within national borders, which would bring us as a result the impossibility of carrying out a common struggle with German workers. On the horns of a dilemma of the euro, in or out, the important thing is that this debate does not split up the movement.

D: How did it come to be that KKE, the Greek Communist Party, didn’t support Syriza after the elections in May the 6th?

Y. M.: The first thing Tsipras did was to call Aleka Papariga, KKE’s secretary general, to come to an agreement on three or four matters: debt, memorandum, austerity, NATO, audit… She didn’t reply, which makes us think they are collaborating with the worst enemies of the working class.

D: In view of this new setting, what seems to be the risks?

Y. M.: Violence is the principal hazard. A bomb planted in Athens’ underground or Alexis Tsipras’ assassination. We consider every possibility. They have already said they would use all means at their disposal.

D: Important international meetings are approaching; a European demonstration in solidarity with Greek people among them.

Y. M.: This is a total war. It is not an accident. The Joint Social Conference, unions and European social movements association, has lately endorsed my political declaration for a European popular movement in solidarity with the Greeks and active resistance against austerity policies. A great mobilization of all social movement has been convened for next fall 2012, with no exclusion, bringing together unions, indignants, occupy, feminists, NGOs, anti-globalization… The movement of our dreams is starting out.

D: Your visit to Madrid has coinciced with the Spanish bailout. What do you suggest?

Y. M.: My piece of advice is to withstand and organize yourselves in a horizontal and international net. The Spanish State may reach interesting situations, in a social and political way, avoiding the Greek stages.

[This interview was originally published in Spanish on June 14th 2012]

08 de Jun 2012
English

By Marta G. Franco (DIAGONAL editorial) / Translated by Robert Dyas

The 15th May 2011 was the start of the increase in activity within social movements that we have witnessed in recent months. The governing parties have yet to pick up on the atmosphere in the street. Contempt for them grows as initiatives of self-organisation abound.

A year on from the protests of 15th May 2011, it might appear as though none of the demands have been met. However, a closer look reveals real changes that the 15M movement has achieved in several areas.

 

Housing: Repossessions and Occupations

The most constant, visible and successful actions carried out by the 15M activists have been the repossession blockades. Although the Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca (PAH)  (Platform For Those Affected by Mortgages) existed before, their activity has grown in the past 11 months and, with the assistance of the popular assemblies, they have been able to impede 230 repossession orders across the country. Using popular pressure and legal advice, the PAH lends effective support to those affected so they are able to renegotiate debt and find affordable rentals.

The platform concentrates specifically on mortgaged homes but other groups also act to prevent repossessions. The Associació 500x20 in Barcelona for example, "In the neighbourhood of Ciudad Meridiana, the indignants and neighbours have succeeded in preventing all repossessions in March", says Antoni from the association. His colleague Salva explains that the "15M has found in the home a more practical means (of struggle) than on other fronts. Prevention of repossessions are small triumphs that help ordinary people".

Some of those subject to repossession are choosing to squat homes. The 15M has facilitated this with initiatives such as Edifici 15O in Barcelona and the Hotel Madrid. Although the latter was evicted, in its time it contributed to the improvement of the public perception of squatting and generated a network that continues to make flats available. In addition, the assemblies founded in the plazas have been occupying empty buildings since autumn from where they operate. In Madrid there are 7 new social centres and at least 8 assemblies from other cities have done the same.

Support Networks: Neighbourhoods Out in the Street

Upon the lifting of the campsites, the 15M wanted to expand its assemblies into the neighbourhoods. Carmen Espinar, from the Madrid neighbours association La Flor (the Flower) and expert in neighbourhood participation, commented that in some areas the "life of the neighbourhood has been revitalised". From the packed assemblies of the first weeks, "that served as a reminder that the plazas are not simply places of transit", have evolved more operational meetings; "they are working in small affinity groups and there are more activists that a year ago although you may not notice them". For Espinar the associative fabric of the community was dormant and "the 15M was the injection that has led to different things now happening, more dynamic and beautiful things".

One of the collectives that felt that push was the Brigadas de Observación de Derechos Humanos (the Human Rights Observation Brigade). For 2 years they have been documenting racist police controls and are now seeing more interest in their work. "It would be unusual now to find someone in Madrid who doesn’t know about the racist raids", confirms Ana, a brigade member. They have given workshops at many neighbourhood assemblies and alerted them to the task of sending out warnings about raids.

The 15M has also turned its gaze upon the Centros de Internamiento de Extranjeros (CIE) (Foreign National Internment Centres). They have set up condemnation campaigns and, in Malaga, set up camp infront of one of the centres. In this way the expulsion of Sid Ahmed Bouziane was impeded; a young man from Algeria whose life was in danger following an attack by a violent gang in his native country.

Social Economy: It’s not the crisis, it’s the system.

Encouraged by the questioning of the economic model itself in assemblies, new alternatives of consumption are being sought and social economy projects are being formed. For example, the Cooperativa Integral Catalana that provides for all economic needs (products, services and social currency) in the form of self-management (autogestion). The cooperative had been going for a year when 15M began but has really picked up in recent months. Its model is being reproduced in Madrid, Andalucía, Valencia, Cabo de Gata, La Rioja, Valencia and Aragón.

Criticism of the financial system has resulted in a good year for ethical banking which, at least, meets the principal of transparency. Triodos has doubled its profits in 2011, increasing its client base by 24%. The network Fiare, that operates in Spain as the agent of Banca Pololare Etica (from Italy), and the cooperative of financial services Coop57, have also increased their deposits and credits substantially. The latter speaks of "an incessant demand for talks, workshops and seminars" from the 15M collectives.

On a smaller scale, the popular assemblies are recreating consumer forms: banks of time, barter markets, self-managed learning workshops and pastimes, etc. The assembly of Carabanchel for example takes leftover food from Mercamadrid [biggest food retail market in Madrid] and gives it out in the neighbourhood.

Party Politics: The limits of democracy.

The 15M has never massively supported any voting option. It has however had an influence in the 2 elections while it has been in existence. According to the CIS, 18.8% of voters took it into consideration on 22nd May and the minority parties saw increased support; in other words, the movement contributed to the reduction in the bipartisan vote. A study by Manuel Jiménez Sánchez, of the University Pablo de Olavide, identified that it resulted in the greatest number of spoiled and blank votes since 1987, with higher incidences in towns where there was an encampment set up.

In the general elections of November these votes continued to increase and the total votes for the PP and the PSOE [the two major parties in Spain] carried on falling. The 15M has not contributed to abstention, according to Carolina Galais of the University Autonoma Barcelona. On the contrary, their contribution has given a protest angle to the vote: "Democracia Real Ya, #nolesvotes, #aritmetica20N and other related camps have energised the vote with initiatives such as apartisanism, recommending a critical vote as an expression of non-accordance with the current system".

To try and stop the drain of support, the PSOE and PP have paid lip service to the demands of the 15M. In June, Rubalcaba announced the Transparency Law which, after years of silence, will reach Parliament. It was not until April that the project was published. Organisations such as X.net have identified many deficiencies but at least the debate has been opened. Along similar lines, the subject of the debt swap (dación en pago – where a mortgaged property is surrendered in return for cancelation of the debt) has reached Parliament on several occasions (although the PP’s code of good practice has meant that few cases have actually been resolved). At least there has been a small legislative advance: the upper limit of a balance that could not be reclaimed due to unpayments on a mortgage was increased. It remains to be seen how successful will be the Popular Legislative Initiative (ILP) for retroactive debt swaps, the moratorium on repossessions and affordable rents, for which the process of collecting signatures has just begun.

The 15M has already had experience in this field: an ILP was registered in the Parliament of Andaluzia precisely to modify the process of these laws (ILPs) and help them to succeed. The government of the PSOE remixed the proposal and it was eventually approved with votes from all parties. The proposal was for a law reducing the number of signatures required for an ILP but it was "too light" in the end and, in the opinion of 15M, did not really promote participation as originally intended.

Meanwhile, the political class continue to be discredited and the response continues in the streets. The CIS has confirmed the perception of the political parties and the government as being one of the principal problems and specificies that there has been an increase of 4.7% in participation in protests since May. According to information published in 20 Minutos, 2012 is on its way to becoming a record breaker with 60 protests to date. In Valencia in January and February, 5 times more protests were recorded than in the same period the previous year.

Cultural Change: Disrepute and collaboration.

Disrepute is splashed across the means of communication. The use of social networking sites is often cited (as well as free networks: N-1.cc has increased user numbers from 3,600 to 40,500 since May) along with a proliferation in alternative mediums. Some media show the influence of 15M, such as Mas Público, a group of ex workers of Público [second-largest left-wing newspaper in Spain, recently folded its print edition because of financial losses] that want to recover the project as a workers’ co-operative.

Away from the internet, the periodical Madrid15M, edited by its own assemblies, is now onto its third edition, reaching 40,000 copies distributed, Rebelaos, a publication for self-management (autogestión) has printed 500,000 copies. Collaborative cultural projects are appearing that use the same structures as the 15M, such as the documentary 15M.cc, the musical project Fundación Robo or the online library Bookcamping.

Luis Moreno-Caballud, professor at the University de Penn and participator in Occupy Wall Street, describes 15M as a "a knowledge diffusion machine" and lauds its capacity for "collective and anonymous production of sense; usable discourse, inclusive and powerful due to being so difficult to pigeon-hole". The contribution of the 15M, in his opinion, relates to a cultural change: "the primary victory is precisely in having found a way of life in which the victories and defeats are not important. It has given new force to a means of existence based in collaboration and not in competition".

[This article was originally published in Spanish on May 12th 2012]

DIAGONAL English

DIAGONAL is a grassroots communication project based in Madrid. We print a biweekly newspaper and run this website with daily updates. We only accept adds from social collectives (cooperatives, non-profit or kindred associations) and exist thanks to a large base of suscriptors that collaborate with us. If you would like to help with translations or editorial suggestions, please contact english [at] diagonalperiodico.net.