A series of MLW articles on ‘The Northern Powerhouse’, for Open Democracy, going live from Monday onwards. The aim is not to predict the future, nor dwell on the past, but to present ‘the Northern Powerhouse’ as a prism, dispersing different political colours, and structures of feeling, right now. We are looking at Manchester initially, the glittering prize in Osborne’s eye, asking how to reclaim this mythical space for its people. The Open Democracy series is here: http://bit.ly/1qIYQWB
Our event at the Central Library in Manchester, as part of the Literature Festival, went really well, thanks to everyone who came along and made it possible, particularly the Northwest Film Archive. We read our Precarious Passages over cuts of Film Archive clips intercut with intertitles by Steve Hanson. One of these exclaimed ‘Only The Sleaford Mods Can Save Us Now’. This was picked up by Sleaford Mods and used as the backdrop to their Facebook page, gathering over 2,000 likes.
Here is Precarious Passages 003, a collaboration between Bob Dickinson and David Wilkinson. It is an A4 edition this time. Again, this piece is a call-and-response on the affective dimensions of 21st century life under global capitalism. Look out for paper copies in and around Manchester.
Please also print out and circulate our State of Emergency notice. This is also an A4, printer-ready item, which will look great on office walls, in libraries, pubs and cafés, inside telephone boxes and police stations.
Manchester Left Writers are preparing for an event in October, we will announce the details of that very soon, but in the meantime, could you please circulate the Facebook page we have created, to enable our new phase of activity? https://www.facebook.com/ManchesterLeftWriters
Here is PP002, which is a collaboration between two MLW members on negotiating the fantastically real Stockport Road, the A6, every day into town. The two columns this time mirror the long lines of road in two columns, travelling by bus and bicycle. The piece can be read across, or down and over, in a number of ways. Please re-circuate. Paper copies should appear along the route soon…
Spring has sprung in Manchester, on Saturday the 28th of February we have Real Media at Friend’s Meeting House, and People’s Question Time. This is the MLW member contribution to the Real Media spoof Daily Mail. In the evening of the 28th is a gig, Music Beats Austerity, with Billy Bragg and Grace Petrie, more than a whiff of Red Wedge, get ticketed up here: http://goo.gl/fx26SA
Here is Response 004, our summary of the ‘Podemos in Perspective’ conference, organised by the Manchester Circulo, which MLW were invited to as a group:
On the 25th of January, 2015, Syriza gained power in Greece. Exactly one week earlier, on Sunday the 18th of January, MLW attended ‘Podemos in Perspective’, an event organised by the Manchester ‘Circulo’ – the name for a Podemos political branch. This circular, social ring form is reflected in the Podemos logo. Syriza and Podemos are increasingly linked in European political discourse. Both are left-wing, anti-austerity parties with popular support. For the former, political power is now a reality, while for the latter it remains a possibility.
Circulos from around the UK were represented in Manchester, signalling the importance of economic migrants as a nascent political force in the new left politics of Europe. Crucially, they get to vote in general elections in Spain. In the packed lecture hall at the Manchester Conference Centre, it was clear that Podemos was tapping into a young and disenfranchised section of Spanish society who had left the country to find work elsewhere.
In the morning we were treated to a Skype conversation between Podemos organisers and the filmmaker Iciar Bollaín, followed by a screening of her moving documentary En Tierra Extraña (In A Foreign Land). Bollaín spoke eloquently about emigration from Spain and the lack of dignity in what little work is available there. The film then highlighted the details of these issues, both in human terms and statistically: 700,000 emigrants from Spain, despite an official figure of 250,000. The film was shot in Edinburgh, where 20,000 Spanish migrants now live and work. The virtual enforcement of their exile was made clear: 91% of the jobs lost in Spain were previously occupied by people under 35. A jaw-dropping 80% of young people in Andalucia are unemployed and one in four nationally. The ‘qualities’ of the work that is left was also figured into this nasty equation – ‘short term contracts of 3,5,6 months…’
The issues also extended to being a migrant in Britain. As one woman interviewed in Bollaín’s documentary said, ‘being Spanish is a problem again’. The word ‘again’ was key here. The film made links to the loosening of up of Franco’s Spain and subsequent 1960s emigration from the country. We were reminded of the British conservative cultural trope of the hapless migrant that followed this. It was Basil Fawlty slapping his Spanish waiter all over again.
Significantly, Bollaín’s documentary also included emigrants reflecting on the position of economic migrants from North Africa and Latin America living in Spain. There was an emergent affinity – uneven, of course – and one that could do with being better connected-up. The majority of those interviewed by Bollaín, seemed to be from the ‘new middle class’ – that is, those from working class backgrounds, but highly educated. For them, the promises attached to being educated had never materialised. There are clear, rising parallels in Britain.
The politics of austerity attack the most vulnerable and work upwards, drawing others down along the way. You hit a real, human, hard bottom line watching the film. Qualified biologists, psychologists, chemical engineers and social workers, who feel more respected in Britain ironing for a living, rather than living in Spain doing what they once desired. They are here working alongside people from Portugal, Poland, Bulgaria and Nepal, occasionally having to access food banks. Hard-working people reduced to tears and depression, whose dignity has been more than dented. The sense of frustration, anger and powerlessness is difficult to watch. Here are young lives sacrificed to the imperatives of capital.
A conversation MLW had with a Spanish attendee, trained in economics, summed up the wider central European picture well: the uncoupling of global finance from the gold standard, no bursting of the bubble in the early-noughties, an interregnum in which all parties were sucked into the centre-right, and when the bubble did burst there was a refusal to regulate a free market economic model in desperate need of exactly that.
Of course, economic regulation does not suit those continuing to hoover up the majority of wealth, and their response is a continuing move from neoliberalisation to neo-conservatism, as state laws tighten, activism is clamped down on, and private wealth builds gates and hires armed muscle. In Britain, ‘food banks’, ‘sanctions’ and the ‘bedroom tax’ become places, terms and policies synonymous with the punitive effects of this neo-conservatism.
The afternoon session of ‘Podemos in Perspective’ was a panel discussion that included a Syriza activist, Podemos leaders and activists, and a representative of Left Unity. The inclusion of Left Unity on the panel again inserted a British perspective into the discussion, but also raised some wider issues and concerns. Lefty Unity does not have the same purchase in Britain that Podemos and Syriza have in Spain and Greece, respectively. With national elections in May, the options seem limited. It’s a Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democratic offer of more austerity, buffeted on the right by the over-indulged, unhinged, ‘we’re not racists, but…’ politics of UKIP.
There are fractures emerging, though. There is the rise of the Scottish National Party and there has been a surge in party membership for the leftist, anti-austerity Green Party, outstripping both UKIP and the Liberal Democrats. Footage of the Dignity March in Spain in 2014 was included in Bollaín’s documentary. It was moving, stirring and inspiring: here also are spine-tingling possibilities in bleak times. And we have Syriza’s win in Greece.
Whatever follows – and perhaps the only certainty is that the results will be complex, unpredictable, but not ignorable – this crack in the millimetre-thin neo-conservative permafrost is positive and historically necessary. It feels like a window has been opened a tiny bit after years indoors.
Podemos next please.