The Rise of Internationalism in the European Urban Movements

Yuliya Moskvina28. decembra 2023184

(part I.)

This year the European action coalition for the right to housing and the city celebrated its 10th anniversary in Paris. The meeting took place November 9th–11th in the 20th Paris district. As it is usually the case, it combined open program with internal discussions between the activists from the European urban movements fighting for the spatial justice.

The Coalition includes renters‘ unions, movements against evictions and auctions, initiatives for social housing and end-to-homelessness associations. A whole range of actors are the members of the coalition, starting from legendary movements as La PAH (la Plataforma de Afectadas por la Hipoteca), DAL (Droit au logement) or Greek radical urban initiatives finishing with urban research hubs. This brings together an incredible diversity of covered topics and aspects of analysis, yet the uncompromised critique of urban capitalism and financialization of housing and the city is shared by all members.

“The first idea of the coalition came in Athens in 2013 during the Alter Summit. One workshop was on housing,” the founding member of the coalitions tells. “Then, we met in Germany to prepare the foundations and finally in December 2013 the European action coalition was born in Paris. There were 13 groups from France, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Poland, Great Britain, Ireland, Italy, and Belgium. We all had various approaches: someone was fighting the high rent and debts; others were demanding the accessible social housing. But we all realized that the housing crisis was a crucial factor shared between all of us. Fighting it was at the core of all our efforts. We wanted to make our struggle visible by the common actions. The first one was an action against the MIPIM (the real estate event gathering the most influential players from all sectors of the international property industry). A protest in Cannes in 2014 took place which was not that big. More decentralized actions in different cities followed, in front of the municipalities. Then we published our first brochure about evictions, which were very common in Spain at that time. We wanted to make visible that housing is not a merit or market asset, but it is a right,” she continues. Today the coalition unites 40 organizations that struggle for spatial justice. The physical meetings take place twice per year in one of the European cities, but the exchange of information and news is an ongoing process that never stops thanks to the facilitation and communication teams.

The Paris meeting in November this year gathered more than 80 activists with all imaginable geographical and practical positions. Workshops open to the public were dedicated to such topics as discrimination in housing, cooperation between housing and climate justice movements, or struggles against speculation and financialization. Common actions that the Coalition addresses annually (Housing Actions Days and protests against MIPIM) were topic of a separate workshop. Special attention was paid to the topic of the upcoming Olympic games in Paris, which were discussed during the workshop focused on the (big and unnecessary) development and touristification.

I would like to concentrate here on two important issues in particular: cooperation between climate and housing justice movement and critique of the upcoming Olympic games. An important function of the Coalition is that it enables to unite different types of movements through its broad structure, including climate and housing justice movements. This reflects a general turn towards closed cooperation between these movements. Some authors like Dainel Cohen even claim that the urban and the climate justice movements should not be separated but understood and practiced as one common movement. This is because we are facing a climate emergency and sustainable life in the city is not possible without the considerations of climate justice. Worth noting that the strategic cooperation between both is an obvious condition for the consolidation of the fragmented left. During the workshop entitled Climate change and housing and spatial planning the urban movements from France, Spain, Netherlands, and Germany were discussing the actual possibilities of cooperation between the movements. For instance, the climate marches might incorporate “housing blocks” demanding the spatial justice. The climate demands in turn might be verbalized more vocally during the protests against the real estate speculation. For example, the above-mentioned protests against the MIPIM could create a proper space for this entanglement. Actions like squatting were mentioned as the ones that can unite the climate and urban critique into a narrative of a sustainable city. The participants of the workshop claimed that the urban reforms must include revitalizations that reflect the social justice, and the land must be democratically controlled. The Coalition might provide a necessary structure for this cooperation – a working group on climate and urban actions.

The second important workshop was dedicated to the topic of the touristification and the megalomaniac unnecessary projects. This mainly regards the city of Paris, which prepares for the Olympic games taking place in the summer 2024. The ongoing struggles against the urban and spatial policies that the Olympic games bring about provide another good example of the interconnected blend of the climate and urban critique. The local activists fighting against the Games claim: “Olympics have been a catastrophe for all of those living in Paris. It is used as a way to get even more violent against the populations that where already having a rough time.”  The landlords do not want to rent the apartments to long-term tenants and waiting for the Games to rent them to tourists (up to 19.100 Euro per month for 2 room apartment!) and then sell them for a higher price. They also expect the 25% growth of prices in the real estate market. This speculation has a name of the “Olympic effect”. Another aspect that fuels the housing crisis is that thousands of students are getting their accommodation requisitioned, sometimes for a compensation of 100 Euro and, ironically, 2 tickets to the Games. Homeless people living in tenants are getting evicted from the city and the tent installments are being destroyed. Migrants are displaced into 10 temporary housing centers. Olympics realized in such a manner is a housing disaster. As well as a climate one – it brings new, expensive and unnecessary construction in the city that fulfills only the needs of developers and investors and harms the locals.

One of the important aspects of the physical meeting of the Coalition is that activists have a chance to get to know and to support local struggles. Besides discussing the Olympics, we also met organized migrants facing the evictions from the dormitories where they live and maintain their communal life. Demonstration of the international solidarity is crucial towards those who live in the constant threat of the eviction and constantly experience the straightforward unhidden racism. But the internationalism that the Coalition embodies is not only about that.

Yuliya Moskvina is a sociologist

The publication of this article is part of  PERSPECTIVES – the new label for independent, constructive, multi-perspective journalism. Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Education and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA). Neither the European Union nor EACEA can be held responsible for them.

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