Conversing with Goliath: Participation, mobilisation and repression

Dr Valeria Guarneros-Meza of CURA reports from an ongoing investigation into environmental conflict in Mexico. Outputs from the collaborative research “Conversing with Goliath” have recently been reported in Mexican media, see details below.

 

Despite the normative framework promoting consultation and participation of communities in the implementation of extractive megaprojects, violent conflicts have increased in Mexico since the introduction of the 2013-14 legal reforms of mineral, hydrocarbon and alternative energy projects.

In finding answers to this paradox, the questions that drive this research are: What strategies have been used by the different actors to manage the above mentioned conflicts? How have the different sub-national contexts of government capacity impacted on the strategies followed? What have been the main obstacles and opportunities for implementing participatory institutions? How have informal and illegal practices intersect in these processes? What have been the main results in the economic, environmental protection and rights (human, political, social) spheres?

In the first two years, the project has delivered a comprehensive newspaper review (Jan 2006-Jan2019) of all environmental conflicts published in the Mexican media. An analysis of the results was widely disseminated in Mexican media outlets on 27 February 2019. To read a summary and consult the cartography of over 800 conflicts visit here (in Spanish).

Other outputs from the project include a juridical analysis of all the laws related to the extractive industry in Mexico and the problems of coordination and coherence of such legal framework, available online (in Spanish).  For a brief English summary of the initial findings of three in-depth case studies (Sonora, Tabasco and Oaxaca) of extractive industries and their impact on communities, visit here (pdf).

This project is sponsored by the British Academy-Newton Advanced Fellowship Grant (Ref. AF160219). The lead investigators are: Dr. Gisela Zaremberg (FLACSO-Mexico) and Dr. Valeria Guarenros-Meza (De Montfort University)

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Municipalism 2019: An International Exchange

UPDATE – conference programme announced, there is still time to book your place at Municipalism 2019: An International Exchange.


4th April

9:00 am to 9:30 am Registration and Reception
9:30 am to 11:00 am Municipalism 2019: The State of the Debate

Prof Jonathan Davies (DMU-CURA)

Dr Ismael Blanco (UAB-IGOP)

11:00 am to 11:20 am Coffee Break
11:20 am to 1:00 pm SEMINAR: What is the new municipalism? Theoretical and Practical Approaches

Keynote speaker: Dr Angel Calle (Córdoba University)

Discussants: Prof. Steven Griggs (DMU-LGRC)

1:00 pm to 2:00 pm Lunch Break
2:00 pm to 4:00 pm ROUND TABLE: Building counter-hegemony through the new muncipalism

Speakers: Dr Mercè Cortina-Oriol (DMU-CURA), Joan Cuevas (Bofill Foundation – Sabadell City Council), Quim Arrufat (DESC – UB), Dr Bertie Russell (University of Sheffield),

Moderator: Dr Ben Whitham (DMU-CURA)

4:30pm to 6:00 pm Research meeting: CURA, MARAN, IERM, IGOP, UdG, BETIKO
6:30 pm Evening Reception, conference dinner

5th April

9:00 am to 11:00 am PRACTITIONER ROUND TABLE 1: Delivering New Municipalism: Towards Economic and Social Equality

Keynote Speakers: Pilar Castillejo (Ripollet City Council), Agnès Rotger (Badalona City Council), Cllr Asima Shaikh (Islington Council), Neil McInroy (CLES)

Moderator: Anaïs Varo (UdG)

11:00 am to 11:30 am Break
11:30 am to 1:30 pm PRACTITIONER ROUND TABLE 2: Delivering New Municipalism:

Re-building Local Democracy

Keynote Speakers: Nacho Murgui (Madrid City Council), Jose Téllez (Badalona City Council), Ivan Miró (Cooperativist movement Barcelona; Fanny Malinen (Research for Action), Andrew Ross (Unite Community)

Moderator: Dr Marc Martí (UAB-IERMB)

1:30 pm to 2:15 pm Lunch
2:15 pm to 3:00 pm Mapping the New Municipalism: Introducing Atlas del Cambio

Dr Ricard Vilaregut (UdG-CURA) and Dr Ángel Calle (University of Córdoba).

3:00 pm to 3:15:00 pm Break
3:15 pm to 5:15 pm PRACTITIONER ROUND TABLE 3: Scaling Municipalism: Beyond and above the City

Keynote Speakers: Carles Escolà (Cerdanyola City Mayor), Dolors Sabater (Badalona City Mayor 2015-2018), Cllr Emine Ibrahim (Deputy Leader – London Borough of Haringey), Matthew Brown (Leader – Preston City Council)

Moderator: Dr Adam Fishwick (DMU-CURA)

5:15   pm to 5:30 pm CLOSING REFLECTIONS AND NEXT STEPS

Prof. Jonathan Davies (DMU-CURA)

 

 


CURA is delighted to announce that registrations are now open for the 2nd conference on Municipalism, to be held at De Montfort University (DMU), Leicester, 4-5 April 2019.

In the last decade, austerity has had a significant impact on the local sphere. Budget squeezes, public services cuts and institutional restructuring came along with growing social needs, and local governments have struggled to keep providing the goods and services needed to stay afloat. However, we have also seen how the local sphere can also be an ideal lab for democratic experimentation and social innovation. Spanish and Catalan cities, with Barcelona at the forefront, have been examples of municipal experimentation over the past few years under the idea of the New Municipalism. However, what is New Municipalism? Is New Municipalism an effective answer to austerity? How is New Municipalism delivered?

The Centre of Urban Research on Austerity (CURA) at De Montfort University, Leicester, in collaboration with the University of Girona and the Betiko Foundation, is holding a two-day conference to discuss all these issues in April 2019. The conference is organised in the form of an international exchange between academics and practitioners from Spain, Catalonia and the UK. The conference builds on CURA’s  “Municipalism in the 21st century” conference held in June 2018.

Municipalism 2019: an International Exchange programme includes sessions to discuss the concept and definition of New Municipalism, and roundtables where experiences and reflections on how to deliver Municipalism are shared, creating an environment in which cities can learn from one another.

Confirmed speakers are:

Prof Jonathan Davies (DMU-CURA)
Prof Ricard Gomà (UAB-IERM)
Dr Angel Calle (Córdoba University)
Prof Steven Griggs (DMU-LGRC)
Dr Mercè Cortina-Oriol (DMU-CURA)
Dr Ismael Blanco (UAB-IGOP)
Quim Arrufat (UB)
Pilar Castellejo (Ripollet City Council)
Agnès Rotger (Badalona City Council)
Cllr Asima Shaikh (Islington Council)
Neil McInroy (CLES)
Prof Salvador Martí (UdG)
Nacho Murgui (Madrid City Council)
Gala Pin (Barcelona City Council)
Dr Marc Martí (UAB-IERMB)
Carles Escolà (Cerdanyola City Mayor)
Dolors Sabater (Badalona City Mayor 2015-2018)
Dr Ricard Vilaregut (UdG-CURA)
Prof Pedro Ibarra (Betiko)

Please follow the CURA blog for confirmation of further speakers and other announcements.

The conference is free of charge, and limited space are available. Please book your place online.

 

 

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DMU Doctoral College PhD Scholarships 2019-20

The Centre for Urban Research on Austerity (CURA) invites outstanding prospective PhD students to apply for a De Montfort University (DMU) PhD Scholarship. We welcome applications from students capable of developing innovative, interdisciplinary and internationally relevant research in any field related to cities, urban living and austerity. We further encourage applicants interested in collaborative projects across research centres.

Applicants interested in working with CURA should, in the first instance, submit a research proposal of up to 750 words, outlining the proposed project and how it fits with DMU and CURA. This should include:

– an overview and research questions,

– an explanation of the intellectual positioning of the project,

– the proposed research methodology and methods,

– link to one or more research areas of urban living, lifelong well-being, creativity in the digital age and social value and/or one or more of the 17 United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals

The proposal should be submitted, with a CV, to the Institute Head of Research Students, Dr Adam Fishwick (adam.fishwick@dmu.ac.uk), to identify support and supervision for the project from the Centre.

Once approved by a potential supervisor, the student must submit final scholarship applications to pgrscholarships@dmu.ac.uk by Tuesday 26 March 2019. More details on how to submit applications and what to include in the final submission are available here: https://www.jobs.ac.uk/job/BQL657/de-montfort-university-phd-scholarships.

 

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CURA research seminars launched for 2019

CURA research seminars for Winter/Spring 2019 have been launched, with two CURA members, Dr Jenni Cauvain (@jenniviitanen) and Dr Adam Fishwick (@Adam_Fishwick) with Dr Heather Connolly  (@DrHMConnolly) taking the upcoming slots on February 20th and March 13th respectively. Jenni will be sharing the results of her latest interdisciplinary research into income inequality and segregation in UK cities. Adam and Heather will discuss their new book on austerity and working class resistance, see below for more details.

For enquiries, or to book a place, please contact jenni.cauvain@dmu.ac.uk.

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Income inequality and segregation in UK cities – towards a new research agenda

Dr Jenni Cauvain

Wednesday 20 February 2019, 2.00-4.00pm

Hugh Aston Building, Room 3.96, DeMontfort University

Abstract:

Income inequality and income-based segregation are linked with critical urban studies and practical policy endeavours to build sustainable communities and cities. In the UK, the lack of detailed data on household incomes has previously hindered such efforts. This seminar discusses why income inequality and segregation matter for urban sustainability, and outlines the results of a detailed investigation into household incomes at Lower Super Output Area (LSOA) in the UK for the first time. The empirical analysis uses established measures of segregation; Dissimilarity Index, Gini coefficient and Interaction Index. The focus is on a case study of the city of Nottingham and its wider metropolitan area, but comparative data is provided for UK core cities and selected comparators including Derby, Leicester, Southampton, Cambridge and Winchester. The conclusions draw on a critical perspective on household income statistics and what they reveal about the  hegemonic ideology concerning “problems” in cities being associated with and arising from low income households, rather than from inequality.

The research is an output from the project “Sustaining Urban Habitats – an interdisciplinary perspective” (University of Nottingham) funded by the Leverhulme Trust.

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Austerity and Working-Class Resistance: Survival, Disruption and Creation in Hard Times

Dr Adam Fishwick  and Dr Heather Connolly

Wednesday 13 March 2019, 2.30-4.30pm

Hugh Aston Building, Room 3.96, DeMontfort University

Abstract:

The working classes today are facing a new set of crises around increasing austerity, authoritarianism, exploitation, and surveillance. But in many places, and in many ways, they are resisting. From new forms of workplace organisation, migrant workers challenging their exploitation, struggles against digitalised work, and through alternative forms of grassroots mobilisation, working-class resistance is emerging in new and often unexpected spaces.

Through a range of cases in Europe and from around the world, this book brings radical voices from sociology, political economy, labour relations, and media studies to offer an understanding of the potential of working-class struggles in and against these ‘hard times’. This engaging volume is an attempt to understand how new, dynamic sites of resistance in and outside the workplace are central to the different ways in which workers survive, disrupt, and create new ways of living.

The perfect guide for students and academics looking for a critical and comprehensive collection dealing with contemporary and global cases of working-class resistance.

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Deadly housing crisis enrages the people of Marseille

In today’s blog post, Leon Reichle reports and reflects on the recent collapse of residential houses in central Marseille, contextualizing it as an ugly face of urban redevelopment policies and arguing for the close attention that should be payed to the emergence of a movement of city dwellers determined to fight for housing justice.

In the city that hosts Europe’s largest urban redevelopment project (since 1995), the housing conditions of the poor have resulted in a deadly crisis. On the 5th of November Taher, Simona, Fabien, Niasse, Julien, Ouloume, Sherife and Marie have lost their lives under two crumbling buildings in the heart of Marseille. The rage about their deaths and the following mass evacuations gave birth to a movement full of interesting coalitions.

Economically, Marseille has never really recovered from the deindustrialisation and decolonisation, which the shift towards tourism economy cannot make up for. With an unemployment rate that is almost 50% higher than the national average, it is the poorest city of France, with over a quarter of the people living in poverty and many more very close to it. With its somewhat contradictory urban development, the European Cultural Capital of 2013 is also the only city in France, where the city centre has not been (fully) gentrified. At the time Marseille hosts Europe’s largest urban redevelopment project Euromediterranée since 1995, which wants to attract enterprises and create an “intelligent, connected and durable town” and is in line with the touristification of the city. How very durable this city has become under the rule of its republican mayor Jean-Claude Gaudin, who has been in office for 23 years, is shown by the current housing crisis. Gaudin, who has earlier allowed himself statements in favour of the “replacing of foreign populations”, is now attacked for the policies that have left large parts of the city to decay, especially those housing the poor and several generations of migrants, by a growing counter movement.

Noailles, known for its markets and Maghreb shops and restaurants is a historic migrant and working-class district marked by the dilapidation of its houses. However recently its central market has been temporarily displaced in favour of an urban renewal program coordinated by a local society for urban renovation and a luxury hotel is under construction. In the little streets that still host informal markets, the police presence has visibly increased in the last years. Parallel to the ambitious renewal projects, the residential houses have continuously deteriorated up to a point where the state of the houses has become life-threatening.

On November 5th, two of the run down houses in Rue d’Aubagne, number 63 and 65 literally reached the breaking point. One of them, number 63, was abandoned, as it had been declared unsafe already in 2012, when the owners of flats were forced to sell to the city. “It is the same in many parts of the city, they just shut off the electricity at some points and board the houses up”, says Martha, a young teacher that used to squat in Noaille. The other building that collapsed, number 65, was still inhabited, even though residents had repeatedly reported the unsettling conditions and some of them had already left their flats, because the doors did not close anymore. A report issued in 2015 considers 40,000 buildings unsafe in Marseille, out of which only 111 have been evacuated. “It’s crazy because you see the cracks in the wall but you never think that the houses will actually collapse”, utters Martha in disbelief.

Since the collapse of the houses, over 1800 people have been evacuated and many of them are enraged.

A woman in a protest tells the news reporter “Before I didn’t protest in Marseille, because I thought, well it probably serves nothing, but now, there is a thing of – we don’t have a choice, in fact, we don’t have a choice anymore! There are people who died! My friends got evacuated! There are people who just die in their homes!” This marks an interesting turning point in Marseilles housing policies – as they are now being contested by many who have not made their voices heard up to this point. Those who have been evacuated after the crashes have been placed in hotels all over the city, partly far from their jobs and their children’s school and complain about bad conditions and a lack of information and respect, like an angry woman confirms “We are not given any news, and we are spoken to, as if we were unwanted… I have to remind them that we are not in this hotel for holidays!” Together with the friends and families of the victims, with local activists and a broad mix of Marseille’s residents they form a protest movement that has repeatedly brought thousands of people to the streets.

The Collective of the 5th of November, Noailles en colère (Noailles in anger) started organizing after the catastrophe, provides support for those evacuated and took part in the organization of demonstrations, which have been a platform for a variety of voices. Last Saturday, on the 1st of December, the protesters reached a number of 12000 people and had to face heavy police violence. Not only was the demonstration joined by members of La France Insoumise, amongst them the Eurosceptic Mélenchon; sans-papiers who protested their evictions, but also by unionists from the CGT and the Gilets-Jaunes, who had a demonstration earlier on the same day. In support of the housing protest, they uttered their solidarity: “We stand next to those that protest these injustices, to support them with our expertise”.

The deadly housing crisis in Marseille stirs horrible memories of Glendfield Tower and is not seen as an accident by many. While millions are being spent on a highly contested redevelopment program in a neighbouring district, La Plaine, no money has been spent for the safety of Noailles residents. “In La Plaine they just built a 2 meter high concrete wall around the construction site so people couldn’t protest it anymore. And at the same time there is no money for housing??” asks Charlotte, a resident.

Much of the anger in the demonstrations turns towards Gaudin, who is definitely not a very likeable face of the cities policies. At the same time, Marseille is no exception in terms of urban renewal along class and race lines, where those who profit from the makeovers are mostly defined by their economic power. A systematic process of strategic neglect up to a point where reinvestment is profitable can be observed in countless gentrifying cities. Yet the case of Marseille is extreme, because the decay is so extensive, dangerous and deadly. This is shocking not only to those immediately concerned, but to many inhabitants of Marseille. The current uproar bears the potential of growing dissent with the ways in which urban restructuring takes place. Smaller protests against the refurbishment of La Plaine are now amplified by angry masses. Whether this movement can resist the intimidation and repression, whether it is patient and determined enough to keep making itself heard, which coalitions it is ready to form and how it is reacted to, remains to be seen. In order to reach any change of direction in urban policy, it is crucial that the housing injustices are continuously made visible, scandalized and contested, as they are far from over. In Noailles, auctions are currently taking place, where the dilapidated houses are being cautiously visited, inspected by and sold to buyers who are rarely planning on inhabiting themselves. “The shittier the better”, confides one visitor of an auction, who plans to resell for the double price, to an undercover journalist.

The death of Taher, Simona, Fabien, Niasse, Julien, Ouloume, Sherife and Marie is not a tragedy caused by the rain, as the city hall likes to put it, it is part of a violent form of restructuring, that devaluates the lives of poor people and eventually displaces them from the city centre. “They have been trying to gentrify Marseille since 20 years now”, says Martha. The housing situation in Marseille is clearly at a very interesting turning point. Whether the evacuated will be able to return to the city centre, in whose interest the money promised by the state will be spent, stays subject to scrutiny.

Leon Reichle is a PhD scholar at CURA with a background in Sociology, who has just started a PhD project on tenants’ interpretations of displacement. As a friend and frequent visitor of the city of Marseille Leon is passionate about developments in the city.

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Municipal Socialism- Lessons from UK Local Government?

In today’s post Neil Barnett reflects on the theme of his presentation at the Municipal Socialism conference hosted by CURA in June 2018.

Firstly, a note about this intervention/ contribution to the debate. Given the stimulating nature of the debate at the Municipal Socialism conference, what follows focusses little on the actual history of what could perhaps be called ‘municipal socialism’ in the UK. As the italics indicate, the extent to which the programmes of Labour Councils from the ‘gas and water’ municipalism of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century to the ‘New Urban Left’ of the 1980’s should be seen as ‘municipal socialism’ is open to question. I will leave that debate aside for now. In the context of municipal activism occurring around the globe at the present time, in which neo-liberalism and austerity are being contested by a widening variety of forms of protest, contestation and experimentation with alternative organisational forms, it may seem somewhat parochial and introverted to be focussing on Local Government in the UK, and in particular trying to draw lessons from the municipal past. Focussing on state institutions may, to be blunt, appear to be somewhat unexciting in this context. Municipal local government, of course, is not the same as municipalism, nor does it capture the rich variety of municipal politics and its unique position in challenging neo-liberal hegemony. Also, given the new and evolving forms which urban alternatives now offered, what is the point of looking back at what, at first glance, are ‘old fashioned’ state-led interventions?

So, I’d rather focus on quickly considering some responses to the questions posed above and reflect on the usefulness of local government to a progressive project- to what extent does this institution of the state offer any radical potential? Firstly, it is the case that ‘municipal socialism’ has re-appeared as a focus of debate in the UK due to interest in ‘the Preston Model’, that Council’s adoption of Community Wealth Building, and a Corbyn-led Labour Party’s deliberations on local government’s place in delivering a new economic model. Also, globally, from Jacksonville to Barcelona, questions have been posed about how, when and indeed whether, left activism should engage with local state institutions, what happens when they do, and the extent to which they can be used to deliver urban alternatives.  In each case, local or state governments are delivering progressive outcomes.

I would argue that, whilst much of our interest has, quite rightly, been on alternative forms of organisation and their potentialities, we are too often prepared to focus attention anywhere other than some of the obvious places- like local government. There are many reasons for this- its failure to deliver on promise in the past- particularly in the UK; its role as an agent of the centre- a model of state-led, top-down and (arguably) out- dated interventionism; its complicity in delivering austerity. Whilst it is recognised that there are opportunities to work within and against the state via local government, essentially it tends to be viewed as having limited emancipatory potential.

However, we can gain from looking back at municipalism as delivered by local governments in the UK as they bring to the forefront questions and dilemmas concerning the delivery of socialist alternatives; we may now pose these in different language but they remain essentially the same. We (on the left) raise them time after time, but seem reluctant to address in practical terms. These concern, amongst others, the dialectical relationship between prefigurative experimentation and the realism of delivery, how to move ‘beyond the fragments’, and the institutional arrangements and scales should be used to deliver ambitious social and economic change in practice.  We are lead to these dilemmas, but we often stop there, perhaps because they are by their very nature irresolvable, the answers unknown, inevitably evolving, but also, in my view, because addressing them in practice means engaging with the less interesting and mundane reality of administrative/ institutional design for delivery.

The renewed interest in Preston and local government’s role in municipalism is therefore interesting at this time, as it indicates, at least, the potentialities of local government. Previous attempts to offer alternatives from a municipal/ urban base may have ultimately met with defeat, as Jonathan Davies has pointed out, but they achieved things along the way, and left some progressive legacies-including, in the UK, a nascent, National Health Service. Preston Council has itself, of course, implemented the austerity required of it since 2010, doing its best to protect the most vulnerable (a pragmatic, ‘dented shield’ approach), whilst also being radically experimental and progressive. Other Labour Councils have done the same, though not all would accept the ‘municipal socialist’ label.

An incoming Labour government will have to start somewhere. Many areas without vibrant ‘alternative economies’ will need to be helped with state-led equalisation of resources- channelled, presumably via local (or regional?) state institutions. Questions will need to be addressed about democratic accountabilities, scales of operation/ delivery, and central-local divisions of responsibility. If we value local experimentation/ alternatives, what if localities choose to pursue some which are not the ‘right’ ones? Interesting questions, which can be met with a variety of responses- but these are the meat and drink of administrative reform, and inevitably, we bump into them again and again.  These dilemmas do raise historical precedent, of course, in reminding us of the uncertain attitude towards the ‘local’ in UK socialist thought- from the self-governing utopias of Robert Owen to the central administrative designs of the Fabians.

Finally, one lesson which we can take from history is that, of course, place matters. Prefigurative alternatives in Preston will take time to establish themselves as resilient alternatives in Preston, let alone Bolsover, for example. Looking back, the ‘gas and water socialism’ of the early twentieth century was not simply a question of monolithic state intervention, but in each case informed by the unique politics of place, promoted by civil society activists, non-conformist churches, and the co-operative and labour movements in each area- Glasgow being different in emphasis and approach to say, Leeds. Later, amongst the New Urban Left, Liverpool was quite distinct from London. As a Council, the GLC perhaps did more than any to ‘connect the fragments’ in a new, less state-centric way, but London had many unique characteristics which facilitated this. Municipal socialist alternatives will, as ever, depend on the capacities and opportunities offered in each place, and leave questions as to how to engender radical alternatives where such opportunities are less abundant. For these reasons, amongst others, local government within a national framework of priorities remains necessary and we should bring it back in to the centre of any pragmatic consideration of ways forward.

Neil Barnett is a Senior Lecturer in Public Policy in the Faculty of Business at Leeds Beckett University.

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What is Municipal Socialism in the 21st Century?

We are delighted to publish this short video, produced by Stir to Action, explaining the aims, politics and policies of contemporary Municipal Socialism. It was produced based on discussions at our recent Municipal Socialism in the 21st Century Conference (programme below).

 

09:30 – Registration and Welcome

10:00 – Setting the Scene (Jonathan Davies and Miguel Robles Duran)

10:30 – 12:15: Resistance and transformation: State, Commons and Class

Paul O’Brien (Association for Public Service Excellence): Community Wealth Building: Towards a New Municipalism

Simon Parker (Redbridge Borough Council): Limits and potentialities of municipal socialism: the case of Redbridge.

Hannah Gardiner (Shared Assets): Reframing Public Land

Dan Durrant (University College London): The Potential and Limits of Time Credits

Joe Beswick (New Economics Foundation): Municipal Housing and Municipal Socialism

12:15 – 13:00: Lunch

13:00 – 14:45: The Feminisation of Urban Power and Resistance

Liliana Almanza (Independent Workers Union of Great Britain): The organising power of women in outsourced worker struggles

Irantzu Varela (Activist/journalist from Bilbao): 8-M and its aftermath

Hilary Wainwright (Transnational Institute/Red Pepper): Feminism and the deepening of Local Democracy

14:45 – 15:15: Coffee

15:15 – 17:00: Whither Municipal socialism in the 21st Century?

Neil Barnett (Leeds Beckett University): Lessons from British Municipal Socialism

Bertie Russell (University of Sheffield): A Counter-History of Municipalism

Mike Geddes (University of Warwick): Implications of Radical Localism in Latin America

Frances Northrop and Adrian Bua (New Economics Foundation): What can a think tank do to advance Municipal Socialism?

17:00 – 17:15: Closing Discussion

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The Haringey Development Vehicle – a Triumph of Local Democracy against Gentrification

Following the resignation of Claire Kober, the beleaguered Labour leader of Haringey Council, the controversial Haringey Development Vehicle – or HDV – looks set to be dead and buried. But was the anti-HDV campaign really propelled by the so-called “hard-left”, or was it local residents taking a stand in their community? DMU postgraduate student Ryan Farrell’s blog on this issue is based on his essay written for the “Democratising Urban Spaces” module, as part of his MA in Politics at DMU.

The halting of the Haringey Development Vehicle was a triumph of local democracy and accountability by local residents against a council that doggedly pursued a public-private partnership with an international property developer. The Labour-led council in the North London Borough of Haringey was planning to form a joint venture with Lend Lease that would have involved privatising vast swaths of public property – including municipal assets like libraries and schools – and transferring it into a £2bn private fund. The council boasted of the creation of a new town centre, 5,000 new homes, and thousands of jobs for local residents over a 15-20 year period. So why, then, were local residents so overwhelmingly against the proposals?

There is no doubt that London is in the grip of a major housing crisis, and one that needs to be dealt with fast; it has economic impacts, such as decreased productivity, as well as social ones, like rising poverty, inequality, homelessness and rough sleeping. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has said that City Hall needs to build 66,000 homes a year in order to deal with the needs of London’s housing crisis, with 65% of these needing to be affordable. Across England, the number of rough sleepers has more than doubled since the Conservative-led coalition came into power in 2010, rising year on year. Official government data shows that rough sleeping across England has risen for the past six years in a row. In London, the pattern has been the same – there were 3,975 people sleeping rough in 2010-11, and more than 8,000 in 2015-16. Clearly, then, something radical needs to be done.

The term “regeneration” is a particularly emotive one, and is often seen as merely a coded way of saying “gentrification”. That is, redeveloping land and pricing residents out of communities. But few urban regeneration projects in recent years have attracted the level of attention the Haringey Development Vehicle has. The London Borough of Haringey has a population of approximately 270,000, and is highly socio-economically diverse. Highgate in the West of the borough is one of the city’s most affluent areas, while conversely, Tottenham, located in the East, is increasingly deprived. It was here that the 2011 riots were sparked, after local Tottenham resident Mark Duggan was shot dead by police.

The council had a sound case for swift, decisive action, with a social housing waiting list exceeding 9,000, and first-time buyers struggling to get on the property ladder, with modest one bed properties selling for upwards of £400,000. The then-leader of the council, Claire Kober, spoke of the challenge to “find new and different ways to generate income” back in late 2014. Tensions have been fraught between the Labour-led Haringey council and the Parliamentary Labour Party, including from the area’s two MPs, David Lammy and Catherine West. In an open letter, the two local members of parliament citied concerns regarding the affordability of the home that the HDV project will offer, and the lack of transparency and consultation with local residents. Seen as a dig at the proposed scheme, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s speech at the 2017 party conference alluded to “forced gentrification and social cleansing”. Local residents and business owners set up the Stop HDV project to raise awareness of the council’s plans, in an effort to mobilise opposition to the scheme.

The HDV scheme is now all but defeated. Haringey’s Labour Manifesto pledged to stop the controversial scheme, and a final decision will be taken in July. The push back against an unpopular “regeneration” scheme has been labelled as a “systematic takeover” by the “hard left” – but this couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality, it was local people who stopped the redevelopment project, not a select few with political agendas. Residents from all – and no – parties participated in demonstrations, lobbied their local MPs, and voiced their concerns to local councillors. Crowdfunded by local residents, 73-year-old resident Gordon Peters requested a judicial review into the HDV – which was subsequently won by the council. The council persevered, even when its own scrutiny committee advised the scheme be halted. Claire Kober resigned from her position as leader of the council in February, amid claims of sexism and bullying.

After sustained action on a local level by the residents of Haringey, including the borough’s two constituency Labour parties, the two local Labour MPs, the grassroots campaign group Momentum, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, and people who had never been involved in politics in their lives, the HDV scheme now looks doomed to fail. Councillors who supported the scheme were either deselected by local party members and replaced with anti-HDV candidates, or pulled out after the first round of voting. The right-wing media attempted to frame this as a “purge”, but it was anything but; this was democracy in action. After the recent local elections on May 3rd, the council is still Labour-run, although the borough elected three new Lib Dem candidates, surely reflecting the anger towards the HDV scheme. Claire Kober, the council’s former leader, now works as Director of Housing at Pinnacle, a property management firm.

So what implications, then, does the HDV phenomenon have for democratising urban spaces, and if public-private partnerships aren’t the solution to the capital’s burgeoning housing crisis, what is? One approach that truly involves local residents is community land trusts. In 2015, the NHS announced the sale of two-thirds of land – 7.1 hectares –  from the site of the St Ann’s Hospital in Haringey. Planning permission was granted for 470 homes, with 14% “affordable” (defined as 80% of market value); none were designated for social tenants. The St Ann’s Redevelopment Trust (StART), a community land trust that pre-dates the HDV debacle, was set up by local residents to fight the plans. The 360-strong membership meet regularly to discuss the priorities, which reach far beyond the call for genuinely affordable housing – StART also want to maintain the natural environmental beauty of the area, and ensure the continuation of mental health services on the site. The best hope, StART believed, was to persuade the Greater London Authority (GLA) to purchase the land, keeping it in public ownership and ensuring any homes built are genuinely affordable. StART’s negotiations were a triumphant success, with Mayor Sadiq Khan purchasing the site, using the new £250 million Land Fund for the first time. The deal will see up to 800 new homes built, with at least 50% being affordable – a significant increase on the existing planning permission for the site. Revenue raised from selling the land to housing associations, councils and community land trusts will be reinvested into the Land Fund to purchase further sites in London. StART’s membership is growing, and the trust is aiming to raise £50 million in order to maximise the number of genuinely affordable homes. The potential of community land trusts and community-led development is endless, and as demonstrated by StART, extends far beyond the issue of housing.

Ryan Farrell is a postgraduate student studying for an MA in Politics at DMU, where he also completed an undergraduate degree in History and Politics. His academic interests include trade unionism and grassroots labour movements, Marxism, environmentalism and nationalism.

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The 2018 Mexican presidential results: between Lula, Messi and the Bolivarian Revolution

In today’s post Dr. Valeria Guarneros-Mesa reflects on the recent electoral victory in Mexico of Andrés Manuel López Obrador. She argues that ‘AMLO’s’ victory is an important win for the Latin American left that is likely to follow a Lula-style “progressive neoliberal” agenda, rather than a revolutionary “Chavista-Bolivarian” one. Valeria also points to some of the likely frailties of AMLO’s project to redistribute wealth and battle corruption, such as the institutional embeddedness of corruption and deep-seated tendencies to “caudillista” leadership. She argues that the best hope for counter-acting these is for MORENA (the coalition led by AMLO) to maintain and strengthen ties with civil society and critical social movements.

By 10:30pm of 1 July 2018, preliminary electoral results started to indicate that Andrés Manuel López Obrador was the winner of the Mexican presidential election. AMLO, the candidate for the Together We Will Make Histoty coalition (composed of the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA), Social Encounter Party, and the Labour Party) won with almost 53% of the votes, while obtaining a majority in Congress and the Senate. Commentators have underlined the results as a historical moment for Mexican politics and its electoral democracy. The results caused moments of exhilaration and joy for a majority of the population and revived hope in Latin America’s left. But for many others, this was a moment of anguish, disappointment and concern as they envisaged the challenges that a fragmented and violent Mexico will bring, accompanied by the unfounded fear by liberal-conservatives that Mexico will become another Venezuela, another dictatorship.

The immediate comments, after the preliminary results were published, underlined the effectiveness of the electoral democratic institutions in so far as the incumbent party, PRI, and the other traditional parties, PAN and PRD, were recognising their loss and congratulating AMLO for his victory. AMLO’s presence in Mexico City’s Zocalo late that evening was accompanied by words of gratitude that were emotive and fulfilling people’s hope. AMLO’s reiteration that his government was to be ruled by three principles: ‘not lying, not stealing and not betraying the people’ seem to mark a clear distinction against the political corrupt oligarchy of the PRI, PAN and PRD. These warm words, however, did not reassure people who experienced political violence during the day of the election in cities of Jalisco and Puebla States.

AMLO is unlikely to follow Chavismo’s Bolivarian Revolution of the 21st Century. Instead, it is more likely that he follows the steps of Brazil’s Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, through redistribution of wealth, while maintaining a ‘progressive’ neoliberal economic approach that promotes global trade and finance with regards to commodities.

Two elements provide an indication to make this a credible argument (but see Financial Times for a contrary view). The first is the fact that the core of the old oligarchy that supported Salinismo began to support AMLO’s candidacy few weeks before the elections. Salinismo (1988-1994) was the presidential period in which neoliberal economic polices reached their peak and when NAFTA was signed.

These new alliances indicate that AMLO obtained their support in exchange of continuation with neoliberalism and to counter the threats that NAFTA’s dissolution cast upon the country’s current economy. His book ‘La salida’ also shows cosmetic modifications to the wave of privatisations in the education and energy sectors introduced in the post-2012 years.

The second is AMLO’s attachment to the corrupt machinery that has permeated Mexican politics. Several individuals supporting his campaign have had records of embezzlement, hence the likely assumption that these common and corrupt practices will begin to infiltrate the good intentions that AMLO’s persona insists to tackle.

The lack of transparency in selecting MORENA’s candidates for several political local posts has been one of the main criticisms against AMLO’s inability to break with clientelism and co-optation. On the one hand, this forms part of the tactics the mafia’s political system relies on and; on the other hand, it breaks with any channels of communication held with social movements that gave birth to MORENA, let alone with those that sit more on the radical spectrum of the Left and which are key to bring into account AMLO’s government and other political and economic institutions.

Civil society and its activism have been considered the main axis to counter the continuation of neoliberal politics and corruption. However, progressive critics sustain that civil society is not ready to scrutinise government. Social movements have used different repertoires of action that include fighting the Mexican state (i.e. Zapatismo and its legacies), collaborating and negotiating with it (clientelism and co-optation) and, more recently, recurring to socio-legal action to sue the state abuses against human rights of indigenous and other marginalised communities.

However, mobilisations’ multiple repertoires of action to counter the state in intermittent ways are not including mechanisms of scrutiny and oversight that the political system requires to minimise impunity, beyond the state’s own reforms to its judicial and prosecution systems. Although this type of experience from civil society is not inexistent (for example, Artículo 19 or Instituto de Acción Ciudadana para la Justicia y Democracia), it is quite fragmented and too small to counter the great machinery of state corruption.

AMLO’s administration will encounter another challenge with regards to its leadership. As all good charismatic leaders in Latin America, the figure of a single, strong ‘caudillo’ is a formula that all political leaders instinctively pursue. This has been observed from Simon Bolivar fighting Spanish colonialism, to Fidel Castro’s communism and Hugo Chavez’s Bolivarian Revolution. AMLO will be no different, especially as his leadership derives from this same understanding. The problem is that this type of leadership suffers from the Lionel Messi curse of overperformance, observed in the 2018 World Cup match Argentina vs Croatia, where the latter won by 3-0 as the whole Argentine team was relying on Messi to score.

If MORENA and its coalition are to be able to transcend, a cadre of multiple leaders must be prepared to relay AMLO. It is precisely this lack of shared leadership that has led ‘pink tide’ front-runners Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales to organise referenda to make constitutional changes that allow presidential re-elections and prolong their periods in office. Centralisation of power, while a new successor is appointed, is likely to become a tactic to which AMLO may recur to if his admnistation is not watched closely.

Finally, if AMLO’s administration is to transcend, it is because it is not left alone, the internationalisation of what is happening at the grassroots level, within and against the state, must be recognised. His administration has not only to maintain open and transparent channels of communication with social movements, civil society groups and ordinary citizens and build a shared leadership; but also, initiatives that prompt these grassroots to contribute to the broader ‘transnational social class’ -which has aimed to challenge decisions that tend to benefit the traditional neoliberal oligarchy -shall be encouraged by his administration.

If his coalition is genuinely wanting to become a motor of historical transformation, as opposed to just ‘the left of the institutionalised right’, relationships with other international Left parties, which have been more genuine to include grassroots and establish links with social movements, (i.e. Corbynism and DiEM25) have  to be consolidated, alongside the emblematic Latin American spaces created by the World Social Forum and Bolivarian Alliance for the People of Our Americas-People’s Trade Agreement. A recognition and acceptance of international groups’ criticisms against the state’s human rights abuses and violence, must be included in his government plans, which unfortunately have been a moot topic in AMLO’s campaign.

Valeria Guarneros-Meza is Reader in Politics and Public Policy, De Montfort University and a CURA member.

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Municipal What? Reflections on #municipalsocialism in the 21st century

Dr Bertie Russell – research associate at the University of Sheffield’s Urban Institute and contributor to our recent Municipal Socialism conference – offers some core reflections on the role of municipalist political strategies for the 21st Century. Central to his argument is a need to develop a more nuanced understanding of political scale, decenter our conception of the state, and develop a counter-history of municipalism that learns from the wealth of international examples outside of the UK. This piece was originally published on the Realising Just Cities website.

The “Municipal Socialism in the 21st Century” conference – hosted at De Montfort University by the Centre for Urban Research on Austerity (CURA) – offered a much-needed starting point for bringing together academics, trade-unions, party organizers and progressive think-tanks to consider the role of urban politics in transformative social change. That Labour’s “Community Wealth Building Unit” held their meeting immediately after the conference suggests that these discussions are not taking place in an academic vacuum, and may increasingly come to play a role in defining contemporary socialist strategy in the UK.

As we move forward, we should perhaps take Miguel Robles Durán’s opening demand for “an anti-capitalist provocation of what a city can do” as our common point of orientation, a reminder that we must remain committed yet critical in the development of political strategies of scale. With this said, here are some quick reflections on the importance of this conference, and why it may come to mark a starting point for addressing some of the most pressing political questions of the Left.

  1. This needed to happen

The last five years has witnessed a global renaissance in transformative urban politics. From the emergence of the movement-party Ciudad Futura in Argentina to the territorially grounded political strategies in Jackson, MI, we are witnessing a wave of political experimentation that wagers on the municipality becoming a privileged site for left organizing. These initiatives are collectively challenging many of our inherited assumptions about the role of the state in socialist organising, antiquated distinctions between the private and the public, and unhelpful binaries between ‘local’ and ‘global’.

Meanwhile, Corbyn’s announcement of the ‘return of municipal socialism’ has built on the successes of Preston’s community wealth building approach, leading to Labour establishing a community wealth building unit. A raft of articles and policy papers have started to appear calling for the municipalisation of services and utilities such as water and telecommunications, whilst some local labour groups have begun to release manifestos that claim to put ‘municipal socialism at its heart’.

There is a wealth of critical thought that needs to be brought to bear in developing an “anti-capitalist provocation of what a city can do”, not least critical geographic insights on the politics of scale, and the incredibly rich ‘state debate’ that occurred throughout the 1970-80s. These insights, coupled with richer and more nuanced understanding of these movements, are essential if we are to avoid falling into a reductive localism that limits the potential of ’municipal socialism’ to redistributive service delivery. The new municipalist movements are demonstrating that practice is currently developing faster than theory, and we’re in a privileged position to collectively develop our theoretical understandings of what 21st century socialist organizing can look like.

  1. Municipalism ≠ municipal socialism ≠ municipal enterprise

The conference was mired by a fundamental slippage in terminology, that led to many of the discussions and contributions working (or not working) across purposes. Furthermore, some of the terms themselves are contested – not least municipal socialism – with different historical accounts and differing emphases. To offer some clarity:

Municipal Enterprise

At it’s simplest, municipal enterprise refers to businesses that are owned by local governments. There is nothing inherently ‘socialist’ about municipal enterprise. Nonetheless, it’s feasible that certain forms of municipalist enterprise could have a central role in developing a municipalist strategy.

A number of attendees suggested that Nottingham’s Robin Hood Energy would be a good example of this; a municipally owned not-for-profit that looks to reduce fuel costs by not having to provide returns for shareholders. Whilst we should welcome enterprises that reduce consumer costs and provide some degree of decision-making to local authorities, it remains a significant stretch of the imagination to equate this with a socialist project.

This doesn’t mean that there isn’t a place for certain types of municipal enterprise within a transformative political program, but we need to ask what precisely is providing the ‘transformative’ potential? Examples such as Wolfhagen’s public-common energy partnership point in this direction, illustrating an innovative form of co-ownership and distributed governance that puts real democratic decision making in the hands of a citizen-consumer-owner cooperative. Cases such as this have the potential to transform our consciousness, with citizens developing new capacities as collaborative decision-makers, and thus playing a role in a larger project of systemic change.

Municipal Socialism

Rather than referring to a particular theory of social change, municipal socialism is more often used as shorthand for a series of actually-existing historical periods. This is usually presented as an overwhelmingly UK-centric history, commonly beginning with the gas-and-water ‘socialism’ of the mid-19th century and ends with the experiments of 1980s Britain. This history is often in danger of falling back into identifying these historical periods as ‘socialist’ due to the presence of municipal enterprise – especially so when we reach back into the 19th Century.

We ought to recall that Joseph Chamberlain, the archetypal mayor of mid-19th Century municipal gas-and-water socialism, believed that the municipality “ought not to intrude where private initiative could already handle the provision of a social good”. Whichever way you choose to frame your understanding of socialism, it probably ought exclude such perspectives.

Furthermore, there are significant differences of experience within certain historical periods. As Hilary Wainwright looked to stress in her contribution, there were many involved in London’s GLC in the 1980s who put a priority on trying to develop a prefigurative and transformative set of practices. This is quite different to a dominant history which paints the projects of the 1980s as being defined by high-levels of local-state spending and periods of direct confrontation with the Thatcher government.

Ultimately, ‘municipal socialism’ has become a form of shorthand to describe periods of heightened redistributive municipal enterprise. Meanwhile, the UK-centric reading of municipal socialism also closes the door on political experiments elsewhere in the world – some of which were introduced by Mike Geddes – many of which may be more closely aligned with what we could call a ‘municipal socialist strategy’. Such reductive readings of history both exclude strategic considerations of how any of this might fit into socialist strategy, whilst simultaneously foreclosing many of the more prefigurative political experiments that also occurred during these periods.

Municipalism

Municipalism should be used to refer to theories of social change that recognize the potential of the municipal scale as a strategically key site for organizing. There is no single theory of ‘municipalism’ – not least because there are a breadth of people within contemporary municipalist movements that are actively experimenting and building theory-in-movement.

There are nonetheless historical precedents for municipalist theory, not least Murray Bookchin, whose concept of Libertarian Municipalism saw the ‘immediate goal is to reopen a public sphere in flat opposition to statism, one that allows for maximum democracy in the literal sense of the term, and to create in embryonic form the institutions that can give power to a people generally’. Such a position looks to challenge the existing form of the local state, instead positing these institutions as something to be transformed within a broader political agenda.

Whilst I’d wager that many of the participants in the contemporary ‘new municipalist’ movements are likely to agree with such a statement, these movements are not following a predetermined program or strategy – they’re not “Bookchin-ists”. Whilst activists may now be turning to Bookchin and others for inspiration, new theories of ‘municipalism’ are being built through the experiences of these contemporary movements, such that we can see action and theory being produced in tandem.

Given this, it’s not only reasonable – but arguably quite likely – that municipalist perspectives may come to argue that historical periods of municipal socialism actually had very little to do with a ‘municipalist’ theory of change. Furthermore, a municipalist perspective may identify and emphasize different historical examples – from the participatory processes of Montevideo in the late-1980s to the Italian municipalism in the early 20th century – whist looking for different phenomena from within those periods we’ve come to refer to as ‘municipal socialist’.

  1. “The question is not what the local state can do, but what can we do to the local state?”

A fundamental but largely unspoken distinction lay at the heart of this conference, although it was only drawn out in the last session. As Mike Geddes summarised succinctly “the question is not what the local state can do, but what can we do to the local state?”.

This question has profound implications for how we are thinking about municipalist politics. Asking ‘what can the local state do’ tends to reify existing institutions, limiting our spectrum of consideration to the different functions that the existing state-form can undertake. It also understands political agency as resting conclusively with state officials – whether they be elected or civil servants – mistakenly interpreting ‘the state’ as having some form of omnipotence. In a brief nod to the theoretical progressions of the state debate, we should already be beyond thinking of the state as a ‘thing’ that can simply be seized and wielded as a tool of revolutionary change – not least local state institutions.

On other hand, asking ‘what can we do to the local state’ approaches the institutions of the local state as a problem, as a set of social relationships that are part of capitalism itself. Asking “what can we do to the local state?” starts with provocation that we need to fundamentally look to challenge the form of the local state, upsetting its strategic position within the broader reproduction of capitalist social relations. The central concern thus becomes challenging the very form of the state, placing an emphasis on distributing power throughout society and meaningfully de-centering both ownership and decision-making. Furthermore, it demands us to consider who the “we” is that can “do” something to the institutions of the local state, providing a much wider field of social contestation.

So long as we fail to collectively recognize this clear distinction, we will be unable to succinctly think through what it would mean to develop municipalist strategies that function both in, against and beyond the state. We’ll also fail in our attempts to understand contemporary municipalist initiatives if we focus solely on the policies that local authorities such as Barcelona or Naples have implemented, rather than the broader strategy of transformation within which these policies fall.

  1. Where does community wealth building fit?

If there was one more slippage that was threatening to occur – not only within the conference, but potentially within Labour’s community wealth building unit – it was the equation of ‘community wealth building’ with contemporary municipalist strategy. This is not to pass comment on the work that has taken place within Preston or Cleveland, which may well find its place within a broader municipalist theory of change. But there are two questions that need to be raised here:

1) What precisely is it about a community wealth building approach that qualifies it as part of a municipal socialist – let alone municipalist – strategy? How precisely does this sow the seeds for broader transformative change? This is undoubtedly a complex question, yet this is all the more reason not to rest on assumptions (much as we shouldn’t assume that municipal enterprise is somehow socialist).

2) How do we ensure that we don’t come to fetishize community wealth building to the point that it is taken as synonymous with municipalism? There appears a distinct danger of collapsing our focus on to a single approach, at the cost of ignoring the much wider spectrum of progressive municipal initiatives that should also be pursued as part of a transformative strategy.

How we approach, evaluate and extend innovations such as community wealth building will largely be informed by some of the broader strategic considerations outlined above. It may fit within a strategy of developing a common asset-base as part of the development of a broader counter-hegemonic project – similar to how the Jackson-Kush plan positions the role of the solidarity economy – or it may be reduced to a local government budget fix, assessed as a ‘success’ due to an increase in regional GVA.

  1. Onwards

For all these challenges, we have to be thankful that CURA had facilitated a space where these questions could be raised. We remain at the beginning of developing political strategies that are fit for a 21st Century Socialism, where questions of scale and the state remain absolutely central to moving forward. We should look to take these discussions forward and build a clearer understanding of if – and how – municipalist strategies could develop, and what that means for those consumed within the leftward push of Labour. How we balance the ‘realism’ of existing political arrangements with the potential prefigurative power of municipalism is unknown. Thankfully there are dozens of municipalist initiatives out there asking themselves the same question.

Dr Bertie Russell is a research associate at the University of Sheffield’s Urban Institute. His research interests are in participatory democracy; transformational forms of coproduction; the organisation of the commons and post-capitalist transition; and the rise of new forms of urban internationalism. You can find some of his musings here.

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