Francisco Calafate – Faria, PIIGS in London, gives a different perspective on immigration.
When you hear ‘pigs’ talked about in street protests you probably think ‘police’. But since October 2012 other kinds of ‘pigs’ have taken to the streets. Londoners from Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain subverted the acronym coined in financial circles to create a collective of activists, PIIGS in London.
Since October 2012 we have organised and participated in several actions working with a number of groups. Among other initiatives in October we marched with the TUC for ‘A Future That Works’, we co-organised a rally in support of the November 14 European strike with the Coalition of Resistance. With Occupy LSX we staged an ‘austerity soup’ and organised debates with German activists, economists and bankers outside the Lord Mayor’s Banquet. For June 1 we are liaising with groups from England and other countries to carry out European-wide street protests against the Troika and the fiscal austerity agenda.
Migration is not a problem. We believe emigration and immigration are invaluable, both for the country of origin of migrants and for the receiving country. The physical proximity of immigrants from different countries in a city as diverse as London, for example, offers unique possibilities to develop public spaces where problems that cannot be confined within national borders can be easily addressed by people from different countries. Fostering political participation of immigrants, both in local and in international politics is, we believe, the best antidote to the rise of the far right and absurd notions such as the proposal that multiculturalism has failed, an idea that has been echoed by several European leaders including Sarkozy and Cameron.
Fiscal austerity has gone through Europe like a forest fire, spreading without respect for national boundaries. Yet in each country it is debated as if it was a unique process. In Portugal, Spain, Greece and the UK the external causes of the crisis are PIIGS on the streets of London spoken of as factors that mitigate government responsibility or they are used to justify calls for even more aggressive policies.
There is of course irony in the language used to and about the unemployed. In Portugal politicians like Prime Minister Passos Coelho tell young, unemployed people to “get out of their comfort zone” and “face unemployment as an opportunity to change their life” and “look for work in other countries”. Significant numbers of young Portuguese have ended up doing just that in Germany or England. The ideology that informs Coelho’s discourse is the same one that produced the ‘get on your bike’ statements of Thatcher’s Britain. These neoliberals, whose fiscal policies kicked people so effectively out of their ‘comfort zone’ of employment, are ironically the very same people who would like to find ways of expelling migrants and sending them home! We should not be surprised at this. The right wing is always more than happy to use national borders to re-frame political problems when it suits their purpose.
When hyper-nationalist parties, like the BNP or more recently UKIP, gain electoral strength, the tendency is for the centre parties to respond with, “We must listen to the people”, which in reality means, “We must follow the far right’s lead”. We can expect more proposals to increase immigration control, more demands to further reduce spending coupled with demands to raise spending on state violence. On the left we must respond with increased resistance and resolve. This resistance must be as international as the austerity agenda and the drive to destroy public ownership that we now all face. Places that concentrate immigrants from different origins are focal points where this resistance can be articulated. We should think of London not only as the European capital of financial deregulation, but also as the potential centre of a new internationalist politics.