Spain! Spain comes as a shock to me, the moment I cross the border I notice something different. In comparison to Portugal, this country is bigger, more industrial, the pace of life is faster (although still Southern European style), the coffee is stronger, and shit everyone is speaking Spanish at the speed of light! I am going to have to start learning this language very quickly!
I start my research in the Southern city of Granada, and wow Granada is a city that is an absolute joy to be in. It is small and green, the air is fresh but the weather is hot, it is surrounded by the snow capped Sierra Nevada mountains and is full of history, culture and students (60,000 out of a population of 200,000). It is also a city in which, compared to many other European cities, it is possible to live a very fulfilling life off very little. I inform you off this, not only to rub in what a great and inexpensive life I am living here in the sun, but because this context is very relevant to the responses to youth unemployment I have found here in the city. Highlighting the point that there is not one solution to this crisis but many, and they will vary greatly depending on the reality they are situated within.
The reality in Spain is that youth unemployment is above 50%, and in more general terms 1/4 of all Spaniards are unemployed. The reality in Granada and Andalucia is that this figure is as high as 70% is many rural villages and poor neighbourhoods within the cities. The reason for this is that Andalucia is primarily a province of agricultural production, meaning there is not much large scale industry within its cities, and since Spain joined the EU the region has been subject to the EU´s vicious ´Common Agricultural Policy´ which actually pays local farmers not to produce, to keep the market open for other large scale European producers and to multinational companies such as Monsanto. This means that currently a large amount of the land and the market is not controlled by or accessible to local people and producers. Within the Andalucian countryside there has been much resistance to this, an inspiring example of which is Marinaleda, a town that occupied and reclaimed land which the community now works on collectively as a cooperative. (For more info http://www.marinaleda.com/ or http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marinaleda,_Spain in English)
However within this context let us turn to look at the reactions of youth to such high unemployment in Granada. From my research I noticed three core trends.
The first and most prominent was to leave. I spoke to many students inside the university, and when I asked if their friends had found jobs here after finishing university, they laughed and said of course not. Almost all had decided to leave, and not just Andalucia, but Spain. They had gone to England, Belgium, Germany, China, Japan and were generally either teaching English or working very mundane jobs such as washing dishes.
The second response was to stay here and live off practically nothing. Similar to Portugal, it is almost impossible for youth here to claim unemployment benefits as most of them will never be able to find a stable job for a year, after which they would be get unemployment benefits but only for a maximum of 2 years. When shocked I would ask, “well how are you managing to survive?”, they would look at me like it was obvious, and say “its easy around here”, leaving me without much explanation. This group of people seemed to have quite a relaxed and blasé response to unemployment, as it really is the norm here, and slowly I began to learn the tricks of the trade. For housing people either squatted abandoned buildings, pieces of land or lived in the caves (this may sound odd, but there are many caves in the mountains surrounding Granada that are actually very nice places to live- they are warm in the winter, cool in the summer and have the best view across the whole of Granada. Most have been turned into fully furnished homes). To eat most people ´recycled´ food from bins and restaurants and seemed to have quite amiable relations with the workers and owners. If this failed there were always the soup kitchens that offered free food. For entertainment somehow people always seemed to have a couple of Euros for a beer that they gained through playing music on the streets, making crafts or perhaps selling weed, and this city is full of free and fun things to do such as concerts, film showings, discussions or juggling in the park whilst watching the sun set over the Alhambra. This life seemed like it was still a struggle, but people were joyful and free and many said they were much happier than when they were in the system of work, money and rent.
The third and most interesting response for my research were the political groups and projects dotted across the city that were trying to create alternative ways of living and working.
During 2011 Granada was part of the wave of protests and occupations of the squares that swept across the whole of Spain, and still many groups born out of this movement continue to work in the neighbourhoods on fighting housing evictions and other injustices within the city. There is also an exciting new student movement that is gaining momentum to resist the huge cuts to the university and the increasing neoliberalisation of education. However to me, activism in Granada seemed to be more focused upon creating something new than taking to the streets.
These projects were multiple and diverse in their composition and I will outline a few examples as I feel contained within them are ideas and inspiration. A first example is a group of unemployed youth that came together to create a cultural centre which would host concerts, art exhibitions, English lessons, communal meals and political discussions, creating a common space for many to share and express, as well as a small amount of income for those involved in the organisation. Another example is a group of young designers, translators and writers who were beginning to form a new publishing cooperative, whose aim was to translate and publish alternative and political texts for reading and education at low costs. In a different area there was a food cooperative, that provided employment for a few, and inexpensive organic, local and democratically produced food to many. Larger examples range from alternative social currencies such as Timebanks which aim to de-centre capitalist exchange through exchanges without money, to ´Cooperative Integral Granada´ a group that is aiming to provide all its basic needs such as food production, health, housing, education and transport in a cooperative way, this idea is already much more advanced in other areas of Spain such as Catalonia.
All these projects were in their beginning phases and knew they had a long road ahead of them. Many were choosing the model of the ´cooperative´ as the alternative as within it are the values of equality and economic democracy, as well as a stable legal structure, but all were working towards a common political goal: to create a new way of meeting their needs, and of living a joyful existence together, as this current system was no longer enabling them to do either.
For me Granada has been a city full of calm, joy, beauty, alternatives and inspiration. A place that made me think deeply about how exactly I want to live, and in what way I want to resist this system and create change. Tomorrow I get on a bus to Madrid to continue my research there and to join the people protesting on the streets and face the Spanish police! Wish me luck, and stay tuned for the next post…