Exit is based in the Raval area of Barcelona, just off La Rambla. Like the other Social Centres, featured Exit is concerned with the new political and economic dynamics that characterize the contemporary city or ‘metropolis’: the new governance-exploitation of knowledge and culture, control of movement and segregation of the population, new mechanisms of exploitation (precarity, financial mechanisms). In what follows Mauro gives us an idea of the development of the project and some of their current projects, in particular the struggle around debt and house repossession.
Mick: How did Exit begin?
Mauro: The night of San Juan, June 2006. As part of a symbolic action involving the disassembling of a Migrant Detention Centre, which was part of a weekend of actions for the Second Caravan for the Freedom of Movement, 59 activists were arrested, including journalists and lawyers who were present.
As the summer passed several of those involved who were based in Barcelona decided to set up a Social Rights Office, like the ones which had already been set up in Terrassa, Malaga and Madrid.
Getting to know and learning from other social movement projects was a fundamental motor for the development of our collective. We had in mind projects like Ek Ateneu Candela, Casa de Iniciativas (Malaga) or Seco Social Centre, these are all collective autonomous initiatives that are developing new forms of organization and of political, cultural and economic participation. Some of us had been involved in those projects and what we wanted was to form part of this network of activist spaces which were characterized by a shared political language and practice and some common notions.
In the first year we were just developing the group affinity and the collective. This was a period of collective learning and growth, of caminar preguntando (walk forward questioning) through which we got to know each other and to think about the project we wanted to create. We organized various autonomous education events but in the end we decided we wanted to start a physical space form where we could develop our political project.
At the beginning of September 2007 we had the opportunity to squat space with some other collectives.
From the beginning the squat was based on new ideas, defined by a new way of managing our relationship with state institutions and other social movements. Most importantly, form the beginning we were thinking about negotiating with the city council. After 8 months, however, we were evicted.
Then we decided to rent a place, to guarantee a stable project which would allow us to dedicate all our energies to the political activities we were interested in, rather than to the defence of the space.
A lot has changed since then. Exit, in its new location on Calle Sant Marti, has become an organizational machine for the resubjectivisation and recomposition of new productive figures; students, migrants, researchers, artists, mortgage holders.
Mick: Why are you called Exit?
Mauro: Exit as a way out, as a point of escape, as a crack…The opening of a space is our way of realizing the right to escape, a rebellion against metropolitan governance which opens a breach in the centre of Barcelona and in the urban model which is imposed on us. Exit is also about the desire to EXpiriment, Invent and Transform. This where Exit becomes a positive force, making possible alternative collective understandings of Barcelona, of how to live, and demanding, through collective mobilization, the right to the city, which isn’t just about the right to what already exists but, as David Harvey says, about changing the city .
Mick: In your current space you’re renting. Was it difficult to take that decision? Doesn’t renting a social space mean a loss of autonomy?
Mauro: Over the years we, along with other Social Centres and movement projects, have developed a series of reflections about the necessity to innovate, to overcome the dialectic between disobeying and negotiating, between conflict and dialogue.
In Malaga, for example, they spent months meeting with representatives of the city council to get official recognition for the Casa Invisible. These negotiations could permit a pioneer agreement between the city council and the ‘squatted’ social centre, in which the city council would accept the autonomy and capacity of self management of the social centre.
In our case, in a city like Barcelona in which the urban model is subordinated to the economic model, we have to continue to defend public spaces for self-managed social and cultural activities. Squatting, as a model for the re-appropriation of empty spaces for use by the citizens, was always an option for us, but considering our levels of organization and strength in the context of the current difficulties of political organizing, we decided to rent.
The reality is we were in a hurry to get a space. As I said earlier, having a space was a priority, as a physical space and as a tool for political action.
Mick: How do you pay the rent?
Mauro: At the moment all the members of the collective give a monthly contribution. In the medium term we’d like to get funding to subsidize the project. We would see getting funding as another way to re-appropriate resources. This summer we’re opening a bar and café as an autonomous economic space which we hope will provide work and rent for us.
Mick: Does the Social Rights Centre have a role in Exit?
Mauro: At the moment we’re in the process of setting the Social Rights Centre up. The idea is to provide information and support in relation to housing, work and the regularization of migrants. We also want to offer a space for other forms of cooperation (for example Spanish classes and internet access) and to promote concrete mobilization for social rights (for example the demands of migrants street sellers or people with mortgages who are fucked now because of the economic crisis). A clear objective is the creation of a common space between migrants and precarious workers which we see as a new form of trade-unionism, which we call biosyndicalism, as a response to the exhaustion of the classic trade-union model based on permanent full time work.
Mick: What relation does Exit have to the economic crisis and what conflicts are emerging around that?
Mauro: The effects of the crisis are already being felt by the most precarious groups in society. Through the social centre, but especially through the Social Rights Centre, we’ve been seeing first hand the resulting precaritisation and exploitation of work/life. We also do research from the social centre to find about what’s happening.
We see this clearly in movements, such as the movement of people in danger of home repossession, which point toward new areas of conflict which have emerged as part of this crisis and which can generate a cycle of struggle for social rights, such as the right to housing.
I’d like to discuss the issue of home repossession in a bit more detail, both because I think it reflects the work we’ve been doing in the SRC and because I think this is going to become an increasingly important issue as the crisis deepens.
Generalized unemployment, especially for sectors like the construction industry, means many families aren’t able to make their mortgage payments. In the Spanish case, the situation is even worse then in, say, the US, because the banks will take your home, but your debt doesn’t end there; in effect you’ll be indebted to the bank for the rest of your life. At the beginning of the crisis, some people considered this to be just a problem of the person with the mortgage. Any kind of measure that meant public money going to those who had voluntarily bought a home with a mortgage was deeply criticized.
That’s why I think it’s important to emphasize that a lost home usually starts with a lost job. Many companies have fired workers because of a reduction in incomings and lack of available capital. In addition, credit is hard to come by because the markets have collapsed as result of the fall in the value of property and the related fact that people can’t afford to pay their mortgage. In other words, the mortgage crisis, the financial crisis and the broader economic crisis are interconnected.
Our strategy, in order to win over public support, is to move the responsibility from the person with the mortgage to the Banks, who are receiving billions from the state to avoid their collapse. They’ve been getting rich while the market was going well and now they have to pay the price, rather than just wiping their hands of the thousands of families left homeless and up to their necks in debt.
As result of all this and through the initiative of Exit and other collectives working on the housing issue (like V de Vivienda), a platform has emerged of those who face repossession, and there’s plenty of people getting involved.
The people who participate in this campaign are mainly migrants who’ve lost their jobs. These are people who embody the crisis which in Spain is a double crisis; the financial crisis and the crisis of a mode of accumulation based on property speculation. While both the Federal Reserve and the European Central Back have invested billions in the financial system to save it, millions of people in Europe and the US are loosing their homes. This is where the class dimension of the effects of the crisis are most visible.
We have a double demand; as workers effected by the crisis and as mortgage holders. I think this really reflects the nature of the current economic crisis. Certain sections of society who are in a position of power, and can make use of the different mechanisms of the financial system, are able to capture a socially produced excess in a new form of exploitation which is more complex than the extraction of surplus value in the work place. These mechanisms include risk as a defining element. The capacity to shift risk on to other social groups has become a mechanism for the capture of socially produced value. It’s because of these kinds of innovation at the level of mechanisms of exploitation and conflicts in relation to them that we want to develop new types of movement strategies and practices. We think Social Centres and SRCs are among these.
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