The European left must meet the challenge of the climate emergency, and the crisis in our society and democracy
Toni Valero, Coordinator of Izquierda Unida in Andalusia
The Party of the European Left (PEL), of which Izquierda Unida is a member, will hold its sixth congress in Benalmádena, a town emblematic of Spain’s sun-and-sand tourism. This is Andalusia, a region which attracts tourists by presenting the best possible image of itself- The last official advertising campaign tried to sell Andalusia through the constant repetition of the word ‘intense’: ‘intense beach’, ‘intense tapas’, ‘live intensely’, and such like. ‘Intensely’, of course, means ‘in a way that strongly affects the senses’.
And it’s true: those of us that live in Andalusia do so ever more ‘intensely’. We are experiencing the climate emergency with increasing intensity, with severe drought in seven agricultural districts. Andalusia is the region with greatest loss of fertile land due to erosion and desertification. Meanwhile, rising average temperatures are bringing with them an increase in torrential rainfall.
There’s also an intensity to the destruction of the region’s economic life. Vulture funds are buying up land, ruining small producers and promoting intensive agriculture that further harms our environment and causes unemployment. In our cities, uberisation is making employment more precarious while rents skyrocket—again thanks to the increasing presence of financial speculators. A weak industrial sector, massive dependence on tourism and deregulation of workplace relations have led to one of the most intensely precarious labour markets in the EU.
Women in Andalusia also suffer from domestic abuse with a cruel intensity. In 2018, the region counted the highest number of women murdered by their partners or ex-partners in the whole of Spain. The figures already register eleven killings this year. The gender pay gap means women earn, on average, 4,000 less annually than men, while over 250,000 Andalusian women rely on a widow’s pension as their sole income, meaning they survive on 664 euros a month. Poverty in Andalusia is undeniably a gendered problem with women far more likely to be at risk of poverty or exclusion, according to official statistics.
Inequality and poverty ‘strongly effect the senses’ of the people of Andalusia. Over three million people in the region are at risk of social exclusion. The unemployment rate runs at 20%, coincidentally the same percentage of our young people that leave school without qualifications. The fortunes of the richest Andalusians, over 8 billion euros, make for an intensely stark contrast. An unfair tax system benefits this small minority whilst further entrenching inequality.
Andalusia is becoming a bolt hold for financial speculation and big multinationals, at the expense of the economic and social wellbeing of the region’s population. These same actors are the ones carving out chunks of our public services through privatisation and outsourcing.
The situation is not that different from other parts of Europe, perhaps only distinguished by a differing intensity. Global warming, precarious work, deindustrialisation, violence against women and inequality are the result of global processes whose effects seem to hit Andalusia particularly hard.
Maybe that is why we Andalusians are so aware of the need for global, and especially European, solutions. We need a popular movement that rejects the neoliberal policies of the EU institutions. In questioning the neoliberal foundations of the EU, and the neoliberal motivations of its leaders, we also need to present alternatives, as a matter of urgency. The dual crises in our climate and our society are now being exacerbated by the erosion of our democracy. Neoliberalism, it seems, needs to make recourse to ever more authoritarian means to ensure its own expansion. Neofascist forces, meanwhile, take advantage of the inability of the EU and its member states to solve the problems of working people. The political organisations that make up the Party of the European Left must bring together the struggles of feminists, climate activists and workers to halt the rise of the far right and, instead, propose a new type of politics. Questioning neoliberalism means reasserting popular sovereignty over a plutocratic EU and setting out alternative forms of European integration. This EU belongs to the speculators and big business—and the far right is the monster born of its neoliberal politics.