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From England to Italy, there’s a neoliberal onslaught against public goods


By Carlo Formenti

In England there’s a fierce debate about the privatisation of public spaces. Obviously that country has not forgotten the devastating effects of the 16-17th century practice of enclosures, well described in the works of Marx, Engels and Polanyi, which led to the expropriation of public property by landlords (and the reduction to poverty of millions of peasants) and which prepared  the ground for the emergence of modern capitalism. Today the object of desire of a post-modern, but no less ferocious capitalism, are no longer the forests, pastures and other publicly-owned land (the medieval commons) but squares, parks and local neighbourhoods.

Under the guise of an urban upgrade that the exhausted coffers of local governments (decimated by cuts of neo-liberal governments) can no longer take care of, industry and global financial firms are extending their claws into public spaces that, once transformed into private property, are no longer guarded and defended by the police but armed guards hired by the new masters. So public spaces are reduced and with them the rights of use that traditionally regulated them, replaced by the arbitrary will of the owners backed up by force.

Among the first casualties is the right to free expression: there are an increasing number of cases in which students and workers find it impossible to gather and symbolically ‘occupy’ (no longer) public places: private guards chuck them out beyond the boundaries of this new protected ‘paradise’ .

In Italy, meanwhile, the ‘technical’ government has just announced that, to plug the hole in the public budget (for which the people in power today and yesterday are primarily responsible, as a class, if not as individuals) it will be selling valuable parts of our public heritage owned by central and local government. Buildings, ‘mobile’ assets and companies owned by municipal governments will end up in the hands of individuals who will do what they want with them, turning them into sources of profit, ignoring the interests and rights of ordinary citizens.

Beaches turned into pricey private establishments, ‘rehabilitated’ buildings and public spaces closed to mass use, services converted into machines to extort money from users already massacred by the crisis, and why not, calling into question (it is already happening with support from large media outlets) the
results of the referendum against the privatization of water.

So, as the case in Greece, the neoliberal caste attaches to a popular vote the same value as toilet paper. To the deafening silence of the political forces that still have the nerve to call themselves “the left”. How long will we allow them to abuse our patience?


Translation by Revolting Europe

About revoltingeurope

Writer on Europe's Left, trade union and social movements @tomgilltweets or @revoltingeurope

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