Why UK activists should look to grassroots internationalism post-Brexit

Guest post with thoughts from Jacob Wills, co coordinator of European Network for the Right to Housing and the City, a network of which the Radical Housing Network is a member.

The discussions in the UK’s anti-authoritarian left since Brexit have rightly focused on anti-racist and migrant struggles. These are struggles we foresee with our own government, and with extra-parliamentary racist movements. New popular formations will surely emerge over the coming months to reflect this new priority. These will need to bring large numbers of white non-migrants into an experience and practice of organising in solidarity, led by the demands of migrants and organised people of colour. At the same time, we need to strengthen these struggles transnationally in order to counter isolationism. Despite our good intentions, our organisations are as guilty of this UK separatism as anyone else. Too often we fail to reach out to other European countries and their movements. Meanwhile, nationalists are creating a paradoxical sense of an international groundswell.

It’s understandable, given our newly cemented political identity, that most of our discussion has focused on the UK. A notable exception is the recent Black Lives Matter solidarity demos, which fused anger over the police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile with that of UK people of colour. At many times like these people of colour express a transnational identity that allows for bonds of solidarity that cross borders and continents.

Sustaining transnational identities is clearly an important task for people in the grip of a dominating isolationism such as ourselves. And though a European identity may well have been one of the world’s most pernicious, with liberal Europhilia to be avoided at all costs, those of us who live in Europe do have certain shared experiences around which we can organise. If there was ever a time for internationalism, this is it. We have all been incalculably affected by the EU – by its neoliberal ideology, and by its policies (which certainly weren’t all bad). Many, such as the EU Urban Agenda recently declared in Amsterdam, are vehicles for North-West Europe’s addiction to financialisation, to be brought to street-corners across the continent. There is an alternative to this state cooperation in the interests of transnational capital – grassroots internationalism.

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This is the impetus behind the formation of the European Action Coalition for the Right to Housing and the City. Uniting with groups in Eastern Europe fighting housing poverty is an under-emphasised form of solidarity and is crucially important. Supporting the struggles of those countries choked by the Troika or simply bound by the enforced austerity of the Maastricht treaty is all the more important as the UK opts out of these institutions that it spawned. This is work for local organisations too – how can we expect to support unorganised Romanian labourers to build their political power without contact with groups of Romanian activists, knowledge about the situation people may have left in their home countries, or diffusion of this knowledge to prejudiced Britons? Looking beyond Europe, many of our new arrivals have been displaced by huge regeneration projects of the sort London is now struggling against, a fact that primes them for engaging in truly intersectional organised communities.

It cuts both ways, too, as this isn’t just a solidarity struggle. We in Britain have an incredible amount to learn from all these groups across Europe, many of whom have spent decades organising in repressive conditions, and often against strong fascist movements. We may feel like we are stepping out into the unknown, but it is rarely true that no one else has fought our fight.

It is for these reasons that the Radical Housing Network sent people to actions at the launch of the EU Urban Agenda in Amsterdam. Though small, these demonstrations take us further than meeting together and into organising together. Urban struggles are by nature often more localised than, say, migrant or environmental struggles, so this process will take a while. But we think that we can lay the groundwork for major actions in the next few years, and are planning a long-term campaign around the financialisation of housing. We are taking action for the Europe we want to see – not the Europe that Britain helped to create, but our European vision which we trust many of its residents will fight for.

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