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Life before debt

Jubilee Debt Campaign activists protest outside UK Treasury before handing in Jubilee for Justice petition, September 2013 (iDJphotography)

Jubilee Debt Campaign activists protest outside UK Treasury before handing in Jubilee for Justice petition, September 2013 (iDJphotography)

Life before debt!

We released this report yesterday which highlights some of the devastating impacts of debt around the world today, and some inspiring stories of debt resistance.

The cost of austerity packages imposed in the name of paying debts in Europe has been high. In Portugal fees for health care have been imposed, costs for utilities have spiralled, and 60,000 teachers have been sacked. Latvia has lost 8% of its health care workers and 14% of its school staff. Greece has seen an increase in children fainting in school from malnutrition, the decimation of the health care system, and a 40% increase in suicides.

Here in the UK the financial crisis and austerity programme has seen a 10% increase in the suicide rate.

Egypt and Tunisia are once again facing austerity being enforced in the name of debt.

Meanwhile in Jamaica, Pakistan, the Philippines and El Salvador, as well as other countries in the global South, the burden of unjust debts continues to be felt as money that could be spent on health, education and public services is spent on debt repayments.

Jamaica, El Salvador and Pakistan, are failing to meet goals on nutrition, education, and health care provision after rich countries reneged on a pledge to deal with their debts. These debts did not arise overnight, but came from a long history of unjust loans, damaging projects and failed bailouts (see our Dodgy Deals campaign for more).

These are just some examples of how people across the world are paying with their lives for debts they were not responsible for creating.

“We don’t owe, we won’t pay”.

Something I get asked a lot in my job is ‘ok we shouldn’t have to pay unjust debts, but not paying isn’t a realistic option’.

If the price of paying the debt is people’s lives, then why is it still hard to imagine not paying a debt on a national, or individual level?

Part of this comes down to the story our governments tell us about debt. As nef recently pointed out in their recent report, the UK government has hammered home the idea that we’ve ‘maxed out our credit card’, an image which immediately brings to mind personal fault, blame, and the necessity to pay.

We’re used to being beholden to our debts and to blaming people, including ourselves, who are forced into debt to make ends meet.

For the person who can no longer pay their mortgage after being forced out of work by the cuts, the government demands that we look not to a housing system that is inadequate to give everyone a home without huge mountains of debt, or to a labour market that can’t offer sufficient employment, but to their own personal failings.

It’s vital that we change values around debt, that we challenge the morality that says a debt must always be paid, no matter what the cost.

This week Jubilee, along with our friends in the debt movement around the world are taking part in a global twitter storm to explain when and why it’s #notourdebt.

Why not join in? >>

Add your message to the twitter storm #notourdebt

Add your message to the twitter storm #notourdebt

So… is debt resistance really possible?

Here’s a few examples of how rule of debt has successfully been challenged…

Debt audits

A debt audit is an investigation of the origins of a debt, which can lead to cancellation of debts which are found to be unjust. These can be led by the grassroots as an awareness-raising tool, or endorsed by governments.

Ecuador’s 2008 debt audit recommended that the government should stop paying illegal and illegitimate debts, a recommendation that was put into place by President Correa.

Activist in Egypt, Tunisia, Pakistan, Portugal, Spain and Greece have instigated citizens debt audits, exposing the illegitimate nature of many of their debts.

Don’t Pay

In late 2001 Argentina risked the wrath of the world’s financial markets and the IMF and defaulted on its debts, suspending repayments on some of its bonds. The economy slumped. Yet by the second quarter of 2002, it had bounced back to growth.

Iceland chose to protect domestic assets of lenders, but refused to bailout the reckless foreign banks which had lent huge amounts to Icelandic banks. The small country has weathered the financial crisis much better than many others in Europe.

Reclaiming work places

The action of workers at the Vio.Me building materials factory has become an international symbol of workers’ self-management. The factory, in Thessaloniki, was abandoned by its owners when it fell into debt, leaving the workers without pay since May 2011. They refused to lie down and accept unemployment. Instead they voted to occupy the factory and operate it under direct democratic workers control and, after a long struggle, production began on 12 February 2013. A triumphant three days of rallying, marching and mobilising support culminated in a benefit concert before a packed stadium of 5,000 people. The 40 workers of Vio.Me – who will use any profits to help those in need – face a long road ahead. They have to struggle against high production costs, a lack of access to credit and trying to maintain a share of the market during the recession.

“Now more than ever we need to be united and strong, determined to build a new world based on solidarity, justice and self-management,” they said.

viome workers

Vio.me workers outside their factory


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