Revolution is everywhere: House occupations in Rome

The understanding that capitalism is more than a form of economic organisation-exploitation, that the exploitation of labour presupposes the creation and reproduction of the conditions of that exploitation, and that today the production of those conditions is itself a source of profit, renders any radical or anarchist anti-capitalism that focuses   exclusively on industrial labour and the factory as the centre of Capital, irrelevant.  As labour was never the lynchpin of the system of social relations constitutive of capitalism, a radical politics confined to the organisation of labour was condemned to failure.  In the end, it could but offer more of the same (an improved management of labour) or concede that the capitalists in fact do it better.

The necessity of re-producing the social relations of capitalism force a broadening of perspective, a change viewpoint that reveals a total system that permeates, ever increasingly, every facet of daily life.  The struggle against, or to create something beyond, capitalism, must then critically embrace the many concerns and needs of people, and push towards responding to those concerns and needs through autonomous forms.

The example of the struggle for housing in Rome, and in Italy more generally, is in this respect of fundamental importance.  Refusing to respect the norms of private property and its protective State laws and apparatuses, defending and fighting to make real autonomous forms of collective self-organisation that transgress the divisions of race, ethnicity, sex, and the like, the house occupation movement in the country’s capital, under the banner of the Coordinamento Cittadino di Lotta per la Casa, animates a revolutionary politics of autonomy.  If not unique to Italy, its depth, scope and longevity offer lessons to all.

We share below a translation, by a friend of autonomies, of a text from the website of the Coordinamento Cittadino di Lotta per la Casa that offers a brief history of the recent housing occupation movement in Rome.

Coordinamento Cittadino di Lotta per la Casa is the first movement born in Rome organised around right to housing.

San Basilio

It is 1988, hundreds of people occupy houses in San Basilio, an extremely degraded neighbourhood in the north east of the capital: 350 public housing apartments, already constructed without any criteria for distributing the housing.  In the struggle, hundreds of homeless, alongside laborers and marginal sectors of the periphery, as well as the new generations of the neighborhood, where the memory of the struggle of the 1970s is still alive.

At the end of the 1980s, to begin anew the struggle against the violation of rights is an enormous wager in a city, but the right to housing is already in the DNA of Rome and this allows the movement on the  whole to expand the struggle to the whole country.

At the end of 1988, there are more than 2000 occupied houses, not only in the city but also on the periphery, from Ciampino to Marino …

New Vineyards and the Residence

In 1989, with the election of Franco Carraro, three times minister of the republic for the socialist party, in Vigne Nuove, 110 houses intended for the police forces are occupied. The occupation, even without water and electricity, the latter produced with a generator, resists for another year until the massive intervention of the future police-residents who encircle, fortify and isolate the area. By the hundreds, people raise barricades on the terraces of the buildings. There is an exchange with the city council of Rome, which in the end, agrees to give housing assistance to the occupiers.

Also in 1989, the struggles convoked by the Coordinamento with the municipal housing authority are consolidated with the housing of another 2000 families living in inhuman and unacceptable conditions.

The struggle for the right to housing thus began, with the demand for new housing appropriations for all of those who are entitled.

The world cup and the camp

In 1990, the movement launches the campaign against the World Cup, blocking various construction sites, including that of the Olympic stadium. The purpose of this campaign is to bring together all of the social movements around the Movement, in a Rome where rights are systematically denied, to express opposition to real estate speculation linked to the big construction companies. In 1990 those linked to the struggle for housing begin to occupy entire building blocks of public housing. Repetitive expulsions follow, in some cases rather violent and a season of tent camping in public spaces that lasts months, begins. Meanwhile, a proposal is made to begin the self-organised recovery of abandoned buildings of the city council, as one of the possible solutions to the endemic problem of lack of popular housing.

Self-organised recovery and resolutions on the housing emergency

Between 1990 and 1996 dozens and dozens of abandoned buildings are occupied in the city, demands are made for new acquisition funds and the battle for self-organised recovery is carried forward. In 1996 a resolution is passed by local authorities which unblocks housing policies in Rome and which, assigning the public housing stock according to urban area plans and to new acquisitions, distributes 66% of emergency housing  and housing assistance.  Meanwhile, two self-organised recovery projects are born on the via Isidoro del Lungo and the Via Rigola. But these public measures, the only ones undertaken in the national territory, are already insufficient the moment they come into effect. Rome grew with vertiginous speed during those years and together with the city, its social body has multiplied, been transformed and became stratified. There are by now hundreds of thousands of people who demand popular housing.

Federimmobiliare in Ostia, the struggle of immigrants begins

In September 1993, with Rutelli as the mayor, the occupation of Federimmobiliare in Ostia takes place; three large buildings, the consequence of real-estate speculation, and abandoned for more than 10 years. This is the first occupation which sees a substantial presence of immigrants (around 40 % of the occupiers are of 19 different nationalities, part of 220 occupying families) and most importantly marks the birth of a unique social laboratory for intercultural coexistence, in a context where the right to housing for immigrants is non-existent in the country. In fact, there was no provision for popular housing for resident migrants except in the scope of ‘reciprocity’, that is, a possibility to provide popular housing was foreseen only for those migrants who came from countries where there was in theory a possibility to assign popular housing to Italians.

….

After 1996, the ‘Coordinamento’ begins a battle for recognition of a ‘state of emergency’ in the city of Rome and from that moment on a new and tough period of struggle begins. The latter leads to the first ratification of a ‘Protocol on the housing emergency’ in September 1999, which provides 170 billion Lira for the purchase of new popular housing, in addition to funding for 6 projects of self-organised recovery and other interventions in the Rome’s peripheries. But the time periods for approval and carrying out of the above are endless and the emergency keeps growing.

Quarticciolo

In 1998, a former police station on Via Ostuni is occupied in the popular neighbourhood of Quarticciolo, in 2000, an abandoned building not far, on Via Serafini, in Cinecitta. It is the year of Jubille and rents go up astronomically, with increases of more than 50% compared to previous years. From that moment on, this will remain the average sum for renting a house in Rome…

Occupations of Via Bruno Pelizzi, Casalbertone, Cinema Impero and dog-racing track (cinodromo)

It is 2001 and Walter Veltroni is elected the Mayor of Rome. The housing emergency that should be addressed is instead exploding. Tents, barracks, people who sleep in their cars, along the banks of the rivers Tiber and Anniene, Italians and migrants, in large numbers. Cold and partial statistics bring numbers of homeless people to 20 thousand and to this one should add the sons and daughters of liberalisation of the labour market, families or singles who remain or are born precarious, who are no more able to pay rents or loans that by now became very high due to a savage liberalisation of the market that exploded along with the abolition of the fair rent act in 1992.

To the Coordinamento Cittadino di Lotta per la Casa thousands more people join and new movements of struggle are born, such as Action (already DAC) and the Comitato di Lotta per la Casa. In 2002 the situation in the city becomes unsustainable and a new big wave of occupations begins for Coordinamento. Empty buildings are occupied, such as on Via Bruno Pellizzi, abandoned schools such as in Casalbertone, the ex-cinema l’Imperio at Torpignattara and also a former dogracing track on Viale Marconi, which today is the location of laboratory of precariousness of the Acrobax project.

Porto Fluviale and the Camp

June 2, 2003 is when the former barracks of Porto Fluviale on the Via Ostiense are occupied by 150 families of Italians, Moroccans, South Americans. An occupation which led to re-appropriation of basic rights by hundreds and hundreds of students, families, precarious individuals and migrants. And then, again, the camp which during more than a month for the second time guarded the houses of Tintoretto still empty after years, which became for the Movement a symbol of speculation and of struggle against cartolarizzazione [what is meant in this case is a financial procedure through which the state sells all the residential (and commercial) real estate heritage property of the social security bodies, ENPALS, INAIL, INPDAI, INPDAP, INPS, IPOST, IPSEMA]. It was due to this battle that once again, at the national level, possibility was created for local bodies to purchase the property of public entities at reduced prices.

We are in the year 2004 and the distribution of housing envisaged by the protocol on emergency housing passed in 2001 is still ongoing (3 years were needed!) and three projects of self-managed recovery are on their way. [In the meanwhile], in this metropolis, new and real spaces of poverty, more and more abyssal and visible, are created. Evictions for rent arrears and end of lease in Rome are estimated at about 15,000. The city council restarts the policies of residential assistance and aid to those “residences” that previously proved to be enormous prisons, unliveable, wounds in the city and the lives of those who inhabited them, constructed in order to pass on public money to the usual private subjects and palazzinari (real estate speculators).

Added to this are the pressing demands of expulsion by the prefecture (Prefettura) that hang as weighty rocks over the lives of those who are under eviction orders, on the occupations and movements of struggle for housing. An example of this is the clearing of two buildings that were part of the former mental asylum of S. Maria della Pieta that were occupied in 2004. Evicted after hours and hours of negotiations, thanks to the determination of the occupiers and of the movements, the occupiers, hundreds of people, were at least guaranteed the right to housing assistance. Another example is the attempted clearing of the occupation of Via Castrense where hundreds of people were ready and determined to resist from the roofs, balconies, courtyards of the building, pushing the forces of order to give up the expulsion. In this case, the city council has rented the building which is till now inhabited by the occupiers. But no attempt at repression has managed in all these years to stop thousands of people who have self organised around a need and won in their claims to the right to housing. One should also add that there have been numerous evictions that were blocked or postponed due to the anti-eviction picketing organised by the movements.

In 2006 Walter Veltroni is reelected the Mayor of Rome, while the reaity of the city is still dramatic. The ghost of clearings and evictions traverses the city centre and the periphery, the rents continue being inaccessible, the housing emergency continues its slow motion explosiveness. The super power of certain private subjects, constructors and real estate agents holds on, power that in a few decades has disfigured the city. Extensive use of cement is inhibiting the water from reaching its natural point of destination while we continue hearing that water is a good that is at risk and must be privatised. They continue building apartments and keeping thousands of them empty in order to keep rents high: houses without people, people without houses. Because at the bottom the free market is this, to skilfully balance the offer and demand in order to make profit, regardless of the effect it has on the lives of millions of people. A blind eye is turned upon people robbed by small and big real estate speculators, those who live in cramped spaces, who rent a pillow for 300 Euros. A refusal to see that people are packed in dozens in small houses and throw themselves out of the windows in case of an outbreak of fire, as it happened with the Bengalese Mary Begun and her 10 year old son Hasib, both perished in a fire that broke out in Piazza Vittorio on the 13th of January, 2007.

Tsunami

Facing repression, various movements of struggle for housing create a tactical alliance and on the 6th of December 2012 initiate the first Tsunami, a wave of occupations that shakes the city council and the prefecture, which do not manage, as in the past, to respond with one eviction for each occupation. Various buildings are occupied in the city, among which an out of use clinic in Via di Torrevecchia and buildings with vacant, unsold apartments on Ponte di Nona on Via Prenestina. During the following days, the police force through the barricades, expelling the occupiers from Ponte di Nona, but nothing works against the determination in Torrevecchia, where the police renounce to embark upon the clearing of the building.

The success of this attempt adds to the list of occupations. With the city struggling to retake its right to housing, on the 6th of April 2013, a second Tsunami takes place. Two new occupations are carried out: one on via del Caravaggio in the area of Montagnola, where the police arrives but backs off before the number and determination of the occupiers and on via Sambuci on the Tiburtina. During this Tsunami, another important occupation takes place on Via Musa (piazza Galeno) which calls itself Dégage and it is a housing occupation done predominantly by the young, students, precarious…who unite around the idea of re-appropriating, here and now…

On the 28th of June 2013 another wave of occupations takes place, with reactions on the side of the police, but still various buildings remain in the hands of the occupiers. For the Coordinamento an important moment is the occupation of the building on the Via Mattia Battistini (former offices of the army) abandoned and out of use for quite some time. After summer spent in Val di Susa reflecting about the day that will bring to light the breakthrough of the struggles from below in Italy, a new initiative of a wave of occupations is launched on the 12th of October 2013, occupying various buildings from Santa Croce in Jerusalemme to buildings on Via Tiburtina…. It is also the day when Eritrean refugees, after yet another tragedy on Lampedusa, take the initiative and occupy a building in the centre of Piazza Indipendenza.

It is thus that we arrive to the great push towards the October 19, 2013 demonstration, #19O … 12th of October, in defence of local territories, against privatisation of public services and destruction of public goods and a broad mobilisation for the right to housing. 15th of October… social strike… we get to the big demonstration that leaves from San Giovanni and for several days camps under the Ministry of Infrastructure near Porta Pia. This demonstration is followed by a meeting with the Mayor Marini and Minister of Infrastructure Lupi (who will resign in 2015 due to a corruption scandal at the ministry), a meeting that was utterly unsatisfactory and, even more, the state is preparing a new law to stop occupation movements. On the 31st of October, under the pressure of the 19th of October demonstrations, the Letta government organises a conference [on the housing policies]. The march of people without homes is prevented from reaching the place where the conference is taking place, on the Via del Trittone, where there are clashes that end up with tear gas and a number of police reports and arrests. Many comrades active in the struggle for housing are put under house arrest.

With the coming of Renzi to the government, the repressive response to the movement of struggle for housing is more than evident. The government approves so called House Plan in which there are a number of heavy (seriously damaging) articles. Article 3 favours the selling of public housing, article 5 prohibits those who occupy the house to connect to utilities, as well as to obtain ‘residence’ which is necessary for acquiring basic citizen rights and citizenship. A new cycle of difficult struggles begins, first against the approval of this decree, and then, second, …. to abolish these laws. There is also a strong mobilisation to free the comrades who have spent more than 6 months under house arrest.

On the 7th of April 2014 a last wave of occupations is carried out, but the repressive climate is by now quite heavy and the state sees the occupiers as a serious and tangible danger. In the morning various occupations take place. Coordinamento Cittadino Lotta Per Casa occupies, with 500 homeless families, a large building abandoned for at leat 6 years. The occupation is in Montagnola in Via Baldassare Castiglione, 59. A building that had already been once occupied two years ago, under the snow. This time the occupation holds only 10 days. The movements of the students and of the precarious try to occupy two other places in the area of the Università La Sapienza in Via Cesalpino and in area Roma 3 (Ostiense) in Via del Commercio. Both occupations are cleared violently by the police forces…. provoking two wounded, arrested and released and then, after a long siege, identification of the resisting comrades.

In the meantime, the struggle against austerity and the House Plan does not stop. We get to the demonstration of the 12th of April that leaves from Porta Pia to get to other Ministries. There are heavy attacks by the police at Piazza Barberini near the Ministry of Labour and there are a number of wounded. On the 16th of April, the occupation at Montagnola is cleared as well. The occupiers that come to help the others barricaded inside have clashes with riot police carrying out the clearing. Various activists of occupied houses remain wounded but the determination does not weaken and with those families that are expelled a camp is set up near Municipio VIII, throwing into the face of the institutions that the housing emergency is not resolved as a problem of public order. The camping comes to an end only on the 23rd of April when those expelled from Montagnola occupy another building of an abandoned school in Via di Tor Carbone and this time the occupation holds on.

In July, the Teatro Volturno [occupied in 2008] is cleared and devastated from within to render it unusable. Various demonstrations in the city ensue… The months that follow are characterised by continuous initiatives not only in Rome but throughout Italy to abolish article 5 of House Plan of Renzi and Lupi and against evictions and clearings that are increasingly more frequent.

… and the struggle continues …

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