The struggle for housing and autonomous spaces in Amsterdam
The police mobile units, or Mobiele Eenheid, left Gedempt Hamerkanaal 86 at the end of January, following a civil court ruling that upheld the original eviction verdict from November, ordering us to leave by February 1st.
We squatted the run-down building to transform it into a livable home and a non-commercial social centre. Our aim in doing so was to make squatting more visible and to bring together different groups of Amsterdammers and to create a starting point to organise against capital interests that have taken control of the city. Interests which have forced so many to leave, or to accept precarity as the new normal.
Since our opening in October, we ran a full program of events, from movie nights and party fundraisers, to debates about the neighbourhood and the future of non-commercial spaces. The attention and support we received demonstrated that in an increasingly expensive, predictable and exclusive city, there is an interest in places that are inclusive, autonomous and politically engaged.
In terms of running a social centre, our four months at Hamerkanaal were a success. Politically, however, we could have achieved more. Though the owner’s supposed plans to build a hotel were unsubstantiated and unrealistic, as supported by a drafted statement from alderperson Marieke van Doorninck, we lost our court case. Though we do not accept this outrageous verdict enabling property speculation, we could not pull together a meaningful resistance against the eviction.
Contrary to the city’s stated policy, this is yet another example of a squat evicted for emptiness. Since the squatting ban in 2010, us squatters have faced steadily increasing repression, while property owners have enjoyed greater protection. The city actively pushes owners to evict, as well as to prevent their buildings from being re-squatted while keeping them unused, for example by partly destroying them, the Kadoelen Cafe in the north being the latest case. Clearly, albeit unofficially, the authorities prefer to see properties stay empty rather than being squatted and turned into (temporary) housing or a social centre. Since 2010, the response by influential parts of the squatting community, and those sympathetic to squatting, has largely been to lobby the city for more “free spaces”, or to justify squatting to city authorities on the basis of its “cultural value” and contributions to “creative industries”. As a result of this reorientation, the original housing demands of squatters have become marginalised. (This does not mean that creativity and cultural expression are not important).
Yet, Amsterdam is one of the least affordable cities in the world. The squatting ban has been wholly ineffective at combatting or punishing emptiness. Tens of thousands have been pushed out of the city or into precarity. People are forced to give up their rights as tenants to anti-squat companies, exploiting a manufactured housing “shortage” for profit.
If the discussion around squatting and free spaces does not incorporate these struggles, we demonstrate a lack of solidarity with those driven out and oppressed by the city’s capitalist policies. Claims of the value of squats primarily due to their contribution to creative industries constitute voluntary co-optation, do little (if anything) to further the struggle for housing for all, and prove ineffective in holding on to what we still have.
If we are to retain and build on the social and creative aspects of squatting, such as free expression and self-organisation, then we need to have political leverage to force our demands. To do this, we need to reconsider our approach and tactics.
In essence, we need to move from assimilation (or integration) to agitation (or provocation).
This does not (just) mean resisting evictions. Rather, this would be a natural consequence of a movement that looks beyond the narrow focus of squatting and free spaces to join up in solidarity and in action with other neglected housing struggles that ultimately share the same enemy: the neoliberal takeover of the city.
Creating a broad coalition with neighbourhood groups, tenant’s rights organisations, renters in precarious housing situations (anti-squat, subletting, temporary, overpriced etc.) and other displaced people is where the struggle for the city lies.
We’ve seen in recent times what squatters can bring to social movements with the 2015 student occupations, the We Are Here migrant squatter’s collective, and mobilizations against the far right. We need to do likewise and act in solidarity alongside others who are also suffering under the capitalist authoritarianism of the city and the free reign that has been given to property speculants.
We need to get back to what squatting is about: housing! The rest will follow.
We will continue the fight and open empty spaces where people and groups can meet and organise together to escalate the struggle. Join us.