May 26, 2009
After my trip to Berlin I went to Vienna to meet women candidates for the Austrian Social Democratic Party (SPÖ), then after a busy weekend’s campaigning in Hungary, last Tuesday I travelled on to Marseille to join my very good friend Martine Aubry, General Secretary of the French Socialist Party. I made the visit both in my capacity as President of PES Women, and as PS National Secretary for Women’s Rights. Together with Vincent Peillon, PS head of list in the South-East region, we visited La Savine, a very disadvantaged area in the 15th arrondissement of Marseille. Unemployment is high there, and the district has suffered a great deal at the hands of both the conservative city authorities and of the conservative government of Nicolas Sarkozy.
In La Savine we visited a social housing apartment block, which the local authorities (led by UMP mayor of Marseille, Jean-Claude Gaudin) have just ‘renovated’. As a result of the (inadequate) renovations - which meant that many residents were kicked out of their homes with little notice and nowhere else to go - the rents have been increased by 150 euros a month. This comes on top of utilities costs which were already too high for many of the residents: despite the vast potential of solar energy in this sunny Mediterranean city the building is still powered and heated by inefficient, expensive means, and with little insulation. This is meant to be social housing, yet many of those who live there now can’t afford to do so and have to move out. They don’t know where to go.
One women told me that she had received a letter telling her to leave the building by the end of the month, and another told me of families with such little living space that children have to sleep in the bathroom. Many say that local government wants to push residents out so that it can put up expensive private housing to ‘cash in’ on the beautiful views of the sea from the site where the housing block is. Amongst the women’s representatives whom Martine, Vincent and I met, we also spoke to a representative from the local association for sick children, who explained that many parents in the area whose children suffer from health complications and are sent away for treatment cannot afford the travel costs of visiting them, and receive no support to help them do so.
Speaking with the people of La Savine I became increasingly angry at the right-wing authorities for being so inhumane. They have priced people who are struggling to make ends meet out of their own homes, they have not kept them informed or consulted with them, and ultimately they have failed to provide decent, affordable housing. In short, they have showed no respect whatsoever for basic human needs. And as usual, it is the women of the district who are the worst hit by this, many of whom are without a job or a partner, bringing up a family in hugely difficult circumstances.
As I said at our campaign rally afterwards (you can watch my speech below), this European election really is a choice between two very different visions for Europe. It is we socialists who listen to people, put women’s rights at the top of the agenda, and work to improve people’s everyday lives. In contrast, the right treats people as statistics, pushing them around according to the ‘rules of the market’. It’s an absolute disgrace.
Meeting de Marseille : Discours de Zita Gurmaï
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The situation in La Savine is a typical example of this. That’s why the PES political family is fighting at European, national and local level for solidarity for people in need, people who deserve better than this. We have the plan to fight the global recession, we have the policies to make our economies stronger, fairer and greener, and at local level we are the ones who invest in communities. Just look down the coast from Marseille, to Monaco, where the super-rich can put their millions without having to pay a cent in tax, look at the billions being pumped into the banks that caused this economic crisis, look at the money that could be saved if Europe invested in efficient, clean energies. When it comes down to it, no-one can seriously say we can’t afford to provide the vulnerable people in our societies, especially women and young people, with decent basic living conditions. What the right needs to learn is that we can afford to invest in communities such as La Savine: because socially, humanely and morally, we cannot afford not to.
Author : Zita Gurmai