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Criminalising squatting was an ideological act. An attack against democracy.
One of the reasons why the bill passed with little more than a whimper on the part of the general population is because of the media image which has been so meticulously cultivated against the squatting phenomenon; squatters are nearly always portrayed as dirty follicley-challenged layabouts ready to swarm and colonise a house the moment its occupants take an extended weekend in the Costa Del Sol.
The media is riddled with stories about how home owners return home from holidays only to be barred from entering their own premises by a group of straggly haired malingerers.
In reality, however, the image of some woolly liberal government, full to the brim with pc largesse, prepared to exile people from their homes in order to facilitate the whims of vagrants – is little more than a reactionary myth. The squatting laws were always specific on this point; those who squatted would be protected by certain rights against eviction only with the proviso that nobody was living in the property in the first place, and that there was no possibility of it being occupied by its owners in the imminent future.
The law to criminalise squatting is about something else entirely. Supermarkets are often compelled to destroy food because they are caught in the unrelenting vortex of competition; if they give away the leftover surplus, the value of future sales is damaged. Likewise, in the case of the property market, houses are sometimes left empty by landlords and investors in order to drive prices up.
Inevitably a conflict emerges between genuine human need – the need for food, the need for shelter – and the imperatives of a social system driven by competition and the accumulation of profit. For this reason we should understand squatting not as some arbitrary phenomenon but as a profoundly political act; i.e. the endeavour to assert the priority of human need in the geo-political space – over and against the incursions of the market.
The squatting phenomenon traces its roots to the agrarian communists ‘The Diggers’ who, in 1649 when food prices spiked at an all-time high, made the move to resist the enclosures and occupy common land so they could plant vegetable crops – no doubts with the rather humble agenda of ensuring their own survival. They were forced from the land by the threat of army intervention, but not before being branded amoral and promiscuous (charges regularly levelled against the squatters of today).
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