- Created: Wednesday, 07 November 2012 11:13
- Written by Juanjo Rivas
Spain’s economic turmoil continues, throwing seriously into question the EU’s ability to produce a way out of the crisis. The Spanish 2011 deficit has been revised up from 8.9 to 9.4%, due to the state’s funding of private banks, making it impossible for the government to meet its target of 6.3% of GDP. The EU bailout as well as the financial help to the banking sector has propelled Spanish public debt to a historic high, which could reach 90.5% in 2013, the highest rate for a hundred years. Interestingly enough, before the economic crisis struck, the figures showed Spain as having a low debt and budgetary surplus. But the end of an economic period which had been based on a property bubble, and the taking on of the losses of strategic banking entities, brought serious problems for the country’s accounts.
The General Budget for 2013 was presented in October and approved only by the ruling Partido Popular, as it is the most reactionary plan since the end of the dictatorship. The payment of interests on the national debt is the main cost in the budget, weakening even more the provision of social services. However, cuts in deeply depressed economies reduce investors’ confidence, as they accelerate the pace of the economic slum. This is why the 2008 winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics, Professor Paul Krugman of Princeton University, claimed in a recent article that ‘economic aspects of the situation indicate that Spain does not need any more austerity’, and warned that further radical cuts in essential services will damage prospects for the efficient adjustment of the country. However, no matter how obedient Rajoy’s government proves to be, rating agencies have downgraded Spain once more.
The ‘sect of austerity’ has won over a large portion of Spain’s bosses and the political class, convincing them that inflation rather that large-scale unemployment is the danger ahead. Hence they turn a blind eye to the tragic reality that is affecting ordinary people. Recent studies show that one out of five Spaniards is now poor: unemployment reached 25% at the end of September – the highest rate for any industrialised country – with the unemployment figure for those aged under 25 standing at 52%. Hundreds of thousands of immigrants have been excluded from the public health care system; shoplifting for food is becoming a desperate, widespread practice and soup kitchens run by charities are full, with queues on an unprecedented scale.
The consequences for the public educational system have been dramatic. Children started the term lacking teachers in some subjects; school cleaners are on strike to protest against unbearable conditions; parents are organising picnics outside the school gates to denounce the end of lunch subsidies for children from deprived backgrounds. Pupils pay €4.80 per day for school diners, while at the Congress’s cafeteria, MPs can enjoy a menu offering a choice of five starters and five main courses for only €3.55. The destruction of the state-run educational system led to student unions calling a strike on 16, 17 and 18 October, with the third of these supported by the Confederation of Parents’ Associations.
The most appalling outcome of this senseless austerity is the housing problem. The rate of evictions has increased 20% each year since the beginning of the crisis, and in the first ten months of 2012 is already 20% higher than in 2011. Even judges have raised their voices in alarm, claiming that courts are stuffed with demands from banks to evict families unable to pay their mortgages.
But this has been also the greatest success of the social movements, which have organised a network of solidarity to gather activists and neighbours together to confront evictions politically and physically. Every day at dozens of points across the country people of all ages block the way, preventing police from carrying out court orders and leaving families on the streets. Every day young and old are bludgeoned and dragged away, but in many cases they manage to stop evictions, postpone eviction orders and renegotiate conditions. In September, a woman went on hunger strike at her bank’s door and finally forced it to negotiate a low rent. On 25 October, a desperate man committed suicide in Granada, just before he was due to be evicted. During the last months, activists have collected nearly half million signatures demanding a change in the law and the cancellation of interest repayments once keys have been handed back to mortgage companies.
..as does resistance
But resistance is growing. On 25 September, social movements called for people to peacefully surround Parliament. This was interpreted as a ‘security threat’, with 1,350 riot police deployed who did not hesitate to beat up protesters, injure elderly demonstrators, shoot rubber bullets without control, chase people to a train station and beat up bystanders and anyone unlucky enough to be passing by.
As in Franco’s time, police pushed and dragged 70-year-old men and tried to break into a restaurant to beat people up. They were prevented from doing this only by the courage of a waiter, who barred their way – and was made to suffer direct, vengeful repression from police over the following days. New protests followed on 26 and 29 September, the latter coinciding with a mass strike against austerity plans in Portugal, with a similar scenario in terms of arrests and police violence. On 6 October, trade unions organised marches against the General Budget. On 13 October, 50 towns across Spain saw demonstrations in another international day of protest where especially large and militant demonstrations also took place in Rome, Athens and Lisbon. The strategy of protesting around Parliament was repeated on 23 and 27 October, along with other actions aimed at bringing about the first ‘Iberian general strike’, intended to bring both Spain and Portugal to a standstill on 14 November.
This overwhelming seizing of public space is frightening the authorities. In the first nine months of 2012, in Madrid alone there have been 2,500 pickets, demonstrations and strikes, and as a result some conservative politicians have stood for the ‘softening’ of the law that regulates the right to strike. After video images of police brutality on 25 October went global, recording by demonstrators is no longer allowed and anyone gathering at a ‘non-authorised’ protest is subject to identification and a €300 fine. Meanwhile the police themselves break the law, as none of them display their compulsory badge number.
Rajoy hypocritically thanked the ‘silent masses’ who stay at their homes and do not complain and, together with his core of reactionary ministers, has labelled those who protest as ‘rioters’, ‘professional agitators’ and ‘sympathetic with terrorists’ and said that they are trying to cast a shadow over ‘Brand Spain’ on the international markets! The people who fight for dignity are being criminalised, but the reality is that Amnesty International has condemned the police’s unprovoked brutality and demanded a full inquiry by the Home Office into the October events.
Rajoy’s cabinet has to deal also with growing nationalism. On the one hand, his Partido Popular has won again in the north-western Community of Galicia. On the other hand, it came fourth in the Basque Country, where left-wing nationalists of Bildu EH became a solid second force, after a two-year process of debate amongst social movements, neighbourhood associations and previously banned organisations.
In September, the celebration of Catalonia Day turned into a mass demonstration demanding independence. It was followed by further expressions of nationalism on the streets and some Catalonian politicians suggested calling unilaterally for a referendum. Some independence activists are also anti-capitalists rooted in social movements and extensive cooperative networks, some are activists elected in their local council as independent candidates. However, the Catalonian upper class and its ruling party are pioneering regressive reforms and cuts in basic public services. The Catalonian bourgeoisie has seen the crisis as a moment to stir up its nationalism and, use it as a ‘smoke curtain’ to divert people’s attention from their neoliberal and anti-social programme. They also seek to strengthen their position as a regional elite to confront Spanish capitalist competitors. In fact, their leader, Artur Mas, does not intend to claim full independence, but rather autonomy in order to play its own game on the EU’s chessboard.
Mariano Rajoy tries to promote his ‘Brand Spain’ and play down domestic problems in all international forums, but he has plenty of reasons for concern. On 14 November, he will confront his second general strike, and there are constant calls for his resignation on the streets. A broad movement for a real change is beginning to coalesce and has a chance to grow stronger.