- Created: Wednesday, 05 December 2012 14:45
- Written by Juanjo Rivas
FRFI 230 December 2012/January 2013
Spain’s economic turmoil continues, throwing 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% making it impossible for the government to meet its target of 6.3% of GDP. The EU bailout along with financial help to the banking sector has propelled Spanish public debt to a record 80%, which could reach 90% in 2013, the highest rate for a hundred years. Before the economic crisis struck, the figures showed Spain as having a low debt and a 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. JUANJO RIVAS reports.
The General Budget for 2013, presented in October 2012, was approved only by the ruling Partido Popular, as it is the most reactionary plan since the end of the dictatorship. The payment of interest on the debt will increase 34% next year, weakening further the provision of social services. The debt will become the main cost in the budget, well over the total salaries paid to all civil servants and state employees.
This ‘cult of austerity’ has won over a large portion of Spain’s bosses and political class, convincing them that inflation rather than large-scale unemployment is the danger ahead. Hence they turn a blind eye to the bleak reality affecting ordinary people. Twelve million Spaniards now live below the country’s poverty line; unemployment stands at a record 25.8% – rising to 54.2% for those aged under 25. Hundreds of thousands of immigrants have been excluded from the public health care system and soup kitchens are full, with queues on an unprecedented scale.
The consequences for the public education system have been dramatic. Children started the academic year lacking teachers in some subjects; school cleaners went on strike against unbearable conditions; parents are organising picnics at school gates to denounce the end of lunch subsidies for children from deprived backgrounds. The destruction of the state-run education system led to student unions calling strikes on 16, 17 and 18 October, with the third of these also supported by the Confederation of Parents’ Associations.
The 2013 budget sets out plans to privatise the management and all external services of several hospitals, with further cuts involving the closure of laboratories and redundancies. Between 2 and 6 November, hospital staff initiated protests in eight hospitals, locking themselves in and holding daily pickets.
Evicted and outraged
The most appalling outcome of this austerity is the housing problem. The EU Court of Justice has determined that the Spanish eviction law infringes EU regulations, as it does not guarantee consumers protection against abusive bank clauses. The rate of evictions has increased 20% each year since the beginning of the crisis, totalling 400,000 evictions. In the first ten months of 2012 it is already 20% higher than in 2011. But this period has also seen the greatest success of the social movements, which have organised networks of solidarity to confront evictions politically and physically. Every day young and old are beaten and dragged away, but in many cases they succeed in preventing evictions, postponing eviction orders and renegotiating conditions. For example, in September, a woman went on hunger strike at her bank’s door and finally forced it to negotiate a low rent. In Madrid alone in October, the ‘Stop evictions’ campaign attended 27 planned evictions and managed to stop 24 of them, 17 ordered by Bankia, the main Spanish bank to benefit from the bailout. For weeks campaigners have held a 24-hours-a-day picket of Bankia head office.
But the overall picture is horrific. On 25 October 2012, a desperate 53-year-old man hanged himself in Granada, just before he was due to be evicted. On 9 November, a woman jumped out of the window in the town of Barakaldo as police were arriving to evict her from her flat. In Córdoba, also in November, a similar tragedy occurred where a man killed himself by jumping from a window, landing in front of the officers who were arriving with the eviction order. The situation is now so dire that even a police union is supporting officers who refuse to enforce evictions for moral reasons. A progressive association of judges has raised the its voice in alarm, claiming that courts are still stuffed with 1.5 million demands from banks to evict families unable to pay their mortgages.
The general outrage, alongside the ongoing execution of orders, pose a real threat to the stability of the whole system. For this reason, conservatives and social democrats have agreed a two-year moratorium for the most desperate cases, and an easing of conditions for families with children under three or disabled members. However, the law is seen by many as weak propaganda that is not applicable for the majority of those affected.
From peaceful resistance to direct action
Social movements called for people to peacefully surround the Parliament on 25 September 2012. This was interpreted as a ‘security threat’, with 1,350 riot police deployed who did not hesitate to beat up people, injure elderly protesters, shoot rubber bullets at will, and beat up anyone unlucky enough to be passing by. On 13 October, 50 towns across Spain saw further demonstrations in an international day of protest, with especially large and militant demonstrations in Rome, Athens and Lisbon. In Madrid, parliament was again surrounded on 23 and 27 October, along with more actions to build for the first Iberian general strike on 14 November. There were protests again on 26 and 29 October, the latter coinciding with a mass strike against austerity plans in Portugal.
This overwhelming seizing of public space is frightening the authorities. So far this year, in Madrid alone there have been 2,700 pickets, demonstrations and strikes. In response, some conservative politicians are demanding restrictions on the right to strike. After video images of police brutality on 25 September went global, recording by demonstrators has been banned and anyone gathering at a non-authorised protest is subject to ID controls and a €300 fine.
On 14 November, Spain and Portugal held their first joint general strike, together with partial strikes in Italy, Greece and Cyprus, and demonstrations and rallies in 23 European countries. In both Spain and Portugal, the strike paralysed heavy industry and transport, and had considerable success in schools and hospitals. In all major towns, loud pickets encouraged local businesses to shut in solidarity. In the evening, massive demonstrations took over the streets, totalling more than two million people across Spain. There were clashes with police throughout the day and 172 people were arrested. In Catalonia, a 13-year-old student got a gash from a truncheon charge. At the end of the demonstrations in Madrid and Barcelona, police started shooting rubber bullets and charging into crowds to disperse them.
However, after one and a half years of peaceful resistance, the struggle has stepped up and some angry protesters were not willing to be abused by police any more. Many fought back, throwing stones, bottles and bangers, which eventually forced police to step back and get into their vans, speeding up and shooting from inside. Activists set fire to barricades and smashed banks and fast food chains in a lasting battle with riot police. In Barcelona two police cars were burnt. In Portugal, Lisbon saw its first violent protest since the beginning of the crisis. (The Madrid events on 14 November can be viewed at http://tinyurl.com/cq3oajv)
Desperation and rage are driving the the Spanish movement to understand the need to unite the strategy of peaceful civil disobedience with that of direct action. The government knows that austerity is causing an unbearable social unrest, which could explode at any point and that therefore its programme can only be sustained by repressive and authoritarian measures. On 11 October 2012, the Minister of Justice presented an Orwellian proposal to ‘reinforce citizen security and clamp down on street violence’. While next year’s budget for health care, education, benefits and research is cut down, the provision of new anti-riot material will increase 1,780%, up to €3.26 million. The government seems unaware that tear gas and rubber bullets cannot crush the spirit of the deprived and outraged vast majority.