Spain: poor get poorer as ruling class squanders millions

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 231 February-March 2013

The Spanish economy is stagnant, and all international reports agree that 2013 will be another year of recession with unemployment set to rise further over the coming months, to 26%. However, the conservative Rajoy government is pushing ahead with its programme based on cuts to social services and handouts to the corrupt banking sector, reaping benefits for themselves from the privatisations they demand. As a result, waves of protests and strikes continue to sweep across Spain, and in the last months these have involved underground workers, rubbish collectors, students, airport staff, university professors, civil servants, hospital staff, lawyers and many others. JUANJO RIVAS reports from Madrid.

Following a number of demonstrations against cuts in education, an increase in university fees and the reduction of grants, on 28 November 2012, 120 lecturers from the Complutense University of Madrid decided to hold their lessons in squares, cafés and bookshops. Thousands of students attended these public lessons in public places, organised to raise awareness about the threat to higher education.

At the same time, the national health service faces the threat of a cut to its budget of over 30%, job losses and the closure of health centres in rural areas. In Madrid alone, six hospitals are being privatised and 27 clinics are to close. These plans led to a 35-day strike from the end of November and hospitals campaigning, full of banners and petitions for patients to sign. On 2 December 2012 at midday, thousands of people came out to form human chains around every hospital in the community of Madrid, under the slogans ‘Embrace your hospital!’ and ‘Public health care is not for sale, it must be defended!’. On 4 December, 75,000 health care workers went on strike and to add to the pressure, 118 directors of public hospitals resigned all at once. But the government has remained stubborn, instead paving the way for corporate health care, favouring multinational companies such as Capio, Sanitas or Ribera Salud, in which some conservative officials and their relatives have investments or shares, or are executives and advisers.

However, when regional governments in Catalonia and Madrid imposed a prescription fee of one euro – effectively turning pharmacists into tax collectors for the state – a campaign of refusal to pay generated tens of thousands of complaint forms and general rebelliousness in Catalonia. By January, the Constitutional Court was forced to scrap the measure in the region and is likely to do the same in Madrid soon.

Also lawyers and judges have stood up against a reform proposed by the Minister of Justice which would have imposed an ‘abuse fee’ on people bringing cases to court. The new law will affect workers contesting illegal dismissal or pursuing unpaid redundancy payments against their companies; many will be unable to afford the costs and bosses will take advantage of this.

‘Austerity’ is the mantra used to dismantle essential services for the working class; yet at the same time more cases of corruption are exposed, showing ordinary people the extent of the squandering of wealth by politicians. For instance, Madrid’s government claims not to have enough money to maintain the management of public hospitals. Meanwhile, the mayor, whose only career merit is to be the wife of former President Aznar, has an office larger than President Obama’s, spent €500 million remodelling the town hall and maintains a team of 260 personal advisers and assistants (on an average wage of €60,000 a year) and a fleet of 267 official cars. It is obscene for Rajoy to tell people to tighten their belts, when he receives three salaries from taxpayers’ money, totalling €550,000 a year. Conservative ministers voted to withdraw the ‘emergency subsidy’ of €400 to unemployed people who live with their parents but, on the other hand, they receive €1,823 for accommodation in Madrid to attend parliamentary sessions, even when it is known each one of them owns several flats and properties in the capital city. These contradictions deepen the general outrage and disaffection for the political class.

Over 300 cases of corruption are awaiting trial and scandals emerge daily. The former treasurer of the conservative People’s Party, Luis Barcenas, evaded taxes and kept secret millionaire accounts in Swiss banks. The former president of the Institute of Directors was imprisoned in late December for diverting and hiding large sums of money to avoid paying creditors of his bankrupt companies. The former president of Bankia is also facing trial, since his immoral practices misled and ruined thousands of families and his bank is responsible for the ceaseless eviction rate, which stands at more than 500 cases a day.

The Spanish working class is suffering: poverty is widespread and will increase, with the minimum wage for 2013 set at €645.30 (just under £550) a month – €21.51 a day – and large sections of society feeling defenceless against European austerity plans and systematic organised plunder by a corrupt upper-class. Protests against this austerity will only increase.


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