Spain: Fight cuts and privatisation

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 235 October/November 2013

Spain has the dubious distinction of having the highest rate of unemployment in Europe, with a figure of 26.30%, which rises sharply to 56.10% among those aged under 25. As a consequence, an alarming and unprecedented number of qualified youth are leaving the country, seeking better prospects abroad. Those who remain face a society with 13 million people officially poor, a figure that has increased at a rate of half a million every year since the beginning of the crisis, no matter whether social democrats or conservatives were in government.

Poverty is not just a statistic. In real terms it means pensioners on the brink of destitution, unable to pay for heating in winter; thousands of frustrated students forced to find an alternative means of subsistence after grants were withdrawn; teachers reporting children underperforming at school because they are malnourished, and whose parents cannot afford school books; whole families depending on one small pension and being forced to search for food in rubbish bins; parents and children walking up to nine miles to school, as bus fares are beyond their budget.

However, austerity doesn’t seem to be a problem for the Ministry of Defence, which actually overspent its budget by ?1.086bn this year, nor for other sections of government which channel ?700m to promote bullfighting. Madrid’s unsuccessful bid for a ‘low-cost’ 2020 Olympics involved sending the largest and most expensive delegation of all the contenders to Buenos Aires.

The Spanish government has increased the pace of the destruction of public services, manoeuvring in the quicksands of an orgy of cuts that continues to threaten social unrest. On 22 September, thousands of people joined a march to demonstrate against the privatisation of health care centres and to celebrate that the law to enact it has been temporarily stopped by the courts. This law has already excluded more than 800,000 immigrants from the public health care system. One of them said: ‘They remove our health service cards right now when there is no work and we cannot pay. There are many immigrants whose cards were taken away and they are asked to pay bills instead some people have been condemned to death’.

The strategy of turning patients into customers and diverting them from public hospitals to profit-thirsty institutions has its equivalent in the education system. The cuts by the Ministry of Education led to a reduction of 19,523 teachers in the last academic year, whereas private and mixed schools (dependent on state and private funding) increased staffing levels by almost 1,000. Also, 116 state-run education centres closed last year, while 235 totally or partially private ones were opened. Education Minister Jose Ignacio Wert has announced a new round of cuts, including a further 3% cut in student grants. Furthermore, he wants the parliament to pass a law which would allow the use of public resources and spaces to build private education centres. Following last year’s struggle by parents, teachers and students, the whole academic community has called a strike on 24 October as part of a campaign for a ‘hot’ autumn involving plenty of action against the policies enforced by the troika. In fact, in the Balearic Islands teachers are carrying out an indefinite strike that, as we go to press, has lasted two weeks. Since 23 September, educational staff have been setting up stalls in streets and squares all over the country to inform, gather support and collect signatures against the new education measures.

Rajoy’s government is being undermined from within by several major cases of corruption. The main one has exposed the widespread practice of illegal payment of untaxed bonuses for over a decade, and ended up with the party treasurer imprisoned. Also, the king’s son-in-law Urdangarin was found guilty of charging immense personal expenses as company costs, illegal enrichment and tax fraud. His wife, Princess Cristina, was part of the executive committee of the corrupt network and was aware of the malpractice, but has not been taken to court. Urdangarin’s partner supplied the judge with emails showing that King Juan Carlos himself had known what was going on, and had paid millions of euros into his daughter’s and his son-in-law’s bank account. Disaffection with the royal family is growing and on 28 September a large demonstration took place on the streets of Madrid against the monarchy.

Catalonia Day on 11 September was again marked by demands for regional independence aimed at weakening the central government. During celebrations in the capital, the Madrid offices of the Catalan government were attacked by fascists and an MP was assaulted. Police arrested 16 people, although no serious legal action has been taken against neo-Nazi and fascist groups, which have recently attacked a community-run library and left-wing stalls.

A huge challenge lies ahead for the Spanish people. The social movements are looking for strategies to organise the general disaffection with politicians into a successful anti-austerity movement, while having to deal with police repression and the re-emergence of fascist organisations.

Juanjo Rivas


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