Spain: Economy stagnates as resistance grows

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 236 December 2013/January 2014

In early November, celebrating its second year in office, the conservative People’s Party (PP) boasted that it had avoided a further bailout for the economy, which shows signs of recovery after complying with European Union (EU) demands. However, for many the alleged recovery is an illusion, the result of politicians’ ability to cook the books; meanwhile those same politicians are planning a whole new raft of measures to attack civil and democratic rights and control a growing wave of resistance to their cuts. Juanjo Rivas reports from Madrid.

What crisis?

The so-called ‘recovery’ is the result of several factors which in no way improve the living standards of the majority. The cut in interest rates ordered by Brussels has led to temporary optimism on the stock markets. The government has tried to stop the drain of capital, allowing the creation in the last year of 33 new investment societies – for large fortunes only – in exchange for a special 1% tax rate. Such actions are polarising Spanish society. The 13% growth in the number of millionaires in the last five years reflects the doubling of those living in severe poverty on less than €307 a month.

The destruction of productive capital has led to an economy based on speculative movements, and even though banks made more than €8bn profit in the first nine months of the year, they continue to restrict credit and do not invest in the real economy. There has been an unprecedented exodus of qualified workers, and for the first time since the end of the Franco dictatorship, remittances from Spanish nationals abroad (€1.591bn) are larger than those sent home by foreigners in Spain (€1.563bn).

Fighting public sector cuts

Planned changes in the funding of the national health system will make patients with chronic illnesses pay for at least 10% of their medication, which many families cannot afford. Four Spanish autonomous community councils have already said they will refuse to enforce this law. Also about 800,000 immigrants will be excluded from health care provision. Health care staff continue to protest, now joined by hospital laundry staff, whose work will be outsourced with the subsequent loss of rights and pay.

The new education law will bring further cuts, as well as deals with the Catholic Church, handing over public land for private schools that segregate students by sex. The third education general strike on 24 September was supported by 80% of staff. Teachers, pupils and parents brought the education system to a halt with mass demonstrations in every major town. More marches and actions took place on 19 November, when the law was passed in parliament despite the opposition of all parties except the PP.

Madrid council was planning to cut its cleaning budget and sack 1,135 municipal workers. Rubbish collectors and street sweepers went on strike on 5 November, in a demonstration that ended with bonfires and workers burning their high-vis jackets in disgust. Five people were arrested but the strike went on for 13 days, leaving hundreds of tons of rubbish piled up. The mayor refused to negotiate and called in private cleaning vehicles and temporary staff escorted by police. But boycotts and pickets continued until the workers won a deal to preserve their jobs.

The European Commission for Human Rights has told the Spanish courts to stop the eviction of a building in Girona squatted by 16 families with children. The building belongs to a state bank. The families are one more example of people on the brink of social exclusion. Since then, there have been similar cases in other towns, and in Cordoba an abandoned school has been occupied and turned into a self-managed soup kitchen run by poor people.

Repression and indulgence

In response to growing resistance, the government is preparing a new ‘citizen security’ law which would make filming police attacks, masking one’s identity at protests, climbing buildings or calling for unauthorised demonstrations on the internet, punishable with a fine of up to €30,000. Demonstrating without permission at official buildings such as airports or nuclear power stations, interrupting official public events and harassing politicians will result in fines of between €30,000 to €600,000. So, in Catalonia, a number of police officers who brutally killed a detainee were identified by a video taken from a nearby balcony. Under the new law, these neighbours would be punished and the murderer would walk free.

It is another sign of the relentless authoritarianism of this reactionary government. But it cannot prevent the growth of resistance to Spain’s corrupt system, ruled by EU imperialist interests.


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