- Created: Wednesday, 11 June 2014 11:40
- Written by Juanjo Rivas
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 239 June/July 2014
On 30 April, the Spanish Minister of the Economy announced economic growth of 0.4% in the first trimester, and an expected 1.2% for the whole year. He boasted of a reduction in unemployment by just over 50,000 people. He avoided, however, explaining that this is based on a sky-rocketing increase in temporary and low-quality jobs, coinciding with the lowest number of workers on payroll in the last 11 years. Or that the country’s policies of austerity have pushed public debt from 36.3% of GDP in 2007 to 93.7% in 2013. The so-called ‘recovery’ is in fact entirely based on speculative growth, increased exploitation of the workforce and a growing dependency on European capital. From Madrid, Juanjo Rivas reports on Spain’s continuing crisis.
Far from the living standards of the working class improving, the rate of poverty keeps increasing; almost 50,000 families lost their homes in 2013, 11% more than in the previous year. All main industries have carried out mass redundancies and there is a visible decline in the provision of basic public services. For instance, the budget for education has been cut by 30.5% since 2010 and university fees have risen 67% in Catalonia and 58% in Madrid. Families with disabled members have seen most of their benefits withdrawn.
Corruption and fraud
For the impoverished working class, the continuing privileges of corrupt politicians and bankers are an insult. Miguel Blesa, former president of Bankia, currently in prison for misappropriation and corruption, visited London prior to his trial. He and his family enjoyed a luxury stay, hosted by the Spanish consul, and funded by taxpayers’ money. Not surprisingly, the consul’s son worked for Bankia. The consul has since been forced to resign.
May 2014 saw the start of the trials of more than 100 banking executives, accused of misleading customers by stripping them of their savings while securing their own millionaire retirement schemes. Recent investigations suggest that even the headquarters of the ruling conservative Partido Popular were rebuilt with money from ‘B accounts’ (a form of parallel accounting). Two former treasurers of Prime Minister Rajoy’s party were imprisoned and Swiss authorities hint others could be implicated in monitoring accounts hidden from the Spanish tax office. Not surprisingly, there is an increasing disaffection with the main political parties and a 60% abstention in the 25 May European elections is predicted.
Strikes have continued in a number of regions, as important sections of the working class understand that resistance is the only way forward. Continuous pressure by workers has forced one mining company to reach an agreement with unions, postponing redundancies until 2018 and accepting the demand to invest in alternative economic strategies.
Meanwhile, 1,190 workers at a Coca-Cola plant near Madrid face mass redundancy: their futures rest on a court ruling due in early June. They have called for a boycott of the company and organised campaigns in the centre of Madrid. Coca-Cola Iberian Partners has been condemned for infringing the right to strike, after supplying products from factories in other parts of the country to undermine the protest. Workers at factories in Valencia and Catalonia have launched solidarity strikes.
Since 2011, the increasing level of organisation by social movements and general population has been evident. In June 2011, thousands of people blocked the entrance to the Catalonian Parliament, forcing the president to arrive by helicopter. On 31 March this year, the political trial against 20 activists from that protest started: they could face prison sentences of between three and eight years.
The government’s disdain for the conditions of the poor is provoking increasing outrage. On 21 May, as the Minister of the Economy and the Catalonian conservative leader left a meeting in Barcelona, protesters picketed the exit and threw stones at the official car.
Racism and police brutality
On 22 March, about 1.5 million people from all over the country poured into the streets of the capital (see FRFI 237). Police attacked demonstrators and arrested 24 people; rubber bullets were used against protesters resulting in one losing 90% vision in one eye while other received an impact that resulted in the loss of a testicle. The pre-emptive imprisonment of two young men sparked the peaceful occupation of buildings at a university in Madrid on 26 March, leading to a police charge and the arrest of 54 people.
As in November 2013, security forces scanned videos for a week to identify people clashing with police on 22 March and then arrested activists at their homes. On 4 April, police carried out Operation ‘Puma 70’ in which 11 people were arrested and charged with incitement to violence. This witch-hunt included systematic mistreatment at police stations, as well as the intimidation of relatives and lawyers. Police officers feel increasingly uneasy about documented evidence of their abuse and brutality and have taken to targeting independent journalists and photographers at protests. Some reporters have been pushed, beaten or detained in spite of showing their press credentials.
On 6 February, the Spanish coastal police (Guardia Civil) killed 15 African immigrants who tried to swim to Spain (see FRFI 238). This has not prevented deprived and desperate sub-Saharan Africans from risking their lives on the barbed wired fences around the Spanish colonies of Ceuta and Melilla. Even when they reach Spanish territory, police beat them and deport them in breach of international law. Immigrants are also mistreated in between the national fences by Moroccan police, while their Spanish counterparts prevent NGOs and the Red Cross from gaining access to the area. Even so, some have managed to take photos and videos documenting state racism and brutality.
Although activists are already being heavily fined and sentenced, the government is currently drafting a law that will further criminalise protest. Meanwhile, the system seeks to grant impunity to state forces, and cases of police abuse or torture are dropped before they even get to court, or even enjoy a presidential pardon. These are the double standards between oppressed and oppressors, between the poor and the rich, and between the major imperialist European countries which manage the Troika and the crisis-stricken capitalist countries, such as Spain, Portugal and Greece.