Spain: A right royal crisis as the working class resists

On 2 June 2014, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of the conservative People’s Party announced that King Juan Carlos was to abdicate in favour of his son. Joey Simons reports from Barcelona.

President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso commented in his tribute to Juan Carlos that ‘the current Spain cannot be understood without him.’ What this current Spain amounts to was evident on the day of Felipe VI’s coronation. Protected by a multimillion-pound security operation, including F-18 fighter jets, the new monarch spoke of upholding democracy while outside the Zarzuela palace three people were arrested for displaying the flag of the Second Republic.

Despite the fawning praise, the abdication of the king was part of a detailed plan from within the Spanish establishment to save the institution from itself. Once the country’s ‘most popular institution’, a series of scandals, including Juan Carlos’s elephant hunting trip to Botswana, and the trial of his daughter Princess Cristina and her husband for embezzlement of public funds, has disgusted the people. More significantly, the timing of the announcement came just eight days after European elections in which the bastions of Spain’s royalist two-party system saw their vote collapse from 80.9% in 2009 to under 50%. The oligarchical system which has propped up Spain’s political and economic establishment for decades is in crisis.

The political base of the ‘socialist’ PSOE in particular, which threatened its deputies with fines if they failed to vote for the new king’s ascension, is disintegrating. New, smaller parties such as Podemos (We Can), emerging out of the indignados and social movements, and other leftist forces such as the United Left (IU), picked up two out of every five votes. The combined vote of leftist, green and left-nationalist parties (23.9%) was in fact larger than the PSOE’s share (23%). In the regions, the movement towards independence continues to grow. On 29 May, the Basque parliament declared that Euskal Herria had the right to decide its ‘political status freely and democratically’ while the movement towards Catalan independence moves inexorably forward.

Tens of thousands in Madrid, Barcelona and more than 70 towns and cities across the Spanish state demonstrated in support of the Republic when the abdication was announced; 68% of people want a referendum to decide on the future form of the state. The total rejection of the monarchy is a necessity if democracy is to be deepened. When Juan Carlos, a creature of the fascist regime and General Franco's appointed successor, oversaw the introduction of limited democracy in 1978, he did so only under pressure from massive working class unrest which threatened to topple the entire state. Now, as an increasingly enraged population seeks to dismantle the Franco-era power structures which remain in place to this day, dominated by the banks, large employers, the Church and oppression of national minorities, the ruling class is running out of options. A 'youthful' new king may not be enough.

‘Collectivise the struggles’

State welfare is being steadily destroyed. Despite having the lowest social expenditure per capita in the EU-15, health care spending has been cut by 18.2% since 2009 and replaced by an increasingly rapacious private sector. In Catalonia, where some of the deepest cuts have taken place, the current Minister of Health, Boi Ruiz, is a former President of the Private Hospital Association. Since the start of July, patients, users and workers at Bellvitge Hospital in Barcelona have been in open rebellion against the Health Ministry and the hospital’s directors over summer bed closures. After a series of militant weekly protests on the streets outside, on 22 July 18-year old patient Dani Serra refused to leave his bed and the rebellion soon spread to other wards. Ten patients are currently barricaded into their rooms.

Across the line, the working class is being increasingly driven into direct confrontation with the state and the economic interests it defends. In July, the country’s major trade unions launched a campaign against the increasingly criminalisation of strikes – across Spain at least 260 workers are facing cumulative jail time of more than 120 years for their participation in labour agitation. Significantly, however, more and more sections of the working class are moving beyond the legalistic and economistic limits imposed by the principal unions and seeking to ‘collectivise and socialise the struggles.’

When faced with betrayal by the major CCOO union, 2,000 workers facing layoffs at a Panrico plant near Barcelona decided to take their struggle directly to the streets after months of a bitter indefinite strike. Organising through a workers’ assembly, they joined with unemployed youth, the social movements and communities in a common struggle, building a resistance fund through solidarity after the union held back a strike fund. In March they joined with striking workers from Coca-Cola bottling plants around Madrid, forging deep links and together the workers confronted the CCOO bosses at their headquarters in Madrid. After eight months of heroic struggle, the CCOO finally managed to sabotage the Panrico strike on 13 June. The workers have vowed to keep fighting and are taking strength from a High Court ruling on the very same day that implicated Coca-Cola in illegal strike breaking and demanded the company re-hire 821 workers.

In every site of struggle, the militancy and determination of the oppressed is overcoming despair. At the end of May, Barcelona witnessed an unprecedented week of urban rioting after the city council moved to evict the historic occupied social centre of Can Vies in the working class barrio of Sants.* Rooted in the support of the local community, and rejecting all attempts to criminalise and divide the resistance, Can Vies emerged successful, halting the building’s demolition, maintaining total independence and raising over 70,000 euros in June to aid the rebuilding and legal costs for the more than 80 people arrested in the uprising. Once again, it is clear to all those on the streets that the only guarantor of victory is not negotiation and compromise but a collective struggle based on all sections of the working class.

* For a report on the struggle to defend Can Vies see: index.php/international/3617-cv300614


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