Spain: A wind of change

On 20 November, Mariano Rajoy completed his third year as President of Spain, a post he won in 2011 with a solid 44.6% of the vote. Three years later, Rajoy is trying desperately to lead a government which is staggering under the weight of corruption scandals, demands for referendums and increasing unemployment and poverty. A new political party has emerged from the social movements (see FRFI 241) which is already ahead in the polls. Podemos (‘We can’) rejects the austerity policies of the EU and is attempting to radically deepen democracy. A wind of change is blowing and it is making the privileged minority, those who have become richer from a crisis that the working class has to bear, very uneasy. Juanjo Rivas reports from Madrid.

Inequality is increasing in Spain, and the European Commission admits that it is the poorest households that have been most affected by the cuts. The number of people unemployed for more than two years is nine times more than at the start of the crisis; 30% of children live below the poverty line and NGO volunteers have complained that soup kitchens and food banks are overflowing and under-resourced. Meanwhile the largest companies on the stockmarkets have increased their profits 67% since Rajoy stood as President, and also the richest section of the society has seen its wealth rise 9.5% in the first six months of 2014 alone. Those who are long-term unemployed and see basic services cut, can see all too clearly how corrupt politicians and bosses are enriching themselves with public money. On 26 November, the Minister for Health, who had held onto her post despite the appalling handling of ebola cases in Spain, resigned when charged with receiving money from a corrupt network. Currently, there are 130 open court cases, 170 guilty sentences and 1,900 people charged with corruption, tax fraud, bribery or embezzlement.

It is in this context that Podemos was born, just four months before the May 2014 elections in which it went on to win five seats in the European Parliament. It has mobilised many who would otherwise have abstained, organising assemblies to hear about local problems and collecting proposals to build up its programme. Podemos has requested reports from renowned economists to build viable economic alternatives that would allow an audit of the national debt and identify which parts are illegitimate – ie caused by abusive speculative interests – for non-payment. It proposes a rigorous struggle against corporate tax fraud, as well as policies to reinforce the state and the domestic demand by increasing salaries, so as to oppose the austerity policies which have strangled growth. Podemos is also considering a state subsidy for people living in poverty; setting up a state-run banking system and extending the debate over a constituent process to update the legal framework of the state.

Politicians, bankers and entrepreneurs are afraid of this new political party, and not only because the measures it is proposing threaten their oligarchic privileges that have entrenched economic crisis and backwardness. What they fear most is that Podemos could audit the public debt and process of privatisation, the bailout to banks, the collapse of the savings entities, the funding of political parties and the activity of large corporations in tax havens. This would expose precisely who has benefited from the austerity measures ‘against the crisis’ implemented since 2010.

The mainstream corporate media has launched a pathetic campaign of slander and smears against Podemos, which serves only to show the panic of those elites whose power is under threat. They have trawled the internet in search of any element that could discredit the movement’s leaders, twisting facts, distorting speeches and the truth itself. The university teachers who created the political project are accused of being ‘populists’ and portrayed as accomplices of ETA, lackeys of Iranian ayatollahs, ideologists of Chavista ‘repression’ and even future murderers should they acquire power! One journalist had the cheek to say that they ‘will confiscate houses from pensioners’, although many members of Podemos come from the movement against evictions – there have been 26,500 evictions in the first six months of 2014.

The country is swept with examples of resistance, strikes and demonstrations. Between 24 and 29 November there was a ‘Week of Social Struggle’ that ended with several marches coming together in the centre of Madrid. Earlier this year, a Coca-Cola factory carried out mass redundancies that initially affected 1,190 workers (see FRFI 239). Workers campaigned for months after negotiations were ended by the company. In June, the court declared the mass dismissal unlawful but the giant corporation appealed and continued to refuse to repay the salaries it owed. While waiting for a final court resolution, Coca-Cola decided to dismantle one of the production lines, planning to move it to a factory in another province. Immediately, workers and unionists picketed all the entrances to that location and set up a permanent camp, stopping all traffic of lorries in and out of the complex. The 24-hour Coca-Cola camp continued for weeks until the court ruled against the company in November, and ordered it to pay overdue salaries and choose between relocating workers with all their rights or give them full legal compensation. This is an example of how perseverance and unity bear fruit for the working class.

Activists are also continuing to organise against evictions. An 85-year-old woman, who was evicted from a working class neighbourhood of Madrid, received widespread support and the campaign attracted the support of a local First Division football team, whose players committed themselves to help secure a new home for her.

An exciting period of political struggle lies ahead, in which Podemos has to gather proposals for its programme by 1 February 2015 and establish agreement with other political forces to finalise candidates by 15 March. The May municipal elections have to be the stepping stone to broaden the movement towards achieving real change in the general elections in November 2015. Inevitably, success will require strategic coordination between the political forces taking over the institutions and the social movements campaigning on the streets. A wind of change is blowing and is whispering the song of a historic opportunity that should not be missed.


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