Can Spain follow Greece in the fight against austerity?

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President Mariano Rajoy boasts about the end of the recession and an apparent slow decrease in unemployment rate. However, his optimism is overshadowed by endless cases of corruption, growing discontent among vast sections of society and the triumph of anti-austerity party Syriza in Greece, which could encourage those following similar strategies in Spain. This is a crucial year in which voters will have the chance to give an important blow to the two-party system, in municipal, regional and general elections, and possibly transform the political scenario.

The Greek elections – and Syriza’s victory – marked the start of the political year in Spain. On 14 January, Rajoy met the then Greek prime minister, Antonis Samaras, in Athens to express support for the conservative candidate and his servile policies in relation to the Troika. A representative from United Left, the Spanish party that belongs to the same group as Syriza in the European Parliament, attended the elections on 25 January. Pablo Iglesias, the leader of the new radical left-wing Spanish party Podemos was invited by Alexis Tsipras to address a Syriza election rally. The two men hugged and stood together before the crowd, as Iglesias said: ‘Syriza, Podemos – venceremos!’ (‘we will win’). Greece has started a process that needs to be followed by those countries most harshly affected by the policies of austerity imposed by the European Union.

The IMF has predicted 2% growth for the Spanish economy in 2015, in tune with the government’s optimism. This figure is a joke, since estimates of the economic contribution of drugs and prostitution were included in the calculation of GDP in order to enhance results. The Spanish government has announ­ced the reduction of unemployment by 447,000 people. This figure is also misleading, as it has been achieved by moving people from the unemployment lists into unqualified, short-term work, leaving them in poverty. 40% of all work contracts in 2014 were for less than a week and currently over 1.2 million people work less than 10 hours a week, which means that in real terms in Spain (as in Britain) you can be ‘in work’ and still be officially poor. On top of that, youth unemployment is still 51.8%, leaving young people with no future prospects other than economic exile.

The Spanish energy lobby secured a 6.78% margin of profit for itself in 2012, compared to the 2.62% EU average. Heaven for capitalists and hell for the working class, as now 17% of the population is suffering from ‘fuel poverty’, unable to afford to heat their houses in winter.

High levels of corruption in Spain are compounded by the difficulty of actually keeping those who have deliberately ruined families or illegally benefited from fraud with taxpayers’ money, behind bars. Luis Barcenas, former treasurer of the ruling People’s Party, has been released on bail and awaits trial, raising fears amongst those who could be incriminated if he exposes the extent of the corrupt network. However, his release means the case has been de-prioritised and the trial postponed – cue a sigh of relief for all those involved. Mean­while, Rajoy’s cabinet continues to develop laws that would further criminalise protest (popularly known as the ‘gag law’) and is attempting to include a form of life sentence for the first time under Spanish legislation. Marches against these draconian and repressive reforms took place in all major towns on 24 January. New police operations have led to the arrest of seven anarchists; more trials have taken place against Basque and Galician independence activists and a youth in Madrid was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment, in a case that showed clear evidences of a police stitch-up. A documentary has been released exposing the racism and torture in Catalonian police stations which drove a young woman to kill herself.

However, the working class continues to struggle for its rights. Patients with hepatitis C have demonstrated against cuts that make their medication unaffordable. They locked themselves in a hospital for a month and took their protest to the European Parliament, to demand benefits and institutional support for medicines. Coca-Cola workers have continued to set up pickets (see FRFI 242) after a mass dismissal by the company. Although the court ruled against it, Coca-Cola has refused to re-employ workers. Instead, it has attempted to dismantle the factory, and police have attacked and injured protesters at its gates. On 10 January, thousands marched in Bilbao in support of Basque political prisoners. Three days earlier, police had arrested members of Basque solidarity organisations, in­cluding two lawyers, whose cases in Madrid to defend Basque youth had to be adjourned.

The Spanish government continues to upset some Euro­pean institutions, with a level of repression that breaches European human rights law.

This is a key year, in which there will be municipal elections in May, followed by those of the Autonomous Communities and general elections in November. Podemos will not stand under its own name in the municipal elections, seeking to collaborate with local parties born out of social movements in the last years. In some towns activists have set up Ganemos, a coalition that aims at stopping evictions and deepening democratic participation. Internal elections within United Left are also opening the way for a young generation with fresh ideas to confront opportunism. These developments will gain in importance as November’s general election approaches, posing for the first time a serious threat to the two-party system. However, the strategies of left Spanish organisations are not yet as developed as those in Greece. Podemos has yet to develop its structures and organisation across all regions of Spain, and it is inevitable that the process of doing so over the next few months will create tensions between different tendencies. As Syriza has said, ‘the change must continue in those countries hit by austerity’. But it will require crucial alliances if anti-austerity parties are to take over the institutions, driven by a broad movement based in community struggles that promote collective participation.

Juanjo Rivas

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 243 February/March 2015