Spain: Political manoeuvres ahead of general election

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By 20 December at the latest, Spain will face a general election, following the municipal and regional elections in May which significantly changed the country’s political map. The right-wing government of Mariano Rajoy fears that the coalitions formed by new and old social democrats could challenge the political framework established, post-Franco in 1978 which has until now remained untouched. Conservatives and other establishment forces are rushing to approve laws to secure their interests and privileges while repressing protests, to ensure that any new cabinet has its hands tied, subject to EU imperialist demands. At the same time, polls ahead of the Catalonian election on 27 September show a slump in support for Rajoy’s conservatives, and the prospect of a unilateral declaration of independence has stirred the government’s propaganda machine. JUANJO RIVAS reports from Madrid.

As we go to press, polls suggest that pro-independence parties in Catalonia are likely to win by a large margin. Although it is a regional election, the right-wing Catalonian president has turned it into a stepping stone for a referendum on independence, intending to divert attention from the region’s internal crisis and corruption within his party. However, there is strong popular support for redefining Catalonia’s relationship with the Spanish state; on 11 September, about 1.5 million people took to the streets of Barcelona to mark the National Day of Catalonia. Rajoy has wasted no time in gathering support for a ‘stable and united Spain’ from imperialist leaders including David Cameron, Angela Merkel and Barack Obama. The European Commission says it will not acknowledge any independent state created by a split within an EU member. In an attempt to manipulate the vote, multinational corporations and the Bank of Spain have warned of a massive withdrawal of investments, huge risks to pension schemes, banking chaos and credit and cash restrictions.

Securing the interests of the rich

In early August, the government presented its draft 2016 General Budget to be discussed in parliament and approved ahead of the general election, so that any future government would be bound by it. Rajoy’s cabinet has used a slight reduction in unemployment as an excuse to cut €5.5 billion in unemployment benefit, leaving many people without financial support. Pensions will rise 0.25% – which is pure propaganda, as any rise will be immediately devoured by inflation. Meanwhile the Catholic Church will continue to receive €13.2m per month from public funds. Resources for most government ministries are increased, but the overall reduction of taxes on capital and profits make it impossible to match income and expenditure. The uncomfortable truth is that the Spanish economy is vulnerable and each euro of productive wealth created requires going into debt €7.5. Rajoy has managed to obtain the most unequal distribution of wealth in the EU. Therefore, the General Budget is completely unreal, a manufactured illusion that exists only to bolster the governing Partido Popular’s (PP) electoral chances.

In order to make its privileges ironclad and guarantee austerity policies, the conservative cabinet has reformed the selection process for members of the Constitutional Court, refused to provide resources to tackle tax fraud and passed a draconian security law which targets political protest and dissent. Since its bitter experience of the May elections, the government has been working on a law to reform the process for local elections to make it harder for coalitions to achieve office. This is rank hypocrisy, considering how many councils they have led by establishing what they now describe as an ‘alliance of losers’.

Most of the coalitions forged after the municipal elections have been developing social programmes, negotiating with banks to find alternatives to evictions and reducing the salaries of their own councillors. However, the limits to their initial aspirations are already becoming clear. This results in part from their own internal contradictions and from the urgency of the political agenda between now and December’s general election. In the general election Podemos intends to stand by itself and is reluctant to join with other forces which could undermine its leading role. Its leader, Pablo Iglesias, seems self-satisfied and takes part in political charades, aimed at gathering votes from the disenchanted middle-classes. The strategy of Podemos consists of remaining deliberately ambiguous on controversial issues, appealing to the widest section of society and collecting a chunk of votes large enough to build social politics from above. The Greek experience proves this to be a mistake, and that the way forward is building a movement that links these coalitions to social and grassroots organisations, able to put pressure on its representatives and push forward political proposals from below.

The need for a popular movement

Nevertheless, the struggle continues at the grassroots level, although, having developed an institutional and electoral strategy, the constant pressure of popular street protests has been diluted. On 27 September – the day of the Catalonian elections – activists from Madrid are organising a march against the monarchy and the 1978 pact that gave birth to the current constitutional order, inherited from the previous fascist regime. The Constitution has been reformed only once by the two main parties, in order to prioritise the repayment of the debt over social expenditure. The emptiness of its articles and the defence of territorial unity by military force have always caused resentment among supporters of Galician, Catalonian and Basque independence.

Workers from different companies who are on strike (see previous FRFI) have joined pickets together and are trying to unify their struggles. Social organisations are once again preparing for a day of action on 22 October, with marches and actions in all major towns, under the slogan ‘Bread, work, housing and dignity’. This is a genuine expression of working class organisation.

Exciting but troubled times lay ahead, with a tense and polarised campaign. The general election could at least severely undermine the two-party system, although real change can only come from redefining the relationship between the organised sections of the working class and the new elected coalitions, fighting against the opportunist and patronising attitudes that have already emerged.

FRFI 247 October/November 2015