Gamonal resists: a battle for the heart of Spain

‘Glimmers of hope in Spain, which has adjusted its economy (cut labour costs)…’ wrote Financial Times blogger Dan McCrum on 28 January. ‘There are better returns coming, the conversation is turning to profits…’ Contained in McCrum’s parentheses is an entire ocean of social conflict and misery, as capital seeks to restore its profits at the expense of vast swathes of the population.

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Spain: Economy stagnates as resistance grows / FRFI 236 Dec 2013/Jan 2014

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 236 December 2013/January 2014

In early November, celebrating its second year in office, the conservative People’s Party (PP) boasted that it had avoided a further bailout for the economy, which shows signs of recovery after complying with European Union (EU) demands. However, for many the alleged recovery is an illusion, the result of politicians’ ability to cook the books; meanwhile those same politicians are planning a whole new raft of measures to attack civil and democratic rights and control a growing wave of resistance to their cuts. Juanjo Rivas reports from Madrid.

What crisis?

The so-called ‘recovery’ is the result of several factors which in no way improve the living standards of the majority. The cut in interest rates ordered by Brussels has led to temporary optimism on the stock markets. The government has tried to stop the drain of capital, allowing the creation in the last year of 33 new investment societies – for large fortunes only – in exchange for a special 1% tax rate. Such actions are polarising Spanish society. The 13% growth in the number of millionaires in the last five years reflects the doubling of those living in severe poverty on less than €307 a month.

The destruction of productive capital has led to an economy based on speculative movements, and even though banks made more than €8bn profit in the first nine months of the year, they continue to restrict credit and do not invest in the real economy. There has been an unprecedented exodus of qualified workers, and for the first time since the end of the Franco dictatorship, remittances from Spanish nationals abroad (€1.591bn) are larger than those sent home by foreigners in Spain (€1.563bn).

Fighting public sector cuts

Planned changes in the funding of the national health system will make patients with chronic illnesses pay for at least 10% of their medication, which many families cannot afford. Four Spanish autonomous community councils have already said they will refuse to enforce this law. Also about 800,000 immigrants will be excluded from health care provision. Health care staff continue to protest, now joined by hospital laundry staff, whose work will be outsourced with the subsequent loss of rights and pay.

The new education law will bring further cuts, as well as deals with the Catholic Church, handing over public land for private schools that segregate students by sex. The third education general strike on 24 September was supported by 80% of staff. Teachers, pupils and parents brought the education system to a halt with mass demonstrations in every major town. More marches and actions took place on 19 November, when the law was passed in parliament despite the opposition of all parties except the PP.

Madrid council was planning to cut its cleaning budget and sack 1,135 municipal workers. Rubbish collectors and street sweepers went on strike on 5 November, in a demonstration that ended with bonfires and workers burning their high-vis jackets in disgust. Five people were arrested but the strike went on for 13 days, leaving hundreds of tons of rubbish piled up. The mayor refused to negotiate and called in private cleaning vehicles and temporary staff escorted by police. But boycotts and pickets continued until the workers won a deal to preserve their jobs.

The European Commission for Human Rights has told the Spanish courts to stop the eviction of a building in Girona squatted by 16 families with children. The building belongs to a state bank. The families are one more example of people on the brink of social exclusion. Since then, there have been similar cases in other towns, and in Cordoba an abandoned school has been occupied and turned into a self-managed soup kitchen run by poor people.

Repression and indulgence

In response to growing resistance, the government is preparing a new ‘citizen security’ law which would make filming police attacks, masking one’s identity at protests, climbing buildings or calling for unauthorised demonstrations on the internet, punishable with a fine of up to €30,000. Demonstrating without permission at official buildings such as airports or nuclear power stations, interrupting official public events and harassing politicians will result in fines of between €30,000 to €600,000. So, in Catalonia, a number of police officers who brutally killed a detainee were identified by a video taken from a nearby balcony. Under the new law, these neighbours would be punished and the murderer would walk free.

It is another sign of the relentless authoritarianism of this reactionary government. But it cannot prevent the growth of resistance to Spain’s corrupt system, ruled by EU imperialist interests.

Spain: Fight cuts and privatisation/FRFI 235 Oct/Nov 2013

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 235 October/November 2013

Spain has the dubious distinction of having the highest rate of unemployment in Europe, with a figure of 26.30%, which rises sharply to 56.10% among those aged under 25. As a consequence, an alarming and unprecedented number of qualified youth are leaving the country, seeking better prospects abroad. Those who remain face a society with 13 million people officially poor, a figure that has increased at a rate of half a million every year since the beginning of the crisis, no matter whether social democrats or conservatives were in government.

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Spain: Corruption – and resistance/ FRFI 233 Jun/Jul 2013

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 233 June/July 2013

As we go to press, the ‘men in black’ are visiting Spain to have a close look at the country’s finances. Troika supervisors from the European Commission, the EU Central Bank and the IMF are likely to force Spain into the third phase of their plan for a general bailout. Last year the conservative government of Mariano Rajoy received €41bn to reorganise the financial sector. The troika could now impose a further loan of up to €60bn, raising debt levels and therefore requiring increased cuts, deepening poverty and accelerating the rate of social exclusion. Such an action would demonstrate the troika’s contempt for Spain’s economic sovereignty; it would be de facto an undercover intervention in the country such as we have already seen in Cyprus and Greece. JUANJO RIVAS reports from Madrid.

Since the beginning of the crisis, both social democratic and conservative politicians have systematically complied with all demands from the European authorities, implementing an austerity plan based on privatising public services, mass redundancies in health care and education, and radical cuts in clinics, benefits and social programmes for disabled people. Hundreds of families continue to be evicted every day. This year alone, 20 people have committed suicide because of economic deprivation or being left homeless. Unemployment is expected to rise this year to 28%; 2.1 million people have no income at all and 300,000 pensioners are sustaining their entire family from their pension alone. Rather than offering jobs to the long-term unemployed whose benefits have now expired, the state has ordered job centres to save money on benefits by giving jobs to those who are still receiving them. Teachers and doctors in state-run schools and hospitals are being pushed into early retirement without replacements.

Ongoing corruption

Pushed to confront the high rate of tax fraud, the conservative cabinet announced an amnesty for those who declare their hidden fortunes, to be taxed at a modest 10%. In reality, this is an amnesty for historic tax fraud and money laundering, and many conservative politicians have secret bank accounts in Switzerland. Dozens of them have received envelopes of illegal cash bonuses from party treasurers, who are now facing trial. On 20 May, the President of the Senate admitted in court to receiving €4,200 a month for four years in undeclared bonuses. Other statements point to a widespread practice of secret donations in exchange for political favours.

The first banker to be detained was Miguel Blesa. He had been appointed president of Caja Madrid when former president Aznar came into office in 1996. Caja Madrid became Bankia, a speculative entity which has ruined thousands of families. Aznar’s ties to the Cuban mafia in Miami encouraged Blesa to approach his dangerous friends. Caja Madrid lent €1bn to organisations linked to the right-wing Cuba America National Foundation. The judge ordered Blesa’s detention, setting his bail at €2.5m, a sum Blesa found within three day.

Resistance and repression

Social movements and a range of organisations continue to set up pickets, occupy bank offices and carry out street performances to expose the corrupt Spanish ruling class. Health care workers and hospital staff have been struggling for five months against outsourcing and the privatisation of management in six hospitals in Madrid. On May Day, there were marches in 80 towns across the country. Many of them involved ‘alternative’ protests expressing popular disaffection with the two main unions and their ‘social pact’ with the government. The government is planning an education law that will make it possible to exclude 16-year-old students with low marks, ban teaching in Basque or Catalan, and upgrade the status of Religious Studies.

In response the whole academic community, students, teachers and parents, called for a general education strike on 9 May. Two days before the strike, riot police raided the office of a student association and arrested two people, claiming to have found some Molotov cocktails. This was clearly a propaganda set-up. Striking teachers had €120 deducted from their wages, but even so, large demonstrations took to the streets in a strike that involved nursery, primary, secondary and university levels.

The government is also planning reactionary changes to the abortion law, ruling out foetal deformation as grounds for a termination. Once again, Rajoy’s party is exposing its links with the Catholic church. On 16 May, there were protests in several major cities. In Madrid around 300 people, mostly women, blocked the road outside the head office of the conservative People’s Party. Two were arrested when they then marched towards the residence of the Minister of Justice. Activists have intensified ‘escrache’ actions, pickets that confront politicians at public events, on the streets and at their front doors. These actions are militant and angry, but peaceful – however authorities have responded with police aggression and disproportionate fines.

On 12 May, the 15M opposition movement celebrated its second anniversary by coming out in force. In Madrid, crowds marched from Plaza del Sol to the surroundings of the royal palace, held a mass assembly and symbolically placed a handmade guillotine in front of it. In Sabadell, Catalonia, a police raid broke into a venue run by several organisations, including a 15M assembly and an anarchist union, and arrested five people charged with ‘belonging to an armed group’. They presented evidence such as T-shirts, sticky tape, kitchen utensils, DIY tools and a leather jacket!

This was used as a pretext to close an anti-capitalist facility in yet another attempt to criminalise the movements of resistance that are growing within our society.

Spain: Fightback against austerity /FRFI 232 Apr/May 2013

After the announcement of the EU bailout to Cyprus, the Spanish government hastened to claim that the situation in Spain is in no way comparable and will be unaffected by European Union intervention in the island. The cabinet of Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy has avoided asking for a second bailout by means of radical cuts in social services and benefits, leading to record levels of poverty, unemployment and social exclusion. This doctrine of ‘austerocracy’ manifests itself in Spain through a twisted combination of rampant corruption and megalomaniac projects on the one hand and, on the other, conditions of misery for the vast majority. From Madrid, JUANJO RIVAS reports.

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