Created: Friday, 10 August 2012 10:23
Written by Juanjo Rivas
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism 228 August/September 2012
On 25 June, the Spanish government officially requested an EU bailout for those banks which are on the verge of bankruptcy. Spain has become the fourth country to ask for a bailout, after Greece, Portugal and Ireland, and will shortly be followed by Cyprus. The EU Commission agreed a €100bn package to preserve Spain’s financial stability, in a deal that includes a right for the European Commission, European Central Bank and European Banking Authority to conduct on-the-spot checks of Spain’ financial institutions. JUANJO RIVAS reports.
To demonstrate his party’s obedience to budgetary discipline and the austerity plans drawn up in Brussels, President Rajoy announced new restrictive measures, following those previously imposed (see FRFI 227). On 19 July, an austerity package worth €65bn over the next two years was pushed through parliament. The new cuts include: reducing jobseeker’s allowances; reducing entitlement to benefits; removing Christmas bonuses to civil servants and making restrictive changes to the pension system. In response, more than 100,000 angry protesters took to the streets of cities across the country.
Following intensive lobbying by Spanish energy companies, on 1 July the government increased the price of electricity by 4%, following the 7% rise that took place in April. Rajoy has also announced a rise in VAT from 18% to 21% – estimated to cost each family an additional €415 per year. Added to an unemployment rate of 25%, a minimum wage worth only €748 per month and the severe cuts in social services and benefits that have already been implemented, the new measures will force more and more sections of society into poverty and 19th-century working conditions. Even as top banking executives receive obscene millionaire retirement packages, some towns have passed a law to fine anyone caught searching for food in rubbish bins €750.
The Spanish economy has collapsed due to the speculative capital that built up a bubble in real estate and banks which invested 80-90% of their assets in construction work. Far from learning any lessons from this debacle, the Spanish authorities are continuing to pursue absurd projects of a similar nature. Las Vegas billionaire businessman Sheldon Adelson has been given the green light to choose a site close to Madrid or Barcelona to set up ‘Eurovegas’, a ‘leisure city’ complex with casino resorts and hotels that require an initial investment of €17bn. Ironically, Spanish banks are expected to give credit for two thirds of the amount. US investors from Las Vegas Sands Corporation demand the non-application of several national laws within their premises, including allowing customers to smoke and suppressing workers’ rights. Ordinary people have been organising to criticise the government’s lack of sense of shame that allows it to promote gambling, money laundering, brothels and undignified jobs as the only way out of the crisis.
Bankia, the fourth largest Spanish bank, went bankrupt (see FRFI 227), leaving thousands ruined after investing in what has been called the ‘premium shares rip-off’. Bankia’s president at the time was Rodrigo Rato, a former conservative minister and former president of the IMF. On 14 June, the 15M resistance movement sued Mr Rato and in less than two days raised nearly €20,000, allowing them to pursue legal action against him. Within 23 days, activists gathered evidence, reports and documents to demand his imprisonment and the seizing of the bank’s assets to pay back those cheated out of their savings by the bank’s incompetence and fraud.
Miners on the march
Throughout the last year, protests, public actions and street assemblies have swept across Spain on an almost daily basis, involving many different sections of the working class – most recently the coal miners. The conservative cabinet announced in early June a 63% cut in the budget and subsidies to the mining industry, which led to an indefinite strike that, as we go to press, has lasted for seven weeks. Some areas in the north of Spain have no economic alternative and whole families have taken to the streets to struggle for survival. Miners have daily blocked motorways with burning barricades, confronting massive police contingents in running battles that saw tear gas and rubber bullets on the one side and firework rockets, catapults and rock throwing on the other. Pits were shut and some workers locked themselves into them, while women went to Madrid to attend the vote on the cuts in the Senate. One hundred women from the minefields entered as members of the public but, as they heckled the politicians in disgust, they were expelled, while another 200 who had remained outside the Senate were pushed and dragged away by police.
On 22 June, miners set off in two groups from Aragon and Asturias towards the capital. The ‘Black March’ covered 400 kilometres, gaining support at every stopover, and the two groups came together and reached Madrid on the night of 10 July. Here, trade unions, revolutionary organisations and the 15M movement brought tens of thousands onto the streets to welcome the miners and show support for their struggle. There were breathtaking scenes of lines of marching miners with helmets and lanterns, surrounded by thrilled multitudes who cheered their courage. In a crowded city centre, the night was lit up by this example of workers’ unity, as pensioners, teachers, nurses and unemployed youth all felt themselves to be miners too. Next day, precisely as Rajoy was announcing the regressive cuts, hundreds of miners demonstrated alongside thousands of supporters, including a group of Portuguese miners who had arrived to express their solidarity. Protesters headed towards the Ministry of Industry, where the use of firecrackers was the pretext for police to baton charge. In the ensuing clash, about 30 activists were wounded and seven arrested. On 12 July, a group of civil servants spontaneously gathered and cut off the traffic in one of central Madrid’s major roads. Next day, new protests against austerity cuts took place in major towns, and nine more people were detained.
Inevitably, the increasing attacks on workers’ rights and living standards are being confronted with an ever more fearless response. In turn, greater state repression is having to be deployed to impose the government’s anti-social policies against the people’s will.