Spain goes begging to EU: resistance grows / 228 Aug/Sep 2012

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.


Arrests in Britain as Spain steps up war on Basque nationalists/ FRFI 228 Aug/Sep 2012

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism 228 August/September 2012

Despite the announcement by the Basque nationalist group ETA in October 2011 that it was ending its armed struggle for independence, there has been no let-up in the Spanish state’s assault on Basque nationalists across Europe. On 13 July, Benat Atorrasagasti Ordonez was arrested in Edinburgh, after living openly in Britain since 2001, ‘in connection with historical crimes’ allegedly committed in France and Spain over ten years ago. Two weeks earlier, Antonio Troitino and Ignacio Leron were arrested during police raids in west London. Troitino had previously served 24 years of a prison sentence in Spain and was released in 2011, following a court ruling that six years he had served on remand should count towards the sentence. Under Spanish law, the maximum sentence is 30 years. He fled to Britain in the face of a sustained media campaign against him in Spain. The Spanish interior ministry then decided he should now serve the six years and issued an arrest warrant.

All three men have been remanded in custody and, on 20 July a hearing at Westminster magistrates’ court found that Troitino and Leron could be returned to face trial in Spain. The treatment of ETA prisoners in Spain has been criticised by Amnesty International, with extensive use of prolonged solitary confinement, dispersal away from their families, lack of access to adequate legal representation and infringement of basic rights.

The Spanish government has refused to recognise the ETA ceasefire, demanding a handover of weapons, continuing to harass supporters of the organisation’s former political wing, Batasuna, and refusing to negotiate over the future status of the Basque country. The arrest of the Basque activists in Britain was part of a wider, co-ordinated crackdown, with arrests also taking place in France and Spain. Seventeen suspected ETA sympathisers have been arrested in Europe since January 2012.

Free all Basque prisoners!

Cat Wiener


Spanish Miners Fight Back

bwd  Set 1/2  fwd

In the context of a stagnant economy, while a €100 billion bailout has saved Spanish banks from disaster, other sectors are being left to die. The cuts to the Spanish coal mining industry are draconian and have led to a radical reduction of subsidies for companies, investment in infrastructures, projects, safety and educational programmes. Overall, there is an average cut in the sector of 63.2% and a promotion of forced early retirements and redundancies that leave miners with poverty-level pay-outs. Both social democrats and conservatives have pursued these policies for years, causing high unemployment, severe poverty and also growing outrage in the vast areas where the coal industry is located, mainly in the north of the country (León, Asturias, Galicia and Aragón). Some regions are barely able to survive and whole families having been pouring out onto the streets in protest, following the tradition of courageous struggle we’ve seen so many times in Spanish history. In Britain, former miners and trade unionists have set up the Spanish Miners’ Solidarity Committee in Sheffield, supported by fimmaker Ken Loach, to campaign and raise funds for the families of Spanish fellow workers. JUANJO RIVAS reports from Spain.


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Fightback in Spain grows: ‘the movement will itself become the future’ / FRFI 227 June/July 2012

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 227 June/July 2012

In France and Italy, voices are being raised against harsh ‘adjustment programmes’ imposed by the EU; the Greek people look poised to reject them altogether. But the Portuguese and Spanish governments are setting a fine example of budgetary discipline and obediently slashing public spending, rapidly exacerbating poverty and inequality. But as the attacks increase, so does the resistance. The Spanish movement born on 15 May last year (15M) has celebrated its anniversary by once again occupying streets and squares across the country. JUANJO RIVAS reports from Spain.

In less than five months, Rajoy’s government has increased VAT, made it easier to sack workers, and agreed to cut €10 billion from health and education spending. More clinics are to close, paving the way for patients to pay part of the costs in public hospitals. Thousands of teachers will be dismissed, university fees increased by 66% and the number of pupils per classroom is to go up 10%. Outraged teachers, unions, students and parents called the first ever general strike in education on 22 May. Up to 80% of the country’s teachers, from kindergarten to university, took part as tens of thousands of people marched in cities across the country.

Spain is in a second recession. Rating agency Standard & Poor’s, which downgraded Spain in April, expects the economy to shrink by 1.5% this year and 0.5% in 2013, and sees no prospect of new jobs being created before 2015. There is no way the Spanish government will reach its deficit target of 5.3% – and they acknowledge that the real deficit is actually 8.9%. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate is almost 25%, with 1.7 million people living in households where all the members are unemployed. Two million children in Spain are living below the poverty line.

For years, the real estate bubble drove the economy: local governments competed to gain funding and build more and more holiday resorts, monuments and underused and overpriced infrastructures. When the bubble burst, the banks had to deal with mortgage defaults as growing numbers of people handed back their keys. It is this accumulated stock of empty properties that make up most of the ‘toxic assets’ that are threatening the Spanish banking sector. Bankia, Spain’s fourth-largest bank, foundered in that crisis. The bank was run by politicians of the conservative Partido Popular, who funded absurd megalomaniac projects. Since 80% of the money lent was for the construction industry, the bank was on the brink of collapse. Rather than nationalise it, the government bailed it out to the tune of €14 billion of taxpayers’ money – even as it announced record cuts in social services. That’s why protesters shout in the streets: ‘It is not a crisis; it is a rip-off’. As we go to press, Bankia is demanding even more and its shares have been suspended.

Meanwhile, the Royal family is embroiled in scandal. The king’s son-in-law, Iñaki Urdagarin is on trial for fraud and corruption, having run organisations that illegally benefited from millions of euros of taxpayers’ money – a scam King Juan Carlos is said to have known about. And, while vast sections of Spanish society are pushed further into poverty, King Juan Carlos managed to fall and injure himself while on a luxury safari hunting elephants in Botswana, at about €40,000 a pop.

People respond

Although some sections of society have remained passive in the face of the harsh measures imposed by both social democrats and conservatives, others have been pushed to take a stand. The broad movement born last year is maturing politically, proving itself ready to confront the injustice of the system with imaginative alternatives. The 15M movement holds popular assemblies in city squares, in a network that links neighbourhoods and municipalities. The movement has worked collectively with citizen associations, social organisations, alternative left-wing and anarchist unions and squatted social centres.

On the 29 March several unions called for a general strike in defence of public services (see FRFI 226). Hundreds of thousands came out – but many seemed disaffected with the mainstream unions and instead joined critical contingents involved in imaginative direct action. In Barcelona, banks were attacked; the day ended with burning barricades, police vans stoned and riot police using tear gas and rubber bullets, which caused several injuries, including a man who lost his sight in one eye. In April, there were demonstrations against the Labour Market Reform Bill and all main towns had open assemblies to discuss it. On May Day, nearly a million people poured onto the streets in every town and picketed businesses and banks.

The 15M movement planned to celebrate its anniversary with three days of action from 12-15 May. In Bar­celona, Valencia, Sevilla and other cities, camps and assemblies were set up. But in Madrid, the authorities refused to allow any stalls or tents. So half a million people brought the capital to a standstill for the day, as large groups of activists marched for hours from nearby towns and a 5,000-strong assembly was held in central Sol Square. In defiance of the 10pm curfew imposed by the authorities, at midnight tens of thousands created a chilling silence, followed by a roar of outrage. But at 5am, police used the excuse of a single stall to disperse the crowd violently and arrested 18 people.

The greatest success of the 15M movement in the last year has been its involvement with other groups to stop the evictions of families strangled by debt. Solidarity action has prevented 230 evictions in the last 11 months. Squatting abandoned buildings has been another practice to host evicted families. Madrid now has seven new people’s social centres.

Again in Madrid, in April, in protest at a 50% rise in transport costs, the emergency brakes of trains on nine underground lines were activated simultaneously, bringing the network to a halt. In Catalonia, hundreds of drivers are refusing to pay tolls on privatised motorways, blocking the way until the bar is lifted. There is a growth in independent cooperatives, urban orchards, the exchange of goods and collecting leftover food from markets, as well as teams to monitor police raids against immigrants.

But all these actions have incurred numerous arrests and heavy fines. Now the government is to pass a law classifying peaceful resistance as ‘assault’, and the use of email and e-networks calling for non-authorised protests as ‘belonging to a criminal organisation’. The movement will have to learn how to deal with greater repression, but many times it has proved itself stronger when attacked. As one protester put it: ‘The movement will not evolve in the future, it will itself become the future’.


Spain: Austerity plans face growing resistance /FRFI 226 April/May 2012

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism 226 April/May 2012

In February, the 2012 growth forecast for the Spanish economy was revised down from 2.3% to a decline of 1.7%. Immediate negotiations started with the European authorities, given the impossibility of meeting Spain’s commitment to reducing the deficit from 8.5% to 4.4% this year. The new agreement with Brussels sets the figure at a difficult to achieve 5.3%, requiring 35 billion euros of cuts. The government of Mariano Rajoy wants to prove its commitment to European capitalism, at whatever cost to the Spanish people. JUANJO RIVAS reports from Spain.

The conservative government lost no time in signalling its willingness to implement the austerity programme. While raising taxes, the ruling Partido Popular has frozen the minimum wage and the salary of civil servants. In some provinces, people have to pay for all medical prescriptions – eventually everyone will have to pay half the costs of their health care. In March, the government announced the dismantling of 27 state-owned companies and a drastic reduction in state funding for many others. Alongside economic cuts come right-wing social measures, such as changes in the law to restrict access to abortion and to promote private education.

But the backbone of the anti-working class policies is the new Labour Market Reform Bill. It reduces redundancy payments and increases the ability of companies to fire workers without compensation. If a company’s sales or profits fall, it is allowed to modify employees’ shifts, salaries, job specifications and place of work. Time off for illness, even with a doctor’s note, can be counted as absenteeism and grounds for dismissal; job centres are to be cut back to make way for private agencies providing temporary work, and the power of the unions to negotiate is to be severely restricted.

Nationalist unions in Galicia and Basque Country called for a general strike on 29 March, a call echoed by the main unions – although the latter called on Rajoy for last-minute negotiations to avoid conflict. On 11 March, 1.5 million marched in 60 Spanish towns against the labour market reforms. In Madrid, half the demonstrators split off, abandoning the union leaders and their blithe talk of the ‘responsibility to negotiate’.

Debt and corruption have exhausted state budgets in some areas, and the lack of resources has resulted in Dickensian conditions. While waiting lists grow in hospitals, complete floors are locked or underused. On 13 February, a month after the heating was cut off for non-payment, students at a state high school in Valencia decided to protest peacefully against the unbearable conditions. Afterwards, parents and school authorities described how police had attacked the students, ripping their clothes and arresting a protester. The outrage spread and in the days that followed growing numbers of students, teachers and parents protested against the cuts and police repression. A wave of police brutality resulted, as teenagers were kicked and dragged away, teachers viciously hit and screaming students truncheon-charged. When asked about the excessive use of force, the Chief Officer described the protesters as the ‘enemy’. In Barcelona, tens of thousands demonstrated against education cuts on 19 February; here some fought back police violence, and the skirmishes ended with a car and rubbish bins set alight, a bank office attacked and nine people arrested.

Community resistance

In Spain, when a household cannot pay the mortgage, the financing company repossesses the property and forces payment of the outstanding interest. This has led to a social crisis and people getting organised to defend each other. The Association of Those Affected by Mortgage (PAH) has managed to stop 156 evictions throughout Spain in the last eight months.

So far this year, in Madrid alone, eight evictions have been prevented or delayed. Neighbours and activists block access to the buildings to prevent eviction orders being carried out. Increasing pressure has also led to 20 cases where banks accepted the surrender of mortgages without imposing extra charges, and some even negotiated low rents for families to stay. The housing problem is so acute that in March, the government had to extend this practice to households where all family members were unemployed.

The 15 May (15M) movement was born last year as an expression of collective outrage, and has made the streets and squares its main platform for protest and political discussion. From its assemblies comes the network that aims to link all struggles. Together with alternative trade unions, teachers’ groups, activists from social centres and political organisations, the movement campaigns on a broad range of issues that directly affect the vast majority of society. Actions include a referendum to prevent the privatisation of the water canal in Madrid; pickets of banks; health care workers demonstrating against the closure of clinics in Barcelona and people’s assemblies in squares to discuss the new labour market reforms.

In Madrid, the network organised the Week of Struggle for Dignified Housing between 18-25 March, which involved many discussions at an abandoned building squatted for the occasion, as well as peaceful street direct actions. In Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and Bilbao groups of up to 150 people have been getting onto the underground without a valid ticket, with placards denouncing the rising costs of public services as a result of state subsidies to banks.

In Catalonia, a group of pensioners linked to the 15M movement has got involved in direct action. Many were involved in the struggle against the fascist dictatorship and today fight the dictatorship of the market. In October 2011, they occupied the Head Office of Santander Bank in Barcelona, seized the offices of rating agency Fitch and even temporarily took over the offices of the Catalonian Institute of Directors.

The 29 March general strike is not an end in itself. But, given the main union leadership’s passivity, it could become an opportunity to gather forces around real campaigns. If we are to confront the hard times ahead, it is essential to strengthen the movement. It must involve community participation and mass political organisations, practising the most radical democracy, pushing for real change in the social, political and economic conditions of the working class.


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