Spain: corruption and social struggle / FRFI 225 Feb/Mar 2012

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 225 February/March 2012

Mariano Rajoy - Prime Minister of SpainOn 21 December 2011 Mariano Rajoy was sworn in as the new Spanish President. The success of his conservative Popular Party exposed the decay of the social democratic Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party and their worn-out popularity. It took no more than nine days for Rajoy’s government to raise taxes, although during his election campaign he repeatedly stated that he was determined not to do so. From the start of his presidency, Rajoy made it very clear that he would impose the austerity policies demanded by France and Germany. Yet despite this, the IMF predicts a new recession in 2012. JJ RIVAS reports.


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Spain: On the march against austerity/ FRFI 224 December 2011/January 2012

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 224 December 2011/January 2012

On 20 November, exactly 36 years after the death of the fascist General Franco, the conservative People’s Party (PP) won a landslide victory in the Spanish general election. This was expected: there was massive disaffection with the previous Socialist Party (PSOE) government because of the austerity measures it adopted in the face of Spain’s economic crisis. Throughout the electoral campaign, the PP and its leader Mariano Rajoy were intentionally vague about what they intended to do that would be different; however, Rajoy has said that the key to recovery is ‘increasing trust and confidence’, reducing public debt via cuts in social expenditure and ‘fulfilling demands from the EU’. Juanjo Rivas reports.

A system where two parties alternate in government, both more concerned about market expectations than about the welfare of the people, has been rejected by many of those Spaniards who have witnessed an example of real participation and political involvement in the mass assemblies of the 15 May. This was reflected in the general election: abstentions and spoiled votes accounted for 30% of the electorate, over 11 million people – more than the votes gained by the victorious PP. Despite the unjust voting system, left-wing parties have significantly increased their share in Parliament, the United Left gaining nine seats.

That the conservatives won was no surprise. Every poll pointed to people wanting to punish the PSOE because of the regressive reforms it carried out at the behest of the European Central Bank, the IMF and the Merkel-Sarkozy duo. In the last year, the Spanish working class has seen the wages of public sector workers fall, thousands of state school teachers dismissed, primary care centres closed, numbers of ambulances reduced, benefits slashed, pension schemes put at risk and a reform of the labour market that has led to record figures for unemployment and unskilled jobs. Youth unemployment stands at 42%; overall unemployment at 23%. As a consequence, the PSOE lost almost four million votes.

Aware that the ruling PSOE was unpopular and riven by internal crises, the conservatives decided not to reveal their hidden agenda, which would have scared many voters away and frustrated their bid for electoral victory. In reality their plans include wholesale privatisation, reduced redundancy payments and forcing people to pay 50% of the costs of health care, as well as abolishing gay marriage.

Important sections of society feel that they have been left behind, while the interests of speculative capital and the corrupt political class are protected. When the PSOE government turned a blind eye to the harsh conditions imposed by the crisis, the 15 May social movement tried to strengthen solidarity with the poor. Over the last few months about 200 evictions have been ordered every day, half of them in Madrid. Activists squatted an abandoned hotel building in October, gathering hundreds of willing helpers to make it habitable to host families evicted from their homes.

The 15 May movement was born out of a massive protest where hundreds of thousands of outraged people took to the streets and camped for weeks in the squares of Spain’s towns and cities. Open political discussions and huge assemblies took place all the time, where people raised their main concerns and expressed their anger, disgust and hope. In June, the 15 May movement went through a process of decentralisation, setting up weekly assemblies in hundreds of neighbourhoods and municipalities. Each developed commissions to work on specific subjects regarding work, housing, public services and women’s rights, and to identify local problems, discuss alternatives and agitate to put pressure on politicians at all levels.

Over the summer, low-paid workers and the unemployed involved in the 15 May movement marched on the capital. Contingents joined the march from all over the country, including Galicia in the northwest, Catalunya in the northeast, and Andalucia in the south. Protesters walked hundreds of miles, gathering support in every village and town, organising assemblies where they stopped and growing in numbers as more joined them on their way. On 23 July they reached Madrid, where there were breathtaking scenes of massive columns of workers from all over Spain embracing each other. Next day half a million people took to the streets and stopped the city. A revolutionary camp was set up near the Home Office and the central Sol square was occupied once again. Police forces brutally attacked and dismantled the camp, arresting several marchers. Some protesters joined a 50-year-old community threatened with eviction following a speculative land agreement between the conservative mayor and multimillionaire owner of Real Madrid. There, resistance has proved an invaluable experience for marginalised Gypsy and non-Gypsy inhabitants.

In mid-August, Pope Benedict XVI visited Madrid to attend the Catholic Youth Festival; he was offered overwhelming state funding and resources. Banks and electricity companies sponsored pilgrims’ bags, caps and shirts. While the Council of Madrid rejected a demand for reduced fares on public transport for the unemployed, it provided international pilgrims with heavily subsidised travel cards. Governments and banks, who claim not to have the funds to implement social policies for the poor, manage to cough up plenty for religious events. Protests against state funding of one particular religion ended in senseless police aggression against peaceful protesters and left several wounded and others detained in police stations.

Throughout September and October, the 15 May movement has slowly consolidated its network in some parts of Spain and slightly drifted in others. Overall, it has deepened its roots in collective struggles such as those for public health care and education. Secondary school teachers have been on strike seven times against education cuts since the beginning of the struggle. The movement has also joined the struggle of Catalonians against the dismantling of clinics and severe cuts to hospitals. On a regular basis, the movement gathers people to block the way when judges and the police go to evict a family from their home. On 15 October, the movement brought one million Spaniards out on to the streets under the banner of the international day of struggle ‘for a global change’.

The day before the November elections, hundreds gathered in city squares, holding placards and speaking at open microphone sessions, and more buildings were squatted to host those evicted and to hold new assemblies during the winter. On 27 November, a five-column march from neighbouring towns to Madrid was held to defend public services and mobilise for the first general strike not directly organised by the two main trade unions.

Angela Merkel has already met Mariano Rajoy to urge him to deepen reforms without delay. Before the elections, some voices from the PP admitted that they expected social reaction against some ‘necessary measures’ they would have to take, but said that they were ‘ready for that, too’. We therefore expect a whole raft of reforms directed against the working class and, when confronted, a tougher display of state violence. The question now is what kind of reaction can we expect from a movement that involves young and old, and so far has been based on peaceful resistance and civil disobedience?


Spain: revolt of the outraged / FRFI 221 June/July 2011

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 221 June/July 2011

‘My voice is broken, body exhausted but heart full of hope. After long years of frustration, collective dreams are on the march...How to begin to describe the Syrian man who couldn’t continue on the mic and burst into tears when thousands shouted ‘Long live the struggle of the Syrian people’?...Or the Colombian brothers agitating and embraced by us, the extraordinary moment as thousands raised their arms in a silence full of wrath, the unemployed sobbing and explaining how they can’t afford dental assistance? This is the closest thing to May 1968 I could have ever imagined. You can sense solidarity and anger in the air.’

JUANJO RIVAS was amongst the demonstrators, who, inspired by the uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East, filled city squares across Spain at the end of May.

He reports from Madrid.

On 22 May municipal and regional elections were held in Spain. The government's response to the crisis – slashing social expenditure, reforming the labour market and pension schemes – has led to widespread disappointment and loss of faith in the social democrats. The result was a low turnout and a loose victory for the right-wing conservative PP. But the landmark of this period has been the mass revolt of an outraged population that has turned streets and squares into a multitude of assemblies and camps in about 60 towns across the country.

For several weeks before the election, people had been organising themselves via internet social networks, setting up a website named ‘Real Democracy!’ that called for demonstrations in every city on 15 May. It contained forums where people agitated, expressed their demands and suggested ways to build the protest. The first draft of popular demands included ‘deepening democracy’ – currently some politicians are receiving two or even three separate public salaries, and several conservative candidates have been charged with corruption. The second focus is social and economic inequality. Unemployment has risen to 4.5 million people, 1.5 million of whom do not receive any benefits, while the main shareholders and executives of the most powerful Spanish corporations seized historical record profits in 2010.

Activists acted locally to spread the feeling that something must be done, but the success of the movement was still uncertain. However, on 15 May tens of thousands poured into the streets and outnumbered all expectations. Dozens of loud and colourful marches peacefully occupied the main squares, bringing central Barcelona and Madrid to a standstill.

Later in the evening, police tried to disperse protesters; there were a few isolated incidents and undercover police made some arrests. In response, the ‘outraged’ decided to camp in the central Puerta del Sol of Madrid, action emulated elsewhere. Local governments nervously witnessed their squares being turned into campsites, where an angry population discussed politics all night long.

On the second night, Madrid’s right-wing council again attempted to repress the movement and remove protesters by force. This mistake provoked an immediate response, as large crowds gathered in Sol and reclaimed their right to stay, understanding that continuing resistance was the way forward. The attacks ripened the movement, as collective tactics of peaceful resistance and civil disobedience were adopted, combined with an amazingly quick ability to organise. Plastic tents and lines of food supplies were set up, volunteers managed first aid and permanent workshops, activists climbed onto scaffolding to hang huge banners while the crowd roared in ecstasy. They were there to stay and their success was due to their rejection of sectarianism and independence from all political parties and trade unions.

In an emergency meeting the Spanish Electoral Commission declared the protests would be illegal from Saturday 21 May – since the day before elections in Spain is a ‘day of reflection’ when political campaigning is forbidden. In massive assemblies people stated they were not seeking to support any party, so nobody could take away their right to make their rage and discontent visible.

On Saturday at midnight hundreds of thousands answered the call and packed the streets in a well-organized action. To highlight the system’s attempt to silence them, the ‘outraged’ stuck tape over their mouths, raised their hands and performed a ‘silent scream’ that chilled people’s souls. Nobody moved that night. They also challenged the authorities on election day itself, making it clear that the polls would not solve the problems of poverty, evictions of unemployed families, rampant political corruption and an unfair voting apparatus that promotes a two-party system.

General assemblies of the 15 May Movement decided the popular campsites should remain for at least one more week. Meanwhile, the surrounding streets and squares filled with people openly discussing topics such as economic reforms, culture and education, democracy, ecology and so on. This unprecedented exercise of democratic strength made the movement grow broader. Sound systems were installed in many towns, where open microphone sessions allowed citizens to share experiences, express their disillusionment with politicians and make proposals for the newborn movement. People gathered in their hundreds to listen to moving speeches by students, retired pensioners, unemployed, exiles, immigrants, anti-fascist ex-combatants...

However, it was obvious the revolutionary camps could not last forever, so the movement realised it was necessary to ensure the main demands were discussed in popular assemblies in every municipality and neighbourhood. Mass gatherings in all squares were held on 28 May. In Madrid alone there were 200 assemblies with 200-700 people at each. Their conclusions will be passed on to general assemblies to draw up a programme representative of the struggle, expressing concerns and solutions. Artistic and symbolic actions are being carried out. One of them encourages people to simultaneously withdraw 150 euros from banks on 30 May, to show that the banks can and must be punished for their role in the economic rip-off of the working class.

The same moral and political drive that empowered the 15 May Movement will continue to seek collective strategies for action, coordinating a network of platforms for the people’s voice to be heard and promoting political participation of the whole community, as a means of building real pressure for change ahead of next year’s general elections. As the demonstrators said, ‘They call it democracy, but it’s not. They don’t represent us’ and ‘Clowns change, the circus carries on’.


Spain Workers pay for the crisis / FRFI 215 Jun/ Jul 2010

FRFI 215 June/ July 2010

On 12 May Spanish President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero announced a package of economic measures aimed at reducing the country’s deficit. This will involve severe cuts in social spending, pay and benefits – something Zapatero had for months declared himself unwilling to do. He also announced the imminent reform of the labour market. This

U-turn follows pressure from the EU and Washington, desperate to prevent the ‘Greek situation’ from spreading and dragging the euro down.

The mass media praised this ‘brave’ move that will save the state €5 billion  in 2010 and €10 billion in 2011. The civil servants whose wages will be slashed by an average 5%, retired pensioners whose income will be frozen, or those with disabled relatives no longer entitled to benefits, have a very different perspective. The social democratic PSOE government has once again revealed its true colours: protecting the bosses and making the poor pay for a crisis that others caused.

The international economic crisis has specific characteristics in different areas. Spain, with low industrial productivity, specialised in the last ten years in commodities which provide short-term profits: tourism and real estate. Massive development of real estate eased the flow of speculative capital while providing corrupt deals between local councils and agents, and great profits for banks and construction companies. Spanish ‘growth’, apparently above the EU average, turned out to be a bluff sustained by speculative movements and rampant corruption. As the crisis started last year, banks closed down credit, investment quickly shifted away and capitalists moved funds into Investment Societies of Variable Capital, with privileged fiscal treatment. In just the last quarter of 2009 the assets of such societies rose by 4.3%, totalling €25.6 billion.

The economic crisis doesn’t affect everybody equally. Unemployment has dramatically risen to 4,612,700 people (over 20%) at the beginning of the year – a rise of more than a million in the last year, and is the highest in Europe. But at the same time, the 584 top executives and advisers from the companies of Ibex-35 (Spain’s stock market index) received an average of €989,000, the highest ever for this group.

But it is not this inequality that concerns those who raised the alarm about the economy; they care only about the state’s accounts. It is true that state revenues fell because of the decline in economic activity, but also derived from neo-liberal policies that eliminated death, inheritance and corporation taxes. Moreover, fiscal fraud (estimated at between 20% and 25%) is also to blame for Spain’s deficit, which currently stands at 11.2%.

Spanish workers must wonder why they have to pay higher direct taxes, whereas capital gains taxes have been reduced. In the ‘good times’ (1999-2004) the cost of labour increased 3.7%, while company profits saw a 73% rise, but in the ‘bad times’ the working class is paying for the abuses of immoral speculators. Many mayors around the country have been put on trial, accused of illegal concessions of land, bribery and enriching themselves through political favours to private companies. Most of these corrupt politicians belong to the conservative opposition, and the Bank of Valencia has paid €3 million bail for one of them. Needless to say, the banks have no money to spare for loans and mortgages to ordinary citizens.

The trade unions have failed to mount a strong challenge to this obscenity. The opportunist union leaders decided not to call a strike against the government’s ‘plan of adjustment’, until it became a decree and was effectively brought in. They have finally called a strike to defend public services and civil servants on 8 June, but they are not organising the unemployed and other sections of the society on the edge of survival. Zapatero knows Spain is not Greece and at the moment he need make only the most minor of concessions to cool workers’ anger. In a populist and token move, the cabinet will see their salaries reduced and Zapatero himself will receive next year €78,185 instead of €84,000 (excluding bonuses and extras, of course). He made vague promises on a special tax on those with assets of over €1 million, but this will not apply until 2011.

For months, the Spanish government had been vacillating. But after being taken to task by US President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel for their failure to act, the Spanish social democrats are now showing their real face. They are determined to confront the crisis by placing the heavy cost of recovery on workers’ shoulders. It is still to be seen whether these attacks provoke organised resistance from the Spanish working class, as voices calling for a general strike grow louder.

JJ Rivas


Spanish people oppose war, terrorism and lies

FRFI 178 April / May 2004

March has been a month of death, grief, rage, social unrest and political punishment in Spain. On 11 March, exactly 911 days after the 11 September 2001 attacks in New York, 12 bombs went off in Madrid, leaving 202 people dead and 1,500 injured. The effect on the population has been a reinvigoration of disgust at the war on Iraq, which was opposed by 90% of Spaniards. There was also immense anger at the government’s handling of the crisis, which took place just three days before the general elections. The authoritarianism and blatant lies told by Aznar’s People’s Party (PP) led to them being voted out and to the completely unexpected victory of the social democratic Labour Party (PSOE), who won almost three million more votes than in 2000.

Despite its name, the PP is a bourgeois right-wing party. Most of its leading members have economic, ideological and family ties to the national-Catholic dictatorship of General Franco. Eight years of conservative government have deepened the process of total privatisation begun by the social democrats in the early 1990s. The remains of the public sector have been dismantled; there has been speculation on the housing market and regressive tax reforms. Two Basque newspapers have been closed down and the Basque party Batasuna banned. There have been cuts in social expenditure, protest has been criminalised and the rate of growth has been sustained by poverty pay at home and aggressive economic interventionism abroad.


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