Spain implodes and explodes
- July 21, 2012
Despite major surgical intervention and a major cash transfusion for its ailing banks, the Spanish patient is continuing to languish on the operating table and may not leave the hospital for some time.
A raft of ideologically-motivated austerity cuts from the vacillating and useless Conservative government has exacerbated Spain’s precarious condition, choking growth and provoking serious spasms that may prove terminal, to the point when even the European consultants who have been brought in to oversee the operation are now worried that the patient may go crashing out of the eurozone.
The latest evidence of the patient’s decline comes from Valencia, whose regional government has admitted to bankruptcy (not in so many words) and asked the central government for a bailout to pay its debts and keep its services running.
Valencia has been governed by the ruling Partido Popular for years, and perhaps not coincidentally is one of the most corrupt and profligate of Spain’s autonomous regions, with a reputation for throwing vast sums of public money at high status infrastructure projects and white elephants of dubious probity.
Other autonomous regions are set to follow its example and seek help from central government to stave off economic collapse. Needless to say, none of this is helping the patient’s recovery.
And as the economy writhes on the operating table and sucks on the ECB oxygen tube, watched by the hapless Spanish government and its equally impotent foreign consultants, the victims of the crisis – who have been largely ignored or considered irrelevant in the search for macroeconomic solutions to it – have begun to make their feelings known in no uncertain terms.
For nearly two months now, the miners of Asturias have fought the most sustained and militant industrial dispute in Europe in protest at planned cuts to government subsidies that have kept their industry afloat. Though it has aroused little attention in the international media, their magnificent struggle has clearly had a galvanising effect on the Spanish working class.
Last week’s 400-km miners’ march to Madrid was welcomed into the capital by a huge crowd. Further demonstrations were viciously repressed by riot police, with baton charges and rounds of rubber bullets.
On Thursday night, 39 protesters were injured when police fired rubber bullets at demonstrators outside the Spanish parliament. That same night more than 100,000 people demonstrated outside the City Hall in protest at what El País has called ‘the biggest cut in the history of Spanish democracy.’
The organizers claimed that 800,000 people participated, and El Pais noted that the cuts program ‘ has unified a range of unions, organizations and social movements whose cooperation would have been unimaginable up to a week ago — six major labor unions working together for the first time is a telling sign.’
Indeed it is. And similar protests have been taking place all over Spain. Last Wednesday, thousands of demonstrators in Valencia, Alicante and CastellÃ³n took to the streets in a joint protest organized by Spain’s two major unions under the slogan ‘Quieren arruinar el país: hay que impedirlo’ -‘ they want to ruin the country, we have to stop them.’
In Valencia demonstrators surrounded the office of the mayor chanting ‘ ¡corruptos!’ and ‘ ¡Hasta los huevos, estamos hasta los huevos!‘ – ‘Up to here, we’ve had it up to here!’ and ‘con este gobierno vamos de culo’ – ‘ with this government, we’re screwed.’
In Alicante the mood was no less militant, as demonstrators carried placards proclaiming ‘ Rajoy, embustero. Contigo y tus recortes, EspaÃ±a al agujero‘ – ‘Rajoy, conman, with you and your cuts Spain is going down the drain’.
Others placards denounced the government’s austerity measures as ‘financial terrorism’, while demonstrators chanted ‘Rajoy, escucha, el pueblo esta en la lucha’ – ‘Listen Rajoy, the people are in struggle’ (it sounds better in Spanish) and ‘se va a acabar la paz social‘ – ‘the social peace is over.’
The Spanish government will be very worried about these developments, and so will other governments and the technocrats at the EU who worship on the altar of austerity. All of whom will be hoping that the rubber bullets and truncheons of the riot police will be sufficient to contain the mounting tide of unrest and force the Spaniards, like the Greeks, to suck on the bile that is supposed to make them better.
The rest of us can only hope that Spain’s fightback continues to grow and prosper, and that it can remind other countries that the proponents of ‘austerity’ are often more brittle and fragile than the patient they are intent on choking to death.