Spain implodes and explodes

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 Castellón 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, España 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.




Spain Loads Up With Rubber Bullets

The epic struggle waged by the miners of Asturias to defend their jobs and communities has clearly struck a chord amongst many Spaniards, as the magnificent reception given by Madrileños  to the 400 km marchers clearly demonstrates.

The miners have also generated considerable support outside Spain.   Yesterday’s Channel 4 News had a special report from a reporter who accompanied the marchers from beginning to end.   Even the Telegraph had a reasonably sympathetic article on the clashes in Madrid yesterday, in which a trade unionist marching in solidarity with the miners declared ‘ This is a struggle for the working class. The people need to be here on the street to say ‘enough is enough.”

This sympathy is not hard to fathom.  At a time when the Spanish government, with the approval of the EU and the IMF,  is willing to wreck the lives of millions in order to bailout its corrupt and discredited banking system, it refuses to continue the subsidies on which the Asturian mines and their communities depend.

It’s not necessary to have a degree in political science or economics to understand the very clear message behind this discrepancy; that the powerful financial institutions that have brought Spain to the brink of ruin can be rescued and even rewarded for their efforts, while the mining communities of the mountains and valleys of Asturias are essentially disposable and not worth preserving.

The miners have fought – as Asturian miners always will – to defend their jobs and communities, and their struggle is beginning to have a galvanizing effect on the Spanish working class.  Its appearance on the streets of Madrid has clearly rattled the government.

On the same day that Mariano Rajoy announced yet another swathe of austerity measures that he described as ‘not pleasant…but imperative’ in order to please Spain’s foreign creditors,  riot police fired volleys of rubber bullets at the miners and their supporters.

All of which constitutes a disgrace, to be sure, but we can expect to see such behaviour repeated and intensified in the months and years to come.   Because in the end police truncheons and rubber bullets – and worse – are the logical and inevitable instruments of the gross injustice that is being perpetrated in Spain and across the continent.

The financial and political elites overseeing Europe’s age of austerity,  as they gaze down on the anthill world from their boardrooms and offices,  though one suspects that they probably do and are simply not too bothered about it.

The miners of Asturias have pricked this bubble of complacency, and forced Spain – and the world – to acknowledge them.   In a dark and corrupt era, when white collar  larceny on a truly monumental scale is compounded and facilitated by governments across the continent under the mantra of ‘there-is-no-alternative-to-austerity’,    their militancy, determination and commitment to their communities should be an inspiration to all of us, and a reminder that resistance is still possible – and in fact essential.


Asturias Burning

CELEBRATIONS are always premature in the manic depressive world of the eurozone, and Spain’s conservative prime minister Mariano Rajoy should have known better than to present Sunday’s bailout deal as a victory.   

By Monday evening German politicians were disputing his claim that the deal came with no strings attached, and insisting that the Spanish economy will have to be subjected to Greek-style external supervision.  

Now the two main unions have announced a general strike on 18 June in the provinces of Asturias and Leon, where Spain is currently embroiled in a major industrial dispute that has so far received little attention in the Spanish and international press.

My piece in The Week/First Post on the Asturian miners strike.  You can read the rest here.