Spain: Mass demonstrations against government’s attacks begin

Union leaders deaf to demand for general strike

This week saw the beginning of a period of mass protest against Spain´s PSOE government´s attacks on the country´s pension system. Judging from the massive turnouts on the demonstrations which have already taken place, it is likely that protests will number well over 200,000 in total around the country. Tuesday 23 February saw workers take to the streets in 10 cities throughout the Spanish state, with 60,000 marching in Madrid and 50,000 in Barcelona, according to the trade unions. The next day saw 45,000 march in provincial capitals throughout the region of Andalucia. These mass demonstrations, which will continue into next week, encompassing the Spanish state´s biggest cities, give a powerful reflection of the boiling anger that is developing in crisis-ridden Spain, as the Zapatero government begins its attacks in earnest.

The government´s recently announced pension reforms will see the retirement age put back to 67 from 65 and the number of years work upon which pension entitlements are calculated dramatically increased. It was announced as part of the mother of all austerity packages, which will see Euro 50 billion slashed from public spending. The package, which is thin on details at this stage, was announced in the face of massive pressure which was piled upon the Zapatero government from Spanish and international capitalism to take decisive action to bridge the governments massive public deficit, which was equivalent to 13% of GDP in 2009. In the recent period, opposition from the IMF, international credit ratings agencies, and internal opposition, both from within the ruling party and from the main capitalist opposition pàrty, the Partido Popular (PP), to the government´s perceived hesitation in dealing the blows to public spending and the rights and living standards of the working class necessary, from capitalism´s point of view, in order to offload the cost of the crisis onto the shoulders of the working class, has mounted. Zapatero´s capitalist government has now ushered in the beginning of an intense period of attacks, which, as shown by the massive, angry and determined character of this week´s protests, will also be a period of intense class struggle, as workers and youth refuse to bear the brunt of the crisis caused by the reckless speculation and profiteering of Spanish capitalism during the boom, facilitated by successive capitalist (PP and PSOE alike) governments.

Protest against pension "reform"

As one of the countries labelled PIGS by international capitalist commentators, Spain has suffered a crisis deeper than in many European countries. The starkest illustration of this is the developing situation of mass unemployment, with over 4 million officially unemployed, approaching 20% of the workforce, with a devastating 42% unemployment rate among those under 25 years old. However, the Spanish government has recently been keen to distinguish itself from other struggling economies, particularly those of Greece and Ireland, with the government mounting an international campaign with the headline "Spain is not Greece", aimed at assuaging the international markets, wary of Spain´s unsustainable economic position. Zapatero has pointed to the relative health of the Spanish banking sector, with Spanish banking giant, Santander, raking in over Euro 9 billion in profits in 2009, for example. While it is true that life for Spain´s bankers, drunk on public money, Euro 160 billion of which was thrown at the sector in succesive bailouts, seems to be continuing relatively unabated, the government´s assertion that Spain is on the verge of exiting the recession must seem a sick joke to the millions thrown into poverty by the crisis. For the majority, mass unemployment, an uncertain future and declining living standards represent the reality of the situation, with no signs of any meaningful improvement in the foreseeable future.

With their pension reforms, the government gives a glimpse at the kind of future which can be expected in crisis-ridden Spain. The message to the millions of workers upon whose backs the unprecedented economic boom of the last 20 years was based, is now "work until you drop" to pay for the capitalist crisis! The government is also in the process of pursuing a reform of labour law, making it easier to sack workers on fixed contracts. The government, wary of confrontation with the working class, has appealed for "national unity" in order to force their attacks through. The Spanish King has waded into the situation, urging the adoption of a "pact" between the main parties, employers and trade unions on how to proceed in tackling the crisis. This week, the government held an all-party "anti-crisis" meeting, in order to secure agreement for its austerity measures. Whatever the outcome of this "pact", to the working class, it is clear that the capitalist parties in effect, already agree on how the crisis should be tackled – at the expense of the working class and their living standards! The agenda of the capitalists is clear. It is now necessary for the working class movement to organise to fight it!

Woefully inadequate response of union leaders

The massive anger that exists in Spanish society is clear. However, the leaders of the country´s main trade unions, UGT and CC.OO have proved woefully unwilling to give this anger and willingness to fight and adequate expression. Anyone who attended the mass national demonstration in Madrid on 12 December 2009, organised by the unions was left in no doubt as to what course of action the majority of workers and trade union activists favour at this stage – a general strike now! On this weeks demonstrations, the overwhelming demand for the trade union leaders to adopt a fighting strategy and organise a general strike was even more pronounced. On the demonstration in Seville, among others, union leaders were repeatedly heckled from the platform. El Pais, Spain´s main daily newspaper, commented on the gulf that existed between the speeches of the union leaders on both the Seville and Madrid demonstrations, and the determination of the marches´participants in demanding a general strike.

For how long the trade union leaders will succeed in holding the movement back from a general strike is unclear as yet. However, it is clear that, despite the government´s anxiety to stress that "Spain is not Greece", the struggle and militancy of the Greek working class, who again mounted a general strike against their government´s austerity plans this week, will be matched by Spanish workers and youth, who will decisively move onto the stage of struggle in the next period. CWI members intevened on demonstrations in Madrid and Seville and received a warm response to our material, calling for the immediate organisation of a 24 hour general strike to begin the fightback against the bosses and government.

The calling of a general strike at this stage would receive an enthusiastic response from workers and youth throughout the Spanish state. It could serve to draw together the opposition to the capitalist crisis and its effects and give a glimpse of the power of the working class in action. Democratic committees of action should be formed in workplaces, communities, schools and universities to prepare for a 24 hour strike as the beginning of a united struggle.

Socialist alternative

The developing crisis of Spanish capitalism has exposed the bankruptcy of the system and its inability to provide for the basic needs of the majority, in Spain and internationally. A bleak future beckons for Spanish society on the basis of capitalism, particularly for young people, for whom mass unemployment a dearth of opportunity will characterise the next period. In this situation, an increased questioning of capitalism as a system is implicit. The CWI, which is currently building its forces in Spain, fights for an end to the capitalist dictatorship of the market, which crashed the Spanish and world economy and is now devastating the lives of millions. We fight for a revolutionary socialist alternative, to transorm society and democratically plan the economy based on the needs of the majority, not the profits of the super rich. This is the only alternative capable of guaranteeing a decent future for workers and youth in Spain and internationally.