In January, developments in Vic, a small Catalan town near Barcelona, brought the issue of immigration into the spotlight throughout the Spanish state. This was provoked by a controversial decision made by Vic’s city council, which meant that all undocumented immigrants would be barred from registering as inhabitants of Vic, despite the fact that registration on municipal rolls is a constitutional right in Spain. This would have the effect of excluding the town’s immigrant population (which makes up around 25% of the town’s total inhabitants) from basic public services such as health and education.
This decision was applauded by right-wing commentators in Catalonia and throughout the Spanish state. The council’s main argument justifying the measure was that it could stop ‘irregular migration’, and thus combat the ‘racism’ of the local population towards immigrants.
The main Spanish right-wing opposition party, the Partido Popular (PP) held back from fully supporting this decision. They were limited by their well-known ‘fetishism’ regarding the Spanish constitution. During the 2004-2007 Zapatero (PSOE - ‘Socialist Workers’ Party’) government, almost every law passed by parliament was countered by the PP, who labelled the government’s policies as “unconstitutional” and challenged parliament’s decisions repeatedly in court. The blatantly “unconstitutional” nature of the Vic ruling prevented them from supporting it explicitly.
Nonetheless, they have used the debate which the Vic ruling unleashed, to act as champions of tougher immigration law reform, with the PP leader in Catalonia stating, “There is no room”. This is precisely why the decision passed by Vic’s city council, with a similar measure implemented in Torrejon de Ardoz (a Madrid municipality run by a PP administration), represents a dangerous development.
Rajoy, PP leader used Vic ruling to take up issue of immigration
Dangers of xenophobia
According to a survey, immigration ranked number 9 on a list of ‘worries’ for Vic citizens. One could argue that the city council should address citizen’s more pressing “worries”, namely; mass unemployment and the collapse of living standards, as Spanish capitalism attempts to offload the cost of the crisis caused by the property speculators and profiteers, whose reckless greed crashed the economy, onto the shoulders of workers and youth. Vic’s local government is, after all, run by the so called “centre-left”, with a coalition including the PCS (Catalan branch of the ruling ‘Socialist Party’) and Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (Catalan Republican Left).
Why, then, was this measure taken, and why in a place like Vic? What is the real agenda, and why did so-called ‘progressive’ political parties pass such a xenohpobic and undemocratic measure?
Spain has been affected by huge waves of immigration in the last period. Its geographical location and the fact that it Europe’s only Spanish speaking country, contributed to a massive influx, as millions fled the poverty conditions of North Africa and Latin America. Vic is a city which has seen a rapid growth in its immigrant population. About a quarter of Vic’s population currently consists of immigrants. In this scenario, with the crisis, and social problems mounting, the danger of immigrants being scapegoated, and the rise of xenophobic feeling, is inherent in the situation.
Vic became a stronghold for ‘Plataforma per Catalunya’, a racist party based in Catalonia. The present city council argues that, in order to stop the rise of racism promoted by this party, “better” immigration controls are necessary. They also hoped that the measure would help to combat the unpopularity of the mayor and local government, against whom significant anger has recently developed.
It is clear what kind of measure this was. Just like the prohibition of the wearing of the muslim veil in public places, in countries such as Belgium or France, or, even more drastically, the prohibition of minaret towers in Switzerland, this is a clear example of a policy that reflects pressure from the extreme right on the traditional capitalist parties.
The consistent failure of the neo-liberal policies pursued by successive PP, and particularly, PSOE governments has seen the establishment parties lose support. PSOE is no longer seen by the mass of workers and youth as in any way representing their interests. At best, it is seen by a section of workers as a slightly “lesser evil” to the traditional right wing. With PSOE’s transformation into a bosses’ party and the absence of a mass, viable alternative on the left at this stage, populist and xenophobic forces, posing as ‘alternatives’, have gained some support.
Faced with losing even more votes, many traditional parties in Europe, including ‘social democratic’ ones, playing the role of defenders of capitalism, have adopted elements of the repressive and racist programmes of the extreme right wing, in order to try to boost their support.
This is something completely different than ‘stopping racism by giving people a reason not to be racist any more’, which Vic’s government coalition claims as their motivation for the measure. They have made no attempt to tackle any of the social problems which lay the basis for xenophobic feeling. Mass unemployment, declining living standards and looming poverty for millions - problems to which the capitalist parties have no answers - in the absence of a united struggle for an alternative to these conditions, can create the potential for national and racial divisions to be sown in society and amongst the working class. Establishment parties in many countries have been eager to turn on immigrants, in order to deflect the blame for social problems from the capitalist policies and system they represent.
Workers’ unity vital
This results in more divisions among the working class, which also serves the interests of the bosses and their parties. However, immigrant and Spanish workers have the same interests: defeating the anti-social, anti-worker policies of the government and resisting its attempts to make them pay for the capitalist crisis. This struggle requires the building of an alternative mass party of the working class and youth, with the ability to cut across the growth of the far right, through putting forward a programme for a united struggle against the bosses and government and for a socialist alternative to capitalism.
Vic’s immigrant population responded to the council’s attack in a very constructive manner. They have organised public meetings to explain their situation, and spoken clearly of how this measure can only further divide the people of Vic, who all face similar problems. The working class movement and trade unions need to rise to the challenge and build further on this approach and develop a united struggle for a decent life for all, around a clear alternative programme.
Although the council in question has been forced to backtrack on its proposals, after being taken to task by the government and courts, the Vic debacle has illustrated a potential to both immigrant and ‘native’ workers, throughout Catalonia and the Spanish state.
Populist right-wing parties will seize upon the example of Vic in the next period. In the absence of a viable alternative to the left, there is a real danger that these kind of policies could become popular among a section of the Spanish working class, which is under enormous pressure under the effects of the crisis, which has hit Spain particularly hard, with unemployment at over 20%, and a shocking 43% of youths between 16 and 25 out of work!
Zapatero government begins attacks
Build a socialist alternative
The Zapatero government has proved incapable of fighting the crisis, operating within the confines of capitalism. In the government’s “solution” to the crisis and the massive public deficit, one can be sure that those attacked most ferociously will not be the bankers, speculators and big bosses, who crashed the Spanish economy and have thrown millions on the scrapheap of unemployment. From the point of view of capitalism, any “solution” will be on the basis of massive attacks on the living standards of the majority, including slash and burn cutbacks in public services and attacks on workers’ rights through the ‘reform’ of labour law, making it easier and cheaper to sack workers. The proposals of the government announced last week to increase the retirement age to 67 and attack pension entitlements are a small taste of what is to come. However, unfortunately for Zapatero and the bosses, such attacks will provoke a mighty fightback from the working class.
To prevent measures like the one in Vic from spreading across the country, and to fight lay-offs, privatisation and the government’s pension reforms etc, an alternative is needed. A real workers’ party could unite the struggle against the crisis and its effects, and cut across the growth of racism and division.
The situation in Spain has revealed the incapability of capitalism to provide for the needs of the majority if the population. The next period offers a dismal future for the majority in Spain, with mass unemployment and declining living standards, to which capitalism has no answers, only more attacks. The abolition of the capitalist casino economy, which has led Spanish society to rack and ruin, and its replacement with a democratic socialist system, is the only alternative capable of guaranteeing a decent future for workers and youth. The CWI is fighting to build the forces of socialism and Marxism in Spain, to make the case for a fundamental socialist transformation of society.
- No to racism and xenophobia!
- For the legalisation of immigrant workers! For the right to health, education, housing and other public services for all!
- Jobs, homes and public services, not racism! Build a united struggle of immigrant and ‘native’ workers against mass unemployment and falling living standards!
- For the unionisation of immigrant workers!
- Build a mass workers’ party, which represents the interests of workers and youth, to fight for socialist change and cut across the extreme right
- For a 24 hour general strike against the government’s pension reform proposals and other attacks, as the beginning of a united movement against the bosses and government. We won’t pay for their crisis!
- Nationalise the banks and financial sector, under democratic working class control, to fund massive public works’ programmes to create socially useful jobs, and fund quality public services!
- For a democratically planned socialist economy to use the resources and wealth of society to guarantee a decent future for all, not feed the profits of the super-rich!