Spain: A tense calm

The aftermath of the general strike on the 29 September

Since heaving masses of workers in Spain took to the streets to oppose the government’s attacks and labour reform decree, a tense period of quiet has developed around the country. The government, since the general strike, has repeated that the “doors to dialogue” are open, from its point of view. But at the same time, Zapatero, who broke his post-general strike silence on 2 October, made it clear that as far as the government is concerned, the hated labour reform legislation, which brought 10 million out on strike in opposition, is not open for discussion! In the light of this, the new “conciliatory” approach of the government is merely an illusion. For example, in an attempt to show a more friendly face to the working class, Zapatero recently appointed a new Minister for Employment, Valeriano Gomez, who, as a member of the UGT union, participated in the demonstration of 29 September in Madrid. However, since his appointment, Gomez has consistently claimed to “never” having opposed the labour reform, which slashes the redundancy pay of fixed-contract workers, and feels no discomfort in defending it to the hilt.

Zapatero with Mendez (UGT leader) – "openness to dialogue" is an illusion

On the other hand, the response of the leaders of the main trade unions in the aftermath of the strike, has been less determined. While warning of new mobilisations which they threaten to organise in December, they propose to defeat labour reform through a “Popular Legislation Initiative”, which they will put before the congress to a vote, to create a new law, reversing the labour reform. Do they imagine that the same congress which approved the original reform, will now, when asked nicely, vote on another law which negates it? Not even the most innocent of trade union activists would dream of such a thing. It is clear that this strategy, in the absence of sustained struggle and mobilisation, is the union leadership’s attempt to hold back a working class which showed on 29 September that it had woken up and was up for a fight.

Where now for unions and the left?

Socialismo Revolucionario (CWI in Spain) has consistently argued, including in our paper of 29 September, for the need for an active plan of mass struggle, to continue the struggle after 29-S, which should have been the first step in a democratic, sustained mass movement, which could paralyze the government and capitalism’s austerity attacks. We have recently seen in France, a living example of how the working class, when it moves decisively into determined struggle, putting its power into play, has the potential to paralyze the economy and inspire dread and fear amongst the capitalists.

If we look at the situation regarding the political left, a somewhat similar picture prevails. The programme of Izquierda Unida for an alternative to the crisis undoubtedly goes in the right direction, with a clear call to nationalise the banks, and raise taxes on the rich. However, at the moment, it remains engaged in a process of “refoundation”, often justified merely by abstract arguments and a process of discussion confined to the leading bodies of the party. The leadership seems to forget that the essential ingredient and basis for the necessary re-foundation of the left, is the real struggles of the working class, and the need to draw fresh new layers into political action. On the other hand, in the run-up to the local elections, which will take place in May 2011, Izquierda Anticapitalista (a small split from Izquierda Unida based around forces of the USFI) last statement spoke of the need to “cash in” on the success of the general strike, without proposing a plan to continue the struggle and translate this success into victory. Since 29-S, only CUT-BAI, a very small party based in Andalucia, led by the mayor of a co-operative Andalucian town, Marinaleda, has called explicitly for a further general strike against Zapatero and his handling of the crisis!

Cayo Lara, Izquierda Unida leader

Izquierda Unida, must strive to effectively seize the massive potential implicit in the current situation, to develop as a mass party of the left, which can channel the anger and distrust against the capitalist parties (recent opinion polls see government party, PSOE having earned the distrust of over 80% of people, with the opposition PP not far behind on over 70%!). However, to do this, it must clearly argue for, alongside a militant programme of action for the workers’ movement which can win, a political programme that articulates a fundamental and credible alternative, for the nationalisation of the banks and commanding heights of the economy under the democratic control of working people and a genuine democratic economic plan to improve the lives of all. What is needed is a programme for an alternative, democratic workers’ government to break the dictatorship of the markets. The adoption of such a programme by the left, to create a mass party of the working class armed with revolutionary socialism is the objective of the CWI in the Spanish state.

The left must call for, and place themselves at the front of new battles. After the 29 September, when 10 million workers paralyzed the economy, we must continue to remind capitalism of our power to do just that. Socialismo Revolucionario demands the date is named for the next general strike in the face of the government’s intransigence now! We must be prepared to escalate the struggle to break their austerity agenda even further. The next step should be the organisation of a general strike of 48 hours, to show the government that the working class is as inflexible as Zapatero in fighting to defend its living standards, if they do not turn back. In France, we have seen courageous action being taken among sections of workers, which served to everyday raise the pressure on capitalism, and showed that working people hold the decisive power. Such developments should also be “exported” into Spain in the coming period, in the true traditions of working class internationalism.

Madrid, 29 September

Government beating the war drum again

There is no shortage of justifications for future mobilisations of the working class and youth. The Moncloa (government palace) is beating the war drum in the run up to December, for its next round of vicious attacks on what is left of the welfare state, such as the raising of the retirement age from 65 to 67. Alongside this, the new budget will continue to make new savage cuts to all areas of public spending: in infrastructure (40%), health (8.2% generally, along with a further 5.2% targeted especially at dependents), housing (19%), education (8%) and research (17.5%). This constitutes a generalised attack on the living standards of people and will mean less public sector jobs, less doctors and health centres, less social housing help and less schools and teachers. When the capitalists have finished their “restructuring” of the welfare state, the reality is that there could be nothing of the state sector left, other than an unrecognisable skeleton, and the beefed-up repressive organs of the state necessary for capitalism to keep control over the situation.

What more will it take for the unions to bring workers and youth out again, to inflict a determined defeat on the anti-social agenda being imposed upon us? We cannot merely wait helplessly for the next blow from the government, bosses, and financial markets they serve. Workers in the Spanish state have demonstrated their willingness to fight to defend their rights and living standards. We call for the spreading of the French contagion, that of militant struggle, throughout the Spanish state. The social situation in Spain is objectively even more desperate and explosive than in France, where unemployment is only half of the Spanish rate, among other factors. The attacks of the “centre-left” government here have far outstripped those of Sarkozy (a fact which should serve to shatter “reformist” illusions in PSOE). The left must argue clearly for a plan to advance out of the crisis towards a socialist society, in which Spanish workers can identify with their desire to break the economic dictatorship of capitalism. It is on this programme that we should approach the forthcoming elections: on the streets, to make sure that elections are not merely a “referendum on Zapatero’s future” (as some in the press have said), but a referendum on the capitalist policies and system which both he and all the capitalist parties represents.

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November 2010