Spain: Ruling parties and federal government hammered in Catalan elections

Conservative nationalists victory follows defeat of “left” tripartite

After 8 years in power, the ‘tripartite’ government of the so-called “left” in Catalonia has suffered a decisive defeat by the Catalan conservative party CiU. All the members of the tripartite coalition made losses at the polls: PSC lost one quarter of its seats (37 to 28) and the ERC (the “left” nationalists) lost one half (21 to 10). ICV-EUIA (an alliance including Izquierda Unida’s Catalan sister organization and environmental and social groups) fared better, losing only 2 of their 12 seats.

With unemployment officially at 20%, PSOE’s federal government’s only solutions to the continuing and deepening crisis in the Spanish economy have been further austerity and privatisation. The Catalan tripartite had supported the measures of Prime Minister Zapatero’s austerity programme and introduced their own pro-market measures in education and cuts in wages.

It was hardly surprising that last week the people of Catalonia threw out the PSC, the Catalan sister party of PSOE and leading party in the former tripartite government. PSC’s election slogan of “guaranteed success” in reality was a guaranteed failure. PSC’s link with the federal government and the clear pro-market measures of this so called “left” tripartite are to blame for their defeat.

Unfortunately, the election slogans of the ICV-EUIA were equally uninspiring. “Green hope” and “Left solutions” are not enough to inspire a generation reaching for struggle and a political voice. What does “green hope” mean? Does “left solutions” equate to getting a job with decent wages and conditions? Does it mean opposition to the government’s hated labour reform? Their campaign in Catalonia was almost a mirror reflection of the main parties’ campaigns: colourful banners and pretty photo shoots, but with no more than a “left-of-centre” message.

The smaller fall in votes of the ICV-EUIA, compared to the others in the coalition, was hailed by some of its leaders as positive. In fact, their vote of 7.39% represents an average of their votes over the last 20 years. However, things are very different from the last 20 years, and the opportunities of the ICV-EUIA in this election could have been enormous, had it put itself forward as an independent voice of workers and youth moving into struggle against the onslaught of Spanish capitalism.

The ICV-EUIA played a positive role in building for the general strike in September but, just as the workers had started to show their strength on the question of the crisis, the ICV-EUIA found themselves propping up a Catalan government of austerity and were duly punished at the polls.

CiU in Power

The Victory of CiU will clearly lead to an anti-worker government, as this party represents the Catalan capitalist class. They are now just short of an outright majority but will find many willing supporters in the new parliament for their plans.

Within 24 hours of their, victory CiU immediately showed its intentions to continue with attacks on the working class. They announced the scraping of inheritance tax, which will mainly benefit the rich, and the slashing of spending on government departments.

They have already clashed with Zapatero on his call for the privatisation of part of Barcelona’s Airport. However, this is not because they disagree with privatization, but mainly because they felt that, as the government of Catalonia, they should have been consulted first!

CiU’s victory will antagonise the national question.

This summer CiU clearly rode on a wave of nationalist sentiments when, together with over 500 other organisations, they hi-jacked a one million-strong demonstration against the Constitutional Court’s rejection of Catalonia’s Statute of Autonomy. However, despite this, their vote is not a clear-cut vote for independence.

Whereas the ERC called for a referendum on independence, CiU was careful not to make such a commitment. The left nationalists have lost over 50% of their seats. The CiU still holds its cards close to its chest on this issue, and awaits the outcome of state wide elections in 2012 .

Opinion polls have shown significant support in favour of Independence. The national question is still clearly a strong and increasing political feature in Catalonia, but it is the question of the crisis that is of primary importance to most workers.

The victory of the CiU, added to the increase in the vote for the PP (main capitalist opposition party on a state-wide level), a strong defender of the “Union of Spain”, shows that there will clearly be increasing antagonism and polarisation on the national question as the general crisis in the state of Spain continues.

The national question will be used to offset blame but also as a bargaining tool by various forces, who all agree on the “need” to attack the workers. Therefore, the role that the left and the trade unions could play in uniting workers in struggle while defending the right to self-determination, including the right to independence, will be crucial in avoiding divisions amongst the working class.

Inmigration and the PP

Immigrant issues are also being used by some parties to sidetrack workers and cover up capitalism’s inability to employ people or provide a decent life.

The political arena has been flooded with racist and anti-immigrant issues over the last years. Vic (a Catalan town) council’s refusal to give papers for basic health care and services to undocumented immigrants and the banning of the wearing of the Burka by some local councils are just a few examples of this.

The majority of immigrants came to Spain to work in the then-booming, now-collapsed construction industry. Immigration has slowed down since. Immigrants are one of the worst affected sectors by the crisis, as they are much more likely to lose their jobs and have no other means of survival.

The PP has used this election with the strategy of aggressive anti-immigration propaganda to whip up tensions in crisis-ridden Catalonia. They had their best ever result in Catalonia, winning 12% of the vote. The far right party, Plataforma per Catalunya, also narrowly missed out on winning a seat in the parliament.

The PP’s strategy should serve as a warning to the worker’s movement as this is a foretaste of the state-wide elections. Leading in most opinion polls, the PP is the most likely successor to PSOE across the state of Spain. It is vital that the Spanish worker’s movement takes up a united struggle of both “native” and immigrant workers.

Continuing crises

In the same week of the Catalan elections, the Spanish state’s economy again was wobbling on the brink. Zapatero’s strategy of denial to gain the confidence of the markets will fail.

PSOE has denied the Spanish economy’s weakness at each stage of the crisis. First, Spain was “not Greece”, then “not Ireland” and soon it will be “not Portugal”! The reality, which presents no prospects for meaningful recovery and nothing more than anaemic growth and continued crisis and uncertainty, will hit.

The Spanish credit rating has been repeatedly downgraded and there is no engine in the economy to pull Spain out of the crises. The reality is more austerity to come, to please the needs of the speculators, IMF and European bank.

Workers in struggle and the left

Further crises in the Spanish state’s economy and that of Catalonia’s will likely inflame the working class and intensify the anger and desire for struggle. They have already suffered massive attacks. The battles to come are unavoidable from a capitalist point of view.

The question is whether a mighty movement can be built with a strategy to beat the austerity programme rather than a movement to simply to let off steam, and whether a party can be built to win workers and youth to Socialism and to end the dictatorship of capital.

Now that the tripartite coalition is dead, there is an opportunity for the ICV-EUIA to move in a radical socialist direction in Catalonia. Some of Izquierda Unida’s state-wide leaders, such as Cayo Lara, make strong left-wing gestures, as have some of the leaders of the trade union federations, but this isn’t enough.

In the aftermath of the general strike, they could have galvanised people into a strategy to fight the austerity programme and attacks on workers’ rights. Instead, their silence was deafening until the election campaign, and even then they made no clear call to build the movement.

The ICV-EUIA followed the limp strategy of the trade unions, who organised a “petition of the people” to present a Bill to parliament for an alternative economic plan. Had this plan been combined with a sustained struggle of strikes (including a series of general strikes) and protests, it could have ignited the Catalan elections. In reality, it demobilised the movement.

As has been seen across Europe, left formations, even those ones with strong roots in the Working Class such as the PRC in Italy, can rapidly waste their potential, and even crash out of existence. This is not the perspective for Izquierda Unida at this stage, but it is a warning.Another danger is that the vacuum that exists can be filled by the right.

There is an urgent need for a bold strategy of struggle, including a series of general strikes, as well as for the building and maintenance of grass roots action committees and assemblies to organise the on-going struggle.

A serious alternative socialist programme is needed that includes the nationalisation of the banks under democratic workers control, a massive investment programme to create decent jobs for all and the calling for a government of working people, not of the IMF and the speculators.

To develop a programme along these lines could reignite the magnificent socialist traditions of the Catalan working class who have shown in recent months their willingness to struggle.

The CWI in Spain believes this is possible. We invite all those with a similar perspective to join and fight alongside members of the CWI in Catalonia and throughout the Spanish state as a whole.

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December 2010