The second wave of the new coronavirus pandemic is washing over Europe, with the Spanish state the first to suffer. Workers are being asked to pay again for the inability of capitalism to solve the health and economic crisis.
Since the lockdown was lifted six weeks ago, daily cases have rocketed eight-fold to almost a third of a million, overtaking the UK. Deaths are rising and several regions are going back into lockdown as foreign governments restrict travel. Horrified by the damage to its profit rate, big business is fighting to keep workplaces open, no matter the cost to lives.
The Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) says that workplaces everywhere should stay shut until the virus is contained, with all workers on full pay in the meantime. Not a single job should be sacrificed: big companies like Nissan and Airbus that threaten job losses should be nationalised to save jobs immediately with compensation given only to those in need.
Around 28,000 people have died already as a result of the virus in Spain, with another 16,000 dying due to the disruption caused by the pandemic. The death toll is no natural disaster: thousands could have been saved if the government of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez of the so-called Socialist Workers Party (SPOE) had intervened earlier and made the interests of working-class people the priority. As soon as the pandemic hit, the CWI argued that on an international scale the working class to take control of the lockdown. We cannot trust the bosses to prioritise lives over profits. As the second wave mounts, emergency conferences should be called by trade unions and other workers’ organisations to discuss independent action to take control of safety during the pandemic and a common fight to stop the jobs slaughter.
There is intense anger at the 20,000 deaths in nursing homes across the state, the totally inadequate levels of protective equipment for health workers (who have accounted for 14% of confirmed infections, so far) and the shortage of beds and equipment in the hospitals.
The anger derives not just from the experience of the last few months but of the last decade of austerity and capitalist policies. Last week, twenty Spanish health experts wrote to the Lancet medical journal denouncing “a decade of austerity that had depleted the health workforce and reduced public health and health system capacities” and calling for the government’s conduct to be investigated. The massacre in nursing homes was partly because three quarters of them are privately owned, many by huge profit-making companies that routinely short-staff their homes and cut corners on health and safety.
The economy is on the verge of a crisis of unprecedented proportions. GDP has fallen by a quarter, so far, to levels not seen since the nineteenth century. According to some estimates, the brutal Spanish Civil War had less of an impact on the economy in 1936. Today, the car industry and the important tourist industry, which accounts for 13% of jobs, are hit particularly hard. The quarantine for holidaymakers announced by the British government could alone cost Spanish tourism EUR10 billion, according to tourism association CEHAT. Germany and other states have also imposed travel restrictions regarding Spain.
A million jobs were lost between March and June but the total figure will be much higher unless there is decisive action, with unemployment reaching 25% and double that for young people according to estimates.
The measures to support incomes from the PSOE-UP government are portrayed abroad as progressive but are, in reality, hopelessly inadequate. The vast majority of the funding is being handed over with no strings attached to big companies which will waste the cash on inflated executive salaries. Meanwhile the almost 4 million workers – many of them already low-paid – on the ERTE furlough scheme have lost 30% of their pay and 2.5 million self-employed workers have received no government help, at all. The much-hyped “minimum income” scheme is an advance, but only because the social security system was in tatters. In reality, the scheme is no “Universal Basic Income” programme but rather much closer to the benefits system which most European countries already have in place. Spain had double the average European rate of “severe poverty” even before the pandemic and none of the government’s programmes is going to be enough to stop that getting worse. The ban on sackings is full of holes. No worker should lose any income during the pandemic: the bosses should be made to pay to sustain incomes.
The so-called “coronavirus recovery” funding from the EU will not plug the gap either. The deal falls far short of the “Marshall Plan” that Sánchez has compared it to, and comes with conditions promoting failed free-market policies that make protecting jobs and pay harder. The “emergency brake” conceded to the capitalist politicians of northern “frugal” states will increase tensions between states, as foreign governments interfere in the budget plans of states like Spain that are receiving aid.
Even before the pandemic struck, it was a fantasy that on a capitalist basis Spain could outgrow its debts, rebuild its economy and solve its underlying economic problems. Now, with an economic collapse threatening, bold socialist policies must be urgently implemented. These include the repudiation of the unmanageable debt and the nationalisation of the finance system and the biggest companies under the democratic control of the working class and paying not a penny of compensation to big shareholders.
Powerful movements could grow very quickly to challenge capitalism and the establishment. The “cacelorada” pot-banging held nightly on every balcony during the lockdown frequently developed from praising key workers into criticising the government’s handling of the pandemic. This mood has spilled over into strike action over intolerable working hours amongst doctors in Valencia.
And workers in Nissan have scored a significant victory by forcing the company to cancel plans to close its factory in Barcelona at the end of this year, saving 3000 jobs directly and another 20,000 that depend on them. Closing the factory would have cut an estimated 2% from Catalonia’s GDP, but a three-month strike co-ordinated between several union federations, including the UGT and CCOO, forced the company to retreat for now. Workers know they will have to continue the campaign if and when the bosses go back on the offensive and the best way to prepare for that is to build a general movement, linking up workers who are facing job losses and pay cuts in mass and general strikes.
The CWI has previously reported (https://www.socialistworld.net/2019/12/02/general-election-in-spain-fails-to-end-political-impasse/) on the protracted political crisis in the Spanish state, which two general elections last year failed to resolve. Politics has fragmented because, now that PSOE has been decisively conquered by big business interests, there is no force that can capture enthusiastic support from the working class. The new left party Podemos looks like it might have blown its chance to win over the workers with a clear, bold challenge to the capitalist establishment, losing all its seats in Galicia and half its seats in the Basque Country in recent elections.
Every institution of the capitalist establishment is losing support, including the corrupt Spanish monarchy. But instead of boldly differentiating itself from this rottenness, Podemos’ leaders have been desperate to be absorbed into it, pleading with PSOE to let it join them in a coalition government since 2016. The new coronavirus pandemic has marked a new stage in the degeneration of the new left parties internationally, with Die Linke in Germany and the Left Bloc in Portugal, for example, supporting their capitalist governments.
Judged by workers
Podemos will correctly be judged by workers to share the blame for the fiasco of the recent U-turn by Sánchez on scrapping anti-worker labour laws. The laws were introduced by the previous PP government under instruction from the EU, in 2012, and restrict national bargaining by the trade unions and increase job insecurity. Despite pledging to scrap the laws in their entirety, Sánchez quickly caved in to pressure from the big business forces which dominate his party and instead only minor amendments to the laws are being planned. Sánchez blames his lack of a parliamentary majority but a real socialist force would look beyond parliament to the streets, the workplaces and the communities. It would put forward in parliament a bold socialist programme to undo the misery of austerity, and dare the other parties to vote it down and arouse the wrath of the working class. Rather than rip up their programme in exchange for some ministerial seats, Podemos should have taken this road.
At this point, it looks unlikely that Podemos will be able to claim credibly to represent a challenge to the capitalist establishment, and workers will have to look elsewhere and build a new formation post-covid. In the extreme political turmoil ahead, that formation could be assembled quickly and grow into a force challenging for power. The task is urgent: far-right party, Vox, is waiting in the wings, planning a vote of no confidence in Sánchez in September. There is an urgent need to build a real, revolutionary socialist alternative to the rotten capitalist establishment. Join the CWI and help us build that force!