By CHRIS HUTCH
This is the first in a series of on-the-scene reports about the workers’ movement in Spain. Socialist Action will feature these articles throughout the coming months.
MADRID—“Health care is not to be sold, it is to be defended!” demanded the lead banner that thousands of health-care workers marched behind on Jan. 7. These health-care workers are known as the “Marea Blanca” or “White Tide” because of the white lab coats many wear during the protests. They are the voice of opposition to the planned privatization of the present health system in Madrid.
Spain consists of 17 autonomous regions, which are now having difficulty borrowing money following the economic crisis of 2008. The crisis was caused by predatory lending in real estate and wild speculative gambles in the financial sector. Furthermore, the Spanish state has assisted the U.S. in an unjust war in Afghanistan to the tune of 3.5 billion euros. The capitalist class, which caused the crisis, is now demanding that the working class make concessions in housing, education, jobs, and health care.
Health-care workers are standing up and saying, “No more concessions!” Many feel as though this is just the beginning of the move to a much larger privatization. The Washington Post reports, “The region of Madrid proposes selling the management of six of 20 large public hospitals in its territory and 27 of 268 health centers.”
The planned privatization of Madrid’s hospitals and auxiliary health centers spells disaster for the working class. Closing hospital facilities means longer waits for medical attention and an overall lesser quality of care. Already, massive unemployment and housing evictions are stretching Spanish workers to the limit psychologically and physically, which is evident by the rising suicide rates in the past year.
The Marea Blanca organized by the group Sanidad en Lucha has been in the streets for months, including a two-day strike in November as well as an unsuccessful attempt to win over elected officials through a massive petitioning effort, in which they collected over 1 million signatures.
Therefore, all recognize the need for continued mobilizations, strikes, and other actions. The Jan. 7 action, which started in Madrid’s Neptune Plaza and ended in the Puerta del Sol, was filled with determination to continue the fight for their human right to good quality health care. The majority has spoken, and it will be difficult for the Spanish state to turn back this rising tide.
Spanish workers respond to economic crisis
SALAMANCA—Stickers, like politically charged graffiti, have played a dynamic role in reaching the masses with important messages. In Spain one can still see, stuck to drainpipes and street signs, calls to mobilize for the Nov. 14, 2012, general strike against austerity.
This tradition has a long history in Spain, and currently the Center of Historical Memory in Salamanca has an exhibition of political stickers from 1976 to 1982. This exhibition examines political propaganda from the transition period between the end of the Franco regime to the consolidation of the social democracy and continuation of capitalist rule. The exhibition represents a wide range of movements—nationalist, feminist, socialist, anarchist, and workers’—that emerged full force as the stranglehold of the Franco regime loosened.
This exhibition appears at time when the global economic crisis, caused by the anarchic system of capitalism, has hit Spain hard. Official unemployment is nearly 25%. For youth ages 15-24, the official unemployment number is 37.7%.
The Spanish state, a constitutional monarchy, is governed mostly today by the People’s Party (PP) and the Spanish Socialist Party (POSE). Since the crisis began, both of these parties have laid down the gauntlet of austerity on the heads of Spanish workers. Austerity, meted out by the “Troika”—the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Central Bank—continues to threaten Spanish workers with deeper hardships.
Spanish workers are not taking the Troika’s abuses. Each day brings word of new actions. The General Confederation of Labor (CGT) announced that during the week of Jan. 7 workers would go on strike in Barcelona, Valladolid, and Madrid.
Actions are planned at the Spain Alten headquarters, which is a major player in the telecommunications and technology industries. To maintain their rate of profit, the company is attempting to slash benefits and wages. Despite recording 598 million euro ($788 million US) profit in the first quarter of 2012, Diagonal Periodico reports, that Spain Alten has laid off 141 workers, planned a linear wage reduction of 10% for the rest of the workforce, an increase in working hours, and the elimination of temporary disability. CGT officials say the strike will last until the measures are taken off the table and it seems as though the bosses are scrambling to reword their initial proposals.
Recently, Madrid’s subway workers voted to strike on Jan. 4 and 5, coinciding with the popular Cabalgata de Reyes parade (Three Kings Parade). While these type of one or two-day strikes are common symbolic actions (only about 10% of the metro lines were shut down), the workers have voted to go on strike during the morning and evening rush hour periods beginning on Jan. 17. Transit workers are fighting against the elimination of their bonuses as well as a breach in their collective bargaining agreement for failing to get raises in 2011 and 12.
The largest hit comes to the banking industry. About 890 employees, more than half the workforce of the so-called nationalized Bank of Valencia, will be laid off, following a buyout by La Caixa, Spain’s third largest bank. Reuters is reporting that the banking unions are expecting 12,000 jobs to be cut in 2013. In the face of such cuts, it makes one question why the Union General de Trabajadores de España (UGT) is not mobilizing its membership.
As if unemployment weren’t bad enough, a massive wave of home evictions is well underway in Spain. While 1 million homes currently go unoccupied, evictions continue at a staggering rate. Reuters reports, “Some 50,000 Spaniards were kicked out of their homes in the first half of 2012.”
People are horrified by more than 100 owners and renters that have committed suicide after being forced out of their homes in 2012, some jumping to their deaths from the windows of their apartments. In fact, nearly every country in southern Europe facing austerity has seen dramatic spikes in the rates of suicides. Spanish newspaper El Pais reports a 52% jump in Italy and 40% jump in Greece.
These stories have led to a massive public outcry. Many feel as though these are not suicides but murder. They demand that everyone have a roof over their head at a fair price. Newspapers in Spain are also reporting that locksmiths are refusing to help the landlords and the state in the eviction process.
The Spanish state is beginning to come down hard on activists in the anti-austerity movement. Two notable cases include Alfonso Fernandez and Twitterista @Almu_en_Lucha.
Alfonso or “Alfon,” a 21-year-old from Madrid, was on his way to a picket line during the Nov. 14 general strike when he and his girlfriend were arrested. The judge sentenced Alfon to preventative detention, claiming he was potentially too dangerous to be released to the public. This charge stems from police accusations that Alfon was carrying a bag of gasoline to the picket line. Alfon maintains that the accusations are not true.
The Spanish people have responded to these draconian measures with an “Alfon Libertad” movement, which has manifested both in the Twitterverse (#AlfonLibertad) and on the streets of the Spanish state. “Alfon Libertad” graffiti is scrawled on the walls in many places as a reminder that an injury to one is an injury to all. Nearly nine weeks later, at the time of this writing, Alfon remains in jail and the struggle continues.
Journalist Almundena Montero (@Almu_en_Lucha) has been called in for questioning before the national police for her posts on Twitter. Izquierda Anticapitalista reported that police claim @Almu_en_Lucha is inciting violence by posting quotes of Italian communist Antonio Gramsci on her Twitter account.