Tag Archives: Politics

Spain elections: the view from the edge of the precipice

Mariano Rajoy’s PP will win tomorrow’s general elections in Spain. The size of the majority it achieves will shape Spanish and Catalan politics for the next few years.

The prospect of seeing the PP in power again after 8 years is not a happy one. While I’m no fan of the PSOE (I think I called them ‘the very worst party in Spain’ at one point, though I can’t find a link), my suspicion is that before long many who loathe the Socialists will remember how much more they loathed the PP last time they governed.

In Barcelona, the general mood seems to be one of totally ignoring these elections. After a swing to the right in recent Catalan and city hall elections, most people here seem to be trying to avoid thinking about having the PP in government. My prediction is that the turnout will be very low.

It is once the PP take over government (in a few weeks’ time, according to Spanish electoral law) that the dread will really set in. This is a party running for office in a country on the verge of massive economic disaster which has failed to express any coherent economic policies whatsoever. Their posters include slogans like “Primero, el Empleo” (Jobs First) but their policies will doubtless be savage cuts and successive rounds of redundancies and privatisation.

At the same time, it looks increasingly possible that Spain could be forced into needing a bailout from the European Central Bank or the IMF. I say ‘forced’ because categorcially, this does not need to happen. The pressure being applied to successive European countries is organised, focused and has at its core the aim to destroy the Euro. Politically, I’m no great fan of the EU. But forcing Spain’s exit from the Euro along with other countries in 2012 could threaten the very existence of the EU. I’d rather try to make it better for people.

In Catalonia, there are already some hints that the PP might try to buy an end to the Linguistic Immersion education policy with a fairer share of tax revenues. CiU, craven demagogues that they are, may well go for this. I worry too that fascist groups like ‘Plataforma Per Catalunya’ (Catalan fascists whose electoral pamphlets are seemingly only published in Castilian Spanish), may win a seat or two.

Finally, I expect this PP government to be faced with huge protests and strikes. One of the many problems with a PSOE government pushing through neo-liberal policies was the failure of the unions to properly challenge them. Now that the PP will be in government, there will be more inclination on the part of unions and workers to fight back. The Indignats (which inspired the Occupy movement in the USA) will also probably fight back harder: I’ll bet that more than a few Indignats have voted PSOE in the past and will do again, but that basically none of them are PP supporters. Also, the harder left wing party Izquierda Unida might fare better at the polls this year than for the last decade or so: they may be able to use this to force a more left wing opposition.

So here we are on the edge of a precipice, you and me. We face the prospect of a government which will not have won on merit but by default, with no policies for saving Spain’s economy, but hopefully with broad opposition from a curiously revitalised left. People might not be interested in these elections but the next four years will be anything but boring.

Catalan police use agents provocateurs in attempt to trigger riot

Numerous pieces of evidence have surfaced that seem to prove that the Mossos d’Esquadra, Catalonia’s autonomous police force, used agents provocateurs during yesterday’s #15M movement protests outside the Catalan parliament. The protesters had gathered in the parc de la Ciutadella in Barcelona in an attempt to prevent MPs from accessing the parliament, where they were scheduled to vote in a raft of austerity measures and tax cuts.

The most complete video on YouTube (below) shows ‘protesters’ attempting to stir things up, then donning balaclava-style masks, before being escorted by police to safety, after they had been identified as troublemakers by other protesters. Equipped with hands-free devices, which might have been mobile phones or radios, the infiltrators seemed to be well organised.

This is, of course, an old tactic. Since time immemorial, police agents have attempted to trigger violence in otherwise peaceful protest movements in order to weaken popular support. With support from politicians and the media, it seems like the police have achieved their aim. The media, of course, is basically not reporting this news. The #15M movement insists that it does not support violent protest… indeed, in its Twitter feed yesterday, it pleaded with protesters to remain peaceful. A later protest at plaça Sant Jaume (seat of the Catalan government) proceeded entirely peacefully, which lends further credence to the protestors’ claims. Meanwhile, the budget was approved without amendments, with some Catalan MPs forced to fly into the parliament with police and fire-rescue helicopters.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pbhuEVgU9mI[/youtube]

I think it’s important that as many people as possible see this video… indeed, since last night, more than 100,000 people have watched it. Pass it on, as it’s vital that popular support for the indignats isn’t washed away on a lie.

Spain: Youth in revolt?

Many people who live in Spain, as well as lots of observers outside the country, have been asking the same question for the last few months: where are the young people?

With youth unemployment as high as 46% and the PSOE (‘Socialist’) government using the economic crisis as an excuse to force through radical changes to the country’s social framework, why weren’t Spanish youths protesting on the street? The clues to the answer lay in the failure of September’s general strike. Young people weren’t interested. This lack of interest in officially organised and accepted methods of protest (the strike was organised by major trade unions, generally seen to be partners of the PSOE) wasn’t the same as apathy, though it did initially appear similar.

The events of the last couple of days in Madrid, then, are heartening. Thousands of young people, using Facebook and Twitter to organise followers there bought them here, converged on the capital’s iconic Puerta del Sol square and protested against the lack of real democracy, the spending cuts, the incredibly high youth unemployment (higher than in many of the north African countries where revolutions were fuelled by similar complaints), new copyright laws, and much more. Hundreds have also camped out in Barcelona’s Plaça de Catalunya, mingling with bemused tourists and surrounded by itchy-looking Mossos d’Esquadra (Catalan police with a reputation for enjoying beating-up students and anarchists). The protest camps are organised: popular commissions have been established to distribute information, food, blankets, legal advice.

The Spanish political establishment, focused only on this weekend’s municipal elections, was taken by surprise. Its response has been telling: Barcelona city hall switched-off the city’s webcam of Plaça Catalunya. Then the Junta Electoral, Spain’s elections commission, noted that the protest camps would have to be cleared because they are in breach of Spain’s electoral law. The PSOE (PSC in Catalonia) has tried to make it sound like they sympathise with the protestors, Barcelona’s mayor bemoaning “international speculators and the damage they do” (the same speculators he sees it has his job to entice into our city). In Madrid, the police have moved to close access to the protest camp apparently in preparation to fulfill the Junta Electoral’s controversial and unpopular judgement.

What will happen over the weekend remains unclear. It is likely that the police will attempt to clear both camps. If they only clear Madrid’s, then Barcelona’s might grow. Whatever happens, it would be wrong to continue to ask why Spain’s youth has done nothing to oppose the country’s corrupt politics. The kids are on the streets. And they want radical change.

Some questions… #1.5: What about France?

As part of my apparently ongoing series of Questions for a Catalan Independentist, this post poses a question that wasn’t in my original post.

Actually, this is a topic I’ve been thinking about grillz recently, thanks to the input of an uninterested friend who knows something about geopolitics in Europe. Indeed, it’s one issue that I don’t think I’ve ever seen answered by Catalan independentists. It comes down to a simple problem: would France ever allow an independent Catalan state to be declared on its border?

Before you start immediately by saying “I don’t care, they’ll just have to accept it”, allow me to offer some thoughts. France is one of the two key powers in Europe. It’s on the UN Security Council. It’s a centre for international diplomacy. Isn’t it likely that should France choose to block the establishment of a new state on its borders (and one which, let’s face it, would likely have at least some parliamentarians dedicated to the restoration of Catalunya Nord to the Catalan state), is there anything Catalonia could really do? Not being recognised by Spain is of huge importance. Not being recognised by France might be difficult to overcome.

So the question is: What about France? Do you really think France would stand for what it might see as the first of several new states springing up on its borders? Doesn’t this gravely affect the independence argument?

State of alert: How the PSOE used Franco’s strike breaking tactics

[I intended to write this sooner but I’ve been rather knocked out with flu since Saturday.]

The press was full of it: on the evening of December 3rd, the Spanish military ‘took over’ air traffic control towers across Spain at the request of the government. Air traffic controllers (ATCs) had, we were told, abandoned their duties en masse, calling in sick in a wildcat strike that brought the ‘public infrastructure’ of the airports to a grinding halt. But once again, the story we were being told was a narrow and distorted version of events. One that omitted key details intentionally. So it was little wonder that Spanish workers fel little solidarity for the ATCs.

The truth is that the air traffic controllers strike of December 2010 was precipitated intentionally by an agressive PSOE government, and then dealt with by that same government using the weapons of Franco’s dictatorship.

Step one is always to demonise the strikers, removing the risk that solidarity poses.

  • We were told that ATCs had an average state-funded salary of €370,000. LIE. ATC salaries are paid out of airport levies. Last available figures point to an average salary of €138,000. Which sounds like a lot, but bear in mind that ATCs are held criminally responsible for mistakes, and the awful stress that this must put on people. There are plenty of other people who earn a lot more than ATCs but few with such a horribly stressful and injurious type of work. Spanish ATCs are among the lowest-paid in Europe.
  • We were told that ATCs phoned in sick, en masse, asking for more money. LIE. On December 3rd, the government announced plans to partially privatise Spain’s airports (the ‘public infrastructure’ that the government fought so hard to protect the very next day). Simultaneously, AENA (Spanish airports management agency) had been engaged in a policy of cancelling vacations, demanding that people ‘pay back’ sick leave. AENA also intentionally named fewer personnel than were necessary for rotas that week, knowing that the puente weekend would see increased air traffic. AENA, without question, intentionally precipitated the situation.
  • We were told that the ATCs operate a closed shop and keep numbers down in order to keep their pay up. LIE. AENA is responsible for all hiring. AENA has not announced public entrance procedures for four years.
  • We were told that ATCs carried out a strike. LIE. After AENA deliberately sabotaged air traffic control, delays were always going to happen. But AENA publicly claimed that ATCs had walked out. These false accusations led to verbal and physical attacks on ATCs.

So the stage was set for interior minister Alfredo Rubalcaba to deal a vicious blow against the ATCs. And that he did. On December 4th, he declared a ‘state of alert’ (you could also use the term ‘state of emergency’ but that lacks something of the nuance of the various ‘states’ Spain can be in, like alerta, excepción, etc). It was the first time in Spain’s current democracy that such a measure had been used. And unless you’d been here in the 60s and 70s, you might well think it was a pretty standard, if very grave, response to a crisis.

The truth is that the state of alert is a peculiar item of Spanish law that has its roots in Franco’s fascist dictatorship. Throughout the 60s and 70s, Franco’s government used the state of alert to smash strikes. It works by declaring all workers of a specific convenio (like metro drivers or, in this case, ATCs) as ‘mobilised’ military personnel. So you start the day an ATC and before you know it, you’re a military ATC with orders from military staff to attend work as and when they demand it. It doesn’t matter when your shift was supposed to start because the army can tell you to start when it wants you to. And if you fail to do so? Because you’ve just become a member of the military, failure to turn up for work on their command means that you are committing sedition. Mutiny. And anyone who does this is sent to court martial and can end up in a military prison for up to 7 years.

So the state of alert is a method controlling workers by bringing in the army. Thus, ATCs were forced to work at gunpoint in some Spanish airports.

The lessons here are clear. Firstly, whenever there’s a labour dispute, the last people to trust are (a) the government, (b) the management, and (c) the media. This should have been clear before but it bears repeating. Secondly, the failure of the general strike on September 29th had one major effect: as we warned, the government felt it could move on and get away with anything. Thirdly, the PSOE has once again displayed a flagrant disregard for workers’ rights. The state of alert has set a nasty new precedent. By breaking one of the last taboos of Spanish democracy (the army permitted to take command of civilian infrastructure and the militarisation of civilian staff), the PSOE has made Spain a less just, more dangerous country. Now the cat is out of the bag, we can only wait and see when the state of alert will next be used.

We’ve been warned by the PSOE not to undertake more strikes against its dismantling of Spain’s social system and public infrastructure. Now is the time for another general strike. This time, lets make sure it works.

Reference links:

http://www.diariodemallorca.es/mallorca/2010/11/28/razones-atasco-acabado/623975.html

http://www.corrientemarxista.org/estado-espanol/9-estado-espanol/348-decretado-el-estado-de-alarma.html

Some questions for an opponent of Catalan independence

Following on from June’s ‘Some Questions for a Catalan Independentist , here are some questions I’d like to pose to those of you who are opposed to the idea of Catalonia becoming independent. These have been harder to for me to formulate for one simple reason: in a debate such as this one, the onus is really on those proposing change (in this case, the independentists) to explain why the rest of us should go along with their proposal. That said, I do feel that there are some questions which do deserve to be asked of those who oppose independence. From my experience in the real world, their arguments against independence often seem to be the most fallacious of all.

  1. If a suitable majority supported it, why shouldn’t Catalonia be independent?
  2. How would you describe your stance against Catalan nationalism?
  3. Are you aware of the independentists’ historical claims? Do you think they are inaccurate, or irrelevant?
  4. Do you think its possible that your position is the result of political media campaigns against independence?
  5. Do you oppose the independence of all ‘nation’ states, or is your opposition selective?
  6. Even though you oppose it, do you feel any empathy for those who genuinely  believe that their country isn’t ‘free’ unless it’s an independent state?
  7. What action would you take should Catalonia become independent?
  8. What action should Spain take to prevent Catalonia declaring independence?
  9. Do you think that Kosovo’s independence from Serbia sets a legal precedent?
  10. Are there any conditions under which you’d accept Catalan independence (e.g. constitutional protection of Spanish speakers)?
  11. Should Catalonia become independent, would you insist that FC Barcelona be excluded from the LFP?
  12. Have you ever found yourself chuckling at the epithet ‘Cataloonies’ while strumming away to the old Iberian Notes blog? (You don’t have to answer this one if you really don’t want to).

And that’s it for the moment. Let me know if you think I’ve missed out something really glaring. And do feel free to answer some or all of the questions for an independentist too.

Some Questions for a Catalan Independentist

In just over a week, many Catalan towns will hold ‘consultaions’ about Catalan independence. These consultations (consultes) take the form of a mock referendum. They’re not legally binding in any way, and voting in them is so open that even I can join in! The thing about these consultations is that they do make it feel (however superficially) like Catalonia is starting to seriously consider its status as part of Spain. The organisers and political groups involved are certainly keen to make it look like that, at any rate.

On this blog, I’ve been careful to avoid a categorical endorsement of Catalan independence for many reasons. So I decided to ask some open questions to anyone interested in answering them. And you don’t have to be in favour of Catalan independence to take part: if you think you’ve got a point to make, make it. I plan to do something similar directed at opponents of independence over the next few days. Feel free to answer whichever of the questions you like.

Some questions:

  1. Why should Catalonia be independent?
  2. What exactly do you think will be gained if Catalonia becomes independent?
  3. What model do you see an independent Catalonia adopting? Some sort of republic? How would it be organised?
  4. Do you think that the current crisis is a good time to decide something like this? Why?
  5. What damage do you think this would do to Spain? Do you worry about that?
  6. Is an independent Catalonia an economically viable state?
  7. What should the process be in the result of a vote in favour of independence?
  8. What should be the status of Spanish citizens in Catalonia? Would dual citizenship be allowed?
  9. What about immigrants? Would they become citizens? What would the immigration policy be?
  10. Would you expect all the political parties in Catalonia to break ties with their Spanish equivalents?
  11. What would happen if the EU had trouble accepting Catalonia as a member?
  12. What would happen to Catalan government agencies aimed at trade and business? Would they be absorbed by embassies?
  13. Who would be the head of state? Would you deny Juan Carlos’s claim to sovereignty?
  14. Would the Catalan constitution guarantee the right to receive state services in Castilian Spanish?
  15. How would you deal with people potentially wanting to leave for Spain proper?
  16. What flag would you have? Senyera or Estelada?
  17. What would happen to utilities like the phone/data system?
  18. What sort of rights would be included in the constitution anyway?
  19. How would you deal with other parts of the ‘Catalan Countries’? Would you seek their absorption?
  20. How important would the status of FC Barcelona be? Do you think the Spanish league would still have them?
  21. Would you bother with armed forces? If so, how?
  22. What would happen if there was a Spanish boycott of independent Catalonia?
  23. What would happen if there was a Spanish military response?
  24. Can a constituent part of an EU and NATO member even declare independence?
  25. Would you demand that companies trading in Catalonia establish separate entities in Catalonia? How?

And that’s enough for now. I know that I’ve asked a lot of questions. But these are just some of the questions that will be asked should Catalonia approach a genuine referendum.

So, what do you say?