Thursday, 26 May 2011

Spain Spins

by Farooque Chowdhury
from New Age
23 May 2011

The slogans and the signs say the Spain-reality: ‘Liberty, Equality and Corruption. Do we know who our politicians are working for? It’s called democracy and it’s not it!’

‘Real Democracy Now.’

‘We have the right to dream, and for it to become true.’

‘Be indignant.’

‘For a true democracy.’

‘No corrupt politicians, businessmen, bankers.’

‘Take the streets.’

‘Less policing, more education.’

‘They call it democracy, but it isn’t.’

Slogans cited above reveal a reality, a reality of indignation and aspiration, and this has put neo-liberalism on the dock in Spain. This is a reality neo-liberalism is facing in countries. In Spain, neo-liberalism is being implemented under the stewardship of the socialists.

Tens of thousands of protesters, young, old, pensioners, university students, civil servants, immigrants, campaigners for local languages, filled the main squares of about 50 cities including Madrid, Barcelona, Seville, Bilbao, Zaragoza, Valencia for about a week. They are los indignados, the indignant.

Protesters rallied against the country’s economic crisis, against its super-high jobless rate. In a wave of outrage over economic stagnation and government austerity marking a shift after years of patience they took to the streets. They protested against politicians, bankers and authorities’ handling of the economic crisis. They defied a ban, the Supreme Court upheld, on political protests, but police was not active to enforce it. The apparent inaction was a political move by the authorities. The government feared that an enforcement of the ban order could provoke clashes that in turn could hurt the Socialists. The protest took a political character.

The weeklong protest ‘marks a shift in Spain where up to now people have scarcely protested.’ This is the strongest outburst of spontaneous protests since Spain plunged into recession that followed the collapse of the 2008 property bubble. The protesters, known as M-15 as the protests began on May 15, lamented the economic crisis Spain is experiencing. They protested against the indifference of mainstream politicians, who ran in Sunday’s elections in 13 of the 17 regions and its more than 8,000 municipalities. The ruling Socialist Party is going to digest a big loss in the elections, a political price for following neo-liberalism.

The protesters expressed determination to stand against the crisis wrought by capital creating bubbles with illusions. They expressed solidarity by raising arms in an assembly even after midnight in the Puerta del Sol square in Madrid. A protester put a sticker on his boot denouncing the existing democracy. The youth hang banner with the sign ‘Indignant’ on top of a building in Madrid. They painted caricatures of the main political figures. More caricature is in the wings.

These tell the strong sentiment of the citizens against job insecurity and government spending cuts. Their demands include jobs, better living standards, a fairer system of democracy and changes to the austerity plans. Actually, the demand is for state’s enhanced role and responsibility in providing education, health and employment. The educated unemployed are demanding their rightful role in society and production. They are also, according to the BBC, calling for an end to domination of the political system by the two main parties. The demonstrations turned political.

A news agency report said: ‘With tents, mattresses, a kitchen, a workshop and even a pharmacy, a protest camp in Madrid has grown into a real ‘urban village’ for thousands of young people. Under blue plastic tarpaulins, demonstrators have gathered in the landmark Puerta del Sol square in the centre of the Spanish capital. Many of them have spent several days and nights there, to decry politicians who left Spain with a 21.3% unemployment rate.’ There were tents with food, tents for political debates, even a tent for childcare. These were not Don Quixotic exercises.

The Spanish unemployment rate, highest in the eurozone, was in the highest level in the first quarter of the year in fourteen years. A government estimate said on April 21 that about five million people were out of work. It is unprecedented. A gift of neo-liberalism! The youth unemployment rate is 40 per cent. Some sources cite it as 45 per cent. In areas, it has jumped to 50 per cent. The youth are angry; they are qualified, but there is no work. In terms of employment, it is a Tunisia-situation.

Spaniards’ demonstrations crossed borders. News agency reports said: Expatriate Spaniards organised demonstration in London on May 18. The movement was coordinated through social media and Twitter. Now, it seems that it is not only foreign powers that use social media to foment discontent in countries they like to intervene. Protesting people also use it.

Prior to the present demonstration, on April 17, demonstrators made a human barricade in front of police. Their t-shirts bore the sign: ‘We still got no home.’ Their posters said: ‘No house, no job, no pension.’ At that time there were flats for sale in Madrid. But that is beyond the reach of the unemployed. The demonstration was followed by clash with police, injury and arrest of demonstrators.

In the movement, there is no flag or affiliation to any party. The protest, as it appears from the demands and slogans, is also against the unfair political situation that Spain’s ruling class has built up and nourishes. The demonstrators were ‘asking for a change in the political system.’ Some of the protestors wrote to the BBC: ‘We have no option but to vote for the two biggest parties in Spain, who are more or less the same. They are unable to solve any problem, it is just a nest of corruption. We are tired. In short, we want a working democracy. We want a change.’ They view the political system as unfair. So, they protest ‘against the political situation that allows more than 100 people who are accused of corruption across the country to stand in the next elections.’ The electoral law in Spain has also turned controversial. It is alleged that the vote computing system benefits the big political parties while leaves the smaller ones without any possibility of achieving any success.

A number of protesters consider their movement as ‘anti-big political parties, both the one in power and the main ones in opposition. It’s an anti-capitalism, anti-market ruled society, anti-banks, anti-political corruption, anti-failed democracy, anti-degraded democracy and pro-real democracy protest.’

‘The economy and unemployment are key to the protest because that binds all of us together,’ said Jon Aguirre Such, a spokesperson for the Real Democracy Now, which is one of the organisers of the movement.

The movement took serious political character as the demonstrating youth called on people not to vote on Sunday for the two main parties, the Socialists and the centre-right opposition Popular Party. The rich-poor question has also been raised.

The rich-poor divide is a near-ancien question. Housing bubble has made the question bold. Spain has ‘built more homes than England, France and Germany combined, of which too many now stand empty. Much of the financing for these superfluous homes was done through still seemingly healthy large Spanish banks like Santander and BBVA. … Santander is connected to the entire global financial system.’

The Spanish movement will not announce neo-liberalism’s last journey and will not begin a new politics. But it will widen and deepen political lessons, help emergence of a new politics.

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