Thursday, March 29, 2012

Are we seeing red?

It was not supposed to be this way. In November, Mariano Rajoy won a landslide election for his Popular Party (PP), the successor to the francoist ideology, which had been out of power since 2004. Zapatero, the outgoing Socialist premier, paid the price of the collapse of the building boom that had sustained a Spanish "economic miracle" all through 2009. Then came the world financial crisis, unemployment soared, government revenue melted away, and Zapatero was accused of not being sufficiently socialist and in cahoots with the bailed out bankers.
The irony is that the failure of the capitalist model led to the collapse of the left in Europe.

Maybe not. On March 25th the autonomous region of Andalucía, Spain's most populous, and a reliable provider of Socialist votes for 30 years, held its regional election. The PP put forward it's best arguments and people, looking to impose the blue tide of conservative policies on the whole map of Spain; polling pointed to a clear victory, and the PP candidate, Javier Arenas, three times defeated in previous contests, robed himself in the approval of the national PP, and embraced Mariano Rajoy's hard-cutting, austere and retrograde program. On Monday the count was in: PP had indeed won the popular vote, in spite of having lost 300,000 voters since the last contest. The Socialist party (PSA) also lost hundreds of thousands of votes, but remained only 3 seats short of the majority in the Andalusian Parliament.
The big winner was the United Left party, a conglomerate of the remnants of the old Communist, and several shades of Anarchist, parties. They gained three parliamentary seats, for a total of five, becoming the pivot that would deny the conservatives their victory and stemmed the tide of reactionary blue over the political map.
To make matters worse, today the region of Asturias, old bastion of trade unionism as a predominantly extractive (coal and iron mining) economy, confirmed that the badly split conservatives had failed to win a majority. Socialists and United Left matched the 22 Conservative seats in the Asturian parliament; the fulcrum, this time, lies in the hands of a small dissident, hard left and pure, party headed by a former Socialist, Rosa Díez.
Mr. Rajoy, the national premier, today confronted with the first national general strike in a generation, declares that he will stick to his guns, squeezing a further 15% from government spending. He is in an impossible situation, between the Scilla of EU demands for austerity, and the Charybdis of an increasingly hostile and belligerent population. Government workers have seen their incomes cut by 5% across the board, and frozen for the next three years. In many schools janitors having been laid off, parents have volunteered to sweep and clean classes and corridors. Support staff, like educational psychologists, are paying out of their own pockets for their car's fuel while traveling long distances from school to school.
Here I am, sitting in a Starbucks in Seville, behind drawn blinds, while trade unionists walk the streets, blowing whistles and waving red flags. It is anybody's guess at this point how widespread the strike will be. This morning's El País, the leading Spanish daily, came out with half it's usual pages, and claims that among its workers strike compliance was in excess of 65%.
The Spanish Socialist party has already joined in the European Social-democratic rethink of attitudes and policies. In Andalucía and Asturias they will certainly be influenced by their partners on the hard left to offer and pursue solutions to the crisis that take care of the plain folk, stressing the well being of the greater number, instead of just the ubiquitous one percenters.