Spanish national and local government plans for sweeping privatisations received a blow at the weekend when campaigners collected more than 160,000 signatures opposing the flotation on the stock exchange of the local water company, El Canal de Isabel II.
The regional government of Madrid, like the national government, is in the hands of the right wing Popular Party that trounced the Socialists first in local elections last May and then parliamentary elections in November. Both are dead keen on selling of Spain’s family silver in order to plug a big hole in the public finances caused first by a bank-fuelled housing boom-turned- bust and then by austerity policies in Spain and abroad.
Esperanza Aguirre, head of the regional government of Madrid also wants to flog off the Metro, one of world’s top 10 underground urban train systems. He hopes to make Euros 1.5-1.75 billion from the sale of the water company, which would also allow the new private owners to buy other companies, including banks, and exploit land currently being used for public utility like gardens and parks.
But opponents including the unions, United Left party and the 15-M, or indignados movement, have been raising awareness among the public of the planned sale of the public water company, arguing that ‘water is for everybody and does not belong to anyone’ On Sunday, they announced the results of their own referendum in which 167 000 people took part: 99% rejected privatisation.
The organisers said that the referendum, which was organised by installing polling booths in 350 municipals, or local areas, was designed to allow people to take a view on an issue that had ‘not appeared in an electoral programme’ and that the regional government was promoting ‘behind the backs of the citizens.’
Enrique García, from the Popular Assembly of Tetuán, a district in Madrid, pointed out that demands for a debate in the Madrid regional assembly had been rejected by the regional government. He added:
“A few months ago the citizens know nothing of the privatisation of the water company’ but thanks to the successful referendum ‘now the majority of the population was informed.’
Although it was not binding the referendum had ‘moral and political validity’, campaigners said. They are now demanding the regional government hold an official referendum that would force the Madrid administration to win popular support for its plans, or drop them.