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Spanish elections – not just a two horse race

It’s been widely seen as a two-horse race between the incumbent Socialists and main opposition Popular Party, but Spain’s parliamentary election on Sunday will likely see a strong showing for the communist-led United Left.

Despite promising the same failed austerity medicine pursued by the Social government over the past 18 months, the right wing Popular Party is heading for a majority in the Spanish Cortes, according to polls. A devastating defeat awaits the Socialists, who took a sharp right turn last year.

However, United Left’s campaign has gained traction as its message chimes with that of the indignados protest movement that exploded onto the streets and town squares of the country last May.

United Left’s alternative centres of growth-led polices led by publicly owned banks and an expansion of Spain’s disproportionately low public employment, financed by taxes on the rich and corporations, plus a radical overhaul of the political system that gives voice to smaller parties and brings decision-making closer to citizens.

Pollsters predict the party gaining some 7%, perhaps even more, of the vote. That’s a jump from its low of 4% about in the last parliamentary elections. In terms of seats this will still amount to no more than 10 in the lower house, but that’s nine more than it currently has.

This week United Left announced a string of personalities from the world of arts and culture had dropped their allegiance to the Socialists, and were swinging openly behind the party. Then 1,500 trade unionists, including from the UGT, which has long historic links with the Spanish Socialists, publically pledged their support. 

But for United Left the real key is how many in the indignados movement it can win over with its call to “not to give a blank cheque” to the Popular Party by abstaining or spoiling their votes. This approach, adopted by Spain’s Occupy movement in local elections earlier this year, reflected the view that all the political parties are the same. In practice the “no nos representan” slogan led to the right wing party storming to power in the municipal and regional governments and a seemingly unstoppable momentum for this weekend’s national poll.

The indignados political strategies have moved on a bit since the Spring. For Democracia Real Ya, a network of activists at the centre of the movement, minority and new parties are now seen as acceptable options. Boycotting the two main parties could see each of them losing 5-8% of the vote, some proponents estimate. Another strategy being pursued by elements of the movement is tactical voting – recommending a particular party based on the arithmetic of ousting either one of the two main parties in any given constituency.  

The dangers of both strategies are that the vote is dispersed and in the end the effect is a confirmation of the two-party existing system, with in this case the Popular Party the victor.

For United Left, the demand is clear don’t waste your vote. The voto util is to vote for us.

Certainly replacing the Socialists by the Popular Party will be an own goal for the indignados whose often sketchy demands – including a stop to home repossessions, action over 40+% youth unemployment, protection of health and education services and a more pluralistic political system – were already part of, or have since been largely incorporated into United Left’s programme.

Austerity measures pusued by the Government of Luis José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero have aggravated unemployment – in 1.4 million households no one has a formal job, and a million homeowners are at risk of having their property seized by the bank.

And new figures this week show cuts to public spending had hit growth again, potentially tipping it back into recession, which in turn means deficit targets are going to be missed, and so yet deeper spending cuts to meet them.

Yesterday Mariano Rajoy, the Popular Party’s candidate for premier, pledged to make “cuts everywhere”, bar pensions, to meet deficit reduction goals set by EU officials and appealed for understanding from the markets.

To win them over he’s teeing up an economic “shock” plan that includes tax cuts and other measures in favour of business. This could include labour reforms where employers can hire workers at below the the minimum wage, if the employers federation, which has traditionally had the ear of the Popular Party, gets its way.

As in Greece and Italy, the prospect of a new government friendly to business and international banking, is failing to appease the markets. Interest rates on Spanish government bonds have now overtaken Italian heights.

This may be party because investors know austere economic remedies for a country already on the cusp of recession are bound to fail and partly because, as the reappearance of the indignados in the streets this week showed, there is a fear that social unrest will scupper further belt tightening.

For United Left’s Cayo Lara, it’s time to stop pandering to the banqueros, and to “save democracy from the banks.” On Sunday we will see how many people hear that message.




Greece’s Communist Party (KKE) on coalition government

Statement by KKE

The people must strengthen the KKE and ally with it – This is the prospect which can bring hope

A large mass rally-intervention was carried out by the KKE on Friday night in Syntagma Square. The rally took place a few hours before the vote of confidence in the government, which was achieved by it (with 153 votes out of the 300 MPs in Parliament) with the promise that from now on it will seek wider consensus with whatever other bourgeois parties desire it.

The main speaker at the large rally of the KKE was Aleka Papariga, GS of the CC, who stressed amongst other things:

“Down with the government and the parties which serve the plutocracy, as well as those parties which intentionally foster illusions amongst the people that another government with participation of these parties will solve the problem.

We do not conceal from anyone the fact that the class struggle must be directed towards one single goal, the acquisition of working class power, a power which serves the working class and the other popular strata.

They are lying that the timeline imposes the voting of the loan agreement before the election. We demand a caretaker government and elections in 20 days so that the people will be able to express their will with their vote. The controlled bankruptcy has already been agreed while there exists a serious possibility of an uncontrolled bankruptcy, it has not been cancelled out by the packages agreed with the EU, nor by centre-left or centre-right cooperation.”

In reference to the next elections, Aleka Papariga noted: “The elections will take place in an atmosphere of the most unprecedented intimidation with at its epicentre the so-called support packages of the EU with the threat of an uncontrolled bankruptcy, in an atmosphere of intense anti-communism and provocations which are the vehicles to put the people in the position of the supplicant.

What do we mean by anti-communism? Physical attacks on communists and other militants. The extortions so that we change orientation and become a party of the system. The support and funding of anti-communist propaganda concerning red and black fascism, with mechanisms which will carry out the dirty work so that the bourgeois parties are not officially exposed.
We state, you cannot break us, we are too tough”

The GS of the CC of the KKE noted in relation to the new loan agreement: “The money which they allegedly are giving us is in fact our money, it comes from the toil of the people. The people do not owe anything, in fact they are owed everything” and added regarding the difficulties which the bourgeois parties are facing:

“They are in a difficult position because due to the crisis the competition between the member-states of the predatory alliance and the business groups is intensifying to threatening levels. The bourgeois political parties and their partners are afraid as their many such signs in Greece as well that the coherence of the bourgeois class itself will be split.”

They are even afraid concerning the recovery phase which they may achieve in the various countries. Because the recovery will be anaemic and as we have already stated it will face the possibility of a new crisis (…)
The crisis in Greece is not the main or unique problem. Their problem is the major differences which arise amongst the leading imperialist powers of the EU over how the indebtedness of Spain and Italy will be managed, so that a major crisis does not ensue in France.

They are worried about the contradictions between the bourgeois states, the monopoly groups within Europe as well as about their contradictions with the monopoly groups and the bourgeois states of China, India, the problems of the economy of the US and Japan; all these lead to centrifugal forces.

Those who intimidate the Greek people and the other peoples of Europe are the ones who are thinking of expelling member-states not only from the Eurozone but also from the EU itself. They continue the intimidation arguing that the expulsion from the EU will be a mortal danger for the workers. (…)

No bourgeois political proposal, liberal, social democrat, left, or “renewed”- can constitute a political way- out in favour of the people if it does not regard as a matter of principle the rupture with the monopolies –in industry, banking sector, shipping, trade- namely the rupture with the capitalist ownership, its state institutions, its international alliances.”

Referring to the proposal of the opportunist party SYN/SYRIZA concerning a “left government” and its goals the General Secretary of the CC of KKE noted: “Look where opportunism has ended up at the beginning of the 21st century, speaking officially about and promising openly and shamelessly social cohesion, i.e. class collaboration, submission of the working class to the bourgeois class, submission of the petty-bourgeois poor popular strata to the monopolies. (…)

There is a great deal of discussion in the name of national sovereignty. We believe in people’s sovereignty. The sovereignty of the people, i.e For the people to decide on the basis of their interests they must have in their hands the wealth which exists and is produced in the country, the wealth that they produce by hand and by brain, to have in their hands the means of production because otherwise there cannot be any sovereignty or power; it won’t be able to plan or ensure work for everybody.

All the political forces of the “EU one-way street” -ND, PASOK, SYN/SYRIZA- must apologise to the people for the vain sacrifices that they called on them to make and their false promises that the Greek people would experience tremendous prosperity.

The KKE calls on the people to struggle for the people’s ownership over the concentrated means of production in industry, for the socialization of land, of the big businesses in agriculture and the concentrated trade sector.

Only the people’s economy can ensure the sovereignty of the people and the true disengagement from the imperialist alliances such as the EU and NATO

Aleka Papariga called on the workers to strengthen and ally with the only prospect which can bring hope, the prospect which is proposed by the KKE: “Disengagement from the EU and cancellation of the debt with people’s power”.


Spain on the brink

By Tom Gill

First it was Greece and Ireland, but in recent weeks it has been Spain that pundits say may be forced to seek a bailout.

The Spanish government says it won’t happen. And to further reassure the financial markets, it is pushing ahead with a massive austerity programme aimed at halving the public deficit – Europe’s third largest – to 6 per cent of GDP within two years.

Workers and their families, as in Greece and Ireland, are bearing the brunt of the sacrifices. On September 29 as many as 10 million people took to the streets in the country over plans to make it easier to hire and fire, to oppose public-sector pay cuts and to object to a rise in VAT.

Faced with the massive thumbs down by his Socialist party’s natural supporters, Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero appeared to take stock. Some hoped that he was about to do a second U-turn from the man who swapped expansionary economic policies for austerity in May. But the hope didn’t last.

The trigger was another wave of panic in financial markets. Investors holding Spanish government bonds – sovereign debt – were worried about the ability of Europe’s fourth-largest economy to service its debts in the wake of the crisis in Ireland, which also said that it didn’t need a bailout. The price Spain paid to service its debts went up, putting up the cost of borrowing for Madrid.

If investors were worried initially they are even more worried now.

Zapatero, under pressure from the IMF and European Central Bank and on the advice of the country’s biggest corporations, announced another blitz of regressive initiatives to shore up investor confidence. This included the sell-off of state-owned companies, cuts to unemployment benefits, attacks on public-sector pensions and new tax breaks for businesses.

Then on December 5, in an extraordinary step, the premier declared a state of emergency threatening air traffic controllers involved in a paralysing wildcat strike with jail, and leading some to worry that this was the starting gun going off in a broad attack on trade union rights.

United Left, a party dominated by communists, is a lone political voice opposing the attacks on Spaniards’ living standards and democratic rights. Once a junior partner to the Socialists, its leader Cayo Lara is now denouncing Zapatero and his party for “kow-towing to the markets and big business” while ignoring the country’s root problems – high unemployment of 20 per cent and a real economy that has gone into meltdown following a disastrous debt-fuelled housing bubble that has burst.

But United Left has so far failed to capitalise on the slumping popularity of Zapatero’s government. In regional elections in Catalonia last month it was the pro-business nationalist party Convergence and Union (CiU) that trounced the Socialists.

The right-wing opposition Popular Party is now between 8-14 per cent ahead in the polls and the Socialists’ share of the vote has fallen from 27 per cent to 18 per cent. The bets are that the general elections in May 2012 will usher in a minority Popular Party government propped up by CiU.

However, while you wouldn’t guess it by reading the Spanish press or reports of events in Britain, there is really no excuse for the austerity measures.

According to Attac, a non-governmental organisation campaigning for banks and corporations to start paying a fairer share, cuts would not be necessary if the government reversed the reductions in taxes that have been carried out over the past 15 years, which it and the previous Popular Party administrations implemented in favour of the wealthy and corporations – tax cuts which the IMF estimates account for 40 per cent of the “structural” public deficit.

Together with a concerted effort to tackle tax evasion, this could raise a colossal 35 billion euros in revenues for the state, it says.

Then take the planned cuts to pensions, which Spaniards are now told the country can no longer afford. The key argument is not new. It is an aging population – every person over 65 today is supported by 2.24 workers, but by 2050 this ratio will almost half to 1.15 workers. But this ignores a likely doubling of productivity over the next half century, meaning the same number of workers should be able to support twice as pensioners as today. Problem solved.

As for the perplexing concerns of international investors, that Spain is now not in a position to grow enough to pay off its debts – growth being the best remedy for deficits – the question of just how the economy is meant to expand under the most extreme austerity plan in a generation has not been answered.

But, as in Britain, an intelligent analysis of the facts isn’t being allowed to spoil an opportunity to attack the working class. Socialist ministers and the opposition Popular Party trade insults over the management of the crisis. But there is no disagreement of substance and this game of political charades is played out uncritically in the mainstream media.

So once again it is left to the country’s two trade union confederations – Comisiones Obreras and UGT – which led the mass protests yesterday and who are set to lead another on December 18 to try to organise the resistance and start to build for an alternative.


Spanish steps towards general strike

By Tom Gill

If you are holidaying in Spain this year you may learn a couple of new words – huelga general. In the coming days and weeks the Spanish for general strike will be splashed across posters and on the lips of thousands of trade union activists who are campaigning in workplaces, the streets and even the beaches for a mass protest on September 29.

The strike, called by the country’s two biggest trade union confederations – Comisiones Obreras and Union General de Trabajadores – is against the socialist government’s labour market reforms which will make it easier to hire and fire. These are among a raft of reactionary measures, including a 55 per cent cut to public servants’ pay and a freeze on pensions, that Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero pushed through parliament last month with the aid of conservative regional parties.

Spain is reeling from a deep economic crisis. But for Marisol Pardo, a senior figure at Comisiones Obreras, the measures taken to tackle it are wholly unfair. “The government is making working people pay who had no responsibility in creating the crisis. This is unjust.”

Spanish workers find themselves in the eye of a storm that has broken across a country once toasted by bankers and politicians across Europe for its free market virtues. Spain ticked most of the boxes – it welcomed foreign investment, firms were striding the world stage, it had a budget surplus, relatively low public debt and falling unemployment.

But the country’s “economic miracle” was built on sand. The boom during much of the 2000s was largely driven by a housing bubble fuelled by unsustainable levels of household debt and purchases by Britons and other northern Europeans. Construction represented a very unhealthy 16 per cent of GDP and 12 per cent of employment at its height, driving growth rates that, if uninterrupted, could have soon seen Spaniards richer than Germans.

Then, in 2008, the bubble burst. A million brand new homes now stand unsold. Parts of the once rock-solid banking system are in trouble. Unemployment is now over 4.6 million, exceeding 20 per cent – the highest in the EU – with 1.3 million jobless households. Public finances have deteriorated rapidly. Spain’s reputation has fallen so far it is being compared to Greece.

For a while Zapatero did as Brown and some other European leaders – he stimulated the economy through public spending. But under pressure from the IMF, other European governments and financial speculators Zapatero went into reverse gear, implementing deficit-cutting reductions to government expenditure and launching what unions describe as “the biggest attack on employment rights for the past 30 years.”

The problem with Zapatero’s strategy to reduce the cost of labour is that over time it will only contribute to Spain’s economic woes. Comisiones Obreras’ Marisol Pardo says: “The labour market reforms won’t work. They don’t get to the root of the problem, which is the productive and developmental model.”

The unions argue that Spain’s employers have long relied on low wages to generate profits, hiring workers on “flexible” employment contracts with few rights attached. This has contributed to an underdeveloped hi-tech services and manufacturing industry – except within the car sector, which is wholly foreign-owned. This in turn has led to a worryingly large trade deficit and an economy far too dependent on finance, tourism, and bricks and mortar.

Instead, unions say there needs to be strong investment in skills and technology to raise productivity and rebalance the economy. They believe that the public finances can also be restored by a more progressive taxation system and a concerted campaign against tax-dodgers in a country where corporate and income tax rates are low and the black economy huge.

Unions also have different ideas to the government on the future of Spain’s local savings banks – cajas – which hold a large proportion of the country’s deposits. The sector has hit problems partly because of its exposure to the collapsed construction sector, and Zapatero plans to privatise them. But Fermín Arellano Morlas, a regional official of Comisiones Obreras, says their difficulties are much exaggerated.

The cajas are controlled by local government and in some circumstances workers have a say in their governance. Opening them up to private capital will be welcomed by profiteers, but it will undermine their traditional role of providing affordable credit to working people and small businesses that big banks deny them, says Morlas. Given the enormous difficulties faced by ordinary people in keeping up mortgage payments and paying their bills, the cajas’ role today has never been more important.

The general strike, to be held to coincide with the European Trade Union Confederation’s (ETUC) European-wide “day of action,” has followed escalating industrial action. Rail workers held a national strike on May 28 followed by public-sector workers on June 8. On June 29 a general strike was staged in the Basque region and a mass demonstration has been called for September 9 by trade unions in Madrid. Air traffic controllers may just have called off their strike for this August but industrial action in September has not been ruled out.

Campaigning by trade unionists is all the more important as there is almost no political opposition to the government’s regressive plans. The right-wing Popular Party – Partido Popular – voted against the measures but this was a purely opportunistic move. Close to big business and the financial elite, it is not offering any real alternative.

Only United Left – Izquierda Unida – is putting up any kind of fight. Its leader Cayo Lara Moya has accused Zapatero of making the “lower orders” pay in order to “please the markets, financial power and business.” For a party that has been in a de facto alliance with the socialists since 1986, this is strong language.

But United Left, led by communists, is weak. In the 2008 elections, together with their Catalan sister party, they garnered 960,000 votes or a 3 per cent share which translated into just two seats in the lower house of parliament. They are now trying to reverse this decline by forming new alliances. The aim is to build an “alternative bloc to neo-liberalism,” an “organisation in which we must coexist and work together with various sectors of the anti-capitalist left – ecologists, communists, socialists, republicans and left nationalists.”

The communists have been here before. Although the Spanish Communist Party was a crucial force in the battle against dictatorship and the transition to democracy, the communists were swiftly overtaken in elections by the socialists who enjoyed strong foreign support, particularly from the German Social Democrats. The United Left, formed in 1986 from an alliance remarkably similar to that being sought today, was created to reverse this. After an initial lift to a peak of 2.6 million votes – 11 per cent – in 1996, support fell away rapidly.

What is new is the attempt to court a range of radical civil society organisations. These include ATTAC which campaigns for a “Robin Hood”-style tax on banks, and other “anti-capitalist” movements. United Left’s call to build a coalition of left forces could also have some echo among traditional socialist supporters and party members who are disillusioned with the sharp right turn of Zapatero’s government.

Certainly, the prime minister’s attempts to please the markets have not made him popular with the wider Spanish public, which since the return to democracy 30 years ago has been used to rising prosperity. The administration’s rating at 21 per cent is at its lowest level since the March 2008 general election, according to a CIS opinion poll of voting intentions for July. But for now it is the right-wing Popular Party that is benefiting with a strong lead in the polls.

Which brings us back to September 29. Many will see it as a crucial test for the government and the success of a progressive alternative. Here’s hoping that by that day millions of Spaniards will be saying, as one union poster goes, “Huelga General, Yo Voy” – I’m going to the general strike.


Twitter Updates

  • The rise of the #Greek extremes. 'Three hard-left parties collectively account for 42.5% of the vote' FT http://t.co/KGQC9Yg7 3 hours ago
  • The #Greek #Left Strikes Back. Wall St Journal. http://t.co/TKsyNGzO 3 hours ago
  • Democracy postponed or abolished? Italys unelected plutocrat premier forever! RT @Reuters http://t.co/LW9ulg5l 6 hours ago
  • “The people must not allow themselves to be flayed alive" #Greek #Communist Party. #quoteoftheday (well yesterday) " http://t.co/BSp9hzbO 1 day ago
  • #Europe can learn from Japan’s #austerity endgame. FT (free initial sub ) http://t.co/T8Nx2s9h 1 day ago
  • Video. #Greece RT @euronews Athens ablaze as protesters say 'no' to more cuts http://t.co/7C3kSVM8 1 day ago
  • Today first of 5 days of #strikes this month by #pilots of #Spain's Iberia. Dispute over creation of low-cost carrier. http://t.co/e5OkbUzw 1 day ago
  • #Greece’s new #austerity measures are ‘authoritarian, illegitimate’ says #European Left Party. http://t.co/GT0xPqF1 2 days ago
  • Quote of the day: These measures of annihilation will not pass - 89-year-old Manolis Glezos from Athens' Syntagma Square & cloud of teargas 2 days ago
  • Growing acceptance by Germany that Greece may have to leave eurozone growing. German ministers pressure Athens...http://t.co/kDhOiFA9 2 days ago
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