Spain: Right wing on warpath

March 10, 2012
Protest for workers' rights in Barcelona, February 29.

Since its November 20 election triumph, the administration of Spanish Popular Party (PP) Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has launched such a blitzkrieg of neoliberal policies, less democratic rights, state centralism and conservative social values that at times it seems as if the country has gone back 40 years in four weeks.

Rajoy’s is not just one more example of a new government breaking promises due to “shocking revelations” that its predecessors had left the cupboard bare. (That old ruse has already led to public sector salary cuts of up to €500 a month.)

More fundamentally, his government is exploiting its parliamentary majority and the broad sentiment that “something serious must done” about the economic crisis to entrench a permanent shift in key power balances. These include between capital and labour, Spanish centralism and the Basque, Catalan and Galician nationalities, and social progress and reaction.

Dark past

The right-wing offensive is not restricted to the sphere of government. The most conservative elements in the judiciary have welcomed the PP's reconquest of the institutions as licence to return to a dark past.

Their most spectacular move so far was the February 10 guilty verdict against magistrate Blalthasar Gazon by the Supreme Court. Gazon was found guilty of ordering phone taps on conversations between defence lawyers and the accused in the “Gurtel” corruption case.

Garzon was suspended from his job for 11 years for “breach of legal obligation”. It removes him as a force for justice at the most opportune time for those who think Spain’s institutions are theirs by right.

Garzon had been investigating the crimes of the fascist Franco dictatorship, in power from the 1930s-70s.

These investigations, begun when descendants of victims could get no answers from government or the courts, were making the heirs of the Franco dictatorship nervous. Would they end up in disgrace like their Argentinian, Chilean and Uruguayan counterparts?

The sentencing of Garzon leaves the Law on Historical Memory, under which he was acting, a dead letter.

Garzon’s demise has been accompanied by other outrages. The former head of the PP regional government of Valencia, Francisco Camps, has been found innocent of corruption charges; the judge hearing the case against the brutal May 27 police charge against indignado (“the outraged”) protesters in Barcelona has shelved it; and the team of treasury inspectors who uncovered the network of influence-peddling and diversion of state funds in the Gurtel affair has been stood down.

As of March 8, all Spain was waiting to hear whether King Juan Carlos’s son-in-law, Inaki Urdangarin, will be charged for using his royal family status to scam state funds for his tax-dodging Noos Foundation.

The right-wing media has been baying for the blood of the instructing magistrate because of his persistent questioning of the poor “persecuted” royal.

A PP proposal to change the way the General Council of the Judiciary (the body determining judicial appointments) is elected aims to rid the system of such troublesome elements.

Ministers for recession

The centrepiece of the PP offensive is the new “labour reform”, directed by employment and social security minister Fatima Banez.

This “Work Choices Super” uses the recession and the politics of fear and division to try to break the back of organised labour. When Catholic labour organisations recently denounced the law they were rapped over the knuckles by Cardinal Rouco, the ultraright archbishop of Madrid.

But a quick sweep through the other portfolios reveals how quickly Rajoy and company are moving to take back other territory.

Luis de Guindos, the former head of Lehman Brothers for Spain and Portugal and now economics minister, has introduced a “financial reform” that will blow €6 billion of public money on rising concentration in banking. It will eliminate the social savings sector and throw thousands of finance industry workers onto the streets.

Yet it will not meet its supposed aim of getting credit flowing to small and medium business. Spain’s finance sector is weighed down with more than €200 billion in toxic “assets” and demand for credit is very low because of the recession.

Treasurer Cristobal Montoro is overseeing the next round of swingeing cuts to the public sector. With the 2011 government deficit coming in at 8.5% of Gross Domestic Product instead of the targeted 6%, the government decided its commitment to the European Commission to cut the deficit for 2012 to 4.4% simply could not be done: it has lifted the target to 5.8%.

The only other time a cut of this magnitude was carried out was in 1987 (by a Socialist Workers Party, PSOE, government), when growth was at a record 5.7%, compared with the -1.7% slump projected for 2012.

Montoro’s job is to extract most from the regions, which are responsible for health and education spending.

In 2011, total public sector cuts were about €10 billion. In 2012, even with the reduced target, they will be €29.6 billion, with the bulk (€15.6 billion) to be borne by regional governments.

Miguel Arias Canete, minister for agriculture, food supply and the environment, has foreshadowed a new National Water Plan. The last plan was an ecological disaster in the making that was defeated by mass mobilisations in 2002.

A new coastal law that will “balance” coastal environment and development will legalise the tens of thousands of illegal buildings that have turned kilometres of Spain's coastline into an unending Surfer’s Paradise.

The minister for energy and tourism, Jose Manuel Soria, has decided to keep Spain’s ageing nuclear plants running past their use-by dates, and to build a new nuclear waste dump. It is a sign of the desperation for jobs here that the mayor of the chosen site described the news as “like winning the lottery”.

Ministers for backwardness

Attorney-general Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon, former mayor of Madrid and supposed PP “wet”, is seeking to reform the PSOE’s 2010 abortion law to include the “rights of the conceived” and the obligation on minors to seek parental permission before undergoing abortion.

On the eve of International Women’s Day, Ruiz-Gallardon described abortion as “violence against women”.

Ruiz-Gallardon “personally” supports Spain’s homosexual marriage law, but indicated that he will be bound by a decision of the Constitutional Tribunal, which is to decide on an appeal against the law brought by the homophobic right.

Other moves include a tax on those who appeal court decisions more than once, and no change in the treatment of prisoners of Basque Homeland and Freedom (ETA) unless they formally break with the organisation.

Over the past fortnight, the minister for education, culture and sport, Jose Ignacio Wert, has: refused to intervene in the matter of police bashings of high school student protesters in Valencia; promised to rework the high school citizenship syllabus to “limit content to those issues immune to doctrinal drift”; foreshadowed reweighting university scholarship criteria so that “excellence” counts for more and family income for less; threatened cuts to state funding of the cinema industry; declared that bull-fighting is part of Spain’s “cultural heritage”; and backed the Spanish Royal Academy’s criticism of style guides aimed at promoting non-sexist language in official documents.

In other areas, the PP ministers are simply continuing the work of the PSOE predecessors.

Defence minister and former arms trader Pedro Morenes has moved to speed up the PSOE-initiated installation of “missile-shield” facilities for the US in the port of Rota. Wert, for his part, has completed the passage through parliament of the draconian law against internet piracy drafted by PSOE minister Angeles Gonzalez-Sinde.

Divide and rule

So have the huge struggles of the past year, especially the indignado movement that erupted against austerity and a corrupt political system, had no impact on the strategy of Rajoy’s counterrevolution?

Not so. The PP has also tried to defuse those issues where anger is most widespread, especially towards the banks and over evictions for non-payment of mortgage debt. There were more than 100,000 such evictions last year.

To the shame of the PSOE, de Guindos, acting on the “principle of equality of sacrifice”, has imposed upper limits on the salaries of senior banking executives, in particular in those of banks on life support from the state.

He has also introduced a parody of a mortgage default relief law, which establishes a code of conduct for the banks. It creates a “moral obligation” not to evict families who have no source of income.

Unsurprisingly, the PP voted against a United Left proposal for any outstanding mortgage debt to be liquidated on the surrender of the keys to the mortgaged property.

Ana Mato, minister for health, social services and equality, is posing as the champion of women ― despite proposing to restrict access to the morning after pill.

Her International Women's Day speech supported increased maternity rights for working women and attacked the country’s appalling record of domestic violence.

Mato also promised a special commission against gender wage inequality. In Spain, the female wage is on average 22% less than the male income.

For the most reactionary elements in the PP, all the attacks are only the start. A particular target is Spain’s model of federalism. Despite denying the right of self-determination to the country’s “historic nationalities”, it grants them varying degrees of autonomy.

The PP-related think tank, the Foundation for Analysis and Social Studies (FAES), has produced a plan for “a viable and rational state of autonomous communities”. On the pretext of reducing duplication and waste, this would reduce and “streamline” the powers of the regions.

The most ferocious champion of this project is FAES president and former PP prime minister Jose Maria Aznar, who has called for an end to a Spain of “17 mini-states”.

Yet, despite all its “shock and awe”, the right’s offensive can be stopped. Protests against the cuts are almost daily events across Spain. The March 9 call for a general strike for March 29 will take resistance to a new level.

[Dick Nichols is Green Left Weekly's European correspondent, based in Barcelona. Read more of Dick Nichols' articles.]

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