Friday, November 2, 2012


At the Labour Party Conference in Manchester I was talking to some delegates from Unite the Union. I was speaking about the Spanish Civil War and the Unite Memorial at the Karl Marx Memorial Library in London. It was at that point that a non union member asked – “Why aren’t our unions doing more to help Spain now?” A good question.

Everybody knows that Spain is in an economic mess: it was brought on in part by the collapse of the speculative property bubble but at the heart of the debacle lies the country’s abusive and in some cases criminal banks.

The banks have received massive bailouts and are still in line for more cash. Indeed Bankia, which is at the centre of the scandal, has in the first nine months of this year reported the highest loss in Spanish banking history - 7,053 million euros. It is waiting for a cash injection of 19,000 million. As this appalling loss was announced its former president Rodrigo Rato was summoned to appear before the High Court to answer fraud charges.

It is against this scenario that Spain’s jobless totals have now hit over 25 per cent – the highest in Europe, nearly 53 per cent unemployment amongst the young (the European average is 22.8), with an accompanying cut to the dole payments. Education and the health service are in crisis; pensioners are under attack and every day over 500 people are evicted from their homes yet still owe the banks thousands on their mortgages.

The major unions, the UGT and CC.OO, are behind the many industrial protests. A general strike will be held on November 14 unless the Partido Popular centre right government cancels its austerity cuts or holds a referendum to approve them. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is committed to slash 150 billion euros over the next three years from State budgets.

Ignacio Fernández Toxo, leader of the Comisiones Obreras (CC.OO) said: “It’s up to the government whether there’s a general strike or not. If they were going to hold a referendum things would be completely different.” Expect the general strike to go ahead on November 14 – the same day as in Portugal, Greece and Cyprus with support from France and Italy in what will be a day of action and solidarity in the EU.

There is much more going on at street level. The people of Spain have given up on their politicians be they from the Partido Popular or indeed the socialist PSOE. It is Izquierda Unida, the far left alliance with the communists at their heart, which is making strong gains or the nationalists in the Basque and Catalan regions who are demanding independence. People are in uproar over the cuts, the corruption, the banks and the collapse of society.

It is a nation that is in despair and demonstrations of 60,000 people be it against the economic situation or the political system are now the norm. However the ghost of Franco lives on in Spain and there are many in the centre right Partido Popular who want to see an enforced end to all protests be they on the streets or over the social media.

The Spanish Government has been talking of a new law that would turn innocent protestors in to criminals. It is an attack on the heart of Spain’s democracy. It is using the isolated violent incidents that have occurred during these mass protests against corruption and the cuts to criminalise certain acts of peaceful protest. Indeed the very act of inviting a person to participate in a peaceful protest via Facebook would be against the law punishable by imprisonment. With the nation taking to the streets Rajoy looks to Franco for the solution.

A mass campaign has been underway in Spain to stop these amendments to the law in their tracks. Some argue they would not be permitted as they are against the Constitution. The key concern is that the Rajoy government is considering them at all because it displays a declaring of war on all who oppose their administration and at present that is the majority of the Spanish people. If Francoist repression cannot be introduced one way it will another.

Which brings me back to the question – “Why aren’t our unions doing more to help Spain now?” The Unite members were unanimous in their response that our unions should back their Spanish comrades. The fact is the crisis in Spain is far more than about the economic crisis, unemployment or the cuts, it is about the very foundations of democracy and free speech.

Many brave British trade unionists laid down their lives in the fight against Franco in the Spanish Civil War. Many others such as Jack Jones fought, many were injured. The ghost of Franco is now stalking Spain: it is time for our trade unionists to support their Spanish comrades once again - not this time with their blood but certainly with their solidarity, words and deeds. Let us start on November 14. Ask your union today what it is going to do to support Spain’s embattled workers.

(The above article was published in the London Progressive Journal on November 2 2012)

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