Franco’s legacy: political censorship and repression in Spain

A year after coming to power, Spain’s supposedly progressive Socialist Party government is presiding over a social crisis. Its priorities have become clear as it jails a communist rapper, while letting fascists maraud through the country’s streets. ELIAS HADDAD reports.

Since January 2020, the Spanish state has been ruled by a coalition led by the centre-left PSOE, with the social democratic Unidas Podemos as junior partner. Dubbed ‘the most progressive government in Spanish history’ by supporters, it was formed against a background of repeated elections and parliamentary deadlocks, which stretch back to December 2015. To appeal to the electoral left, the coalition promised to reverse the previous conservative government’s policies, including censorship laws and an anti-working class labour reform which fast-tracked redundancies. Not only has the government failed to deliver, but the PSOE has shown its true reactionary colours.


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Spain: right-wing mobilise as pandemic hits the poor

Former King of Spain Juan Carlos (L) meets Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (R) in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi [Twitter/Saudi Foreign Ministry]

Main article image: Former King of Spain Juan Carlos (L) meets Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (R) in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi [Twitter/Saudi Foreign Ministry]

The scandal swirling around the Spanish monarchy continues to expose the fault-lines of the country’s manufactured ‘constitutional regime’ that was introduced in 1978 at the end of the dictatorship of General Franco. In August 2020, the former King, Juan Carlos, fled the country (apparently with the tacit agreement of Spain’s socialist prime minister) as he faced prosecution over corruption charges alleging that he enriched himself from illegal businesses with corrupt foreign entrepreneurs exposed by the ‘Panama Papers’. One week after they set up an offshore company in the tax haven of Panama, his account in Geneva received €100m. In November 2020, the supreme court opened a new investigation into money laundering and corruption against the former king.


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Spain’s coronavirus crisis: rich get richer, poor get shafted

Food bank in Madrid

The first-ever Spanish coalition government had only been in office two months when the Covid-19 pandemic reached the country and a lockdown was enforced. The emergency plans meant the agreed budget has had to be put on ice while and public expenditure is directed at providing for the most vulnerable and to offering some economic support to freelance workers. The government knows the deficit and public debt will increase, and the right-wing will use any chance to undermine a government it already accuses of espousing a Venezuela-style socialism. The cabinet faces an enormous challenge in its attempts to handle the crisis without embarking on the path to austerity, as happened after 2008, causing a structural crisis from which the country has not yet recovered. JUANJO RIVAS reports from Madrid.


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Spain: coronavirus crisis overwhelms faltering health service

A health worker tests a policeman for Covid-19 in Spain

On 13 March, the Spanish government declared a ‘State of Alert’ – just one step below a state of emergency. This has only happened once before, during an air traffic controllers’ strike in December 2010. Schools had already closed on 11 March and following the decree all public events were cancelled and venues closed. However, the quarantine could not prevent the number of victims of Covid-19 from rising sharply and within two weeks hospitals were on the verge of collapse. The crisis is exposing the weakness of a system that has allowed 24% of the country’s health care budget to be managed by private companies, mostly in the hands of hedge funds. JUANJO RIVAS reports from Madrid.


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Spain: new elections called as crisis looms

Valle de los Caídos, the locaiton of Francisco Franco's tomb, near Madrid

On 10 November, Spain will hold its fourth election in four years, after the country’s centre left Socialist Party (PSOE), which won the most seats in April’s poll, failed to form a coalition government. The deadlock reflects the increasingly fractured nature of Spanish politics in the face of looming economic crisis and continuing austerity. ELIAS HADDAD reports.


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Spanish state mistreats prisoners with health problems

Kepa Del Hoyo

Ever since the end of the Spanish Civil War, when thousands of political prisoners contracted serious illnesses, with many dying, the Spanish state has pursued a deliberate policy of using prisoners' physical and mental ill-health against them in an attempt to force them to capitulate and renounce the causes they have spent their lives fighting for. Today there are a high number of prisoners whose illnesses have worsened to such an extent that they could die at any time or who, if they live, will suffer serious after-effects or disabilities. Since 1979, 22 political prisoners have died, with another 17 dying within the first few months after their release. Prisoner MARTIN POUCE reports.


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Spain: May election spurs right-wing alliances

After nine months of social-democratic government, President Pedro Sánchez has not implemented any change to the austerity programmes set out by his conservative predecesor. Parliamentary activity has grown sterile and dominated by arguments over Catalonia. As the division of forces in the congress has made it impossible to pass new laws, only a few decrees have been approved by the cabinet. Meanwhile, the trials have started in Madrid against Catalan political leaders charged with ‘rebellion’, ‘sedition’ and mishandling public funds for holding an independence referendum on 1 October 2017. The only way the ruling class in Spain has found out of the political impasse and social instability of the country is to declare a general election on 28 April, followed by municipal and European parliament elections at the end of May. Juanjo Rivas reports from Madrid.


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Spain: New president offers no respite from austerity

On 31 May, the Spanish conservative president Mariano Rajoy lost a parliamentary vote of no confidence and was forced out of office. His fate was sealed when the Basque Nationalist Party joined the anti-austerity Podemos and the two biggest Catalan parties in supporting the motion put by the social-democratic PSOE. The vote followed new evidence of widespread corruption in Rajoy’s People’s Party (PP). On 2 June, the leader of the social democrats, Pedro Sanchez, was sworn in as president. Juanjo Rivas reports from Madrid.

In late May, the Spanish courts ruled over the long-running ‘kickbacks-for-contracts’ Gürtel case, concluding that Rajoy’s PP had carried out fraudulent funding and accounting since 1989, and systematically accepted bribes from entrepreneurs in return for licences to manage public works. It became evident that Rajoy himself had lied in court. The PSOE rushed to present a vote of no confidence and started talks with all the parties to oust Rajoy. This led to some unprecedented events. For the first time a vote of no confidence succeeded in the substitution of a president and the formation of a new cabinet with members of the opposition, led by a leader who was forced to resign by his party as MP only a few months ago.


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Spanish state tightens the noose

The authoritarian Spanish state has dramatically stepped up its repression of Catalan separatists involved in the independence referendum held in the region in October 2017. The third attempt to swear in a president of the Catalan parliament has failed and the candidate has been jailed; the Spanish state is blocking any political way forward as it continues its control of the region, under Article 155 of the Constitution; more politicians have been jailed or persecuted, and those protesting on the streets of Catalonia against repressive rule from Madrid have been met with sustained police brutality. In part, the right-wing government of Mariano Rajoy hopes to divert attention away from mass mobilisations in Spanish cities against austerity, corruption and racism, coupled with Rajoy’s own struggle to get his Budget passed in parliament. Juanjo Rivas and Cat Alison report.


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Spanish state punishes communist rappers for ‘insulting the crown’

pablo hasel1

In a chilling attack on free speech and dissent, the Spanish state has brought criminal proceedings against two rappers for their political messages in songs and social media posts. Josep Miquel Arenas Beltran, known by his artistic name Valtònyc, and Pablo Rivadulla i Duró, known as Pablo Hasél, are the two young communists accused.


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Spain: an oligarchic state challenged by the people’s will

The pro-independence parties won an absolute majority in the Catalan parliament on 21 December 2017
The pro-independence parties won an absolute majority in the Catalan parliament on 21 December 2017

On 21 December 2017, Catalan people voted in a regional election forced upon them by the Spanish state following the independence referendum in October. But this latest attempt by Spain to undermine the pro-independence movement backfired: nationalist parties again obtained an absolute majority and the Spanish government is now using its entire means to prevent the Catalan government from being effectively formed. Spanish president Mariano Rajoy has tightened state control over Catalonia and made it impossible for the Catalan president to return from exile to be sworn in. As we go to press it remains uncertain whether and how the investiture of Carles Puigdemont will take place. The crisis expresses the authoritarian rule of the Spanish establishment, which is willing to invalidate social and political rights as soon as they threaten the legal and political framework set up in the post-Franco era. Juanjo Rivas reports from Madrid.


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Catalonia and the fight against the Spanish state

catalonia protest

The Catalan referendum on 1 October 2017, with a 90.1% vote in favour of independence, has accelerated a crisis for the Spanish state that has been a long time brewing. The repressive and autocratic response of the right-wing government of Mariano Rajoy has exposed its Francoist leanings; in doing so it can only strengthen those sections of the independence movement which identify their struggle not with purely nationalist aspirations but with an unrelenting struggle against the brutality, austerity measures and corruption of the Spanish state. The 21 December regional election imposed on Catalonia by the Rajoy government will be a litmus test for that emerging movement. Juanjo Rivas and Cat Alison report.

Catalan referendum, Spanish repression

The run-up to the referendum and the day of the ballot itself were marked by the extreme violence of the Spanish national police drafted into Catalonia in an attempt to prevent the vote going ahead. Hundreds of people were battered by police batons and rubber bullets, many dragged bleeding out of polling stations. Ballot boxes were seized and those suspected of facilitating the vote arrested. But across the region, people mobilised in their thousands to defend the polling stations – mostly local schools – and resist the police onslaught. The days that followed saw mass mobilisations and strikes in support of independence and against police brutality. The Spanish King Felipe added his reactionary support for state repression in a menacing televised broadcast in which, with the arrogance of a true Bourbon, he condemned Catalan nationalists for their ‘inadmissible disloyalty’ and called on the governing party to ‘restore constitutional order’. Meanwhile, those supporting a ‘unified Spain’ also came out on the streets in Barcelona and in the capital Madrid, some sporting the fascist insignia and flags of the Franco era.


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Catalan referendum: Spanish state flexes its Francoist muscle

Spanish state police have launched widespread attacks on the Catalan people’s attempts to hold an independence referendum. Hundreds have been injured in police attacks. The vote, ruled illegal by the Constitutional Court, asks Catalans if they want to start the process of building a republic, independent of the Spanish state. The people have faced massive repression by the Spanish government, which includes financial intervention, arrests of members of the Catalan government, raids to seize voting material and mass deployment of armed police. Far from seeking dialogue and political negotiation, the government of Mariano Rajoy has stepped up authoritarian measures which echo those of Franco’s dictatorship. JUANJO RIVAS reports from Madrid.


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The struggle to expose torture in Spanish prisons

In September 2016, the Human Rights Association of Andalucia sent a detailed submission to the Committee for the Prevention of Torture, asking it to investigate torture and mistreatment in Spanish prisons, and particularly in the Sevilla II central penitentiary at Moron de la Frontera. Earlier in 2016 the office of the Public Defender had referred complaints about violent behaviour by staff towards prisoners to the Ombudsman. However, according to communist political prisoner MARCOS MARTIN POUCE, all these inquiries and investigations are simply a smokescreen, under which the inhumane treatment continues. He writes:

On 12 November 2012, four jailers gave me a bad beating using truncheons, kicks, knee strikes and punches. All this while I was handcuffed and naked. The last image I remember before passing out was how they nudged each other, looking for the best angle to beat me ever more viciously. When I recovered consciousness, I was being dragged – still naked and handcuffed – on my back, with no power left in my muscles to offer resistance. My mouth was bleeding and my feet slipped in my own blood, leaving two red trails all down the corridors of the solitary confinement unit until we reached a punishment cell. There I was tied by my hands, feet and waist to a metal bedframe without a mattress. As I lay there still gushing blood from my mouth, the jailers verbally abused me, spitting out their class hatred (as good mercenaries of capitalism) and attacking my background as a communist political prisoner.


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Spain: protests grow against EU-mandated austerity

justice for women

After only five months in office, the conservative and pro-austerity cabinet of Mariano Rajoy is struggling to sustain a government reliant on fragile alliances and hounded by corruption charges. The parliamentary projects of his People’s Party’s (PP) are dependent on agreements with the opportunistic right-wing party Ciudadanos, whose sporadic withdrawal of support has at times prompted Rajoy to threaten to call early elections. However, President Rajoy feels confident about obtaining parliamentary approval for the General Budget, which will put into effect European Union demands for more cuts and ‘labour flexibility’. The permanent compliance with these austerity policies has resulted in a severe decline in the living standards of the vast majority of people. As a result, protests by social movements are growing again, but fascist and neo-Nazi groups are also on the rise. Juanjo Rivas reports from Madrid.


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Spain: political manoeuvres ensure further austerity

On 27 October 2016, after 314 days of vacillation and two general elections, the Spanish Parliament voted in the conservative Mariano Rajoy as prime minister. The reelection of the People’s Party (PP) candidate was made possible only by the abstention of the social democratic politicians of the Socialist Party (PSOE), who claimed they had a responsibility to prevent the country being forced into a third general election. The European Commission immediately demanded new measures to reduce Spain’s deficit, which will inevitably lead to more cuts and more precarious working conditions. With the PSOE wounded and the left-wing Podemos restructuring its strategy, the stability of Rajoy’s new Brussels-friendly cabinet is yet to be tested. JUANJO RIVAS reports from Madrid.


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Spain: Divided ruling class faces impasse

Spain held its second general election in less than 12 months at the end of June. Although the conservative People’s Party (PP) received the most votes, it did not win enough to form a government, even after signing a deal with the new right-wing party Ciudadanos. Mariano Rajoy lost two attempts to be voted in as prime minister by parliament for a second term. Progressive forces urged the social-democratic PSOE to stand an alternative candidate, but its leaders refused to do so, fearing the radicalisation of their own fragile coalition. The two-party system has been undermined but the outcome is an impasse, which may lead to a third election on 18 December. Juanjo Rivas reports from Madrid.

On 25 September, regional elections were held in Galicia and the Basque country, with very different results. The PP had a landslide victory in Galicia, despite the media publishing pictures of its candidate hobnobbing with a notorious drug dealer. In the Basque Country, the bourgeois Basque Nationalist Party obtained 37.65% of the vote and is gathering support to establish a majority in the regional Parliament. The party with the second-most votes was EH Bildu, Basque left-wing nationalists whose candidate had been released after four years in prison and officially banned by the Electoral Court. EH Bildu challenged the terms of his release – which had tried to make him ineligible to stand for office – and he now becomes leader of the regional opposition with 21.23% of the vote, followed by Podemos with 14.83%.


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Podemos falters in the face of austerity and crisis

Even after its second general election in six months, the Spanish political parties remain incapable of forming a government – a symptom of the capitalist crisis gripping the country. The second election held on 26 June strengthened the conservative Partido Popular of Mariano Rajoy, but not sufficiently to allow him to form a majority government despite the Socialist Party achieving the worst results in its history. Meanwhile, the apparently radical Podemos, once the posterboy group of modern-day social democracy, managed to lose a million votes – as its socialist-lite rhetoric rings increasingly hollow to a working class facing rising unemployment and a new tranche of austerity measures. JUANJO RIVAS reports from Madrid.


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Spain: new elections same old austerity

Mariano Rajoy

On 26 June, Spain will hold its second general election in six months, after the failure of the various parties to establish a coalition government following December’s poll. Although all the parties say they want ‘change’, their rhetoric continues to bow before the economic line decided by European imperialist institutions. The turmoil created by constant cases of corruption, repression of social movements and distrust between parties has created general disaffection and the slow polarisation of society. This time round, left-wing organisations have reached a 50-point agreement and will form a joint candidature, which may well put them in second place in the new elections.


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Spain: political parties tussle over way forward 

On 20 December 2015 Spain’s general election resulted in an unprecedented situation where no party gained a clear majority. The conservatives of the Partido Popular (PP) got 28.72% of the votes while the social democrats of the Socialist Party (PSOE) received a 22.02% share. Some new parties entered the parliament, in particular the right-wing Ciudadanos, (13.93%) and the social-democrats of Podemos (12.67%). The various parties trade accusations on a daily basis and hold tense negotiations but the result remains uncertain. Meanwhile, Catalonian parties have reached a last-minute agreement to establish a regional government which will pursue independence. However its stability is still in doubt after several months of negotiations. Contradictions arise and a complex time lies ahead, making it difficult to predict whether austerity policies will continue or whether there is a chance for change. JUANJO RIVAS reports from Madrid.


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Spain: Countdown to general election

On 20 December 2015, Spain will hold a general election amidst the turbulence of calls for independence in Catalonia and the weakening of the two-party system. The elite feels uneasy at the emergence of voices demanding constitutional reform, to open the way for the people to exercise their right to decide over territorial, political and social issues. The unwillingness of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to change the status quo has resulted in a dual strategy: on the one hand attempting to persuade voters of the country’s alleged economic recovery and, on the other, using repressive force to imprison activists – allowing him, conveniently, to introduce the threat of ‘terrorism’ into his election campaign. Juanjo Rivas reports from Madrid.

September’s election in Catalonia created a divided regional parliament, in which the majority is formed by bourgeois nationalists (Junts pel Sí) and pro-independence anti-capitalists (CUP). On 9 November, the Catalonian Parliament approved the beginning of a political process towards independence by 72 votes to 63. The decision was supported by Artur Mas, the right-wing politician who has been president for the last five years and who is responsible for privatisations, austerity policies, social cuts and corruption in his own party. Unsurprisingly, the CUP has twice refused to vote him into office and talks are being held to find an alternative candidate for a stable regional government by 10 January 2016. If this deadline to establish a new Catalonian president is not met, new elections will have to be called – something none of the separatists want.


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Spain: Political manoeuvres ahead of general election

By 20 December at the latest, Spain will face a general election, following the municipal and regional elections in May which significantly changed the country’s political map. The right-wing government of Mariano Rajoy fears that the coalitions formed by new and old social democrats could challenge the political framework established, post-Franco in 1978 which has until now remained untouched. Conservatives and other establishment forces are rushing to approve laws to secure their interests and privileges while repressing protests, to ensure that any new cabinet has its hands tied, subject to EU imperialist demands. At the same time, polls ahead of the Catalonian election on 27 September show a slump in support for Rajoy’s conservatives, and the prospect of a unilateral declaration of independence has stirred the government’s propaganda machine. JUANJO RIVAS reports from Madrid.


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Spain: Resistance against austerity and repression

On 1 July, some of the most draconian restrictions on the right to protest in existence in Europe came into effect in Spain. The Civil Security Act, known as the Ley Mordaza, or ‘Gag Law’, criminalises protest of almost every kind and has been criticised by the United Nations as having ‘a chilling effect’ on the freedom of peaceful assembly. It is a symptom of the government’s fear of the growing opposition to its austerity measures and repressive policies. On the eve of the introduction of the law, thousands of people marched in protest in 20 Spanish cities. Juanjo Rivas reports from Madrid.


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Spain votes against austerity

The new mayor of Barcelona, anti-eviction activist Ada Colau

The results of Spain’s regional and municipal elections held on 24 May mark a sea-change in Spanish politics as millions of voters rejected the austerity policies of the ruling Popular Party (PP). In Spain’s two biggest cities, Madrid and Barcelona, left-wing activists are set to become mayors. New radical coalitions are emerging that could have a significant impact in the general election in November. JUANJO RIVAS reports from Madrid.

While the conservative PP still received the most support (27%), it has lost 2.5 million votes since the 2011 local elections. This allowed left-wing coalitions, backed by the new left-wing party Podemos, to make significant gains. Although Podemos itself only received 12% of the vote, it may well gain important conservative strongholds, such as Madrid, Asturias, Valencia and Galiza if it forms alliances with the socialist democratic Socialist Party (PSOE), which was second overall.


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Can Spain follow Greece in the fight against austerity?

President Mariano Rajoy boasts about the end of the recession and an apparent slow decrease in unemployment rate. However, his optimism is overshadowed by endless cases of corruption, growing discontent among vast sections of society and the triumph of anti-austerity party Syriza in Greece, which could encourage those following similar strategies in Spain. This is a crucial year in which voters will have the chance to give an important blow to the two-party system, in municipal, regional and general elections, and possibly transform the political scenario.


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Spain: A wind of change

On 20 November, Mariano Rajoy completed his third year as President of Spain, a post he won in 2011 with a solid 44.6% of the vote. Three years later, Rajoy is trying desperately to lead a government which is staggering under the weight of corruption scandals, demands for referendums and increasing unemployment and poverty. A new political party has emerged from the social movements (see FRFI 241) which is already ahead in the polls. Podemos (‘We can’) rejects the austerity policies of the EU and is attempting to radically deepen democracy. A wind of change is blowing and it is making the privileged minority, those who have become richer from a crisis that the working class has to bear, very uneasy. Juanjo Rivas reports from Madrid.


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Catalonia: pushing the Spanish state into crisis

The struggle for Catalan independence is pushing the Spanish state into an unprecedented political crisis. On 9 November (9-N), 2.3 million people (out of an electorate of 5.4 million) participated in a symbolic vote on Catalan self-determination, with 80.1% declaring in favour of Catalonia becoming an independent state. Those who exercised their democratic rights did so in defiance of the Spanish Constitutional Court, which had suspended the official vote, and of a hostile central government, which declared the ballot illegal. The Director of Public Prosecutions has now filed criminal charges against Catalan President Artur Mas for defying a court order and wasting public funds. The Catalan government, along with other parties, is now calling for early ‘plebiscite elections’ to the Catalan Parliament, which, if a pro-independence majority is returned, will proceed to a unilateral declaration of Catalan independence. The complete inability of the Spanish state to meet the most basic democratic and social needs of the working class is becoming clearer every day.


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Spain - Solidarity is the future

On 8 September, the OECD congratulated the Spanish government on the measures it has taken to overcome the crisis – and proposed a few more. For instance, like the IMF, it demands yet another increase in VAT, while reducing corporation tax. Prime Minister Rajoy’s cabinet assures us that the economy is in recovery, but the continuing risk of deflation and the poverty rate, alongside record levels of youth unemployment and economic exile, expose the uncomfortable truth. Juanjo Rivas reports from Madrid.


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Can Vies – a symbol of resistance, from Barcelona to beyond

Si Can Vies va a terra, barri en peu de guerra!’ The authorities were promised war if the historic occupied social centre of Can Vies was evicted, and this is what they got. For seven days, an uprising unprecedented since the end of the Franco dictatorship raged on the streets of Barcelona. A week is a long time in politics and while the barricades burned, the Chief of Police resigned and a king abdicated. The struggle to rebuild not only Can Vies, but a fighting alternative to the misery of capitalism, continues. Joey Simons reports from Barcelona.


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Spain: Ruling class hypocrisy, working class resistance

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 239 June/July 2014

On 30 April, the Spanish Minister of the Economy announced economic growth of 0.4% in the first trimester, and an expected 1.2% for the whole year. He boasted of a reduction in unemployment by just over 50,000 people. He avoided, however, explaining that this is based on a sky-rocketing increase in temporary and low-quality jobs, coinciding with the lowest number of workers on payroll in the last 11 years. Or that the country’s policies of austerity have pushed public debt from 36.3% of GDP in 2007 to 93.7% in 2013. The so-called ‘recovery’ is in fact entirely based on speculative growth, increased exploitation of the workforce and a growing dependency on European capital. From Madrid, Juanjo Rivas reports on Spain’s continuing crisis.

Far from the living standards of the working class improving, the rate of poverty keeps increasing; almost 50,000 families lost their homes in 2013, 11% more than in the previous year. All main industries have carried out mass redundancies and there is a visible decline in the provision of basic public services. For instance, the budget for education has been cut by 30.5% since 2010 and university fees have risen 67% in Catalonia and 58% in Madrid. Families with disabled members have seen most of their benefits withdrawn.


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