Spain: "bread for today" is not enough – for a socialist solution to avoid the coming catastrophe

The global coronavirus epidemic and the declaration of the state of emergency have caused the most drastic change in the life of the Spanish population since the first days and weeks of the 2008-2009 crisis. Millions of people remain secluded in their homes and it was announced that more than a million will, temporarily or permanently, lose their job. We agree with the need to take bold and vigorous measures against this. But is the plan approved by the government the most effective way to fight the epidemic and ensure the employment and living conditions of working families, or is it just "bread for today"?

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The rapid spread of the COVID-19 epidemic was primarily due to the government’s hesitation and fear of applying strong measures out of fear of jeopardising the businesses of the bourgeoisie and angering the Brussels bureaucracy with an increase in public spending to face the epidemic.

From the beginning, health resources should have been increased to carry out massive tests for the virus amongst the population; the workforce and medical equipment should have been increased, to the point of the state taking control of private healthcare for this purpose. The most affected areas should have been immediately isolated and transport and non-essential sectors of production partially paralysed. And to finance all this, a special tax on big capital should have been approved.

A country like South Korea applied these measures vigorously and with only 8,000 infected, it has only had several dozen deaths and has managed to control the epidemic. While South Korea conducted 15,000 tests of the virus daily to identify the extent of the epidemic and prevent its spread, up to 500,000; just over 20,000 have been made here in a month, giving the epidemic time to get out of control.

The right, despite its demagoguery, has lacked any alternative plan to the government, as evidenced by its scandalous management of the health crisis in Madrid, which has 43 percent of the infected and 70 percent of the deceased throughout the country. The right and far right have, falsely and for political and ideological reasons, attempted to blame the demonstration of International Working Women’s Day on 8 March in Madrid for spreading the contagion. Meanwhile, they have miserably kept silent about the possible contagions produced in the mass gatherings before, during, and after that day, in football stadiums, in train and bus stations, and airports, or in the hundreds of thousands of work centres where employers have gathered together millions of workers without keeping the minimum measures of security to avoid the spread of infection. Not to mention the criminal irresponsibility of Vox leaders infected by the virus, such as Ortega-Smith, who at an event in Madrid, precisely on 8 March, allegedly with 9,000 attendees present, kissed and hugged people despite the fact that they already knew about their illness. It is no coincidence that Vox is the party with the highest number of infected national leaders, and not exactly because they mixed with radical feminists in the Madrid 8M protest!

Now, when the epidemic has gotten out of control, even bolder and more audacious measures are needed. The government has approved an ambitious 200 billion euro emergency plan to be applied immediately, foreseeing that the crisis will not last more than a month, 117 billion contributed by the state and 83 billion in low-interest loans available from the banks, backed by the state in case of non-payment.

There are experts who forecast that more than a million workers could be affected by the Temporary Lay Offs (ERTEs). Today, there are more than 100,000 throughout the country, including in large companies such as Iberia and other airlines, restaurants, hotels, etc.

A central aspect of the government's plan is the allocation of 17 billion euros to pay 70 percent of the salary of the hundreds of thousands of workers who are expected to go temporarily unemployed due to the application of ERTEs in thousands of companies. This money would not be taken from the worker's accumulated unemployment benefit and workers who had not worked the minimum time required to have that benefit (12 months) would also benefit.

It is clear that many companies will want to take advantage of these ERTEs, which will be authorised in no time, according to the approved standard, to get rid of workers for reasons other than the epidemic, especially in small and medium-sized businesses.

For thousands of workers who work in informal or very precarious sectors, such as agriculture, and who will go into unemployment due to the economic slowdown, there will be nothing at all.

We are in favour of closing down the activity of any non-essential business in the current state of affairs to preserve the health of working families, but the needs of these families do not change while staying at home, so we demand that 100 percent of their salary be paid. Nor does it seem reasonable to us that this money (17 billion) be taken on by the state; that is to say, the totality of working families in the country, as it is already known that employers pay a tiny portion of taxes and now even less, shielding themselves with the coronavirus crisis. This money will go to swell the Spanish public debt that already borders on 100 percent of the wealth generated in the year (GDP). More debt means bread for today and hunger for tomorrow. Tomorrow, that money must be returned with interest, perpetuating cuts and austerity policies including healthcare spending, as happened in previous years.

Spanish companies have accumulated huge profits in recent years. Banks alone have half a trillion euros in cash. Paying a month's salary to their workers would be a good sign of solidarity with the general public and their workers, since employers have always been rescued at key moments with the taxpayers’ money.

mercedesvitoriaTrade Unions should promote the creation of control committees in companies across the country / Image: fair use

This could be accompanied by a special tax on large companies less affected by the crisis, for example with a 10 percent tax on their income, to use in aid to small companies that really do have difficulty paying wages and other costs.

Another measure is for businesses to not pay a month of social security contributions or taxes. We cannot support that either. The life of the workers is not extended by a month because they stop working that period, thus a month is reduced from their retirement funds, unemployment benefits, sick leave, etc. We demand that businesses pay their taxes and that small businesses be made exempt with the funds raised with that special tax on large businesses.

In any case, unions should promote the creation of control committees in each company, demanding that their accounting books be opened to really assess which company has liquidity and which does not. Let the working class have the last word on this.

There are measures that we support such as the transfer of 600 million for subsidies for those caring for relatives, although the estimated needs are 2 billion, or the moratorium on the payment of mortgages for workers who are unemployed and if the mortgage exceeds 35 percent of family income. Any stoppages in the supply of electricity, water and telecommunications are also suspended for a month. However, no decision has been made for the affected workers and their families who rent their homes and whose payment should also be suspended. Now more than ever it is necessary to demand the so-called “bad bank”, SAREB (Society for the management of assets from bank restructuring) to make available to the state its entire housing stock and expropriate without compensation the housing fund accumulated in the so-called vulture funds, banks, and socimis (listed housing investment corporation) so that they are available for families in need.

Workers are allowed to take advantage of reduced hours in order to care for their children and relatives, but with a salary reduction.

We must also demand that non-essential service workers remain at home, with 100 percent of their salary, which would allow them to take care of their relatives; and that those workers in essential services (health, transport and logistics, food and basic products, energy, banks, firefighters, water, sanitation and waste collection, essential public administration) with family needs, and without alternative help, can also reduce their working day with 100 percent of their salary.

Finally, the government is establishing a credit line of 100 billion euros to back up and act as a guarantee against defaults by credit companies and financial obligations in the coming months, in what would be nothing more than a disguised corporate bailout. We are against this, because those 100 billion euros - if used, as is quite probable due to the deepening of the crisis throughout the year - together with the other 17 billion euros, adds up to a total of 117 billion euros of public money that will further increase the public debt (9.4 percent more) which will mean more cuts and austerity tomorrow, paid doubly by working families: with taxes and with less and worse social benefits.

There are several aspects to contemplate. This emergency plan is for a single month. If the epidemic crisis continues, there would have to be an extension of measures that cannot last over time due to the enormous state debt and that could lead to the default of payments with the foreseeable collapse of business balance sheets.

On the other hand, the anarchy of Spanish capitalism means that today public hospitals have collapsed, patients and surgeries for other pathologies are being neglected, workers are exhausted, equipment of all kinds is lacking. A kind of covert and forced “euthanasia” is beginning to take place, carried out by the same doctors, as in Italy, in the absence of beds, respirators, etc. In reality, we face a prospect of catastrophe if there is no quick way out of this crisis. It is shameful that we depend on shipments of masks and other materials from China or on one-off handouts from private "benefactors" such as businessman Amancio Ortega.

At the moment of truth, only the involvement of the state has prevented this crisis from already causing a complete health and economic catastrophe. This shows the complete failure of Spanish capitalism in an exceptional case of a viral epidemic, when there are sufficient resources to face it without the need to bring the suffering of working-class families to this level of calamity. The measures of the Ministry of Health are insufficient. The involvement of private healthcare in the coronavirus crisis is at half throttle and we must reject any payment from the state to the businessmen of this industry for this "collaboration" as well as to the private hotels that have offered their rooms to accommodate the sick. Enough money has already been sucked up by private healthcare with the closures and privatisations of the last decade!

Socialism has never been needed with as much urgency as now. The private interests of the handful of large capitalist companies have never come into greater contradiction with social needs. The working class must take charge of the situation in their workplaces and neighbourhoods, and throughout the country. It is necessary for the state to appropriate the commanding heights of the country's economy, under the democratic control of the workers, to organise and plan the economy in the interest of the vast majority of the population who are the working families. And this must begin with the health system in its entirety, including the adjacent productive apparatus that provides it with all kinds of equipment, pharmaceuticals, and laboratories.

It is no longer enough, as we proposed a week ago, to finance a special plan against the coronavirus epidemic with a special direct tax on banks and large companies, we must go further.

Faced with the non-payment of more than a million salaries, and the danger of unemployment spreading to new sectors, facing the closure of tens of thousands of businesses, facing the collapse of the health system, facing the housing crisis, etc., we need a programme that includes:

  • For a public and unified health system under the control of workers, which not only regains the number of workers, beds, equipment, and percentage of public spending allocated prior to 2008, but supersedes them and is updated for the real needs that exist today. Nationalisation without compensation except to small shareholders, and integration into the public healthcare system of private healthcare, maintaining 100 percent of existing employment. This must include not only hospitals and health centres, but also the nationalisation of large factories, laboratories, and pharmaceutical providers to the health system.
  • Extension of free coronavirus tests to the entire population, at least two per family unit and 20 percent of each company's workforce. No waiting for the symptoms of the disease to appear.
  • Workers’ control in the companies that maintain their activity to supervise the hygiene and health conditions, through the workers’ company committees and the safety and hygiene committees. Immediate closure of those that do not meet the necessary health conditions and reopening once this has been resolved.
  • Suspension of all non-essential economic activity with the payment of 100 percent of wages to workers. We do not accept that they calculate the days not worked due to sick leave or vacation.
  • No to EREs and ERTEs. No to the payment of 75 percent of wages by affected workers while the epidemic lasts. No to offloading onto the state the payment of wages and no to the trick of calculating the temporary suspension of work as sick leave. 100 percent of the salary paid by employers.
  • Prohibition of layoffs. Distribution of work between existing hands. If the company closes arguing financial loss it must be nationalised without compensation under the control of its workers.
  • That companies pay 100 percent of wages to workers who need to care for their children, and lack resources, for the mandatory suspension of classes.
  • That the accounting books of businesses be opened so that the workers can verify the financial situation of the companies that argue financial difficulties in applying all these measures.
  • Help small businesses maintain their employment and conditions as we set out in this proposal of measures.
  • Nationalisation of large logistics and transport companies.
  • Comprehensive nationalisation of the energy system: electrical, photovoltaic, nuclear, and oil.
  • Nationalisation of large marketing and distribution networks to ensure supply, combat hoarding, and avoid price speculation. Committees in neighbourhoods to monitor prices to prevent abuse in supermarkets.
  • No to the payment of the public debt, except for small savers whose existence is verified. Not a penny for the vultures, banks, financiers, and imperialist institutions who have already been enriched enough these years with the cuts, austerity, and suffering inflicted on working-class families.
  • Nationalisation of the 100 largest companies in the country, without compensation except to small shareholders of modest means, starting with the 35 large multinationals of the IBEX, which account for 70 percent of the national GDP, more than enough to initiate large-scale planning of the Spanish economy in the interest of the majority.
  • Nationalisation of banks, without compensation except to small shareholders of modest resources, which accumulates more than half a trillion euros in their balance sheets and which are vital to provide the liquidity necessary to undertake such a planning programme.

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