Either with the workers or with the capitalists!
This month we commemorate the first anniversary of the formation of the Socialist (PSOE) government, led by Rodriguez Zapatero, who won the March 14, 2004 elections. The fact that the Socialist Party won the elections in the context of the biggest surge of social mobilisation since the seventies, and also the fact that for the masses the landslide was seen as a victory for all of them, has conditioned much the policies carried out by the government throughout this last year.
Thus, the main effect of the way the left won, has made that the youth and the workers feel much more justified in demanding from the new government a substantial from the reactionary nightmare they experienced under the government of Jose María Aznar.
However, along with the tremendous feeling of satisfaction of finally ending with the right-wing government, within important sectors of the working class there is some degree of caution as they have not forgotten the previous Socialist government, who between 1982 and 1996, carried out a whole series of attacks against the working class and democratic rights, which undoubtedly caused a great amount of frustration.
Differences with the previous Socialist government
There are many differences between this government and that of the 1980s, led by Felipe Gonzalez and Alfonso Guerra. The 1982 Socialist victory was much bigger, and led to the taking of office of the first left government since the fall of the Franco dictatorship. Also, the then PSOE leaders were more skilful in coping with the worker’s movement and the left-wing tendencies that existed within their own party.
Furthermore, the previous PSOE governments had benefited from the economic boom of the second half of the 1980s, which lasted until the beginning of the 1990s, which created a certain sense of optimism and feeling of future social gains. And yet, even with those favourable circumstances, the different Socialist governments [led by Gonzalez] were met with the militancy of the working class, who organised four general strikes and numerous other militant struggles.
Eventually, Felipe Gonzalez paid for his policies in the ballot boxes and the party took eight years to recover from that defeat, but even this was not the merit of the party leadership but rather it was due to the mass movement against the PP. Today, both the economic and political perspectives are somewhat different, and Zapatero has to govern in a very unstable situation with a bitter political polarisation taking place.
The turn to the “centre”, a failed strategy
It was the mobilisation of the workers, who breaking with the abstentionist tendencies of previous years, allowed for the victory to the left to take place. The bloody terrorist attacks of the 11th March, along with the political manoeuvrings of the PP, resulted in the [surprise] outcome of the general election. But the enormous movement that flowed from 11th March cannot be understood unless we also take into account the intense mobilisations of the working class that had taken place during the previous two years, beginning with the general strike in 2002, which then continued with the struggle against the imperialist war in Iraq. Therefore, the Socialist victory, along with the increase in the votes for such parties as the ERC, is a clear reply to all those who insisted on the need for the left parties to turn to the “centre” and to adopt a moderate political programme.
The first measures of the new government were greatly influenced by the way in which the elections had been won. The withdrawal of the Spanish troops from Iraq – that has had enormous effects both nationally and internationally – was correctly viewed by the masses as the result of their struggle.
Immediately afterwards Zapatero focused his political profile on social and democratic issues. Laws against domestic violence, or in favour of recognizing the right of people of the same sex to marry and adopt children, have naturally encountered massive support. However, apart from these policies, that have received massive media coverage, on decisive issues that affect millions of workers, unemployed, youth, the Zapatero government has maintained a line of political continuity that in no way reflects a turn to the left.
A continuity in socio-economic policies
When Zapatero took his position as Prime Minister at the Moncloa palace, there were also other kinds of reaction. The big capitalists welcomed the decision to nominate Solbes as Minister of the Economy, as they were sure that the economic policies that he would carry out would be those they wanted.
Within a few months this perspective was confirmed. The 2005 budget contains no changes in relation to budget presented by the previous PP minister, Rodrigo Rato. Spending on social welfare has gone from 49,4% in the 2004 budget to 50,2% in this year’s budget presented by the PSOE. The increase is less than 1%!
In relation to cheap housing needs, what is being done by the Zapatero government is absolutely ridiculous. The PSOE has launched a “Housing Plan”, which involves the building of 51,461 publicly funded houses for sale, and a further 8,277 to be rented. But in 2004, 675,000 houses were built in the free market. Is this how a left-wing government should address this kind of problem?
The Bank of Spain has just published a report that shows that the average household spends more than 57% of their income in buying a house, which in other words means a savage transfer of wealth into the pockets of the big construction companies and banks. Meanwhile the Minister in charge of housing, María Antonia Trujillo, has proposed the changing of council house regulations, that would allow the government to start building 30 square metre flats, as a temporary solution for youth who want to leave home, or for the unmarried, divorced and the elderly. It comes across as a joke that this idea should be proposed by “Socialist” minister.
What the workers and youth really need is a serious, cheap, public housing policy, both in terms of rented and owned property, at prices which would not exceed 10% of their average wage. This could be achieved if the government were to expropriate the major construction companies, nationalise them under the democratic workers’ control, and then launch an urgent house-building plan. Inevitably, this kind of policy would meet with opposition and boycott on the part of the bosses; but on the other hand, it would gain the enthusiastic support of the majority of the population, especially of the construction workers.
The government has also proposed new tax regulations that would benefit the higher income earners. Solbes’ proposal includes the reduction of the top tax rate from the current 45% to 43% or 42%, while the lowest tax levels would also be reduced but in a smaller proportion. In 2002 taxation on workers’ income was 77,21% of total government tax revenues, while at the other end of the spectrum the number of rich, who declare earnings of more than €600,000 a year, was only 3,471. Does the government have any plans to put an end to this colossal fraud? None whatsoever, as the Exchequer plans to give a further 15.9% tax rebate to companies, which in total means tax cuts of 4.22 billion euros in 2005, one third more than in 2004!
On wages and jobs we hear the same song. In 2004 Spanish companies in the non-financial sector improved their basic profits by an average of 21,7%, 8% more than the previous year, but the purchasing power of ordinary wages continued to go down. According to the Ministry of Labour, the collective bargaining agreements in the first quarter of 2005 established wage increases of 2.85%, which is half a percentage point lower than the latest inflation figures (3,4%). Also, the average annual number of hours worked by each worker was 1760.9 hours, another increase on the previous year.
In relation to the stagnation of the economy in the euro-zone, along with the loss of competitivity of the Spanish economy, the fall in foreign investment and the increase of the current-account deficit, the government has declared its unequivocal support for the austerity plans proposed by the European Commission and the IMF. Zapatero has already stated that he isn’t going to raise the question of the 35-hour week in a meeting with the CEOE, the employers’ organisation: “We have to work more” was his message. He has also made his views clear – through his Minister of Labour – on the need to reduce the cost of redundancies and to find new ways of increasing the casualisation of labour. These are two central aspects of the “reform” of labour legislation, the sixth such “reform” since the fall of the Franco dictatorship. At the same time he is confidently moving forward in his new reform of state pensions, increasing the number of years’ contributions to get a pension.
All of this is being discussed in a situation where there are already 2,2 million unemployed, huge levels of casual labour that affects 90% of workers below the age of 30, and ridiculously low pensions that cannot keep up with real increase in the cost of living.
In other areas, the policies of this PSOE government follow the same path. The reform of the education system that has been proposed, encourages private education, along with maintaining the privileges granted to the Catholic Church, – in other words, a perfect breeding ground for student mobilisations.
On democratic rights, they are maintaining the “Law on Parties”, along with a ban on unions for the Civil Guard, a reactionary institution that should be abolished. They are trying to correct the previous tactic of alliance with the PP, as we have seen in the recent Basque elections, but on the other hand, they continue to deny the right to self-determination for the different nationalities. However, it is still to be seen whether by breaking with the PP, the PSOE does not end up with an internal dispute with its own so-called “Socialist barons”, if we take into consideration the well-known position of Ibarra, Bono o Paco Vázquez (mayor of A Coruña), defenders of the most old-fashioned Spanish nationalism.
A “de facto” coalition
Many of this government’s policies have been covered over with a kind of progressive varnish, because of two fundamental reasons. First of all, because the left, either the unions (CCOO and UGT) or the political parties (United Left, ERC), have given unconditional support to this government, without saying a word. In actual fact, Zapatero has been helped by a “de facto” agreement for the whole term, although it hasn’t been sealed by a formal agreement. The second factor, which cannot be underestimated, is the position of the biggest bourgeois party in this country, the PP.
The right has not yet absorbed last year’s electoral defeat. Their ultra-right stance has placed Zapatero, in spite of himself, on the left of the political spectrum. Every time the PP has taken part in any political debate it has strengthened the government’s image. Their disgusting stance on the 11th March Commission of Inquiry, their servile position towards American imperialism, their open support for the Franco dictatorship (which they revealed in their ardent opposition to the pulling down of Franco’s statues and other symbols of his regime that existed in various cities), their ultra-reactionary and nationalistic position in relation to the national question, their rabid hatred of anything that smacks of communism or socialism....
All of this has fuelled a growing political polarisation, which surprisingly enough, has caused some worries within some circles of the capitalists, who would rather have a policy of consensus, as a better scenario in which to undertake future attacks against the working class.
However, a perspective of future clashes with the working class is inevitable, and the recent conflict in the shipping sector was further evidence of the militancy they will have to face. Obviously some leeway still exists; the workers still have some degree of tolerance towards this government, even more so if we take into account the right-wing stance. But experience has shown that you can’t serve two masters: either with the workers, pushing forward a genuine socialist policy based on the nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy, or accept the existing rules of the game, which sooner or later, will lead to attacks on the working class.
One year after Zapatero’s victory, the perspective of a growing social and political politicisation, far from receding, is growing. The class struggle will enter a new period due to the refusal of the PSOE government to adopt a genuine socialist programme. In this process, with the experience of the different struggles and the growing confidence of the working class, in a context of general crisis of world capitalism, many workers, students and trade union activists will move towards the ideas of revolutionary Marxism.
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