The pain in Spain

One of my politically astute American friends, journalist and photographer Don Monkerud, has asked how things are going for us in our little town of Carboneras (Andalucía, Spain). I'll share my reply.

Dibujo de Manel Fontdevila en Público
Thanks for asking, Don. Yes, things are going well for us personally, but it's hard not to share the anxiety of our neighbors. Spain has the highest unemployment in the European Union, and several of our friends have lost their jobs and others are naturally worried. The right-wing assault on public services is cutting deep into public health care (Americans don't even know what that is, but in most of Europe and especially in Spain standards have been high and people count on it), public education, research and other frivolities. The new "labor reform" makes it cheap and easy for employers to dismiss workers with very little compensation and for them to disregard contracts simply if their profits have declined over the past 9 months. Only the banks get backing. The attitude of the EU, the European Central Bank and the "Merkozy" team, backed by Spain's new president Rajoy, is: We've got to save the euro, who cares about the Europeans? Regional and municipal governments in Spain have fallen into such deep debt (income that used to come from the building boom, in the forms of licenses and taxes, having disappeared) that in some towns they haven't been able to keep the lights on. Our little town still has street lights, but there's no money for acquisition in the public library and there have been, and will be, other cuts.

I've just been reading Tony Judt, Ill Fares the Land (click link for NYRB article where he summarizes the argument). He explains what has been happening very clearly, though things have got even worse since his death (6 August 2010)— the lands are faring far more poorly. Spain however, as Manuel Fraga (Franco's minister of tourism) liked to say, is "different": out of phase with the general historical pattern. The "neo-conservative" or, as we would say in Europe, "neo-liberal" offensive against the welfare state in the UK, US and other advanced economies coincided with the late beginnings of public services here, under the Socialist Party governments led by Felipe González (1979-1996).

The dismanteling of the state apparatus that protected citizens began furiously, however, when the so-called "Popular Party" under Aznar came to power (1996-2004). And now, after an ambiguous and largely ineffective social democratic return (Zapatero, 2004-2012), with the return of the PP in the context of the huge European economic débâcle, the offensive had been renewed with greater vigor, meeting furious but so far unconcerted opposition. We've got to get our act together! (See Rx above.)

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