Postcard from Barcelona: The people’s concerns remain unanswered

Arc de Triomf (Barcelona)Barcelona have never been particularly enthused by the right wing Partido Popular – although Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy´s party is still expected to pick up three or four seats – however it´s no longer just them that a vast majority of the population now rally against. Mayor of Barcelona and En Comu Podem member, Ada Colau, expands her anti-´la casta´ (the establishment) rhetoric to include not just PP and the socialist PSOE, but also Convergencia and Ciudadanos.

“I’ve never seen PP, PSOE, Ciudadanos or Convergencia in a protest to stop evictions, defend healthcare or protect employment rights,” she said during a recent rally. The loudest cheer she received during this speech was in response to her statement that “PP is a party that really doesn’t care about human life”, a statement that, based on their presence in Catalonia, PP would be hard-pressed to refute.

Colau was one of the founders, and now chief spokesperson for, the PAH, who are a citizen´s movement focused on the right to housing. PAH yesterday exemplified Colau´s non-discriminatory rhetoric against all opposing political parties by plastering the posters of PP, PSOE and Ciudadanos in Barcelona with stickers accusing them of intending to vote against their ´5 demands´ (which include non-recourse debt, affordable rent, stop evictions, social housing and right to utilities). PAH are just one of many ´mareas´ (tides) spawned by the Indignados movement of May 15th 2011.

Stickered billboards

Another example of the disaffected tides of unhappy citizens that Rajoy has had to confront is ´Juventud Sin Futuro´ (Youth Without Future) – 260,000 people aged between 16 and 30 left Spain to find work abroad in 2012. Unemployment in Spain has indeed decreased from its peak of 27 per cent in 2013 by roughly six points, however the situation remains grave. 

I spoke to recent graduate and Barcelona resident Marina, who lamented the relaxed labour laws that allow employers to hire ´becarios´ (scholars) on rotating three month periods. Whilst Marina has been highly fortunate in finding a job in her field within two months of searching, she recognises that:

I was fortunate as I had my back covered with the help of my parents, who would give me a hand with the expenses until I was able to assume them myself.

Out of her friends most of them are either still looking for a job or have had to settle for a job unrelated to their field of study, and for which they´re overqualified for.

“If we want to have a future, we need jobs,” said one Madrid resident in an interview with the Guardian earlier this year. In order to create jobs, there needs to be a focus on education, especially in Spain where the OECD´s first global study of adult skills revealed that “one in four Spaniards between 16 and 65 scored the lowest levels of literacy, and one in three the lowest levels of mathematical proficiency”. Whilst Rajoy has not announced any further cuts to education, he still fails to outline his jobs plan, presumably hoping it´s going to resolve itself as the economy continues to slowly grow.

Whilst I am no economist, it seems clear to me that the problem of education and, subsequently, youth unemployment is not going to simply be solved by a gradual improvement of the wider economic situation. Funding for education in Spain needs not just a cessation of further cuts, but an increase in spending. No Spanish university ranks among the world´s top 200, whilst research and development and innovation spending, at 1.3 per cent of the GDP, is way below that of other developed economies.

Juventud Sin Futuro, PAH and many other mareas like them still feel as though they’re not being listened to. The people of Spain want recognition; recognition that Rajoy and Socialist leader Sanchez are still slow to prioritise. It´s a frustration inspired out of statements such as Mario Monti´s, “those who govern must not allow themselves to be completely bound by parliamentarians”, as well as others which posit global markets as being more democratic than parliamentary elections found in Slavoj Zizek´s article here. It´s not just the fringe of Spanish voters that feel ignored, up to 80 per cent of Spaniards have said that they supported the 15-M protestors, despite the PP´s efforts to portray them as anarchists.

The Spanish political hierarchy is being flipped on its head, and Podemos and Ciudadanos have been the only parties to respond. It´s no longer enough to dictate from the top down, parties are now asked to collaborate and participate with voters. It´s a ´ground-up´ approach that is, with Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders, influencing politics across the globe. These mareas are, despite some political involvement, not under the direct control of any political party and as such, and in spite of the contributions of Podemos and Ciudadanos, are not monopolised by any wing of the political spectrum. If Rajoy and Sanchez want to regain trust and rebuild their parties for a profitable long-term future then they can´t continue to ignore the demands of their people, irrespective of whether either of their parties wins this Sunday.

Rajoy Plasma

So, where now for the people of Spain? It looks as though, due to slight economic improvement, the PP will limp to victory with the help of Ciudadanos (however the two major parties up until now, PP and PSOE, will be lucky to get 40 per cent of the combined vote). People are no more reassured than they were four years ago, and the majority of their concerns remain. The reasons for public discontent against PP and PSOE as articulated by William Chislett during the Indignados movement were, “a spate of scandals, constant bickering and a failure to put aside partisan differences, the politicisation of state institutions, the snail´s pace at which the judiciary system moves and a lack of an effective system of checks and balances of democracy”. Can it really be said that any of these issues have been effectively resolved by government?

Even in the likelihood that Rajoy does return to power this Sunday, the Indignados – and Podemos in particular – should not be disheartened. Such a result would present its own opportunity for Podemos and their expanding base; however patience and a long-term vision are paramount to them being able to capitalise on it. This is the topic which I will address in my next piece.


* Sam Postlethwaite is a Liberal Democrat member with an interest in Spanish politics.

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