Category Archives: Esther Vivas

from los indignados to Podemos: Esther Vivas reflects on half a decade of public outrage in Spain

What remains of all our outrage?

Esther Vivas | Público

It’s been five years since the massive occupation of May 15, 2011 that gave birth to the movement of los indignados, 15M. Five years of faltering progress with many advances and set-backs along the way. Five years of a tremendous crisis, civil unrest and mass protest. So, what remains today after such a sustained period of outrage?

15M has changed the way we read and interpret the crisis we are facing. We were all told in 2008 that “we live beyond our means”, and blamed for the present situation, but the movement of los indignados has enabled us to change the story. One of its principle slogans, “no somos mercancías en manos de políticos ni banqueros” (we are not mere things to be manipulated by politicians and bankers), pointed in this direction. 15M said that the banks were the authors of economic collapse, and that most of the political class was also complicit. Los indignados imposed a counter-narrative that challenged the official lie: neither guilty nor responsible, it said, we are victims of an age of corruption.

What began as an economic crisis, soon led to a social crisis and finally, under the impact of 15M and the independence movement in Catalonia, to a crisis of the political system per se, which led people to question the founding principles of the (post-Franco) Spanish Constitution of 1978  and each of its pillars, monarchy, two-party system and our state model. This would have been unthinkable not long ago.

15M connected with the seething social discontent and helped to propel it into the form of collective mobilisation, legitimising protest and nonviolent direct actions, such as camping in public places, or occupations of empty houses owned by banks, like the Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca (or PAH – literally: Platform of People Affected by the Mortgage). Potentially illegal actions were now considered legitimate by a significant portion of public opinion. According to several polls, up to 80% of the public considered that los indignados were right and supported us, despite criminalisation and stigmatisation by those in power.

Two years after Mareas ciudadanas (the citizens’ Tide), the spirit of 15M finally made the jump to policymaking: moving from “no nos representan” to “Podemos” and the claims of “los comunes” , having overcome the difficulty of gaining political traction. Even after pundits had accused the movement of being unable to present a serious political alternative and said that the management of our political institutions must be left to professionals.

The emergence of Podemos came with the victory of five MEPs in the European Parliament in May 2014, which marked the beginning of a new political/electoral cycle; one that has not yet been closed, and that was further crystallized in municipal elections of May 2015 with victories against all odds, of alternative candidates in local government capitals of Barcelona, Madrid, Zaragoza, Santiago de Compostela, Cádiz… followed by the breakdown of two-party politics (in the General election) on December 20th. This political translation of outraged social unrest simply needed two things: time and strategic boldness. These successes had not been anticipated, and without the 15M movement would not have been possible.

Those stuck in “old politics” have been forced to rethink their modes of communication. Some have abandoned ties and put on more fashionable shirts, as step-by-step all kinds of shifts became imperative and the word “change” became ubiquitous in the electoral scene. As if that was not enough, a new party, Ciudadanos (Citizens) was launched, with the aim that social unrest might be railroaded into more harmless channels.

Maybe on today’s upset political chessboard the weakest side is the social mobilisation necessary to any process of change. The bid for institutional participation, the setting up of new political instruments and the sudden and unexpected victories in various city councils took place in a climate of social passivity. However, real change does not come about only through conquering institutions, but through gaining support from a mobilised society. If society does not exert pressure on governments for change, it is the powers-that-be that will, and we know whose interests they serve.

What remains of all our outrage? A regime in crisis, not ready yet to fall but ready to be reconfigured. As the French philosopher Daniel Bensaïd said: “Indignation is a start. A way of standing up and beginning to walk. One becomes indignant, rebels, and then thinks what next.” This is where we are now.

* Article in Publico.es, 15.05.2016.

 This is the name used by the candidacy of Ada Colau, elected mayor of Barcelona on May 2015.

Follow the link below to read the original article in Spanish:

https://esthervivas.com/2016/05/15/que-queda-de-tanta-indignacion/

Esther Vivas is an activist, journalist and the author of several books on food and agricultural policies and social movements; her latest work is The food business: Who controls our food? ( Icaria ed., 2014)

@esthervivas | facebook.com/esthervivas | www.esthervivas.com

**Translation is my own — approved by Esther Vivas

+info: http://esthervivas.com/

I would like to thank Esther Vivas for allowing me to reproduce this article.

Not all of the views expressed are necessarily ones shared by ‘wall of controversy’.

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Esther Vivas offers a Catalan perspective on Jeremy Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn and the whirlwind of change

Esther Vivas

Up until now, the emergence of a new political and anti-austerity movement has threatened only the periphery of the European Union, with Greece and Spain leading the way, whereas Jeremy Corbyn’s victory in the British Labour leadership elections represents a blow much closer to the heart of the beast, the City of London.

Against all odds, Jeremy Corbyn won the polls this Saturday in the first round with 59.9% of the vote. The veteran Corbyn achieving what had seemed impossible: a staunch critic of austerity, unswerving campaigner on environmental and anti-militarist issues and someone offering solidarity with refugees, chosen to become leader of his recently defeated and beleaguered Labour Party. Thus what the Labour Left had failed to achieve during more triumphant times, became a reality when least expected.

His campaign, full of hope, had been founded upon social media and huge rallies, but was somehow able to combat a smokescreen of fear and panic put out by establishment scaremongers so familiar to us both here and in Greece. And though the Blairites within his own party turned their cannons against Corbyn, their blitz was not enough to defeat hope.

In fact, it was the British ‘social-democrats’ in league with economic and financial power, who, as in the rest of Europe, have dug their own graves long ago. Corbyn’s triumph is a consequence of New Labour’s betrayal of the interests of its own social base: their defeat is very much in line with those we have seen in Greece with PASOK and, in the last European elections, in Spain when the PSOE got the worst results in its history: only 23% of the vote.

Corbyn is in tune with Podemos and the Syriza that had represented real change, and not the Syriza that yielded to the Troika. The difference now in Britain is that this alternative to outdated social democracy arises from within the very party that had previously abandoned itself to the markets; this sudden re-emergence of a real opposition highlighting the deep public disenchantment with traditional politics, the so-called “old politics”. In voting for Corbyn, the members and supporters of the Labour Party signalled deep unease with the party’s cozying up to the powers of business and finance capital. Their vote was a vote for no cuts, and end to financial insecurity, to privatisation, and to every facet of “austerity”. The people have said “enough”. Sound familiar?

This is not the first time the people of Europe, angered by unbridled capitalism and opposed to imperialist wars, have organised to push for change. We saw it in the anti-globalisation movement during the early 2000s, and the rise of social forums in Florence, Paris, London … with the assistance of thousands of people across the continent. We saw it with the Occupy and los Indignados movements which began in 2011 and planted their flags in hundreds of cities across Europe; their epicenter in Spain. And we see it again with the emergence of a “new politics” founded on “change”, not only social, but political and institutional. Their goal: to win.

Of course Corbyn will not have it easy. The old guard of the Labour Party will do everything possible to sink him, since his programme is diametrically opposed to Blairism. But he has the support of thousands of people. Success will depend upon being true to their promises irrespective of the immediate consequences. But the lessons of the failure of Syriza cannot be ignored. Defeating austerity, we have seen, is never an easy ride. However, with Corbyn we see not merely the winds of change, but the coming of a hurricane.

Follow the link below to read the original article in Spanish:

http://blogs.publico.es/esther-vivas/2015/09/17/jeremy-corbyn-huracan-de-cambio/

Esther Vivas is an activist, journalist and the author of several books on food and agricultural policies and social movements; her latest work is The food business: Who controls our food? ( Icaria ed., 2014)

@esthervivas | facebook.com/esthervivas | www.esthervivas.com

**Translation is my own — approved by Esther Vivas

+info: http://esthervivas.com/

I would like to thank Esther Vivas for allowing me to reproduce this article.

Not all of the views expressed are necessarily ones shared by ‘wall of controversy’.

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King Juan Carlos has abdicated — long live the real transition!

After the abdication of the king, time to checkmate the regime
Esther Vivas

The regime is collapsing, it is dying and in its last-ditch struggle to survive, the king has abdicated. Never has the regime resulting from the Transition [The Transition is the name given to the political process following the death of Franco, which culminated in the Constitution of 1978] been as widely challenged as it is today. The pillars on which it rests, the monarchy, the judiciary, bipartisanship, have been greatly delegitimized for some time now. We no longer believe in their lies, those lies with which they are trying to hold together a system that is falling apart. What seemed not so long ago impossible appears today as a reality. Let us push with all our might to widen even further this breach that the economic, social and political crisis has made possible.

Since the elephant hunt of his “majesty” in Botswana, through the indictment of his son- in-law Iñaki Urdangarín in the “Noos affair” and the involvement of the Infanta Cristina in this case, and including the many operations on the monarch’s hip, costing millions and paid out of public funds, the Royal House has become a caricature of itself. One of the main justifications of “democracy” is mortally wounded, but it is not dead yet.

The announcement of the royal abdication is a final, desperate attempt to save the regime; an attempt at a “facelift” with the aim of restoring legitimacy not only to the monarchy but also to its suite of judges, politicians and opinion formers. For years, far too many years, they have lived under the shelter of this false Transition, trying to efface or hide our collective history. Our forgetfulness has been the substrate of their victory, not only moral but also political and economic.

The economic crisis, transformed into a profound social and also political crisis, has put the king and the regime of 1978 on the ropes. People have said “basta”. We saw it three years ago with the emergence of the 15-M Movement; with the spread of civil disobedience; with the occupation of empty homes that were in the hands of banks, and all of that with broad popular support despite the criminalization of protest. More poverty means more pain, but thanks to these mobilizations it also means greater awareness of who are the winners in this situation – the bankers, the politicians – and who are the losers.

The rising demand for sovereignty in Catalonia has also thrown the regime on the ropes, highlighting the deeply anti- democratic nature of a Constitution that does not allow the right to self-determination. Today, the European elections have given the “coup de grace” to a decaying regime, with the loss of more than five million votes for the PP and the PSOE and the emergence, with the election of five members of parliament, of “Podemos” . The regime is becoming nervous, very nervous.

The royal abdication is the latest rescue manoeuvre. But we must nevertheless remember that the system still has room for manoeuvre. The abdication of the king illustrates the weakness of the pillars of the regime and the strength of the people. But we do not want Juan Carlos Felipe [Juan Carlos Felipe is the Crown Prince] either. It’s time to go out into the streets to demand the opening of constituent processes throughout the Spanish State, in order to decide what kind of future we want. We must go on the offensive in order to checkmate the regime.

*This article was published in “Público.es ” June 2, 2014. Translated by International View Point.

I would like to thank Esther Vivas for allowing me to reproduce this article.

+info: http://esthervivas.wordpress.com/english

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Spain: popular resistance delivers results

Victory against Madrid’s hospital privatisation – and other recent struggles in Spain – shows popular resistance delivers results.

“Resisting is pointless,” we hear endlessly repeated. “So many years of protest but the crisis continues, why bother?” insist others, inoculating us with apathy and resignation. “Protests could lead to something that’s even worse,” whispers the machinery of fear. They want us submissive, heads bowed. Dreams of change are forbidden. However, history rebels, it is indomitable. And it shows us, despite the naysayers, that struggle is worth it. The victories against the privatisation of the Madrid’s public health system, of the Gamonal neighbourhood standing up to speculators and the corrupt, of the cleaners in their battle for jobs in the capital and the struggle against evictions and the banks, are good examples.

It is not easy to achieve concrete victories when the political class betray our rights and sell out to capital. It’s hard to win when the state apparatus defends the haves, and rolls back our democratic rights and freedoms. The task of change is arduous, when the media are hijacked by private interests. Still, there are victories, big and small, showing us the way.

The Madrid government’s u-turn on its plans to privatise six public hospitals is one of them. The [Popular Party-run] adminstration in the capital has been forced to revoke the “outsourcing” plan after fifteen months of protest and the announcement of the High Court of Justice of Madrid to provisionally suspend the privatization process on the grounds it could pose “serious and irreparable damage.” There have been months of demonstrations, strikes, a referendum with nearly one million votes against such measures, hospital occupations, lawsuits. The triumph swept away its leading promoter, regional health commissioner Javier Fernández-Lasquetty, who has been forced to resign. It’s worth the fight.

Gamonal, another great victory. After little more than a week of intense protests, from 10 to 17 January in Burgos, against the construction of a boulevard in the neighbourhood of Gamonal, mayor Javier Lacalle had no choice but to halt construction indefinitely. The conflict, however, came from afar. A multi-million euro project, with huge profits for firms and politicians of the day, in a working class neighbourhood lacking investment and amenities. The “urban” conflict in Gamonal became the spearhead of the fight against corruption, land speculation and crisis. Demonstrations were held across Spain in solidarity with the community. And the attempts to criminalise and spread misinformation failed. It’s worth the fight.

13 days of strike and tons of debris around Madrid were necessary to avoid 1,134 layoffs of street cleaners and gardeners of the City of Madrid. It took an indefinite strike to paint into a corner private contractors that not only wanted to have hundreds of workers, but to carry out pay cuts of up to 43%. The victory was partial because the staff had to each accept 45 days temporary furloughs (unpaid lay offs) annually over the next four years, and a wage freeze until 2017. Still, this does not detract from an indefinite strike , unprecedented sadly in this day and age, succeeding in protecting every single job. It’s worth the fight.

The fight against evictions has been, without a doubt, the ultimate expression of a collective rebellion against this con-trick of a crisis. In response to the unlimited usury of the banks, people organized at the grassroots. Over a period of more than four years, the Platform of People Affected by Mortgages (PAH) has managed to stop 936 evictions, rehouse 712 persons in empty properties owned by financial institutions and today occupied under the Obra Social campaign of the PAH. And it has forced many banks to negotiate hundreds of repossessions and social rent. Some will say that is very small progress compared to the overall offensive. That’s true. However, I would put that to all those who thanks to the PAH have a roof over their heads. It’s worth the fight.

Since the emergence of the indignados, or 15M movement, we have gone from “They do not represent us” to “Yes we can”. We have regained confidence in ourselves. The offensive by capital continues, but our indignation and disobedience increases. Victories today are catalysts of the victories of tomorrow. Struggle is imperative to change things. We must take note. And if we do, we can win.

* Article published in Público.es, 30/01/2014. Translation by Revolting Europe.

* Esther Vivas is a member of the Centre for Studies on Social Movements (CEMS) at Universitat Pompeu Fabra. She is author of the book in Spanish “Stand Up against external debt” and co-coordinator of the books also in Spanish “Supermarkets, No Thanks” and “Where is Fair Trade headed?”. She is also a member of the editorial board of Viento Sur.

I would like to thank Esther Vivas for allowing me to reproduce this article.

+info: http://esthervivas.com/english/

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how can there be any talk of recovery in this “age of austerity”?

Toffed up to the nines and luxuriating in five-star privilege, David Cameron recently told a gathering of fellow ministers and lords during the annual Lord Mayor’s Banquet at the Guildhall in London that the devastating “austerity” will be “permanent”:

The age of austerity is not just a passing phase and Britain should get used to having a ‘permanently’ smaller state, David Cameron said last night.

The Prime Minister used one of his most significant speeches of the year to say that low public spending and a ‘leaner, more efficient state’ would have to be maintained permanently in order for the UK to succeed.

He said the country would have to rediscover its traditional ‘buccaneering’ spirit for private enterprise in order to generate wealth instead of relying on the state.

His remarks are a significant shift for a leader who said in 2010 that he ‘didn’t come into politics to make cuts’, insisting: ‘We’re tackling the deficit because we have to – not out of some ideological zeal.’1

Tory cuts, ideological? Come, come…

If you can stomach any more of it, the full Daily Mail article is here.

Curiously, chief political correspondent at the Guardian, Nicholas Watt, lets Cameron and his Coalition government off the hook too, accepting his pleading that the cuts are “not out of some ideological zeal”:

In a change of tack from saying in 2010 that he was imposing cuts out of necessity, rather than from “some ideological zeal”, the prime minister told the Lord Mayor’s banquet that the government has shown in the last three years that better services can be delivered with lower spending.

Watt adding that:

The remarks by the PM contrasted with his claim after the 2010 election. In his New Year’s message for 2011, issued on 31 December 2010, he said: “I didn’t come into politics to make cuts. Neither did Nick Clegg. But in the end politics is about national interest, not personal political agendas.” […]

A few months earlier that year, in his first Tory conference speech as PM, Cameron said he would have preferred to tackle the deficit in ways other than public spending cuts.2

Click here to read the full article.

Yet this declared “change of tack” is absolute nonsense and easily refutable nonsense at that. Here, for instance, is what Cameron promised back in April 2009 at the party’s spring conference when he was a mere leader of the opposition:

A Conservative government would usher in a new “age of austerity”

So begins a rather different Guardian article, this time from politics editor, Deborah Summers, reporting on what she (and others) then described as Cameron’s ‘age of austerity’ speech. Her article continuing:

The Tory leader insisted greater transparency would help to get Britain’s finances back on track as he used his keynote speech to the Conservative party forum in Cheltenham to pave the way for sweeping cuts in public spending.

“Over the next few years, we will have to take some incredibly tough decisions on taxation, spending and borrowing – things that really affect people’s lives,” Cameron warned.3

So for the record then, Cameron has never changed tack at all. Neither for that matter have their Coalition ‘partners’, the spineless Lib-Dems, or even the supposedly left of centre Labour government. None of our main parties ever seriously discussing real alternative economic strategies, with policies differing purely in terms of how savage the cuts would “need to be”. The Tories, once in office and free to wield the axe thanks to the quiet complicity of their Lib-Dem lackeys, cutting deeper and faster because, in truth, they love nothing better than hounding the lower classes and impoverishing the poor.

Yet after more than three years of “taking our medicine”, a collective punishment very eagerly dished out by the Coalition government, there has basically been no recovery at all in any meaningful sense. Yes, GDP growth has been positive for three quarters, but even this is only at levels comparable to the end of 2009 and beginning 2010 – in other words, growth equivalent to that achieved during the last few months of the admittedly wretched and incompetent Labour government.4 So no improvement, whatsoever, and this is after three years of stagnation. On top of which, all these figures are “real” and thus “adjusted for inflation”. But then, of course, the inflation rate itself is already rather carefully finessed. Henry Blodget of businessinsider provides a helpful explanation of the effect of this adjustment, although here writing about US GDP growth back in May 2011:

The way the government calculates real GDP is to start with nominal GDP – the actual change in the output of the economy as measured by adding up all the actual sales prices (“nominal”) – and then “deflating” this number by subtracting an estimated inflation rate. Thus, the government backs into the real GDP growth number, starting with nominal prices and then adjusting for inflation.

Well, the “GDP deflater” the government is using right now – the estimated rate of inflation – is only 1.9%. As anyone who has been to a supermarket or gas station recently can attest, this assumption is preposterously low. But the effect on “GDP growth” of using a very low inflation estimate is helpful, in that it makes real GDP growth look bigger.5

Click here to read the full article.

GDP is regularly and rather casually accepted as an indicator of “standard of living”, although actually it measures something entirely different and far more abstract: the monetary value of all goods and services produced within national borders. “Standard of living” is therefore better assessed on the basis of a variety of alternative indicators including the quality of healthcare, standards in education, income growth inequality and so forth. That a string of successive governments have failed us in all these regards is widely acknowledged.

I know many who work in the NHS and can’t recall anyone ever telling me that services were getting better or their jobs any less stressful. More personally, I have worked in education for more than fifteen years and standards have unquestionably declined, whilst grade inflation is absolutely real. But then, we can all see how our public services, and the NHS especially, have become infested with managers; whilst our teachers, healthcare professionals (doctors excepted) and many other public sector workers have been put under increasing pressure, and further demoralised thanks to deteriorating pay and contractual conditions alongside flexploitation. Meantime our entire society is being steadily ripped apart by the ever-widening gulf in wealth and incomes. Much of this, of course, is Thatcher’s legacy.

Now I accept that there is indeed a great deal of waste in public spending, and pruning out levels of superfluous management as well as trimming salaries at the top could be beneficial as well as cost effective. But these are not cuts of the type being made on the ground. If the government were seriously intent on cutting back only on real waste, then it would apply its measures with something like surgical precision, but instead it brings the axe. Waste being just a smokescreen. And as with any axe, it hacks away at the bottom of the trunk. Making the most vicious cuts to welfare, which means deliberately snatching a little public money from those who can least afford to lose any, whilst simultaneously targeting the soft underbelly of our few remaining public services, which is also as deliberate as it is ideologically driven. Lastly, when it’s not cutting services, it’s selling them off instead – lowest prices, because everything must go…

Our government is now so openly committed to establishing its permanent “age of austerity” that for millions of people no hope survives that their standard of living will ever improve again – with the proposed £20bn cuts to the budget of our already broken and terribly overstretched NHS being nothing short of a final swing of the wrecking ball through Britain’s most treasured national institution.6 Indeed, a friend who is a dedicated political activist in London recently sent me a distressing email that put into better perspective (since it was founded on her own personal experience) how this talked-up “recovery” is absolutely nothing of the sort. She wrote:

Life is already unbearable/intolerable for many people in the UK on sick benefits having their benefits cut off or cut in half to £49 a week to live on, left with no money to pay bills or the water rates part of their rent, means eviction and out on the streets, living with no heat, no light, no gas, no electricity; or mental breakdown and in a mental hospital; or taking their own lives as they have nowhere to turn and an uncaring society that goes on about benefit scroungers. These people are too sick to work. This is pure fascism and no one is making a fuss in the UK – why? Where is the anger, where are the activists? Why aren’t they doing something? People who are too sick to work are being killed by this government.

Yes, as Cameron entertains an equally pampered audience from behind his gilded lectern, talking without a hint of irony about all the “hard choices” and “tough decisions” he has to make in this new age of perpetual “austerity” — does one use the fish knife for spreading one’s caviar? — people less than a mile away are already struggling to find a few coins for the electricity meter or food for the next meal. All of which elegantly sums up the age we are already living in: an age not of shared “austerity”, where “we’re all in this together” (even if we know it was the bankers who caused the crisis), but of “let them eat cake” disparity. Times, for instance, when super rich Premier League footballers (super rich by ordinary standards that is) wear shirts emblazoned with the name of payday loan sharks Wonga and no one seems to notice, no one feels ashamed, and so one begins to wonder, as my friend wrote: “Where is the anger, where are the activists? Why aren’t they doing something?”

*

Yesterday, I received a new article from journalist and political activist Esther Vivas, which is appended below. In it she details the growing despair of the people of Spain as they suffer even more severe “austerity” bringing with it the inevitable mass unemployment, frozen salaries and escalating costs of living. Broadly, what she says about Spain sadly applies to nearly every corner of the western world and beyond.

Spain in 2014: Not a Prosperous New Year
Esther Vivas

We have entered 2014 a little poorer. For those of us with a job, our salaries have been frozen, or even cut; only a few can expect a rise in the New Year. Furthermore, the price of electricity, public transport and water are increasing.

2013 ended with the controversy over a threatened increase in electricity bills by 11%, leaving Spaniards paying well above the European average and Spain ranking the third most expensive electricity in Europe. So, Mariano Rajoy’s Popular Party (PP) government intervened and stopped this rise by decree. As you can see, if the PP wants to, it can intervene. But overall, there is little willingness to confront the interests of multinationals. For now, the government has limited the rise to 2.3%, and we are expected to be thankful.

The rising price of public transport is another traditional New Year scam. Train tickets, are up nearly 2%, and in Barcelona, not to be outdone, the fare raises on the subway are an abusive 5% with the most popular travelcard, the T-10. However, if you usually take the high speed train (AVE) , which is only used by a minority of citizens, do not worry, because the price has been frozen . Lucky too, are the drivers who use the highways from Castelldefels to Sitges and Montgat to Mataro, where the tolls have been reduced by 30% and 10% respectively, provided they use teletac card, the automatic payment system. Lower the cost of private transport and increase the cost of public transport – that’s the approach of Catalonia’s [right-wing nationalist] CiU government.

And in Barcelona, we face further rises, for water too, even if money appears to be in plentiful supply, especially for the city council, as we saw with the celebrations on New Year’s Eve at the Montjuïc fountain. The tourists are happy at least. But for the rest of us, water bills will be going up by 8.5 % on average in the metropolitan area of Barcelona, thanks to the votes of CiU and [Catalan Socialists] PSC, and the abstention of the [left nationalists] ERC. In the end, those who criticise the cuts are the first to sharpen the scissors. We will not forget.

Meanwhile, the minimum wage remains frozen, as was the case last year, leaving it at a meagre 645 euros per month, while public sector workers remain on the wages they received in 2010. Pensions of those ten million retirees who worked all their lives, will see their incomes hit by a change in indexation that means rises are tied to below inflation (CPI ); this year they will rise by just 0.25% , the minimum set by the Government. An increase that will barely buy a cup of coffee.

We enter this 2014, a little poorer. Our purchasing power slowly falls. Every year that passes we have less. They want to make poverty normal. Do you remember those stories, not so long ago, of those struggling on 1000 euros a month? The new precariat. Today an employer offering a job paying a thousand euros monthly would be swamped by curriculums. And yet some, like the Prime Minister, dare to say that 2014 brings “the beginning of the recovery.” What a bunch of thieves and liars.

*Article published in the Spanish digital newspaper Público.es, 02/01/2014. Translated by Revolting-Europe.com.

+info: http://esthervivas.com/english/

I would like to thank Esther Vivas for allowing me to reproduce this article.

Not all of the views expressed are necessarily views shared by ‘wall of controversy’.

*

Update:

On January 6th, Chancellor, George Osborne, delivered a New Year economy speech at the West Midlands headquarters of Sertec in which he continued from where Cameron had left off, announcing that:

If 2014 is a year of hard truths for our country, then it starts with this one: Britain should never return to the levels of spending of the last government.

We’d either have to return borrowing to the dangerous levels that threatened our stability, or we’d have to raise taxes so much we’d put our country out of business. Government is going to have to be permanently smaller – and so too is the welfare system. […]

We’ve got to make more cuts. £17 billion this coming year. £20 billion next year. And over £25 billion further across the two years after. That’s more than £60 billion in total.

Click here to read a full transcript of George Osborne’s speech at gov.uk

From a report in the Guardian published the same day (co-authored by Nicholas Watt and Rowena Mason), we also learn that:

In an interview on Radio 4’s Today programme, Osborne said he would seek to achieve some of the £12bn savings by targeting housing benefit for under-25s and by means-testing people on incomes of £60,000 to £70,000 who live in social housing. But one Whitehall source said that targeting those two areas would produce “laughable” savings. Department of Communities and Local Government figures show that the 11,000 to 21,000 council tenants, who earn more than £60,000 a year, each cost the taxpayer £3,600 a year. Targeting this group would produce savings of £40m-£76m a year.

No doubt desperately intent to put some clear blue water between his own party and the truer blue Tories in the run up to the 2015 general election, the same article reports on Nick Clegg’s entirely belated fightback against what are in any case his own government’s “austerity measures”:

Clegg chose to describe Osborne’s plans to target cuts on the working-age poor – while ruling out tax increases – as “lopsided and unbalanced”. In a sign of how coalition relations will remain fractious until the election in May 2015, the deputy prime minister said: “You’ve got a Conservative party now who are driven, it seems to me, by two very clear ideological impulses. One is to remorselessly pare back the state – for ideological reasons just cut back the state.

“Secondly – and I think they are making a monumental mistake in doing so – they say the only people in society, the only section in society, which will bear the burden of further fiscal consolidation are the working-age poor.”

Signalling how he will waste no time in publicly criticising Tory plans over the next 16 months, Clegg later added: “I literally don’t know of a serious economist who believes that you only do it from that lopsided, unbalanced approach. Almost all serious economists say you have some kind of mix.”

Meanwhile, professional clown and London Mayor, Boris Johnson, managed to upstage both Osborne and Clegg on LBC radio by comparing Nick Clegg to a condom, describing him as “David Cameron’s lapdog-cum-prophylactic protection device”.

This is taken from The Mirror, published January 7th:

The London Mayor likened the Deputy Prime Minister to a “prophylactic protection device” as relations between the Tories and Lib Dems sank to a new low. The tirade came during a radio phone-in after Mr Clegg claimed George Osborne’s “extreme” plan to cut £12billion from welfare was a “monumental mistake”.

Furious Tory MPs called on the Lib Dem chief to apologise. Leading the backlash on LBC radio slot Ask Boris, jabbering Johnson said: “Clegg is there to perform a very important ceremonial function as David Cameron’s lapdog-cum-prophylactic protection device for all the difficult things that David Cameron has to do.

“He is a lapdog who’s been skinned and turned into a shield.”

You can listen to Boris Johnson’s latest rant against Coalition teammate Nick Clegg embedded below:

 

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Additional:

On November 27th, Alexis Tsipras, leader of Syriza in Greece, wrote an op-ed for the Guardian entitled “Austerity is wreaking havoc, but the left can unite to build a better Europe”. Here are a few pertinent extracts:

Those European leaders who claim that the current medicine is a “success” are hypocrites. For millions of people, the European dream has turned into a nightmare. Eurobarometer surveys show the growing crisis of confidence in the EU and the catastrophic rise in the popularity of far-right parties. What should give us hope is the emergence of new solidarity groups and community-based movements. They can and will lead to greater democratic participation and control. […]

Europe needs an anti-austerity and anti-recession front, a solidarity movement for its working people, north and south. This could deliver a pact for democracy, development and social justice. We must rebuild solidarity among the young, the workers, the pensioners and the unemployed to break down the new dividing line between Europe’s rich and poor, the “mur d’argent” to use a historical phrase that has become topical.

Click here to read Alexis Tsipras’ full article.

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1 From an article entitled “Cameron: Austerity should last for ever and Britain must get used to being a ‘leaner, more efficient state’” written by James Chapman, published in the Daily Mail on November 11, 2013. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2501697/Cameron-Austerity-Britain-used-leaner-efficient-state.html

2 From an article entitled “David Cameron makes leaner state a permanent goal” written by Nicholas Watt, published in the Guardian on November 12, 2013. http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/nov/11/david-cameron-policy-shift-leaner-efficient-state

3 From an article entitled “David Cameron warns of ‘new age of austerity’” written by Deborah Summers, published by the Guardian on April 26, 2009. http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2009/apr/26/david-cameron-conservative-economic-policy1

4 A comparison can be easily made from studying a graph published by the BBC in late October. Figures from the ONS for UK GDP growth are as follows: 2009 Q4, 0.4%; 2010 Q1, 0.5%; 2010 Q2, 1.0% compared against 2013 Q1, 0.4%; 2013 Q2, 0.7%; 2013 Q3, 0.8%. Indeed, the accompanying article begins: “The figures mean that the economy grew at its fastest pace for three years.” After three years of Coalition government, in fact! http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10613201

5 From an article entitled “Check Out What GDP Growth Would Look Like If The Government Were Using The Right Inflation Numbers” written by Henry Blodget, published by businessinsider on May 30, 2011. http://www.businessinsider.com/gdp-adjusted-for-inflation-2011-5

6 In October 2011, Denis Campbell and James Meikle investigated and reported in an article published by the Guardian entitled “£20bn NHS cuts are hitting patients, Guardian investigation reveals”.

They write: “This Guardian investigation details the latest evidence of increased cuts – the cuts that, according to the government, should not be happening – being implemented across a wide range of the NHS’s many care services. With £20bn due to be saved by 2015, and the NHS receiving only a 0.1% budget increase each year until then, experts predict that tough decisions – about the availability of services and treatments, staffing levels and which clinics and hospitals provide care – will become increasingly common.”

http://www.theguardian.com/society/2011/oct/17/nhs-cuts-impact-on-patients-revealed

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independence for Catalonia?

An introductory note:

The following is the translation of an article written by journalist and political activist Esther Vivas after the recent September 11th demonstrations for Catalan independence.

The Catalan independence issue is a complex one, and so I also sent the original article to a Catalan friend who has helpfully explained some of the more technical terms. I have since re-edited the original version and added my friend’s remarks in the form of footnotes (with links) to provide a little guidance for those of us less familiar with politics of the region.

What is perhaps especially interesting to outsiders is the birth of a new political movement. The movement, which is known as Procés Constituent – approximately translates to mean “constitutional process” – was started by a nun by the name of Sister Teresa Forcades and a fellow activist called Arcadi Oliveres.

*

Catalonia: independence from Spain, independence from capitalism

Esther Vivas

Hundreds of thousands turned out last September 11 to demand independence for Catalonia. Some decided to surround the Caixa, form a human chain around the largest bank in Catalonia and third largest in Spain, to demand not only independence from Spain, but from capitalism.

Some in that crowd will say that independence comes first, and then we’ll see. That independence itself will end unemployment, poverty, and hunger. As if independence were a divine manna. This, however, is falsehood. Just ask people in Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Cyprus and all of us now living in Spain. Instead, gaining real independence must mean that we escape from, well, the grip of the Troika*, since it is the European financial powers which now stand in the way of real freedom for the people. After all, there can be no real independence under the burden of debt, the blackmail of the risk premium and the “markets” .

Others in the crowd will claim “Madrid robs us ”, and so if we say “Farewell to Spain”, then our problems are solved. But nothing is further from reality… Where are we going with a country in the hands of just 400 families1 forever? Moving towards real independence, involves asking: independence for what and for whom.

The open debate in Catalonia today is an opportunity to rethink the foundations for a new model of society. It may be independent, yes, but it must be open to a ‘constitutional process’2 that allows us to decide together what kind of country we want… Always remembering that it has been the banks which are most responsible for this crisis, with La Caixa being the largest bank in Catalonia. And that to save these financial institutions we have been sunk into absolute misery. So we will never be free nor independent, if we are still subject to policies that only serve to prop up the banks.

It is also common knowledge that La Caixa does not want a referendum on independence. “Social peace” [or “let’s not rock the boat”]3 being the final guarantor of its sustained profits, and with the Spanish State always its biggest source of business…. Its true loyalties evident from the scandal involving the royal family… La Caixa ensuring a golden retirement for the Infanta Cristina in Switzerland4, as head of the International Department of the La Caixa Fundación, her salary increasing to 320,000 euros per year…

So which country will we have after independence if our largest bank still evicts families and rips us off through ‘preferred shares’5? What will our independence amount to if we are still in the hands of thieves…?

* This is an extract from an article published by Esther Vivas in Spanish in Publico.es, 12/11/2013.

Originally translated by http://revolting-europe.com.

+info: http://esthervivas.com/

*

Footnotes:

* The following is a previous article published by Esther Vivas at Publico.es, June 1, 2013:

United against the Troika
Esther Vivas

Who is the Troika? A year ago few knew the answer to this question. We knew it by reference, to its stay in Greece, and it wasn’t good. The Troika was synonymous with austerity, adjustment and cuts, hardship, hunger and unemployment.

But it was not until the arrival in Spain of the much denied rescue, in June 2012, that the “men in black” and “Troika” became a household name. Today, a year later, people, sick and tired, are coming out into the streets to say loud and clear: “Troika, go home”.

History repeats itself. And just as many countries of the South in the 1990s and 2000s saw mass demonstrations against the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, whom the people accused of reducing them to misery, now people here speak out against the Troika: the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and the European Central Bank. The bank is different. But the logic is more of the same.

Centre-periphery relations at a global level are now repeated in the European Union. And the countries of the periphery of the Continent, we have become the new colonies, markets or sources of financial capital. Where once, in the South, structural adjustment plans were applied, in order, it was said, to make debt more sustainable, as if the misery and poverty to which they could be subjected was sustainable. Now they speak to us of “aid” and “bailouts “… and they reduce us all to misery.

Debt remains the yoke imposed on the poor. A mechanism of control and subjugation of peoples. An infallible instrument to transfer resources, or to be more precise, of plunder, from South to North, either global or at a European scale. And an argument for reducing the rights of the majority and generate more profits to capital, cutting and privatizing public services covertly. The debt imposed on us, which, incidentally, is not ours, is the perfect excuse to implement what is a long plan. Thus, the scam is called the crisis, the theft is the debt.

We have quickly learned the meaning of the Troika, but also that of other concepts such as anger, rebellion and disobedience. And today we rise in more than 100 cities across Europe as the “peoples united against Troika”. Because we can.

* Article published at Publico.es, June 1st, 2013.
** Translated by http://revolting-europe.com.

1400 families”: I don’t know exactly when this phrase was coined, but it has been current in the media in recent years to refer to the Catalan ruling elite, whose members are often descended from the industrial bourgeoisie of the past. The phrase became popular in 2009 when Fèlix Millet, a well-connected businessman from this particular class, confessed to embezzling large amounts of money from the Palau de la Música foundation. He has also been accused of conniving in the illegal funding of Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya, the political party in power in the autonomous government, many of whose leaders happen to belong to the “400 families”. But despite his confession and the public outrage that followed, the court case keeps being delayed and Millet has only spent a few days in prison so far.

According to La Vanguardia, in an interview he referred to himself as belonging to a group of 400 influential Catalans, some related to each other and others not, “who meet everywhere and are always the same” (sorry, I haven’t found a link in English:

http://www.lavanguardia.com/politica/noticias/20090924/53791233174/uno-de-los-nuestros-felix-millet-orfeo-catala-omnium-cultural-montserrat-estado-liceu-joan-anton-mar.html).

2constitutional process”: this refers to the writing of a socially progressive Catalan constitution in the future, which is advocated by a group called “Procés Constituent” started by Teresa Forcades (the nun who became famous on Youtube exposing the pharmaceutical industry in connection with the swine flu vaccine) and a fellow Christian activist called Arcadi Oliveres.

This group is not a political party and both founders have said from the start that they are not going to stand in elections. Their aim is allegedly to set up a movement that will eventually lead to a “constituent assembly” for the new Catalan state. The group organized the alternative human chain around la Caixa that is mentioned in the article, to signal their differences with the independentist “Via Catalana” chain.

They are pro-independence but believe that a Catalan republic will be pointless unless it’s built on radically different principles, so for example in their manifesto they advocate, among other things, nationalising banks, refusing to pay “odious debt” and extending the welfare state (which is the reason Vivas supports them; I also signed my support when they first published their manifesto, which felt pretty odd given my feelings about Catholics –Forcades and Oliveres seem well-meaning, though). So when Vivas refers to the “constituent process”, I think she’s referring to the idea that social rights should be written into the future Catalan constitution.

To read more about Sister Teresa Forcades and her movement, “Procés Constituent”, I recommend a BBC news article entitled “ Sister Teresa Forcades: Europe’s most radical nun”, written by Matt Wells, published on September 14, 2013. The article outlines her 10-point programme, drawn up with economist Arcadi Oliveres, as follows:

• A government takeover of all banks and measures to curb financial speculation

• An end to job cuts, fairer wages and pensions, shorter working hours and payments to parents who stay at home

• Genuine “participatory democracy” and steps to curb political corruption

• Decent housing for all, and an end to all foreclosures

• A reversal of public spending cuts, and renationalisation of all public services• An individual’s right to control their own body, including a woman’s right to decide over abortion

• “Green” economic policies and the nationalisation of energy companies

• An end to xenophobia and repeal of immigration laws

• Placing public media under democratic control, including the internet

• International “solidarity”, leaving Nato, and the abolition of armed forces in a future free Catalonia

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-24079227

3Social peace”: this is a direct translation of a euphemism that is often used here by politicians, bankers and businessmen alike, so when there’s a demonstration or a strike or any kind of protest by the people, those in power will say that this is undesirable because it disrupts “social peace”, by which they mean that the protests threaten to disrupt the status quo.

4ensuring a golden retirement for the Infanta…”: this refers to a financial scandal involving the Infanta, her husband, the king and various Partido Popular politicians and regional governments. It’s a long soap opera so I’ll spare you the details. The latest thing is that after being let off the hook by the corrupt justice system, the Infanta has been given a cosy and highly lucrative job in Switzerland by La Caixa, the bank mentioned in the article.

5preferred shares”: this is a complex, high-risk ‘financial product’ that a few years ago was fraudulently sold by Spanish banks to thousands of unwitting citizens, mostly elderly and uneducated, who didn’t have a clue what they were buying. When the crisis set in, the buyers lost everything (in fact I know someone whose elderly mother lost her savings this way). The victims are still fighting to get their money back. If you want to read more about this, you can have a look here: http://www.arabtimesonline.com/NewsDetails/tabid/96/smid/414/ArticleID/194380/reftab/96/Default.aspx

I would like to thank Esther Vivas for allowing me to reproduce these articles.

Not all of the views expressed are necessarily views shared by ‘wall of controversy’.

*

Update:

The following is a subsequent article on progress of the ‘Constituent Process’ published on October 27th 2013:

Catalonia: a Constituent Process to decide everything
Esther Vivas

Nobody said that it would be easy, but it is necessary to try. And this is precisely what is being done through the Constituent Process in Catalonia, led by the Benedictine nun Teresa Forcades and the economist Arcadi Oliveres, along with many other people. To create social consciousness, to mobilize, to promote civil disobedience and to raise a political alternative that defies those who monopolize power.

Its objective is to construct a new politico-social instrument, based on popular self-organization, loyal to those of at the bottom and able to contribute, in diversity, to the social and political left as a whole. On the horizon, if things work out, it expresses the will to compete in the next elections to the Catalan Parliament, with a broad candidacy, the result of the necessary confluence of many people, some currently inside and others outside the Process, that aspires to transform social discontent into a political majority and to establish the bases to promote a constituent process, that allows us to collectively equip ourselves with a new political framework in the service of the majority.

Some will say that this is utopian, but it is more utopian, from my point of view, to think that those who have led to us to the present situation of crisis, from which, by the way, they obtain substantial benefits, will get us out of it. Breaking with scepticism, apathy and fear is the challenge that we have ahead. Knowledge that “we can” is the first step to obtaining concrete victories.

Ever since the Constituent Process went public last April, the support received has been wide The Process has connected with broad sectors of society who perceive, in the present context of crisis, the urgent necessity of changing things. Many people without too much political or organizational experience have identified with a discourse that appeals to something as essential as can be: justice.

Other social activists have seen in the Process an instrument to go beyond social mobilization per se and to consider a political-organizational perspective of change. Two years after the emergency of 15M, many perceive that no matter how much we occupy banks, empty houses, supermarkets, hospitals… those in power continue applying a series of measures that sink us into absolute misery. Resting on the essential struggle on the street, without which there is no possible change, the Constituent Process raises, at the same time, a challenge to the political-economic regime, as well as in the institutions. And to change the system by “occupying” these instances and giving them back to the social majority via a constituent process.

For sure there are no magical formulas but experiences like the constituent processes in Latin America (Ecuador, Bolivia, or Venezuela) or, closer to home, Iceland, in spite of their debatable evolutions, are experiences to consider deeply, not to imitate but to learn from their successes and errors. In Catalonia, the debate on the national question and independence opens an opportunity, as we could never have imagined, to be able to decide… and to decide on everything.

High participation

The high participation in public presentations of the Constituent Process, some led by Teresa Forcades and others by Arcadi Oliveres, with an average of between 400 to 700 people in municipalities like Vic, Sabadell, Santa Coloma de Gramenet, Lleida, Girona, Vilanova i la Geltrú, Balaguer, Figueres, Blanes, Granollers, Terrassa, or even small municipalities like Santa Fe del Penedès or Fals, shows the capacity of attraction of this initiative, which has, in a few months, made more than one hundred presentations across the Catalan territory.

And more importantly, the interest of those who approach the Process does not reside only in listening to its two main promoters but in participating actively in the construction of this politico-social instrument. In this way, more than 80 local assemblies have already been set up across Catalonia. Also specific assemblies around such issues as education, health, feminism and immigration have started up. All of them are coordinated in a general assembly known as the Promotional Group, which meets monthly.

The forms of action of the Constituent Process also reflect this “other politics”. At most public events makeshift money boxes are passed around to collect what it costs to rent the PA apparatus, photocopies and so on. The presentations serve also to attract those present to attending local meetings and assemblies. The groups in the territory are organized according to their own priorities and are coordinated nationally. The Constituent Process still has some way to go, but it shows the potential of a political initiative able to connect with major social unrest. Although obviously there is still much to be done, perhaps the most difficult part: to consolidate the process and improve the coordination of the assemblies. This is a work in progress.

From bottom to top

The confidence generated by its principal promoters, Teresa Forcades and Arcadi Oliveres, is key to its success. But we know that this is an initiative that will only succeed if it is built from the bottom up. I was told the day both presented the proposal: “We two alone cannot do much”. Correct. Today, the Constituent Process has more than 44,000 people attached and multiple local and sector meetings. Teresa Forcades and Arcadi Oliveres, as has been said many times, do not want to be leaders of anything, but agree to put their credibility at the service of a just cause.

Criticisms of the Christian profile of both have been made, despite the secular nature of the Process. Which in part is not surprising. The social mobilization of the left, both in Catalonia and in the Spanish state, would not be understood, in part, without the contribution of ordinary Christians. Without going any further, one of the founders of the Field Workers Union was none other than the priest of the poor, Diamantino Garcia. Denying this reality means ignoring this part of our collective history. And both Teresa Forcades and Arcadi Oliveres have spoken repeatedly and at length before the Constituent Process, against the ecclesiastical hierarchy, for the separation of church and state and in defence of the right of women to decide on their bodies. Which, incidentally, has earned them widespread criticism by reactionary sectors of the church and its hierarchy.

Last October 13, the main event of the Constituent Process was being held in Barcelona, just six months after its introduction. I still remember how before the proposal someone commented: “Why go ahead with such a project. This is going to fail”. A colleague said: “Failure would be not to try.” How right she was.

*Translated by International View Point.

+info: http://esthervivas.com/english

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Esther Vivas speaks out against Spain’s reactionary government

Spanish State: They want us poor, silenced and straight

Esther Vivas

The governing Popular Party (PP) is on a crusade – not only against fundamental rights such as health, education, housing, work, but also against sexual and reproductive freedoms. The PP wants to impose a model of society, not only at the service of capital, but sexist and homophobic to boot. It wants us poor, silenced and straight.

Last week the Government proposed to the Spanish regional governments that they veto, within the public health system, assisted reproductive treatment (artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization) to lesbians and single women. A measure that threatens equal access to public services and discriminates against those who do not conform to the strict hetero ‘standard’ . If you are female, poor, lesbian, or you are single, you are forbidden to get pregnant. For the PP, without men there must be no children. In this way, the Right imposes its family archetype: a straight couple.

We are facing a government that is shocked that two women can be mothers, that two men can be fathers, that a lone woman may have daughters and sons, but it does not feel the slightest shame in pursuing policies that lead to hunger, unemployment and evictions. It is the double standard of those who do not have any principles. Who are only obedient to the doctrine of capitalism and patriarchy.

Yesterday in a feminist protest outside the Ministry of Health in Madrid, called precisely to condemn this measure, the response was repression. This is a government that pursues and criminalises those who refuse to be silent. The ‘politics of the truncheon is the other side of coin of their ‘politics of cuts’.

Here’s another example. The Ministry of Health, Social Services and Equality plans to leave out of official statistics the abuse of women who, despite being attacked, do not visit the hospital or whose hospital stay is less than 24 hours. Which means the majority of cases will remain hidden. Could it be that the figures are getting out of control?

In the first quarter of 2013, 1,100 women per month signalled injuries when reporting attacks by men, according to the Observatory for Gender Violence of the General Council of the Judiciary. This, however, represents a minority of cases. In 2012, according to the same organisation, in only 11% of the 128,000 complaints for abuse did women notify that they had been injured. For some, it seems, it is better to hide or disguise the reality, rather than fight it.

And to all of this must be added the offensive by Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón to change the already limited abortion law, turning the clock back to the era of ‘the caves’. A change that, in the words of the minister, will take place in the next three months. The future law, everything seems to indicate, will be more restrictive than that of 1985, only allowing pregnancy to be terminated in certain, very limited circumstances.

Among the cases that are being earmarked for removal from the current law, is the malformation of the fetus. According Gallardón, the reform aims to ‘increase the protection of the quintessential right of a women: that of motherhood.’ And I wonder: Motherhood in whose hands? Women or the State?

In short, this is an attempt by the PP to take control over, and legislate about our body. These measures ultimately add up to a political solution to the crisis that sees women returning to the home. When cutting public services such as health, welfare, social services, there will be a whole area of care work, invisible, undervalued, but essential, that will end up being done, again, by women. It is us who, above all, will bear the burden of the cuts to the welfare state.

We face a right-wing government that is sexist and homophobic. The response to this can only be at once left-wing (not talk, but action on the streets) and feminist, in defence of sexual freedoms.

*Esther Vivas is a Spanish journalist and activist.

**Translation by Revolting Europe.

+info: http://esthervivas.com/

I would like to thank Esther Vivas for allowing me to reproduce this article.

Not all of the views expressed are necessarily views shared by ‘wall of controversy’.

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Esther Vivas calls for action against Spain’s boom in corruption

Spain is in the hands of thieves

Esther Vivas

No doubt. We are in the hands of thieves. The Barcenas, Pallerols, Crespo, Nóos and Mercurio cases, added to the Gürtel case, Millet, Champion, Pretoria and many others, show that those who have been giving us lessons of austerity have been benefitting: not only the bankers and businessmen but also, when the cameras have not focused on them, the politicians, who have filled their pockets in order to live in opulence and extravagance. And all at our expense.

Mayors, former ministers, regional leaders, senators, councillors, MPs… a total of more than 300 politicians  are under investigation for corruption. And sleaze is present at all levels of public administration. Corruption looms too in the General Council of the Judiciary, including the governors of the Bank of  Spain and the Royal Family. Here no one is exempt. And we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg.

The Valencia region and the Balearic Islands have the dubious honour of topping the ranking of corruption and cronyism, although territories such as as Catalonia, Galicia, Madrid and Andalusia follow closely behind. In Valencia, nine members of the Popular Party are formally charged and former senior officials of the government of Francisco Camps, who, even The New York Times has compared with Silvio Berlusconi. In the Balearics, there are almost a hundred defendants, between middling and top posts, for the most part from the last Popular Party administration of Jaume Matas, who, incidentally, has accumulated a total of a dozen cases of irregular funding, among others.

In Catalunya, corruption is widespread in both Convergència and Unió [the two parties of the coalition CiU backing recently re-elected Catalonia regional President Artur Mas]. Convergència, whose headquarters have been seized to cover the bailout of 3.2 million euros for the diversion of funds from the Palau de la Música and [the alleged public bid rigging] for the ITV [vehicle inspection stations] by Convergència’s general secretary, Oriol Pujol [son of former Catalan regional premier Jordi Pujol]. Furthermore, there’s the case of the Catalan Health Institute, which forced its president Josep Prat to resign, and now the case of Xavier  Crespo, Convergència deputy in parliament, presumed to be linked to a plot of laundering funds from the Russian mafia. The “very honourable” Jordi Pujol seems to be ignorant of this, and is promoting from his think tank a “code of ethics for professionals in politics,” based on honesty and transparency. Another bad joke.

And so to Unió Democràtica de Catalunya, or Unió, which was convicted of misuse of 388,000 euros of European Union funds meant for jobless training programs between 1994 and 1999. That’s case known as Pallerols. And that culminated — check this out! — with an agreement between prosecutors and defence to avoid prosecution, and a statement from, among others, the training chief Duran y Lleida, and a reduction in prison sentences to less than two years (initially the Court of Barcelona demanded 11 years!), thus avoiding jail. Justice?

Nor should we forget the ‘fake redundancies’ plot in Andalusia, led by the Socialists, with about 70 defendants, including former senior regional government officials. Many, it seems, were the beneficiaries, for over at least ten years, of money from the Andalusian ERE redundancy scheme. It was a scandal that followed in the wake of a long history of corruption in socialist ranks since the days of Juan Guerra and Luís Roldán.

Having said this, most corruption cases occur locally. Today some 80 mayors and former mayors plus several dozen more councillors are under investigation for cases related to the awarding of contracts and urban development. Many of them are charged with crimes of embezzlement, breach of trust, influence peddling and/or fraud. The Pretoria [urban development] case in Santa Coloma de Gramenet, and the more recent case of ‘operation Mercurio’ in Sabadell, are examples.

The major political parties in particular appear to have done what they wished with public funds, using them as illegal financing instruments and treating public matters as if they were private. No wonder, then, that in the last Barometer Sociological Research Center (CIS), in December 2012, politicians and parties were considered the third most important problem that exists in the Spanish state, after corruption and fraud. In fact, Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2012 report,  the Spanish State was ranked 30th in the standings, tied, coincidentally, or maybe not, with Botswana.

Intimidating the media

And, what happens to those who dare to denounce corruption? Today the most emblematic case is that of  CafèambLlet (a local magazine with very little means) that reported in early 2102, by means of a home video (an upload that was seen by more than a hundred thousand Youtube visitors within just a few days) how Catalan public health money was being stolen by businessmen and politicians of CiU and Catalan Socialist Party (PSC).

Months later, CafèambLlet faced legal action by Josep Maria Via — someone quoted in the video — for allegedly attempting to bring him into disrepute. Following an unusually fast trial, in which representatives of CafèambLlet were not even allowed to speak, the editor was convicted and sentenced to pay a fine of ten thousand euros. But take note, another major  scandal that was uncovered by CafèambLlet in its Crespo Report, regarding [the CiU’s deputy] Xavier Crespo, who in turn threatened to sue the magazine, and is at present facing investigation for graft and bribery called for by the anti-corruption prosecutor. Will anyone compensate CafèambLlet for the threats received by this character?

Nature of today’s corruption

Corruption is not perceived today as it was in the past. Now it is regarded as an intrinsic part of the crisis. And in so far as it increases unemployment, poverty and insecurity, illicit enrichment of the elites at the expense of the majority is becoming an unbearable burden. So the impunity enjoyed by the politically corrupt appears to be ending. And as the pillars that built the system during the Democratic Transition continue to crumble, and as the loss of legitimacy of institutions and political representatives grows because of their subservience to financial power, it is likely that the impact of this corruption on public opinion and voting behavior will be dramatic.  The crisis is no longer seen as resulting from the ‘waste’ of the ordinary people but as ‘theft’ and ‘fraud’ of the ruling elite.

Now is therefore the time to act. To say stop and to take action. To demand mechanisms of control over public officials, the revocation of mandates, the de-professionalisation of politics, the end to the accumulation of public posts, a limit on salaries, and transparency in public accounts. Yesterday thousands of people gathered outside Popular Party headquarters in Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Zaragoza and La Coruña.  A first step in a new surge in the streets? The Barcenas case may turn out to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Certainly, it is high time that they return all that they have stolen from us.

 I would like to thank Esther Vivas for allowing me to reproduce this article.

* Translated by Revolting Europe.

+info: http://esthervivas.com/english/

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hidden costs of the bargain basement

When buying cheap turns out expensive

Esther Vivas

Three, two, one, zero… The sales are now on. Offers, discounts, % off… fill the shop windows of the high streets and the shopping centres. It is the time to buy and to buy cheaply. But… Is what we’re buying really so cheap? What is being hidden behind the clothing and domestic appliances? Who are the winners and who are losers from our shopping? Often what seems to be cheap can end up very expensive.

Mango, Zara, H&M, Bershka, Pull&Bear, Stradivarius, Gap, Oysho… They talk about savings and, more so in the sales, low prices. What they don’t tell us and what is hidden behind the label ‘made in China/Bangladesh/Morocco’ is how they achieve such prices.  Industrial relocation is the response: manufacturing while paying the lowest possible price for manual labour, and consequently, violating human rights and basic labour laws. This is exhaustively explained and documented in several reports by the Clean Clothes campaign. Practices that are, of course, also present in the big brands that sell products a bit more expensively or at the top end. The logic is the same. Behind the “glamour” or the “luxury” is hiding the sweat of badly paid workers.

The report, “Spanish Fashion in Tangiers: work and survival of clothing manufacturers”  by the Clean Clothes campaign of the Spanish organisation SETEM is one of the many investigations that shows the situation in terms that are more transparent. Analysing what the real situation is for textile workers in Tangiers for major international companies, and revealing the working conditions in Moroccan factories: 12 hour working days, six days a week, a salary no more than 200 euros a month, and even on occasion under 100 euros a month; arbitrariness in hiring and firing, and restrictions on union activity: a situation that can be found in so many other countries. It’s no accident that our clothes are increasingly produced in Asia, Central America, Eastern Europe and Africa.

But it’s not only those working in factories overseas who are losing out, also here the employees in shopping centres and sales outlets are subject to precarious, flexible working conditions with difficulties for union organisation… And so the pressure to achieve the lowest possible costs also impacts on domestic workers. Those responsible for the unemployment and the precarious situation in the north are not the workers of the south, but rather a few economic and business elites who are trading in our lives, just as much here as on the other side of the planet.

So, Amancio Ortega, the owner of Inditex which numbers among its portfolio of brands; Zara, Bershka, Pull&Bear, Stradivarius, Oysho and Massimo Dutti, was in 2011, according to Forbes, the third richest man in the world, despite or thanks to the economic crisis, depending on how you see things.

This same story is repeated in the production, distribution and sales of home appliances, technology and even food. And it’s not just that a few are taking advantage of precarious working conditions but also of extremely weak environmental legislation. So the current production system for consumer goods is exploiting finite natural resources, making employees or entire communities ill and/or polluting where eyes don’t see. Everything, apparently, at zero cost — zero cost to the producers.

Then they tell us that we can buy cheaply. And the January Sales are the greatest exponent of this practice. But is what we are buying really so cheap? The current production and consumption model counts on a series of hidden costs that all of us end up paying for. Labour exploitation, precarious conditions, miserable salaries, weak or non-existent union rights… whether these are in the south or in the north they generate poverty, inequality, hunger and home evictions… and it’s the State that has to respond to such situations and conflicts, cleaning up the inevitable social and economic costs.

The same happens with businesses that pollute and exploit without control or limits to natural resources, generating climate change and environmental destruction with their practices… Who pays for the fragmented and delocalised production and the petrol addicted transport system that generates the green-house gases? Who pays for displaced communities, sick workers and uninhabitable territory? Who bears the consequences of an agricultural and food production model that does away with agrodiversity in farming and makes us addicted to junk food? We do. For the company it’s all free. These are the invisible costs of abusive practices which it is supposed no one ever pays for. Stubborn reality shows us the opposite, it’s society who pays, and it pays a lot.

And the most scandalous part is that to carry out these practices, multinationals count on the active support of those in those institutions that design the economic, social, environmental and employment policies… at the service of interests of the former. As has been repeated countless times in the streets, our democracy has been kidnapped. And even though they tell us time and again that “buying cheap everyone wins”, the reality is otherwise: “buying cheap turns out expensive”.  And in the end we, the majority, pay the price.

*Article published in Público, 09/01/2013.

**Translated by Pressenza.com.

+info: http://esthervivas.com/english/

I would like to thank Esther Vivas for allowing me to reproduce this article.

Not all of the views expressed are necessarily views shared by ‘wall of controversy’.

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on the struggle for an independent Catalonia

The following is an important recent article by Esther Vivas. The issues are complex ones and so I have also added my own comments as an extended section to the bottom of this post.

When will we see tanks in Barcelona?
Esther Vivas

“Independent Catalonia? Over my dead body and those of many other soldiers”. It was with these words that on August 31, retired infantry lieutenant-colonel Francisco Alaman Castro referred to the possibility of an independent Catalonia. And he added: “We will not make it easy. Although the lion seems to be sleeping, they have no interest in provoking it too much, because it has already given enough proof of its ferocity over the centuries. These plebs are not up to much, if we know how to confront them”.

In the current verbiage that some politicians have adopted, these statements are not the only ones that we might call “undemocratic”, “putschist” and “anti-system”. After the demonstration on September 11, [1] the UPyD spokesperson [2], Rosa Díez, called on the government to suspend the autonomy of Catalonia if the region used money from central government aid “to finance its secession”. Not to be outdone, the MEP (representing the Popular Party, in power in Madrid) and vice-president of the European Parliament , Alejo Vidal Quadras, requested that a brigadier-general, preferably from the Civil Guard, take charge of the “Mossos de Esquadra” [3] to curb the independence process.

The El Mundo newspaper, in its editorial of September 27, demanded from the government “a penal response to the challenge launched by Artur Mas” who has called for a referendum on self-determination in Catalonia. El Mundo urged the government to amend the Criminal Code to “punish by imprisonment any call for an illegal referendum”. And for good measure, the extremist “Reconversion”, platform, whose leaders are Alejo Vidal Quadras and José Antonio Ortega Lara, demanded that if such a referendum were to be held the government place Catalonia under tutelage, on the basis of articles 161.2 and 155.1 and 2 of the Constitution.

And that’s not all. The Spanish Military Association (AME), composed of former members of the army, has threatened Catalan president Artur Mas with a Council of War and has warned those who promote “the breaking-up of Spain” that they will have to answer before a military court on charges of “high treason”. Nothing more than that! It speaks volumes about the present situation when a conservative politician such as Artur Mas, enmeshed to the marrow of his bones with the powers of finance, especially with the La Caixa and Aberti banks, who is leader of a party as un-subversive as the CiU [4] elicits such reactions. What will happen then when it comes to someone on the left, who is opposed to the interests of the employers and is a sincere defender of the right to self-determination?

In the light of the above, I ask myself a question. If all of this was happening, for example, in a Latin American country, how would it be characterized? The BBC has published a long report that makes the link between the threats to Catalonia and the “pact of silence” introduced during the Transition [5]. And this is quite right. The Amnesty Law of 1977 guarantees immunity to those who committed crimes against humanity under the Franco regime and during the Civil War. These individuals are still there, and today they are raising their heads again, without any restraint.

At a time where the Hispanic Titanic is taking in water on all sides, with a crisis which worsens each day and scaffolding that is creaking everywhere, it is the true nature of the regime that is revealing itself. And so are the limits of a transition that has been so beatified that it has prevented people from seeing the reality for decades. All of a sudden, the mask of “democrat” has fallen from their faces. Crises have at least the advantage of clarifying things.

According to them, democracy is a good thing as long as it does not go beyond a certain framework. As a result, all those who disturb things, whether it is these “hooligan” Catalan independentists or these “dangerous” 25S activists, must be quickly silenced. Broadcast television images of police charges? What a scandal! People will become indignant and will demonstrate even more. Solution: limit the right to demonstrate and the right to be informed and the business is settled. The president of the Popular Party group in the European Parliament, Jaime Mayor Oreja, and the Delegate of the Madrid government Cristina Cifuentes have understood this well.

The current crisis is not only an economic and social crisis, but really an unprecedented regime crisis that calls into question the state model that came out of the Transition, its “pacts of silence” and the very shaky democratic system that we have today.

In the middle of this mess, we must support all democratic demands that come up against the monarchical corset of the Transition, starting with the right of the Catalan people to decide its own future. Who is afraid of such a referendum in Catalonia? Those who are not willing to accept its result. We should not, however, let the Spanish chauvinist fury against Mas make us take such a politician – whose only achievement in government is to have reduced social rights and taxes for the rich – for a herald of democracy and freedom. On the contrary, we, Catalans, will have a better life when we get rid of Mas, his squire Felip Puig and their team.

Infantry lieutenant-colonel Francisco Alaman Castro said that “the current situation resembles that of 1936”. That is quite a declaration of intent. Today, as then, our democracy, our rights and our future are threatened. What is at stake is important. When will we see tanks in the streets of Barcelona? It would not be the first time. But there is one thing I am sure of: the people will not remain silent. The most important thing will be not to make any mistake about who the enemy is, and while we fight against the badly recycled Francoists, we should remember that the interests of the majority of the Catalan people have very little to do with those of the Messiah Artur Mas.

*Esther Vivas is a member of the Centre for Studies on Social Movements (CEMS) at Universitat Pompeu Fabra. She recently published, with Josep Maria Antentas, “Planeta indignado. Ocupando el futuro” (Ed. Sequitur). She is also a member of the editorial board of Viento Sur. Article published in Publico.es, October 4, 2012.

+info: http://esthervivas.com/english

NOTES

[1] on September 11, 2012, at the call of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), constituted on March 10, 2012 in Barcelona by 269 Catalan municipalities, nearly two million people marched for the right to self-determination and independence.

[2] Unión Progreso y Democracia (Union, progress and democracy) is a political party of the radical populist Right, founded in 2007, which defends an uncompromising Spanish nationalism.

[3] Catalan police, responsible to the Generalitat (regional government).

[4] Convergència i Unió (Convergence and Union) is a federation of centre-right Catalan political parties.

[5] Transitional period between the death of General Franco in 1975 and the adoption of the new Constitution establishing a “parliamentary monarchy’ in 1978.

I would like to thank Esther Vivas for allowing me to reproduce this article.

*

Some words of caution:

The situation Esther Vivas describes is obviously a very troubling one and I fully appreciate that recent history makes the political situation in Spain more complex than in other luckier regions of our continent – Franco having died in 1975, and thus fascism in Spain lasting well within living memory. However, and in view of what is currently happening across Europe and the rest of the world, I feel it is important to also consider the issue of Catalan independence within a more global context.

The break-up of states into micro-states is a process that has long served as a means for maintaining imperialist control over colonised regions. This strategy is often called Balkanisation, although in general only by its opponents.

Balkanization”, as defined by Merriam-Webster meaning “to break up (as a region or group) into smaller and often hostile units” that was, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “coined at the end of World War I to describe the ethnic and political fragmentation that followed the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, particularly in the Balkans”.

Balkanisation has also been a favoured strategy for maintaining and expanding US global hegemony that is perhaps most strongly advocated by Zbigniew Brzezinski. His most detailed and notorious public statement of such geostrategic methods can be found in his 1997 book, The Grand Chessboard:

Geopolitics has moved from the regional to the global dimension, with preponderance over the entire Eurasian continent serving as the central basis for global primacy.” [p. 39]

… To put it in a terminology that harkens back to the more brutal age of ancient empires, the three grand imperatives of imperial geostrategy are to prevent collusion and maintain security dependence among the vassals, to keep tributaries pliant and protected, and to keep the barbarians from coming together.” [p. 40]

In other words, here is the oldest strategy of them all: divide and conquer. Breaking nation states into smaller micro-states which is a US policy that we now see being used in attempts to weaken larger powers such as Pakistan turning them into more easily controlled “vassals” – to use Brzezinski’s inflammatory language.

In Europe the situation appears different in that, on the face of it, smaller states have gradually been welded together to build a more powerful super-state, namely the European Union. But what is this confederation of nations? Certainly it is very different in make-up from a large nation state like the United States of America. In the case of the EU, the federal administration being almost entirely in the hands of unelected and increasingly unaccountable bureaucrats. In other words, real democracy in Europe extends only as far as the national borders of its constituent states, and beyond these we have technocracy. It follows then, that if the nation states of Europe are made smaller and less influential, then the non-democratic, centralised power of the EU will automatically be increased.

Here is an interesting analysis I found in an article on the World Socialist Web Site posted November 2011 but very pertinent with regards to issues facing us now:

The advocates of a united Europe under the auspices of the EU have often drawn a comparison with the US. But the United States of America is the product of two revolutions—the War of Independence in the 18th century and the Civil War in the 19th century. Both were driven by progressive ideals that inspired millions of people—popular sovereignty and the abolition of slavery.

The EU project, in contrast, never had a higher aim than the free circulation of commodities and capital. It started as a Coal and Steel Community and arrived at its apogee with the single market and the common currency. Its lack of popular support became obvious in 2005, when the French and Dutch electorates rejected the draft European constitution because of its right-wing, neo-liberal orientation.

The international financial crisis has exposed the incompatibility of the EU and the basic interests of its inhabitants for everyone to see. The European Union does not allow for democratic and progressive alternatives. The choice between the euro and a national currency, between the EU and national sovereignty, is a choice between reactionary alternatives—the direct dictatorship of finance capital or its indirect dictatorship by means of the balkanization of the continent.

The real alternative is between a capitalist and a socialist Europe. The present crisis poses the stark alternatives of social revolution or a descent into war, depression and dictatorship.

Without breaking the iron grip of the financial markets, expropriating the banks, corporate conglomerates and private fortunes and placing them at the service of society as a whole, there is no solution. The dividing line in Europe is not between Greeks and Germans, Portuguese and French or Irish and British, it is between the working class that is forced to pay for the crisis and the financial aristocracy that continues to enrich itself, along with its henchmen in the EU, the national governments and all of the establishment parties.1

Whilst very much sympathetic to the wishes of historically oppressed populations in regions like Catalonia that seek greater political independence, I feel that secessionism at this time might nevertheless make a grave situation, still worse again. Weakening instead of strengthening the influence of the ordinary people, and thus leaping out of the national frying pan only to land up in the globalist (i.e., neo-imperialist) fire.

1 From an article entitled “The unravelling of the European Union”, written by Peter Schwarz, posted on the World Socialist Web Site on November 14, 2011. http://www.wsws.org/articles/2011/nov2011/pers-n14.shtml

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