Spanish politics until recently had been characterised by the political intrigue resulting from indecisive elections. At first the shift change in politics was between the old major parties and the new populist forces of the Left and Right. After the PP managed to remain in power after the second general election in June 2016, the Left have attempted to revitalise their grassroots campaigning. The latest example of this took place last week when PSOE and Podemos joined the CCOO and UGT unions for a protest through the streets of Madrid. Approximately 30,000 people attended the protest in the Spanish capital against government spending cuts.
Since the country was hit by the Eurozone Crisis, Spain has slowly restructured its own economy by shifting away from foreign imports. Despite chronic under-investment in public services, the economy has steadily begun to recover since 2013 after the country attained a trade surplus. The private sector growth has largely been improved by this shift towards domestic consumption but in my humble opinion an injection of liquidity through a state-run investment bank would have been a massive benefit to both private and public sectors.
Instead of this more progressive approach to macroeconomic policy Rajoy’s PP and Eurozone leaders have pursued a crippling policy of austerity that has disproportionately impacted working people. Transport infrastructure has been neglected; Pensions and pay have been slashed; Health spending has been squeezed; and many other services have been totally done away with. Workers have been neglected to pacify financial interests, many of whom should have been investigated for taking the Eurozone to the brink of collapse.
If the Left is going to retake power in Spain, or anywhere else for that matter, it needs to do two things. Firstly they need to provide a genuine populist alternative to the shades of neoliberalism on offer from centrist parties. We need to suggest bold policies because moderate responses to the crises we are facing will not suffice.
Secondly, and more importantly, we need to reinvigorate the trade union movement in a whole new way. Capital is global and fluid, and as such labour must adapt to be the same. If businesses can operate internationally, the power that they hold will not be confined by a single nation-state; labour is harder to transform as people are part of communities whereas money can move in the blink of an eye. Pan-national trade unions must be a solution to this problem because without a robust response, and a wider political movement in touch with these organisations, workers will be exploited by monolithic profit-motivated institutions.
The Left needs to maintain this focus on grassroots activism and remain in touch with the concerns of ordinary workers. One of the main reasons that the old centre-left parties rapidly declined is that the party lost contact with what the labour movements of their respective countries. The trade unions must always remain at the heart of the Left’s concerns as they have their figure on the pulse in workplaces across numerous industries.
Austerity impacts everyone in a society not just those in trade unions. If Podemos and PSOE are going to collaborate in the future, links with the trade unions and with each other will end animosity and promote a more consensual type of politics between the two parties. The Left needs to unite in the face of continued austerity facilitated by the Rajoy Administration.