Sunday, May 29, 2011

Precariously Proletarian

Protester in Madrid. Wikimedia

Last week's Spanish provincial and municipal elections ended with the ruling PSOE (Partido Socialista Obrero Español, Spanish Socialist Worker Party, nominally social democrat) soundly defeated by the rightist PP (Partido Popular: Popular Party or, more accurately, if ironically, People's Party).

(All links to Spanish sites, except where explicitly stated)

According to El País (see here), PSOE lost about 1.5 million votes, in comparison to the results of the 2007 elections. PP gained some 0.6 million and IU (Izquierda Unida, United Left), gained 0.2.

At the provincial level, out of 13 provinces, PSOE gained in one, leaving PP with 11 and Bildu (a basque local party), with another.

Although under opposition pressure to call for early elections, PM José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero doesn't need to form a new national government: the national elections are scheduled for 2012.

Why did PSOE (that ruled Spain for 21 of the 36 years of post-Francoist period) lose these elections so badly?

Whatever their personal ideological stances, the consensus among pundits is that the catastrophic economic situation faced by Spain (21.19% general unemployment and 44.6% unemployment among under-25s) explains this defeat:

"Voters are also taking out their anger on those politicians inflicting euro-zone policies. The ruling Socialists in Spain, who have actually done a pretty good job pushing through tough - but unpopular - reforms, got smacked in local elections this month." (See here, in English)

Some two weeks before the election, the so-called 15-M movement (a spontaneous, broad-base social protest movement) threatened to make the elections difficult.

However, the elections did not seem particularly affected by the movement: in Spain, where voting is not compulsory, abstention (the number of voters that did not vote) actually diminished from 36.73% in 2007 to 33.77%. Blank votes (also interpreted as possible protest votes) did increase, but modestly, from 1.94% to 2.54%. (See here and here).

What are the short term consequences of this defeat? The Rodríguez Zapatero Government, for all their understandable concern with the upcoming national elections, seems intent on maintaining the current policies, while offering to consider only a few of the 15-M's demands (like the Tobin Tax), should they remain in power. (See here)

Under these circumstances, one may be forgiven to speculate that the next elections could see a repeat of the PSOE's defeat, now at the national level, at the hands of the PP. And, given the financial constrains imposed on the Spanish economy by its euro zone membership, it's unlikely an eventual Rajoy Government would be able to undertake adequate social policies, even if their ideological stance allowed for that.

What about the 15-M (a.k.a. Los Indignados - The Outraged Ones)?

According to the respected Spanish journalist and commentator Rafael Díaz-Salazar (see here) that movement represents a subsector of the Spanish working class, quickly mobilized through the new social media, ironically referred to as the "precariado" ("precariat"), in a pun for "proletariado precario" (precarious proletariat): the "unemployed, low-wage workers, young without access to housing, low income pensioners, exploited migrants, unemployed or low income graduates, couples [financially] incapable of forming families, near pension-age workers, poor working and rural area inhabitants" [my translation].

Always according to Díaz-Salazar, the Spanish society has divided itself between a satisfied and integrated group, represented by the mainstream parties, and the precariado.

Again, one may also be forgiven to speculate they're there to stay.

Further reading:

2011 Spanish protests. Wikipedia. (English).
The Pain in Spain. (English),
La chispa del Movimiento 15-M. El País.

Photo credit: Wikimedia

Update:
Speaking of the precariat, last night SBS's Dateline contained a report on a section of this subsection of the working class: the salad slaves.

Disclaimer: Any similarity with foreign student, working-holiday visa and 457 and 456 visa holders in Australia is merely coincidental... Yeah, right.

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