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WHO IS RESCUING THE SPANISH PEOPLE?

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WHO IS RESCUING THE SPANISH PEOPLE?

Whether its banks are rescued by the ECB or not, Spain will remain in crisis. The situation is likely to become even worse under the ruling of the current right wing government of Mariano Rajoy who seems unable to move beyond the neoliberal political principles of the FAES (principios politicos fundación FAES), the right wing think tank of the Partido Popular chaired by José María Aznar, former president of Spain from 1996 to 2004.

One New York Times headline of November, 15 2012 was Spain: New Rules Limit Evictions in which the author correctly says that Spanish judges have issued 350.000 evictions since the start of the crisis. This figure means that between 1.5 and 2 million people have been evicted, which represents about 3 4% of the total Spanish population.

Lets see what this crisis means exactly for the Spanish population and compare the different solutions offered by the government on one hand and by citizens organizations on the other.

 

The Current Situation

Statistics

While Im writing, more than 26% of the workforce is currently unemployed, 22% of Spanish households are living under the poverty threshold and 25% of the population is threatened by social exclusion. There have been 350.000 evictions since the beginning of the crisis in 2007 and 532 foreclosures are currently taking place per day. What these statistics fail to mention are the terrible psychological effects of hopelessness on the people of Spain, as many fear for the future and can see no solution to the crisis.

1909 Spanish Mortgage Law

It seems an old Spanish 1909 mortgage law gives financial companies the right to kick a family out of its home and then demand the remaining debt. It is probably quite difficult to understand if you are not familiar with the Spanish legal system, so let me explain how it works.

When you find that you can no longer cover payments on your mortgage, your first experience of the foreclosure process is to be contacted by a bank employee (by phone if you are lucky or merely by answerphone message if not) who will reprimand you for being a delinquent debtor. After a few months to a year, when a judge finally sentences how much you owe to the bank, your house is sold by auction. However, the only party interested in acquiring your house is the very same bank which, according to the 1909 Mortgage Law, will pay only 60% of its value.  

So, can you imagine the consequences? Let me give you an example.

Imagine you owe 80.000 to the finance company. You cant pay so a judge decides to sell your house valued at 100.000 by auction. You might think, Fine, I can pay what I owe. Wrong. The finance company will go to the auction and will most probably pay only 60% of the value, i.e. 60.000. This leaves 20.000 of unpaid debt and this is what you will have to pay plus administrative expenses plus interest, so you may in fact end up owing 40-50.000 to the finance company.

This is what has happened to 350.000 families since the beginning of the crisis, and this is what more than one million people are currently facing in Spain.

How the world sees it

In August, 10th 2012 the UN published a report entitled on adequate housing (On adequate housing) by Mrs. Raquel Rolnik, UN Special Rapporteur. In this report, it is interesting to see how she singles out Spain, amongst other countries such as the US and Ireland, for having a particularly harsh housing policy. Rolnik says that Spanish governments have never genuinely attempted to reform the housing policy in favour of the population, in spite of article 47[1] of the Spanish Constitution which explicitly states that all Spaniards have the right to enjoy decent and adequate housing. Instead, Spanish governments of both the right and the left have always pursued a housing policy which favors the elites and the financial and industrial corporations.

On November the 8th 2012, the advocate general of the European Court of Justice, Julianne Kokott, declared that the Spanish regulation is incompatible with the European Directive 93/13 on unfair contract terms.[2] As of now, some judges have announced they won't continue with the current foreclosure cases until the Spanish legal system is reformed and made compatible with the European consumer rights directive 93/13.

Morality and legitimacy

One wonders what kind of moral legitimacy a government has when it is responsible for administering a system in which entire families including old people, kids and disabled people are being kicked out of their homes and plunged into unpayable debt.  Should not a government provide for its people? Should it not protect its citizens?

 

Article 47 of the 1978 Spanish Constitution was created to give the Spanish people the right to enjoy decent and adequate housing. It echoes Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which says, Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

Whatever ministers and politicians might say, clearly the Spanish government has the power and the capacity to change the current housing laws. Who, after all, is responsible for applying the Spanish Constitution? Or, one wonders, is the Spanish Government actually proud of deliberately contravening the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its own constitution?

 

What else is institutionally needed to stop this disaster?

Government versus citizens

On March the 9th 2012, the current Minister of the Economy (and the 2006-2008 advisor for Lehman Brothers in Europe and director of its subsidiary bank in Spain and Portugal), Luis De Guindos, launched a Code of good practice appealing to the good will of the financial companies to stop evicting people in the most precarious situations. Despite his presumable close familiarity with the nature of financial corporations, De Guindos seems to have rather overestimated their capacity for good will towards people of flesh and blood. Surely it speaks volumes that, contrary to the code of good practice, evictions actually increased from 517 to 532 per day between March and November.

In November 2012, following the protests and complaints of citizens organizations, police unions, judges and lawyers associations and the media publication of several cases of suicides[3], the government launched a second decree to stop evictions of (again) people in the most precarious situations. [4] However, what Mariano Rajoy's government doesn't take into account in this decree is the large majority of the affected people. Almost all people who have suffered eviction can be said to be in a precarious situation, but their situations are not deemed to be precarious enough to benefit from the decrees protection. For example, none of the suicides investigated by the media were in precarious enough situations to have taken recourse to this decree. 

 

What are the solutions needed?

Since 2007, a group of Barcelona citizens started the Plataforma de Personas Afectadas por la Hipoteca (Platform for Mortgage Victims). In 2012, this organization spread all around the country. The purpose of this platform is to help people with information, skills, confidence and support make visible the situation in Spain and around the world. In the short term, the aim is to ask the government to vote a law to stop evictions, to eliminate any debt once the house is handed over to the bank and to establish a social rent according to incomes.

The existence of this platform has shown how important public pressure is and how efficient it can be when people organize. All of the little changes introduced by the government have happened as a result of public pressures. The government of Mariano Rajoy seems unable to react constructively to the crisis and the workable solutions that have been put forward have come from grassroots organizations like the Plataforma. Hope only exists when you have real alternatives that you know are possible to achieve. And that is precisely what the Platform for Mortgage Victims is providing Spanish people with: real short term ALTERNATIVES.

There's no other way to find a socially just solution to the housing crisis: people must react to the crisis together and organize in order to influence the political process. I've just shown you some ways in which they have started to have success.

 

Discussion 12 Comments

  • stephen lawton 9th Feb 2013

    Daniel it looks grim in Espania but its grim everywhere. Is the mayor of a local town in the North of Spain still taking food from the supermacados and giving it to the poor? I was in Spain during January and in every supermarket food was put aside for the poor. IOPS and similar movements are the main hope for the 99% of the world. Does the example of Mondragon make many Spaniards think that there is an alternative to rampant neoliberalism

  • Dave Jones 9th Feb 2013

    An appeal to Constitutions or international law is to legitimize the capitalist institutions and their logic of sacred property rights. The problems are economic, not political ("politics" just being an elaborate charade to divert attention). In my opinion, Mondragon only highlights the limits of building workplace democracy within the over-all corrupt structure.

  • stephen lawton 9th Feb 2013

    Dave Jones I see Mondragon as a step in the right direction the many co-operative types means that TINA aint true.

  • Daniel Marty 11th Feb 2013

    Hi Stephen,

    That's right, it's grim everywhere but, here in Spain the situation is terrible to a too big part of the population. Mondragon is an alternative, here in Spain there are several examples of cooperatives, Spanish people know quite well what a cooperative is so I think they should be quite open to an alternative like IOPS's one. Even if the mainstream media do not talk about it, do not help to spread the word. In spite of knowing that's neoliberalism is the "devil", there's a lot to do to change the TINA state of mind for the 80% or 90% (sorry I disagree with the 99% slogan).

  • Daniel Marty 11th Feb 2013

    Hi Dave,

    I agree with Stephen concerning Mondragon, this could be a step toward a change in the way we are organize as a society. As far as we know what we want in the future, I mean what kind of society we want, I'm sure there is a lot to do within the current institutions keeping in mind what are our long term aims. It is logical to do it because we can't replace the current institutions in one day, it will probably take a long time and we have to improve our lives NOW.

  • Peter Lach-Newinsky 13th Feb 2013

    Daniel, thank you for this overview of the grim situation in Spain. Very useful for us outside Europe. You describe the psychological situation as one of hopelessness. I'm wondering whether an expectation of being 'rescued' (your heading) by the bourgeois state, or the assumptions in questions such as

    "Should not a government provide for its people? Should it not protect its citizens?"

    might not actually lead to more hopelessness since they cement an attitude of helplessness, heteronomy, passive waiting for Father State to Fix Things for you (a nostalgia for the Keyenesian State that is the fatal flaw of Occupy and others?).

    Maybe we should perhaps try and ask other IOPS-type (?) questions like How do we instead try to facilitate more self-activity, self-organization, direct action, autonomy, civil disobedience, self-management in alternative institutions also providing means of subsistence and survival as well as 'prefiguration'...? No disrespect, this is a larger issue, and again thanks for your report(s) which I always enjoy.

  • Daniel Marty 14th Feb 2013

    Hi Peter,

    I agree with your comment concerning self-organization but I see it as follows.
    First, I think a revolutionary organization should create a place in which it empowers people giving the opportunity to truly participate in a truly participative way. So all new members will be given the opportunity to make decisions according how affected they are by the decisions, the balance-job complex will help in this way as well.
    But, we can not forget that there are emergencies situations like evictions, public spending cuts, so on and so forth. So, we can't talk only about self-management, we MUST fight to push our governments to make decisions in this sense. In other words, we MUST remind to our governments that the huge budgets they are managing are ours and we want them to change the way they use. In a so tough situation like the current one, we need solutions now, so it must be through our public goods.

    As a revolutionary movement, we must think in the long term, middle term and short term. This is what I think.

  • Peter Lach-Newinsky 14th Feb 2013

    Hi Daniel, thanks for your response. Perhaps we are discussing quite important issues of strategy here that have not, to my knowledge, been openly debated all that much at IOPS. I agree with you completely that we need to be able to respond to 'emergency situations like emergency convictions, public spending cuts and so on' and not just focus on future goals. However, the question is how to respond, with what emphasis and priorities. My original comment still applies here I think: do we try to facilitate the anti-authoritarian spirit of direct action and self-management in solving such emergencies (the anarchist-liberatarian emphasis) or do we pursue the old social democratic leftist type of approach which appeals to the corporate state to fix the problems, and thus, even if successful, leaves people disempowered and without having gained a sense of self-activity?

    So, more specifically, do you see any chance of supporting anti-authoritarian direct actions like the locksmiths in one Spanish city who refused to renew the locks on foreclosed houses, or people rallying to stop evictions, or re-occupations of foreclosed houses, or occupations of unused buildings for dwelling and other purposes...? Or are there any worker occupations of theor bankrupt workplaces in Spain at all (cf. my blog on the Vio.Me workers factory occupation on Greece).

    Or, what about the organisation of food coops among the urban poor who then connect up with sympathetic food growers and farmers and organise their own food supplies outside the supermarket system? Neighbourhood markets, community gardens and guerilla food growing in the cities, free clinics, free schools, free universities, free media, free entertainment, the libertarian possibilities for self-managed organisation of alternative subsistence networks are endless, it just needs some drive and imagination. All this libertarian energy and hope gets lost when you focus on the corporate state and getting a 'New Deal'... I hope IOPS does not go down this road and become indistinguishable from a million other leftist/social democratic sects chanting
    'What do we want? [fill in gap for the latest wishlist] When do we want it: now!'. That way lies utter, predictable, disempowering boredom. What do you think?

  • Daniel Marty 15th Feb 2013

    Hi Peter,

    Strategically, if as an organization we want to pursue long term aims like IOPS ones and, at the same time give answers to the short term emergencies I think there is a question at stake which are 'How do we organize now to be revolutionary while dealing with the old institutions we don't want?'
    To answer this question, we should take into account the following points:
    1. We have to give answers situations of emergency;
    2. A vast majority of the population don't know and/or don't believe there are any viable alternatives;
    3. The state which takes for good or bad a big slice of the pie called GDP through taxes is between us and the capital owners. So, the state is the last defense between us and a savage capitalism.

    So, to my point of view, I think we have to organize in a way that empowers people (that's revolutionary) i.e applying paresoc institutions, to become a group of pressure strong enough to push our government to take the decisions we want. That's why I think the groups you have mentioned are good examples in this sense (as long as they have long term aims to know where to go in the coming years) and they are doing that within the current institutions.
    Secondly, I agree with you that the old democratic leftist approach is not a solution per see because we would probably fall in the same old way of being ruled by elites. But I don't see the old democratic leftist approach a problem as long as we are organized in a revolutionary way and we know where we want to go, I'm talking about long term views. A social democracy should be a step toward a Participatory Society. Strategically and morally, this is a good way to be both taken seriously by future members of our organization and to be seen as deeply concerned with immediate problems.

  • Peter Lach-Newinsky 16th Feb 2013

    Hola Daniel, interesting conversation we are having here, just the two of us (not unusual for IOPS though, is it?). I basically agree with your first three points that you have numbered. Only in number three I'd say the state has a double character, both a class pacifyer (welfare state plus social workers and cops) AND a repressive corporate state actually acting FOR 'savage capitalism'. But with the rest I have my problems.

    Here's how I understand your view of the role of IOPS. (1) You see IOPS as a kind of social democratic (but 'revolutionary') 'pressure group strong enough to push government to take the decisions we want'. (2) You see IOPS as a kind of (participatory) party organisation that mainly 'organizes' or recruits people into itself. (3) You regard 'social democracy as a step toward a Participatory Society'. With all that I have problems.

    To number one I'd say the best way of putting pressure on the state is to ignore it by participating in radical defensive and constructive grassroots movements which by their very actions put pressure on the state. Focussing on the state itself, as said, is INHERENTLY disempowering, frustrating, tedious and contradicts the spirit of self-activity and self-organisation that participism is supposed to be about. It would be a huge self-contradiction for IOPS, an organisation aiming for a Participatory Society, to prioritise state-focussed activity, no matter what its internal organisation or what fine words are spoken about 'the final aim' etc. And I'd leave.

    To number two, similar problems. I don't see IOPS' main role in 'organizing' or 'recruiting' like a party (and thus having to worry about so-called 'credibility'). I see its main role in itself expressing the participatory, anti-authoritarian ethos/values, as raising awareness for and facilitating SELF-organization for a participatory society in autonomous grassroots movements. For this task IOPS can well remain quite small. Parties, party-like structures, may push merely political revolutions; they are, by definition, the opposite of social revolutions which need mass self-activity and self-organisation and anti-authoritarian attitudes. Our main role could be to express and organically further such attitudes, not mechanically 'recruit' and 'organize'. If any join us it will primarily be because of our 'cool', warm, anti-authoritarian attitudes and energy... I joined because of such values, not because I agreed with every word of the Mission.

    Number three, I'd just ask HOW can 'social democracy be a step toward a Participatory Society'? That I simply do not understand at all. (Germany and Australia, for example, have many features of 'social democracy' and have had for a long time. How do they have ANYTHING to do with a Parsoc?)

  • Daniel Marty 17th Feb 2013

    "Here's how I understand your view of the role of IOPS. (1) You see IOPS as a kind of social democratic (but 'revolutionary') 'pressure group strong enough to push government to take the decisions we want'. (2) You see IOPS as a kind of (participatory) party organisation that mainly 'organizes' or recruits people into itself. (3) You regard 'social democracy as a step toward a Participatory Society'. With all that I have problems. "

    Point (1) I don't really understand how you read it from me and it would not make sense since "Social Democracy" is not revolutionnary. Point (2) IOPS is an organization so its members organize and try to find people to join it. I don't understand why the word "Party" is bad by itself, what matters is the purpose of the group (called party, association or whatever) and what are the values and the institutional compromises established to promote those values. Point (3) maybe I should have said that a Social democracy might (not should) be a step toward a true Participatory Society.

    "To number one I'd say the best way of putting pressure on the state is to ignore it by participating in radical defensive and constructive grassroots movements which by their very actions put pressure on the state. Focussing on the state itself, as said, is INHERENTLY disempowering, frustrating, tedious and contradicts the spirit of self-activity and self-organisation that participism is supposed to be about. It would be a huge self-contradiction for IOPS, an organisation aiming for a Participatory Society, to prioritise state-focussed activity, no matter what its internal organisation or what fine words are spoken about 'the final aim' etc. And I'd leave."

    How can you ignore the state? For bad or good, we are living in a society with defined institutions and values we don't like, we don't want. So, to change them we must take them into account. If the government increases taxes, reduces help for disable people, reduces pensioner's pensions, benefits, let people being evicted, How can you just ignore it and create a new society? What is at stake is that we agree we want Parsoc and we must figure out how we are going to reach it. Being revolutionary doesn't mean we can leave a step aside of the current society, if we want our movement to be popular, we must take into account this government and pressure it to change what is unfair because this is what the last majority of the population wants, I mean true economical and political justice.

    "To number two, similar problems. I don't see IOPS' main role in 'organizing' or 'recruiting' like a party (and thus having to worry about so-called 'credibility'). I see its main role in itself expressing the participatory, anti-authoritarian ethos/values, as raising awareness for and facilitating SELF-organization for a participatory society in autonomous grassroots movements. For this task IOPS can well remain quite small. Parties, party-like structures, may push merely political revolutions; they are, by definition, the opposite of social revolutions which need mass self-activity and self-organisation and anti-authoritarian attitudes. Our main role could be to express and organically further such attitudes, not mechanically 'recruit' and 'organize'. If any join us it will primarily be because of our 'cool', warm, anti-authoritarian attitudes and energy... I joined because of such values, not because I agreed with every word of the Mission."

    First, I have problems to understand how you can say in the same paragraph "I don't see IOPS' main role in 'organizing'..." (IOPS contains the word ORGANIZATION) and then "...facilitating SELF-organization for a participatory society in autonomous grassroots movements." Secondly, it seems you see a contradiction between defending IOPS' values and being organized as if by organizing we were authoritarian. Why do you see a contradiction?
    To be a strong, serious and credible organization, we need to organize in such a way that we can increase the number of our members, empowering them so that they can in turn be fully members, participating, sharing their view and bringing new ideas.

    "Number three, I'd just ask HOW can 'social democracy be a step toward a Participatory Society'? That I simply do not understand at all. (Germany and Australia, for example, have many features of 'social democracy' and have had for a long time. How do they have ANYTHING to do with a Parsoc?)"

    As I said before, I don't see a social democracy as an end by itself, it could be a step. You are right, it is not by itself a Parsoc BUT it depends how we reached it. If it is a decision coming from the elites, that's not what we want. If it thanks to the people pressure, it changes everything because it would be thanks to us and we wouldn't accept it as an end, our aim is Parsoc.

  • Daniel Marty 17th Feb 2013

    Hi you all.

    I've just found out my article was incomplete so I would like to apologize. There you have it the entire article.