When the eviction situation becomes unbearable, the government lets a few crumbs fall - minimal solutions, based more on charity than on justice
Recent cases of suicide by people facing evictions have brought home the severity of the crisis. We are looking not just at a deep slump in the economy, but also at a system where there is no room for social justice, even in extreme cases. In the rightist media, we see parrot-economists repeating that the "reforms" are indispensable: they must be carried through to the bitter end, and this will create employment. In the most sectarian outlet, a neoliberal economist says that in Spanish pharmacies he saw people with free prescriptions building up stocks of medicines, and that co-payment will remedy this. Rajoy is too soft. Education Minister Wert is the example to follow, all the better if he succeeds in destroying the independence of the public universities, and in substituting it with the tight vertical control dear to the right-wing mind.
All protest against austerity policies, they say, is not only useless but pernicious, as it affects production and the image of Spain. Thus the November 14 general strike is the suicidal tactic of the unions, which our right wing would like to see wiped off the map. Never mind that the stoppage was part of a Europe-wide labor protest. The right is not satisfied with the asymmetry created by the new reforms, where the protective shields against firing are stripped away. The unions - being symbols of a time when their countervailing power enabled wage earners to partake of the gravy of the economic boom - must now be swept off the stage. Thus the right's anti-crisis measures are in line with their desire to consolidate a strictly managerial conception of social relations. The right term for their policy is "dismantling" - as in their inexorable privatization of the public healthcare system.
In the government's - and particularly the justice minister's - vocabulary on strike day, the key phrase was the "right to work." They cannot even bear to hear words such as "solidarity" or "unity," associated with class confrontation. Apart from sheer conservatism, which it is, this orientation reflects a considerable degree of myopia, as became apparent as the day went by. The unions are both a channel for a mighty flood of social protest, and also a dike. The Popular Party ought to learn from a generally recognized fact: the demonstrations, occasionally violent, had more relevance than the strike itself, curbed in many cases by the fear of losing one's job. As a friend put it, the profound malaise takes the form of civil disobedience. Or violent rage.
In the best of cases, as when the eviction situation becomes unbearable, the government lets a few crumbs fall - minimal solutions, based more on charity than on justice. It is not going to stand up against the interests of the banks, in spite of their role in the incubation of the crisis. As Judge Jiménez Segado explained in his January 10 ruling on an eviction in Torrejón, it was the banks that discovered the "housing collateral system," blindly granting loans for all sorts of operations "involving a built property that served as guarantee." The worst of it is that, as property prices fall, the banks are not content with getting them back, but resort to ploys to obtain an "unjust enrichment" at the debtor's expense, using a pathetic, down-market appraisal made by themselves. Unless they happen to come up against a judge capable of challenging the "abuse of the law," those responsible for the property bubble end up as the sole beneficiaries of official subsidies. All these aspects are untouched by the spirit and the letter of the decree on evictions. Dation in payment is left at the mercy of the bank's goodwill.
The lessons: on the one hand, the government only reacts on the very brink of disaster, and even then wraps social justice in a smoke screen. On the other, the Socialist opposition has to prepare concrete alternatives, detailed and general, to the policies of Rajoy. It has to be a guide, and not just the attenuated voice of social malaise.