Mass Mobilisations In Spain Block Major Advance by the Right

Photo : Isaac Garcia Gomez
The 15 May Madrid Protest: inspired the Real Democracy Now Movement

 By Tom O’Donnell

The results of the Spanish municipal, local and regional elections on May 22nd were a defeat for the ruling socialist government of the PSOE (Party of the Spanish Socialist Workers) – but they were not a major victory for the Right, led by the Partido Popular (PP). PSOE received just 27.8% of the vote, down from 35.3% in the same elections held in 2007.

However the vote for the PP (which includes the direct political heirs to General Franco) was just 37.5%, which was only a gain of 1.5% from 2007. The other main national party is the anti-cuts IU (United Left) which is a coalition of left social democrats, ex-Communist Party members and others. It achieved no major breakthrough, but the rise in its vote to 6.3% represented a gain of 0.8% that was not much smaller than the PP’s gains.

Instead, although a number of regional and local governments fell into the hands of the PP from PSOE’s collapse, it was the nationalist parties of the autonomous regions in the Spanish state who were the main winners in terms of votes. In general these are bourgeois nationalist parties who won support by opposing the attack on living standards from the PSOE national government in Madrid. They are perceived as an alternative to further attacks on living standards from either PSOE or PP.

The general election which must be held within 10 months is therefore likely to see another defeat for PSOE. But neither can the PP be confident of outright victory based on this showing. One projection suggested that a repeat of the local election results would see PP win the general election but with only a narrow majority of 13 seats in the Cortes.

One of the biggest upsets occurred in in the Basque region where the entirely new coalition Bildu came second in the poll with 25.5% and 276,000 votes. Bildu includes supporters of the outlawed Herri Batasuna and other supports of militant Basque nationalism. The result is likely to force a coalition government in the region on the bourgeois nationalist PNV and the local branch of PSOE, which will be an uncomfortable experience for both as they have long played the role of each other’s fierce opponents.

The elections took place against a background of mass mobilisations of Spanish youth against further attacks. Tens of thousands have gathered at these protests, which are consciously modelled on the city centre occupations of the Arab revolution. Even during the economic boom, youth unemployment in Spain regularly topped 25%. Now in the crisis it is threatening to top 50%. The main demands have been for an end to the programme of cuts and for a ‘real democracy’, that is for a leading political party that offers the choice of opposing ‘austerity’ measures, in contrast to the pro-cuts consensus of PSOE and PP.

Inevitably the initial phase of the mass mobilisations has not created that political alternative. But they did ensure that the justified anger against the government was not mainly hijacked by the Right. In recent weeks, local or regional elections in major European countries such as Germany, France, Britain as well as Spain have registered popular rejection of the ruling party’s imposition of public spending cuts and lower wages. Unlike Greece, Ireland or Portugal, within Europe Spain is a major economy where ‘austerity’ has been imposed and where a renewed downturn could affect the EU economy as a whole.

Last year’s 5 million-strong Spanish general strike has now been followed by mass youth mobilisations. Their political effect has been to prevent a rejection of PSOE cuts becoming a major victory for the Right. The attacks on Spanish workers and the poor may have a significant impact on living standards in the other major economies. The Spanish resistance to those measures is therefore important for millions across Europe, and should be supported and learnt from by all those fighting the bourgeois offensive in Europe.