While we might get enthralled by cement mixers at the expense of the wider significance of today’s events across Europe, I thought it might be a good idea to look a little further afield.
El Público today has an interview with Luis García Montero (whom I once heard lecture to a packed hall in the University of Granada) and Joaquín Sabina, very fine poet and very fine singer songwriter respectively, on the matter of the general strike that’s taking place in Spain today, and associated matters. I am posting it here in rush translation. The very fact that it appears in a Spanish national newspaper (of whom 50% of the staff are on strike today) is enough to highlight the gaping chasm between what people think passes for democracy in Ireland and what has been achieved elsewhere. It seems inconceivable that any Irish newspaper north or south could publish such an interview. Equally inconceivable is the availablity of corresponding Irish participants. I urge you all to read it.
El Público: Another general strike, but this time with Zapatero, who aroused such enthusiasm among the left. Were you expecting something like this?
Luis García Montero: I didn’t think it was going to be necessary. It was very striking, that image of him saying “I won’t let you down”, and alongside that declarations that the most needy weren’t going to pay for the crisis. It seemed possible that a leader was going to oppose such a neoliberal exit to the crisis. But the change has been so radical that there is no other way.
Joaquín Sabina: There has been a brutal enactment of a lack of sovereignty, even on the part of the government, which was able to ignore its electoral programme because of one call from Europe and another from Obama. What they put across is that there is no alternative and that a phone call is enough for them to stick the electoral programme where the sun don’t shine. The unions had no option but to go on strike.
LGM: But careful, there’s a trap. We’re all repeating that this is being imposed by Europe. When Rajoy or Aznar defend a position, we don’t say that it’s being imposed by Spain, but by the right. They’ve made us swallow the idea that these things are being said by Europe when they’re being said by Merkel and the neo-liberal right. It is not a question of Spain being opposed to Europe, but that social democracy contributes to the building of a less neoliberal Europe.
JS:Yes, sure, but you only have to look at what’s happening in all of Europe, even in Sweden. With the fall of the Wall, they’re destroying the welfare state and now they’re going directly for social democracy.
LGM: Because of this the strike also has a civic aspect, of citizens who see that their leaders do not account for their electoral programme before them, but before the IMF. Social democracy tries to compete with the neo-liberal right. And that’s how it seeks out its own ruin because on neoliberal terrain it’s very difficult to compete.
JS: It’s impossible. If we look back just a little, it’s even more incredible. Look at the fall of Lehman Brothers. For 15 days it seemed like they were all re-reading Karl Marx. They nationalised banks! But it was a crock. They saved them with our money. That discourse has been forgotten. There was no correction nor will there be any. On the contrary: they’ve gone directly for the working class, for the unions, and for social democracy and the welfare state.
Público: That discourse was bandied about by Zapatero himself. Don’t you get the feeling that what happened afterwards was that they put a gun to his head?
JS: Certainly, that’s the way it’s been portrayed.
Público: If it’s that way, what can a strike do?
JS: First, I believe in the right to kick up a storm. I don’t know if the strike is of use, but at least it demonstrates that the working class and the unions are not on board. And also to say something that no-one says: that there have to be alternatives.
LGM: One of the most dangerous things is to say that the strike is not going to be of use. The strikes of no use are the ones that don’t take place, and experience has shown that presidents have to change. Even Aznar had to sit down to dialogue! Maybe you don’t manage to roll back completely the labour reforms, but it will influence many other things: for pensions, for everything else coming down the line. We have entered in a dynamic of assumption of neoliberal culture which we must stop. We have to put into gear a different culture and this can be a starting point.
JS: That strikes are won or lost is relative. Under Francoism, the peaceful strike of the Spanish Communist Party always failed, but it was useful. They say that in May 68 nothing happened. Nonsense. It changed habits! Communism was of no use? Well, it so happens that social democracy was born in reaction to it as were all the benefits for workers. The strike is necessary.
LGM: It’s the ideal situation to make ourselves aware of who is the guilty party. Up until now, the reactions have been carried along in a sort of furious docility. Lots of anger, but it’s not directed against the guilty, but against the immigrant or even against union leaders. We’ve got stuck in to fighting one another. We need to ensure that people go back to realising who the guilty parties are.
JS: For me, ‘strike’ is a holy word. I remember especially those proposed by the communists during Francoism. And I remember, as if it were a poem of deep emotion, when in the strike against Felipe González TVE (Spanish state broadcaster) got shut down. It was beautiful. I always wanted to write a song about the guy who pulled the plug. And now it turns out that on this holy word they’re throwing shit from all sides with the frontal attack on the unions. What Esperanza Aguirre is doing is a tremendous danger. They want to get rid of union reps, and they demonise pickets.
LGM: The only violent pickets are the bosses with their threats: if you don’t come to work, you lose your job. There’s a lot of people with fear, also in the world of culture. The other day an actor who’s filming Torrente was saying: the producer told him that if he didn’t go to work on the 29th, he needn’t go on the 30th either.
JS: But what’s this? Torrente, my friend: to the strike, damn it!
Público: Do you see any parallel between the demonisation of the unions and artists?
LGM: They have a clear idea of what can cause damage to neoliberal politics and they launch themselves into destroying it: artists represent a consciousness; the unions, a social will to organise. What they least desire is a consciousness that thinks about itself and which on top of that wishes to organise. That’s why they denigrate unions and artists.
JS: I don’t know of any country where there are attacks in this way on writers, singers, actors. I’ve never taken a subsidy! [Shoulda gone to live in Ireland – HG] That visceral hatred toward puppet-masters (tititriteros), which by the way is a beautiful word, I have never seen that anywhere else. And then you have the horrible manipulation of the act from the other day, which the majority of media presented as something like “de los de la ceja” [I have no idea what this means, I think it has to do with artists who participated in some PSOE campaign or other. ‘Ceja’ literally means eyebrow – HG], when there was nobody there who had been ‘de la ceja’. I was though, even though many friends berated me for it, I’m proud of it. I did what I thought I had to do, and now I’m doing what I think I should do. I have respected and I still respect many of the good intentions of Zapatero, which seem real to me. But his speech supporting Sarkozy was really obscene.
LGM: It’s unacceptable. And with this about the good intentions…
JS: What I mean is he’s honest.
LGM: Sure, he doesn’t take money like those in the Gürtel case [big corruption scandal involving Partido Popular slimeballs straight out of central casting – HG]. But it he gives off a strong sensation of lying. He says one thing one day and the following day something else. You can give the sensation that they’re forcing you, but he’s acting as if he believes it. When he says that this labour reform is going to create jobs, he knows it’s a lie.
JS: Well I think he believes it, which is nearly worse. What is true is that the Zapatero who pulled out of Iraq has nothing to do with he of the proSarkozy speech [Zapatero supported Sarkozy on the latter’s line taken against Roma]. Realpolitik has imposed itself.
LGM: I think he doesn’t even believe it. And the information is there: the economy has been paralysed because measures have been taken that do nothing for the real economy, only for speculation. Where is politics?
JS: What I like most about your reasoning is the defence of the word ‘politics’. And it is time to dignify this word, which is nothing more than the participation of the citizen in political affairs. And the strike is the most worthy and sacred expression of politics.
LGM: We come from the experience of politics with a capital P, which is geared towards transforming society. Were you in Granada in the 1973 construction strike?
JS: Of course.
LGM: The police shot at the workers in the door of the cathedral and killed three. Were those people fighting for democracy or for their rights?
JS: For both things.
LGM: That’s where I’m going. You cannot separate the defence of democracy and people’s dignity in work.
Público: Do you have any hope that after the strike the first Zapatero will come back?
JS: No. No-one in the centres of power sees an alternative.
LGM: I have little hope that he will change. What I do believe is that he should take account of the need for a political force on the left.
JS: But in the medium term.
LGM: Yes, medium term. And try to undertake the real reform of the Spanish left, which unites many and sets in march the response from society. My view of the future has to do with my memory, and my memory has to do with the future. And here there are two of us talking who grew in a university that decided to fight against dictatorship and demonstrated that things could be changed.
JS: Sure, but the horizon was democracy and then the most socialist version possible. What is there now in the horizon? Nothing.
LGM: When the police chased you after a student action, you were able to go to London because someone gave you his passport.
JS: He was a santo laico [Literally, a secular saint. Used to describe someone of great moral courage].
LGM: A santo laico capable of risking himself, he gave you his passport, and you were able to escape. That’s the memory I want to recall. People are losing fraternity. Of enlightenment values, the first that the right has tried to destroy is fraternity. After that the rest can be achieved. I would like that people were able to recover solidarity and create a collective enthusiasm (ilusión). That is the future.
Público: Do you see any possibility that the strike triumphs and that the PP doesn’t win?
JS: If I talk about rebuilding in medium term it’s because in the very short term I don’t expect anything. The clouds that appear on all types of horizon predict that we’re going to be the same or worse. Although politics moves more quickly than the oracles think, and not even the CIA expected the fall of the Berlin Wall. Now we don’t see possibilities that our children will live better than us. This is for our children too, as Almudena Grandes said. This is why I believe in the medium term and not in the very short term.
LGM: I think that if the socialist government loses it will not be because of the strike.
JS: Among other things because the strike does not want to bring down the government. But the PSOE needs to be told that it shouldn’t take things for granted.
LGM: We have to protest against the government, but the strike is also against many regional governments, like that of Aguirre [in Madrid – HG], and against the bosses, who impose these policies. The strike can serve to reactivate civic consciousness and facilitate as a result that the left does not lose, or that it comes back soon with different ways.