Archive for May, 2014

Frank Ryan

Check out audio here – PART 1 – PART 2 – 

From our history of fighting autocratic rule and the devotion of many to a religion, Ireland and Spain have a lot in common. In more recent times, through economic crisis, this common ground became more common and less grounded. A crisis we allowed ourselves be duped into by ‘hard-working’ European nations. These ‘hard-working’ Protestant nations, and their apologists, with much racial glee, rubbed our ‘lazy’ Catholics snouts in it. Not just with words but also with debt burden.

Statistically Spain’s predicament would appear much worse than Ireland’s. Overall unemployment stands at 26% with youth unemployment at 50%. A statistic leading some companies to exploitation of student interns. 110% and 50 year mortgages leading some to rent their homes to tourists, tom pay a portion of the mortgage, and rely on the kindness of friends for accommodation. A peak of 500 house evictions and 8 suicides per day and where the OECD reports that the Spanish poor have been hardest hit.

Despite these alarming statistics, both crises are similar as they are characterised by a property collapse, high unemployment, emigration, Government spending cuts and increased taxes. Similar again is the ease with which both our politicians produce favourable statistics to claim ‘things are getting better’. But things are far from improving in any meaningful way.

When this notion that ‘things are getting better’ was put to Spanish people in Dublin and Madrid, including politicians, business people and trade unionists, it met with absolute derision. Most believing the crisis and its effects will last at least another 10 years. In addition to high unemployment, Spain has lost a lot of its industry.

This is a gloomy picture. Add to this the arrest of protesting trade unionists, allegations of politically motivated journalist dismissals, and violence on the streets during the March 2014 protests. In this light Spain has passed the ominous point of no return.

But this would be far from an accurate portrayal of Spain or the Spanish. While more subdued than May 2011, the Spanish are fighting back and writing their own future. Recent anti austerity marches brought one million Spaniards onto the streets, regions of Spain are beginning to re-discover their identity, new political movements and parties have emerged and those affected by the mortgage crisis are becoming empowered. Spain may be in the grip of austerity but they are inching towards a bright future.

RESPONSES AND POLITICAL MOVEMENTS

PAH (Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca – Movement of Mortgage Victims)

PAH 1

People dealing with the ill effects of Spanish austerity is where the greatest hope lies. These are people who unselfishly give up their time, knowledge and resources to tackle the crisis and are attempting to build a new community. Groups and movements such as PAH are among the most noteworthy.

While not necessarily a political movement, PAH work with victims of the housing crisis. Their main aims are;

1. Cancelling of the mortgage debt upon handover of the property to the bank
2. Immediately stopping of evictions
3. Transformation of homes in the hands of financial institutions into social rents.

But these are not just aspirational demands, they are realistic. PAH volunteers meet regularly each week and assign volunteers to work with mortgage victims. Part of this work involves empowering mortgage victims to deal with the banks and mortgage re-payments.

Representative of PAH, Marie Cristina, said that in the early years PAH were working mainly with immigrants yet today they assist more and more Spanish people. While this change in profile has occurred, Ivan Tesoreria of PAH, says that they mainly still assist women as men fear the public admission of not being able to provide for their family. They suffer from what he describes as “…macho evicted…”.

In spending time with PAH, at a victims support meeting in the south of Madrid, I met a number of mortgage victims, where I discovered there was a lot more to the crisis in Spain than people simply finding it difficult to pay their mortgages. Some of whom ended up homeless, others with family while many occupied the many empty apartment buildings built during the boom years. Empty apartment buildings similar to Ireland’s ghost estates.

I met people who were to be evicted from these abandoned apartments, by the local council, and those who have lived in social housing for several years. Social housing that was sold, at a fraction of its original cost, to companies owned by Goldman Sachs, Blackstone Real Estate and the Bank of Scotland.

One of these was a Roma family, who were given a two day eviction notice by the Madrid City Council, despite having lived in one such abandoned building for five years. The father of this family has certified health problems and four young children. Yet they still have to leave the accommodation with life on the street as the only alternative.

Another lady, Marie Sol, has been living in a council house for 17 years. She had a lifetime contract on this house with Madrid city council yet recently had this reduced to a one year contract after it was sold to a private investor. She now lives in uncertainty as she is informed that this is a unilateral contract that could change any time.

Changes that could include upward rental fees or even eviction from her home of 17 years as these new owners sell on the property for a substantial profit. I contacted IVIMA (Instituto de la Vivienda de Madrid), who are responsible for such matters in Spain but I did not receive a response.

While part of the anti austerity movement, PAH do so much more than protest. They work with these people on a daily basis to empower them to take control of their own lives. They are filling a void left by a disinterested political class.

Other Movements

Spain Puerta del Sol

Opposition to austerity in Spain appeared to be most energetic in 2011 as it was in May of that year that the group 15M came to prominence. They lead the protests that culminated in Puerta del Sol, the symbol of Spanish resistance to austerity. These protests seemed to peter out as Spaniards became worn down by the relentless Spanish Government austerity, blamed on German insistence.

It was not until 22 March 2014, that 15 M’s successor 22M, came to the fore. Once again the Spanish took to the streets yet this time there was to be violence which many believe was instigated by the police. There are reports, from ordinary Spanish citizens, that Spanish police infiltrated the protestors on the day.

The 22M movement call for a cancelling of the debt, a shift of responsibility towards the rich and away from the poor and an end to TROIKA.

Spain

Other movements such as Movimento per la Democracia, wish to bring about change and an end to the cosy corruption between big business, the political system and the media. This group is working on a charter, in some ways similar to the Magna Carta, as a basis for a new constitution for Spain as explained by one of its organisers, Raúl Sánchez Cedillo.

Raul feels the need for change and takes aim at the media, where he feels there is “…a strong corruption between political power and big media…”. He feels this can be challenged through effective use of social media.

He believes groups such as PAH have a very important role to play. He believes they are, in their own way, fighting the excesses of naked capitalism and the vested interest of the financially very wealthy in Spain. Without groups such as PAH Raul feels things would be much worse as there would be no obstacle whatsoever to privatisation.

POLITICAL PARTIES AND ELECTIONS

Ireland held elections in 2007 while Spain did so in 2008. In Ireland Fianna Fáil (FF) won a third successive election while the Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE – Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party) also retained power.

Identically, Ireland and Spain held elections again in 2011 and identically changed Governments. Significantly though for FF, who are one of the most successful political parties in the World, they lost 75% of its seats to a Fine Gael (FG – Christian Democrats) and Labour (Social Democrats) coalition. The PSOE lost around 35% of their seats to the Partido Popular (PP – People’s Party, a Christian Democrat party).

Why did FF took a bigger hit than the PSOE is a matter for debate? Is it as Professor Figerola, of Nebrija University, explains Spanish “…Civil War politics…”? Well does that not exist also in Ireland? Or is it as Jesus Gallego, of the trade union UGT explained, down to the Spanish electoral system that favours the larger parties? However, it does not really explain why the PSOE only lost 9.5% of the vote and FF lost over 24%.

It may be hard for Irish people to dredge up any sympathy for FF. However, why they suffered greater than the PSOE does need to be examined further.

Whether through ideology or lack of choice, both Ireland and Spain chose Christian Democrat parties in 2011. Ireland, however, also chose a social democrat party as the minor coalition party in its Government. A party which is now feeling the wrath of the Irish people who believed they would save them from austerity.

It would appear to make little difference then which party leads Government. Hasn’t it always been like this? So the question then is not about FF or Labour. The question is about why the electorate demonstrate such faith in people and organisations that continuously disappoint and achieve little more than the inevitable and the predictable.

Strangely then, despite sitting in opposition for over three years, FF do not show any signs of sitting in government any time soon while the PSOE are still very much alive in Spanish politics. In fact it can be seen that it is the PP who are under fire. In fact they are suffering an internal crisis as a new party, Vox, has emerged from their ranks. A new party that is attempting to move Spanish politics further to the right. Vox – Latin for voice – are attracting disillusioned PP voters. How long they will last beyond the upcoming European or even the 2015 general elections, remains to be seen.

This has not come to light in Ireland. With the exception of the Reform Alliance, a political force established by a handful of disgruntled pro-life FG et al members, no new political parties have emerged in Ireland. Vox are also a pro-life and family values party. They favour a low tax regime and, unlike the Reform Alliance, they support Spanish unity.

Other similarities between Vox and the Reform Alliance is that they both have connections to a fascist past. Family of senior members of Vox served under the Franco regime while the Reform Alliance, through its recent connections to Fine Gael, are connected to Ireland’s fascist movement of the 1930s, the Blueshirts. The Blueshirts fought alongside Franco during the Spanish Civil war where they were effectively wiped out.

Another new group calling itself Partido X has emerged. Choosing the name X as they are not a political party in the conventional sense – despite fielding candidates for the 2014 European elections. They claim to be “…an anti-party party…” as explained by Ruban, one of the ‘party’ activists. They claim to be a citizen network that wants to change the way politics is being understood as the traditional political parties are no longer useful for the purpose intended. They believe citizens need to have control over their institutions and there is a need transparency and participation in creation of the laws as Spanish citizens do not possess the ‘right to vote’.

Partido X, according to Ruban, wants citizens to be able to vote directly on laws that concern them and participate in the way laws are made. When asked to explain the first law they would change, Ruban replied ‘how decisions are made’. They stand for principles that nobody could deny – and end to corruption and greater citizen involvement in how their institution are run. Yet they vague light on how this would be implemented.

Interestingly the crisis has done nothing to dampen the spirits of those seeking independence for the Basque Country and Catalonia. The Basque town of Etxarri-Aranatz held an independence referendum on Sunday 13 April with 94% of voters saying “Yes” to independence. Jon Inarritu, MP from the Amaiur coalition, believes the Basque Country will thrive as an independent state as it already has its own industry and institutions in place.

Alfred Bosch of Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (a pro-independence republican left wing party in Catalonia) believes Catalonia will also survive and that the referendum on 9 November will be successful. This is despite the Spanish parliament rejecting the idea of devolving powers to Catalonia without its consent. Despite this, he believes people will still vote on 9 November and that they will vote yes as the people of Catalonia are “…very resentful of the fact that the tax level is very hard…” and that “…half of the taxes that leave for Madrid, never come back…”. The crisis means people there are “…feeling the pinch…” but insists that freedom is the main driving force and not economical.

Furthermore article 8 of the Spanish Constitution which states, ‘the Army’s mission is to guarantee the sovereignty and independence of Spain, to defend its territorial integrity and the constitutional set up’. In theory this article could mean Spanish troops on the streets of Barcelona should Catalonia proceed with the referendum and pursue a successful ‘Yes’ vote.

CHANGES TO LABOUR LAW

Spanish Crisis 4

During the 1 May protests speakers condemned the erosion of employment rights underway in Spain since the crisis begun. Indeed it is the very erosion of these rights that has been cited, in certain quarters, as the reasons for slight improvements in the Spanish economy.

Jose Luis Carretero, of the anarchist trade union the Solidaridad Obrera (Workers’ Solidarity), discussed the dilution of employment rights in Spain. These include;

• Employers need not seek government permission to make large numbers redundant.
• Probationary period has been extended from 6 to 12 months, during which, an employee can be dismissed without reason or compensation being paid.
• Individual bargaining is given preference by law to collective bargaining.
• Temporary contracts are the order of the day so employees feel no security that they can make ends meet and enjoy their lives.

Despite the grave difference in statistics, the Spanish crisis is the same as Ireland’s and indeed any other part of the world. However, it is not a financial, economic, political or banking crisis. It is much more personal than that. These four sectors are a mere representation of who we are or who we thought we were. In that sense this crisis has been positive as we can see that we are not these and never were.

However, it will be a negative experience if we do not learn from it and act. And learning and acting does not necessarily involve the establishment of a new political party or movement. In time they will do just as their self serving predecessors with innocent bystanders left, once again, scratching their heads asking “how did that happen”.

What I noticed, and this is not a Spanish or Irish phenomena, is that most political parties and movements thrive on fear. Established political parties generate fear over jobs, new movements generate fear over the establishment. Understandable yet unjustifiable and ultimately unsuccessful.

There is no political movement or system of living that has not been thought of. Yet very few have been put into practice as they were meant. Effectively they all failed. They failed as they did not adequately address people’s fears, anger and inability to trust. As long as this blind practice continues, failed systems and movements will also continue.

Solutions are more likely to be found through the work of groups like PAH. The selfless offering of one’s time and efforts to empower people, demonstrates what we are capable of. PAH are not trying to change Spain or change the world, instead they are working with their fellow man, in a very simple way, to say we are here for you. It shows us that no matter what any corrupt group of people throw at their fellow man, that we will stand together to empower people and build an empowered community.

 

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neil-lennon-celtic-manager-resignation

A well written piece by Kevin Mc Kenna and perfectly true. Not a one had a word to say!!

As if I wasn’t suspicious enough about so called ‘humanitarian’ groups. In Ireland, there is a massive snobbery about racism. Meaning that we either believe that it happens elsewhere or it is carried out by the fringes.

We quite rightly condemn the nut jobs who send racist messages in the post or post similar messages on the side of the road (given the wealth of services and CCTV we have in this country for identifying revenue generating traffic offences, I find it hard to believe that the perpetrators cannot be identified!!). Similarly we get quite excited and feel quite smug about exposing the racist interaction of some nut (drunken or otherwise) on the street or the bus etc. But this is the low hanging fruit we are exposing and we should consider exposing and ending such forms of racism as quite rudimentary. Absolutely nothing to feel smug about here!

Yet whenever it comes to something so close to home and, God forbid, risks challenging the racist relationship (When racism within UKIP was fully exposed, not that it wasn’t already known, they still made significant electoral gains in the UK) with our closest neighbours…EVERYBODY goes silent!! Even feminists go silent on the treatment of women by the DUP and the Orange Order never mind their racist treatment of Irish people and Catholics.

Time for these ‘humantarian’ organisations to re-examine themselves or simply disband as their current efforts are both misleading and dangerous.

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/may/25/neil-lennon-persecution-shames-scotland-celtic-manager

Biden Son

What are we to make of this? Is this so predictable that it is even beyond comment? I hope not.

As this article points out, Vice President Biden has rebuked Russia for its apparent involvement in Ukraine and has pledged to support a reduction on Russian dependency.

Can we believe the ousting of Yanukovych was anything other than a coup?

http://www.themoscowtimes.com/business/article/son-of-us-vice-president-biden-joins-ukraine-gas-company/500062.html