When I came to Sol I didn’t really understand the true motives of the Spanish uprising. Together with many other people who got their occasional information from the mainstream media I was fooled into thinking that the country was doing great. Huge economic growth and a progressive socialist government had produced a ‘Spanish Miracle’. Spain was rapidly catching up with the rest of the continent. Life was good under the Mediterranean sun…
It turned out it was all cardboard.
Thankfully there are always people who can explain these things in simple terms, so that even I can understand. The six minute cartoon Españistan, and the comic of the same name, have achieved a great success by telling the real story of the Spanish Miracle.
Here’s more or less what happened.
In 1998 the governing right-wing coalition headed by José Maria Aznar adopted a law that turned rural territory into construction lots. The idea was to attract real estate developers, which would then build an enormous ammount of houses, so that the prices would go down and youngsters would be able to buy their own homes.
The plan seemed to work, initially. The real estate developers invaded Spain with a tsunami of concrete. In the last fifteen years no other European country has seen such a building fury as Spain.
In order for young people to buy houses, it was vital that the problem of unemployment be tackled as well. This was done by reforming the labour market. Measures were taken to reduce workers’ rights and create a more flexible work force, all aimed at making it easier for employers to hire people, and to get rid of them if necessary.
This also seemed to work out as planned. Unemployment plummeted, people started to buy houses with heavy incentives from the government and the banks. Loans were obtained very easily. The plan had just one flaw. Despite the supply of houses, the demand was so overwhelming that prices start to rise, big time. In the absence of other real propellers of economic growth, the ‘Spanish Miracle’ depended almost exclusively on real estate. It started to attract speculators. It also started to attract organised crime, as real estate was an easy way to launder money. The prices skyrocketed. They nearly tripled in a decade.
One thing that didn’t really change in all these years were the wages. When the bubble burst, people were still earning more or less the same as when it started. The only way people could pay for a tiny piece of living space was through easy credits provided by the banks, for periods of forty years or more.
Then came the crisis. And the banks collapsed. Workers were laid off in huge numbers. They found themselves not only to be poor, but to be indebted for life. And while many of the houses were vacant, the number of evictions sored.
So when the government, formed by the Socialist Workers’ Party of Spain decided to bail out the banks and adopt the austerity measures imposed by EU and IMF, the people were indignados to say the least.
That’s when the real Spanish Miracle happened, right here at Puerta del Sol. After the impressive, celebratory, and completely apolitical demonstrations of May 15, a small group remained on the square to ask themselves the big question.
“Are we just going home, back to business as usual?”
In their first popular assembly they decided their answer was no. They would camp on Sol. And the rest… is history!
All the best,
P.S. For all of you people anxious to know what’s happening on the marches, I´ll give you a brief update.
1. Today the two Northwestern columns of Galicia and Asturia have joyfully joined forces at Benavente.
2. A new march has started in the small town of Soria, near Zaragoza.
3. We have lost track of the Murcia Column for three days. We were already setting up a rescue expedition when suddenly the phone rang. After days of forced marches through the Spanish wilderness they have surprised us all by suddenly appearing in Albacete to join up with the column from Valencia. The latest news from today is that they have already separated from the Valencia column to follow their own route. I will keep you posted on how the Murcia story ends.
All other marches proceed as planned.