Barcelona has never been particularly enthused by the People’s Party (PP). However, the party of Prime Minister Rajoy is no longer the only one that the Catalan capital now rallies against. Mayor of Barcelona and En Comu Podem member, Ada Colau, has expanded her anti-‘la casta’ (the establishment) rhetoric to include not just PP and the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE), but also Convergencia and Ciudadanos.
“I’ve never seen PP, PSOE, Ciudadanos or Convergencia in a protest to stop evictions, defend healthcare or protect employment rights,” Colau said during a recent rally. The loudest cheer she received during this speech was in response to her statement that “PP is a party that really doesn’t care about human life”, a statement that, based on their presence in Catalonia, PP is hard-pressed to refute.
Colau was one of the founders of – and is now chief spokesperson for – the PAH, which is a citizens’ movement focused on the right to housing. Earlier this week, PAH exemplified Colau's non-discriminatory rhetoric against all opposing political parties by plastering the posters of PP, PSOE and Ciudadanos in Barcelona with stickers – accusing the political establishment of intending to vote against PAH’s ‘5 demands’ (which include non-recourse debt, affordable rent, stop evictions, social housing and the right to utilities). PAH is just one of many ‘mareas’ (tides) spawned by the Indignados movement of May 15th 2011.
Another disaffected tide of unhappy citizens is ‘Juventud Sin Futuro’ (Youth Without Future). Indeed, 260,000 people aged between 16 and 30 left Spain to find work abroad in 2012. Unemployment in Spain has decreased from its peak of 27% in 2013 by roughly six points, however the situation remains grave, especially for young people.
One recent graduate and Barcelona resident that I spoke to while in the city, called Marina, lamented the relaxed labour laws that allow employers to hire ‘becarios’ (scholars) on rotating three month periods. Whilst Marina has been able to find a job in her field within two months of searching, she recognises that “I was fortunate as I had my back covered with the help of my parents, who would give me a hand with the expenses until I was able to assume them myself”. Out of her friends, most of them are either still looking for a job or have had to settle for a job unrelated to their field of study, and for which they’re overqualified.
“If we want to have a future, we need jobs,” said one Madrid resident in an interview with the Guardian earlier this year. In order to create jobs, there needs to be a focus on education. Indeed, the OECD's first global study of adult skills revealed that ‘one in four Spaniards between 16 and 65 scored the lowest levels of literacy, and one in three the lowest levels of mathematical proficiency.’ Whilst Rajoy has not announced any further cuts to education, he still fails to outline his jobs plan, presumably hoping it’s going to resolve itself as the economy continues to slowly grow.
Whilst I am no economist, it seems clear to me that the problem of education and, subsequently, youth unemployment is not going to be simply solved by a gradual improvement of the wider economic situation. Funding for education in Spain needs not just a cessation of further cuts, but an increase in spending. No Spanish university ranks among the world's top 200, whilst research, development and innovation spending, at 1.3% of the GDP, is way below that of other developed economies.
Juventud Sin Futuro, PAH and many other mareas like them still feel as though they’re not being listened to. The people of Spain want recognition; recognition that Rajoy and Sanchez are still unwilling to grant. This public frustration has been inspired by statements such as those expressed by Mario Monti (former Prime Minister of Italy): “those who govern must not allow themselves to be completely bound by parliamentarians.” It's not just a fringe of Spanish voters that feel ignored. Up to 80% of Spaniards have said that they supported the 15-M protestors, despite the PP's efforts to portray them as anarchists.
The Spanish political hierarchy has been fundamentally altered, and Podemos and Ciudadanos are the only parties to have responded. It’s no longer enough to dictate from the top down. Parties are now required to collaborate and participate with voters. It’s a ‘ground-up’ approach that is influencing politics across the globe. These mareas are not under the direct control of any political party and, as such, in spite of the contributions of Podemos and Ciudadanos, are not monopolized by any wing of the political spectrum. If Rajoy and Sanchez seek to regain trust and rebuild their parties for a profitable long-term future then they cannot continue to ignore the demands of their people, irrespective of whether either of their parties wins this Sunday.
So, where now for the people of Spain? It looks as though, due to slight economic improvement, the PP will limp to victory with the help of Ciudadanos (however, the two major parties, PP and PSOE, will be lucky to receive 40% of the combined vote). People are no more reassured than they were four years ago, and the majority of their concerns remain. The reasons for public discontent against PP and PSOE as articulated by William Chislett during the Indignados movement were, “a spate of scandals, constant bickering and a failure to put aside partisan differences, the politicization of state institutions, the snail's pace at which the judiciary system moves and a lack of an effective system of checks and balances of democracy”. Can it really be said that any of these issues have been effectively resolved by government?
Even in the likelihood that Rajoy does return to power this Sunday, the Indignados – and Podemos in particular – should not be disheartened. Such a result would present its own opportunity for Podemos and its expanding base. Yet, a long-term vision must ally with patience in order to draw strength from electoral defeat.