by Antonio Esposito Ryan
Pablo Iglesias’ party Podemos is just over 100 days old, yet it threatens to dismantle the monotonous duplicity in Spanish politics. Both the centre left ‘socialist’ PSOE and the centre right Populares are under threat from the party’s recent surge in support.
Iglesias, a lecturer at the University Compultense de Madrid, was known for his hyperactive stunts — such as asking his students to stand on their tables and assess power. He is unique in his approach to critiquing power amongst his academic counterparts; consistently reminding his students to continually scrutinize power. Iglesias vehemently opposes the neo-liberal capitalist orthodoxy of Thatcher and Reagan, and created Podemos as a backlash response to the highly critical politicians deriding the anti-austerity ‘indignado’ protests of 2011 in Puerta Del Sol. The establishment moaned saying the protestors should create their own political party. Iglesias responded to the request with a miraculous result.
Founded on 16th January 2014, Podemos astoundingly reached 8% of the vote from the Spanish electorate after the European Parliamentary elections held on May the 25th — just four months after the political party had been created. Now the second largest political party in Spain with over 350,000 members (just behind Populares), Podemos went from a minor protest voice to a powerful transformative force in Spanish politics in a matter of days. The message now for Podemos is no longer ‘we can‘, but ‘we did and we’ll win’.
the first female mayor of Barcelona was elected on the back
of a strong grass roots campaign against poverty and
Ahora Madrid, (Podemos’ municipal branch) came from not existing in the 2011 Madrid council election to winning over half a million votes in 2015. Manuela Carmena, a retired judge, was virtually unknown prior to the election and is now a household name for madrileños. In the same vein, the first female mayor of Barcelona was elected on the back of a strong grass roots campaign against poverty and fighting corruption.
Ada Colau’s ‘En Comu’ (Barcelona in Common), was created as a merger of Podemos and smaller leftist parties in Catalonia. Ada’s first task will be cutting ministerial salaries from €140,000 to €28,600, bridging the gap between ‘la casta’ (the political class) and ordinary Spaniards. Councils in both Barcelona and Madrid have gone from electing ministers of predominantly established parties, to having nearly a majority of left leaning anti-austerity figures in May 2015.
Podemos are simple with their aims. They want to end austerity in Spain and the degradation it brings, cancel the majority of public debt — similar to the proposals of their Greek counterparts Syriza — and create a new financial institution which will fund public services by mobilizing the financial resources of the European Central Bank (ECB). Podemos argue the ECB should buy a part of the state’s debt and could lend directly to States in order to fund the development of public services “without imposing anti-social conditions”. Podemos aim to push forward legislation to prevent the ECB from financing companies, which have little to no ‘social and environmental’ criteria. Podemos also want to nationalise banks and alter financial and business systems, preventing tax evasion and imposing tighter regulation to avert corruption and increase transparency.
a majority of Spanish workforce being paid less than €9,000 annually
With one-third of the Spanish work force now jobless, youth unemployment reaching a dizzying height of over 50% and a majority of Spanish workforce being paid less than €9,000 annually, Podemos’ support base is widespread. The sight of beggars and poverty stricken individuals sifting through waste is common in the capital. Podemos is, for some Spaniards, an angry protest vote at inequality in one of Europe’s biggest growing economies and to others, a Euro sceptic voice to the austerity consensus in southern Europe, and for many a party which represents a glimmer of hope for the impoverished.
The financial, political and bureaucratic nightmare infamously labelled as ‘la casta’ is equally to blame for the miraculous rise of Podemos. Increasing frustration with corrupt deals such as Caja Madrid bank amassing €15m in expenses and seeking a bailout from the government, the continual corruption scandals in both of the established political parties, and the infamous relationship between politicians and members of financial sectors has only strengthened the parties support base.
The rise of the Spanish anti-austerity left signifies far more than a well-established populist message. It is underpinned with a resentment and growing frustration in Spain. Frustration with European imposed austerity, disproportionate inequality, and a political class entirely isolated and separate from ordinary Spanish citizens. The upcoming national elections will be crucial in deciding how far Podemos’ ideals can spread throughout Spain, including the highly conservative north.
With current opinion polls suggesting Podemos coming past PSOE as the second largest left leaning party, the grass roots activism has had an unmistakable impact. Iglesias must now plan ahead to form an anti-austerity bloc in the senate, and continue to remodel the Spanish political landscape until the established parties are forced to listen.