Ever since the PSOE and Unidas Podemos formed a governing coalition in January, Spain’s right-wing opposition has denied its democratic legitimacy. Calls for police mutiny and resistance against the COVID-19 lockdown show how the Spanish right is imitating its Latin American counterparts, seeking to create a climate of chaos that can bring down the government.
by Iker Itoiz Ciáurriz
Part 4 - Spain Post-COVID-19
These two strategies of anti-lockdown resistance and the legal assault on the government have gone hand in hand. But more importantly, the PP-Vox offensive has tapped into strong opposition to the government’s plans coming from the IBEX 35 — the alliance of Spain’s thirty-five biggest companies.
In particular, the IBEX 35 oppose plans to replace the current Labor Law, a document approved in 2012 amid the last economic crisis. This law represented not only a symbol of the austerity imposed on Spain by the European Union, but also accelerated the precaritization of the working class; indeed, since the emergence of the Indignados movement it has become a target for social movements and the Left. The Right also opposes the “Minimal Living Income” legislation approved on May 29. Aimed at helping the lowest earners, this initiative put forward by the minister of social security will benefit almost 850,000 households.
It remains too early to see if Spain will be one of the first governments to fall in the COVID-19 crisis. The far right hint darkly at the prospect of a coup, which seems unlikely even despite the deeply troubling tensions between the police and the government. Rather more likely is the breakdown of the coalition between PSOE and Unidas Podemos, with the PSOE opting to form a national unity government with the PP or, indeed, Cs, which has already reached some agreements with the government during this crisis. Important sections of the PSOE have always mistrusted Unidas Podemos and preferred a national unity government with more right-wing forces. This would, indeed, follow on from the PSOE’s previous toleration of Mariano Rajoy’s PP government, and the closeness the parties have shown during turbulent patches such as the Catalan crisis in 2017.
The forthcoming economic crisis would open space for Vox to take to the streets and legitimize their strategy against the current government. In this situation, and with austerity policies likely to be applied in Spain as an imposition of the European Union, it would be unsurprising if Unidas Podemos decided to break up the coalition government if the PSOE accepts a new round of austerity. Birthed by the widespread dissatisfaction with, and the street movements against, austerity of 2012–14, Unidas Podemos would find it hard, if not impossible, to accept renewed austerity. Breaking with the current government would allow them to oppose austerity in the parliament and match Vox’s presence in street mobilizations. At the moment, this option still seems distant.
Last weekend, Unidas Podemos and PSOE tried to resolve some of the tensions that arose from Pablo Iglesias’s suggestion that the PP and Vox sought a coup d’état against the government. While some sectors of the PSOE, especially in Andalucia and Castilla–La Mancha, have always wanted the coalition to fail, the people close to Pedro Sánchez in Madrid want to maintain it. On June 1, Pablo Iglesias reiterated that his party wants a four-year government and committed to keeping the current coalition.
Be that as it may, the current polarization seems unlikely to ebb. Recent polls suggest that the PP is benefiting from its strong opposition to the government. This leads us to think that both the PP and Vox will continue the strategy that they have pursued during this crisis, taking to the offensive not just in parliament, but also in the streets and the judicial system.
The present situation in Spain could be an example of equivalent challenges in other countries in the wake of the pandemic, as continued economic downturn will likely give space to anti-government parties and far-right groups. Faced with this PP-Vox offensive, it is thus imperative that Spain’s other political forces defend the current center-left government.
That government does have many contradictions and limitations. But its approval of the “Minimal Living Income” and the proposal to ditch the Labor Law are promising signs that a center-left government is possible and could improve workers´ conditions. If it does fall, the possibility that antidemocratic and far-right forces like Vox could enter government is a serious threat — one dangerous to the interests of most Spanish citizens. We must not fail.