The specter of anti-austerity is haunting Europe’s ruling bankers and bosses. Excitement over Syriza’s victory in Greece’s parliamentary election jumped westward along the Mediterranean Sea to Spain as a massive demonstration on Jan. 31 clogged central Madrid’s Puerta del Sol square.
According to the march’s organizers from the new political party “Podemos,” 300,000 heeded their call to march. They shouted: “Tick-tock, tick-tock, now is the time for change!” The change they want is to reject the establishment parties that have cut social security, medical care and education in order to make payments on a $1.2 trillion debt, mostly to German banks.
Podemos grew out of protests by the “indignant ones,” who filled the large squares of cities all over the Spanish state starting May 15, 2011. Although founded as an electoral party just a year ago, in January 2014, Podemos won 8 percent of the vote last May for the European Parliament and already has attracted 320,000 members.
More recently Podemos has been leading in the electoral polls, ahead of the two parties that have alternately governed since 1978: the People’s Party (PP) — a right-wing party now in office — and the Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) — which, despite its name, is a pro-capitalist center party. National elections are scheduled for November.
After the 2008 capitalist economic crisis broke out, living standards for the working class in Spain nosedived. Even now, after a supposed recovery, there is a 24-percent general unemployment rate, but double that for workers under 25 years of age. Some 20,000 homeowners are scheduled to lose their homes to the banks this year. Popular anger over the worsening conditions turned into opposition to the governing parties and to anyone considered part of the capitalist establishment.
Both the PP and the PSOE enforced the austerity program. Many people within the Spanish state consider these two parties and other government institutions corrupt tools of the ruling class. The people also rejected the royal family, which is steeped in corruption. The unpopular King Juan Carlos I, for example, chose to abdicate last June in favor of his son, now King Felipe VI, rather than completely discredit the monarchy.
Many Podemos voters and supporters come from the historically left parties, like the United Left (IU). Other had been PSOE voters. Others had abstained. Now millions who hope an electoral change can relieve the overall crisis are looking to Podemos, whose program promises a break with European Union domination and austerity.
Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias had campaigned for Syriza in Greece. The Syriza victory in the Jan. 25 election gave a boost to those in Spain seeking an electoral alternative to the current situation of unemployment and disappearing social benefits.
Revolutionary organizations like the Red Network are urging mass mobilizations and preparations for a general strike. These groups see an electoral campaign in Spain as only one part of a struggle against austerity. Last March 22, organizers of a “March for Dignity” gathered over a million people in Madrid to protest austerity. They plan a similar protest this March 21.