One could hardly not be outraged by the measures taken by Madrid’s regional government last Friday. With 700 sick people per 100,000 inhabitants, the capital was already the main epicenter of covid in Europe. And all the regional government could think of was to halt traffic in 37 health areas by means of sporadic controls with little or no impact.
The problem was the impact, the absence of any real determination in the measures. All you are asked to do in order to remain on the street is show a receipt proving that you are heading to work or to an educational center. Once you hold it and show it to the police on request, you have a free hand to immerse yourself in a subway that has been crowded for months and whose promised reinforcements only serve to aggravate the bottlenecks. And once you get out of the subway or the bus, you are free to join the job or the educational center, which after all are the main places of population mixing in a city where the average worker travels more than 12 kilometers to get to his work center.
Ayuso, Madrid’s president, had made it clear: they’d do everything except go back into lockdown, that is, everything but what is needed: closing down schools and workplaces to avoid further spread of infection. The goal was the same immorality that has guided all the management of the pandemic: to keep companies producing and selling no matter what. Capital and the return on its investments, ahead of our lives.
The response from the left
Ayuso was still presenting her symbolic measures when the Regional Federation of Neighborhood Associations (FRAVM), responded with a press release. Strangely enough, it rejected lockdown on a neighborhood basis as classist and racist based on a strange subject, the inhabitants of the southern part of Madrid’s region, somehow equivalent to the working class.
The first and obvious thing. Madrid does not show a North-South class divide. As can be seen in the map above, income disparities between neighborhoods can be huge and are found throughout the city. For historical reasons, the large concentrations, the salaried and precarious majority neighborhoods are in the South, in the East, in the West, and in the North. There is no Working class South in opposition to the bourgeois remainder, however much Even less does housing distribution obey racial ghettos. The working class neighborhoods of Madrid always reflected the different waves of migration the local proletariat was formed from. Whether a low-income neighborhood has more or less recent migrants depends mainly on the average age of the neighborhood. There are no significant differences between the Pilar and Vallecas neighborhoods.
To understand this strange approach we must remember that the FRAVM is not an independent organization, much less a class organization, it is an old structure that inherited the neighborhood front of the PCE in the seventies and that is still standing thanks to annual regional grants of almost a million and a half euros. And part of these grants, which have grown the most in recent decades, are related to programs aimed at the integration of new migrants.
But as the the press coverage began, the main argument became that the pseudo-lockdown was a stigmatizing factor, that is, it pointed to the 37 most affected neighborhoods as being responsible for the increase in infection. Incredible but true, the what will other people think about us as an argument. Anything goes as long as they remain more papist than the Pope: if the regional government adopted purely cosmetic restrictions in order to avoid real lockdown, the Madrid left rejected even Ayuso’s pseudo-lockdown. They didn’t ask for more, they wanted everything to remain the same, with more trackers and health workers, that’s all. And so on Saturday they mobilized part of the frustration against the regional government’s unwillingness and neglect. Thousands went out to protest, but with the support of the PSOE and Podemos-IU, instead of calling for real measures, closure of non-essential production and educational centers, the message could be summarized as No one should miss work!
It was difficult for the mobilizations, under such slogans, not to be diverted to the sterile ground of a motion of censure. Sánchez had been putting pressure on the socialist party in Madrid and negotiating with Ciudadanos to organize it such a motion. But would it mean anything? For the workers, little or nothing: the main message in the face of the pandemic everyone must work, no matter what!, is the same on both the right and the left, and the PSOE has increased work precarity and eroded public healthcare as much as the PP.
Just in case there was any doubt, the meeting between Ayuso and Sánchez was organized by the communications offices of both, not by those responsible for the pandemic response. As all the press picked up on the agreement, given that the common goal is to avoid confinement no matter what, its real topic was how to adjust the level of criticism between one administration and the other to keep outrage at a manageable level and to share political wear and tear. Once again it became clear that the main aim is not to save lives, but to avoid a real confinement causing new expenses for businesses. Both parties are willing to sacrifice approval ratings for that. To shut down the two main foci of propagation – work and education, including the transport that links both – is a big no.
What’s the left wing all about?
If PP and PSOE represent institutional parties, that is, parties representing the state vis-à-vis the different social classes, Podemos-IU represents a sector of the petty bourgeoisie that is trying to carve out a place for itself within the state. That in the current context of a new slaughter in progress and an imminent barrage of precarity-inducing measures co-performed by the PSOE government and Podemos, they intend to tell us that their strategic path is to replace the monarchy with a republic may seem delusional. But Iglesias is clear: what the republican campaign is about is establishing an alliance between Podemos and the most dynamic business sectors, that is, the part of the bourgeoisie that is most sensitive and open to expanding the piece of the state left in the hands of the university-derived petty bourgeoisie. That is why it seems to him, against all statistics, that there are very few Catalan and Basque surnames among the Spanish corporate bourgeoisie.
Iglesias, like Sánchez, knows well that the interests of that part of the bourgeoisie, like those of the rest of the ruling class, require that new lockdowns be avoided. For them, lockdowns are direct costs. They don’t even care about an improvement in the health system in the medium term. This is about lowering costs for capital, supporting investment with state and European money and applying the austerity reforms that are the guiding light of Spanish capital’s roadmap.
For this reason, the right wing in Madrid has shown its most criminal cynicism, but together with it, and with no less cynicism, the left has been the first to take a stand for the needs of profitability of investments against the universal needs of the workers, the first of them being not to be infected or to become an infection source.