Spain: An attack on labor and pensions disguised as an European “imposition”

10 June, 2020

It is starting to appear on the press: the Spanish government hopes that the French-German proposal will translate into budget transfers, but also that the resistance of “the four mean ones” will mean that funds will remain conditioned. A perfect opportunity to present the Sánchez strategy for attacking pensions, the greatest direct attack in more than a decade on workers’ working and retirement conditions, as if it were a European imposition.

But in fact, what is being announced is far from being new. The current Minister of Social Security, José Luís Escrivá, has been defending it for years… and that is why he was appointed as a minister. Now what the government is doing is implementing the program of the Airef, the agency that the minister directed and to which the Ministry of Economy has entrusted the analysis of the “stability program” and the corresponding “Spending reviews“, that is, the reviews of public expenditure, which will be the basis of the formal proposal of the Spanish government to the EU.

The program of attacks on workers’ conditions

José Luís Escrivá receives the Social Security portfolio from the Minister of Labor of the previous government, under the eyes of Yolanda Díaz (Unidas Podemos), the new Minister of Labor.


The government takes up the idea, repeated a thousand times by Escrivá, that “there is a path to deepening the [pension] reform of 2011, mainly through two components: a delay in the effective retirement age and an extension of the period of the contribution period. Everything is written down and quantified: on the one hand, it would be a matter of increasing the effective retirement age by at least three years, delaying among other things early retirements, and drastically reducing the amount of pensions starting in 2022, by means of a increase in the period used to calculate the pension and also adding a ceiling to the contribution accounted for in recent years. The consequent fall in pensions would increase over time as the first generation that was massively precarized goes into retirement.

The Austrian backpack, already presented by the government for study in Brussels, would appear as the second pillar of the pension reform. Presented as a way of “compensating” for the loss of income of workers, it is in fact a firm step towards the privatization of the system and the break-up of the single social security fund. The direct winners: some banks lacking capitalization that demand alternative business routes and autonomous governments like the Basque one that already manage the “complementary funds” and are asking for a higher quota.

Evolution of salaries in Spain in 2018. The collapse of average salaries reduces the total wage mass received by the workers who are concentrated around the minimum wage, while improving the salaries of the corporate petite-bourgeoisie.


The Spanish economic press is beginning to assume that the supposed “repeal” of Rajoy’s labour reform will in fact be a new reform that increases the “flexibility” of the labor market, that is, its precarization. Nor would it make sense to submit anything else to Brussels, especially when the employers’ association has, since the first moment of the recession, linked the resilience of the capital it represents – mostly small and medium-sized enterprises – to the capacity to lay off cheaply. Sánchez and his entire government know as well as any businessman that the mechanism that allows them to market drops in the total wage bill as if they were minimum wage increases and other ruses in the name of so-called “social justice“, only works thanks to the low cost of layoffs. They’re not going to touch cheap layoffs, especially not now. What’s more, they’ll probably aggravate it from some new angle. Everything suggests that the reduction of temporary contracts, for example, is “achieved” at the cost of making “permanent” contracts more precarious, an idea that was also argued by Airef on more than one occasion and which was the basis of the proposal for the “single employment contract” of Ciudadanos.

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The Ministers of Social Security, Escrivá, and Economy, Calviño.

With all this underway, Sánchez would succeed in realizing in one full swoop the ultimate goals of a roadmap that the Spanish bourgeoisie has been trying to push forward since the outbreak of the Catalan crisis. Of course this would not fix the state of the political apparatus or territorial tensions, the Spanish expression of the petty bourgeoisie’s revolt. But national capital would fulfill its main objectives in confronting the crisis, and in that framework political instability may seem at least “manageable” for capital if it does not go too far beyond the current limits. That is to say, unless there appears a movement of struggles and strikes with potential.

The interesting thing is that in this “leap forward” of Sánchez he has revealed his playing hand. In the absence of a roadmap, he has, according to the press, a compass: “rationalization”. Obviously there is no “rationalization” in general. Things are “rationalized” according to some particular “reason” among all those that are in conflict. And today there are fundamentally two: that of capital accumulation or that of human needs. The government is clear about what its reason is: “to reduce expenditures identified as useless in order to relaunch the economy”. So, after the coming attack, nothing can be expected from this government -and from any other- other than an endless string of “cutbacks” and “sacrifices”.


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