National Day in Spain. On Friday, departures from Madrid caused a big traffic jam. In the midst of the second pandemic wave, hundreds of thousands of people from the capital left the region before the cemtral government, mired in an empty battle with the regional government, managed to partially close the entrances and exits of the city. Those who stayed are encouraged to go out into the streets and fill the bars. The consequences are not so difficult to predict.
But it doesn’t matter. All the newspapers, including the government-aligned El País, radios and TV channels published guides and weekend plans for Madrid, urging its inhabitants to not stay at home and go out for a drink or meal. Podemos councillors in the city council protested against the . And in Zaragoza? El Heraldo even encourages us to go to an OktoberFest in the Aragonese capital. Clearly the best thing to do during a pandemic.
In Navarra, also with an incidence above 500 and an exemplary community for the central government, all tightening measures are reduced to limiting to 30% the capacity inside bars and restaurants, closing at 10pm and limiting family gatherings to six people. In Catalonia, the Health Councillor talks about the generalization of teleworking during two weeks. People are going to suffer, he declared. No, he is not talking about infections, overwhelmed ICUs nor the thousands of patients with other ailments that will die –as it already happened in Italy– because they cannot be treated and diagnosed. No.
The suffering which worries the Spanish rulers is suffering of the balance sheets of the commercial petty bourgeoisie. The city council of Zaragoza, which was unable to organize a support service for the elderly who live alone during lockdown and which took no effective action to stop contagion, is embarking on a campaign to save the florists by encouraging neighbors to decorate balconies to celebrate the Virgen del Pilar.
In La Rioja, the grape harvest ends and the rulers are satisfied with only 1,500 PCR tests, that’s all that was done. Something to be surprised about when half a dozen towns exceed 500 in incidence and some have more than 1000… When Calahorra is already close to 500 and will surely exceed them as soon as the statistics are updated.
It would be grotesque if it were not classist, cruel and did not involve leaving a trail of deaths and after-effects: for the Spanish ruling class this is about saving businesses. Bars, restaurants, stores and florists are always present in the discourse. Sick, dead and maimed workers are invisible even when communicating statistics. In Spain it is impossible to record whether a contagion took place in public transport or in the workplace. In schools and universities, the aim is to keep the doors open no matter what, instead of stopping contagion.
The question of whether all this murderous nonsense compensates the Spanish bourgeoisie and its business is unavoidable. The IMF itself tells them that no, that a real lockdown, closing down non-essential production, would be to their advantage. And the truth is that this second wave is already slowing down the recovery of the GDP, and the forecasts for the last quarter of the year does not give them much cause for celebration either.
In November 2019, just before the start of the pandemic, businesses with less than 250 workers generated 2/3 of the total employment. At the peak of the post-2008 economic recovery, before the new waves of bank layoffs preceding the current recession, the IBEX companies, the champions of Spanish big business, were generating less than half a million jobs out of a workforce of around 20 million.
The large number of micro-enterprises and SMEs has been the historical complaint of Spanish capital, which blamed them for weighing down the economy with their lower productivity when compared to their European competitors. What did this mean? Simply that most Spanish companies are too small to absorb capital on the scale needed by the large funds pooling national and global capital. The entire industrial policy of the Spanish bourgeoisie has been based on promoting the concentration and increase in scale of the SMEs at the cost of increasing unemployment. They did not care about unemployment. The important thing was to generate productive applications for accumulated capital lacking profitable destinations.
In the increasingly delayed recovery plans the logic is the same: the lion’s share, from the hand of the employers’ association CEOE, will go to ensure the profitability of large companies, the same ones that will benefit from the ecological transition. For the SMEs, and only for the largest ones, for the regional champions linked to local administrations, a paltry sum is left to be distributed by the regional governments. For the great mass of businesses, the micro-companies with less than 10 workers, pretty much nothing at all. For the Spanish bourgeoisie, the entrepreneurial petite bourgeoisie shock troops sometimes, a stick in the institutional wheel at other times, and always a market, but it has never been part of the family, and it was never one of the strategic objectives of Spanish state capitalism to maintain a broad layer of small businessmen and traders, nor to make them participants of the life rafts reserved for the great destinations of capital. For the small fry only social darwinism remains. And if they are so dumb as to believe the liberal discourse of free competition -which never applied to IBEX companies- the better.
There is a problem, though. The current recession is so strong that deflation has been going on for months, a sign that consumption is still falling. Massive unemployment and the prospect of further deterioration are driving the downturn. Spanish capital can no longer afford to see SMEs lay off and close down because it reduces its own sales and profitability. And yet, what the statistics say is that a 20% of the companies, mostly SMEs and micro-SMEs, are already zombie businesses.
And now… they are worried, they are in solidarity with the florist, the shopkeeper, the hotelier, the small guesthouse and even the nightclub. Don’t let them close!! Don’t let consumption drop any further! But nobody should think that they will share the state’s booty with the small fry, the massive subsidies or the big projects financed with European funds. One thing is to be supportive and another to lose volume of income. No, big capital is sympathetic with its small SME brothers in its own way: for its own benefit and putting the lives of the workers under fire.