Assessment of the current situation

By Ramon Franquesa

With this article I address myself to all the activists of COESPE and the pensioners’ movement, after the meeting with a representation of the parliamentary group of Unidas Podemos (UP) on 23 March. Its purpose is not to issue certainties addressed to the population as a whole, but reflections for those who are being the protagonists of a huge social movement, which has much more depth than we ourselves think.

On 17 March last, Royal Decree-Law 2/2023, of 16 March, on urgent measures to extend pensioners’ rights, reduce the gender gap and establish a new framework for the sustainability of the public pension system, was published in the Official State Gazette (BOE). Days later we were summoned by members of the UP group to have a meeting in Parliament. COESPE decided that in order to avoid misunderstandings within the movement and to clearly show what our joint position is, to open this meeting to all the pensioner movements that we have been calling for an active struggle in the streets in defence of the public pension system for more than 270 weeks.

We were received by a group of technicians (8 people) and two deputies, to inform us of the position of Unidas Podemos, basically by the technician Carlos Sánchez Matos. Synthetically their position was:

  1. They recognise that this is not the law they would like, nor the project with which they presented themselves in the elections.
  2. However, they consider that it is an advance obtained thanks to the current situation and the persistence of the social pensioner movement.
  3. Among the positive aspects of the reform, they consider that, for the first time, instead of cutting benefits, it opens the door to increasing social contributions.
  4. They remarked on a series of specific aspects in which some of the law’s improvements for certain groups are resolved. In particular, they argued that it reduces the gender gap.
  5. They fear that the parliamentary debate will be used by the neo-liberal forces to cut these aspects and consider that there is a risk that the PSOE could turn to an agreement with the PP and the nationalist right during the debate on the law. They are therefore unwilling to table fundamental amendments to the bill.
  6. They consider that, on the question of the calculation of years, Escriva has bought time for the European
  7. Commission. But they recognise that the situation could worsen in a short time (not three but even one year) if there is a change of government.

They asked us to moderate our mobilisation so as not to harm them in the electoral challenges coming in the next few months and not to open the door to a right-wing that wants to implement a plan as tough as Macron’s.

For our part, we responded jointly, in solidarity and without fissures, as follows (which in substance we collected in a joint communiqué released to the group and the media):

  1. We regret that until after the law was passed, there was no debate between the government and the pensioner movement and we have only known about the law through the headlines in the media. We consider this to be a way of keeping an issue of the utmost interest from public debate. We do not believe that this is a sign of the democratic quality of Parliament, nor of the government.
  2. We recognise that there are improvements in the law. But:
    • Most of them are technical issues that solve problems of very small groups and therefore have little economic impact.
    • The wording of the Law is confused way. It takes in its justification a large part of our language and proposals, but ends up applying in the operative part measures that move away from the good words of the preamble and frequently oppose them.
    • It is true that the contribution of the highest earners is to be reduced and this is a step forward, but it is gradual and so slow that inflation is likely to eat up a large part of these contributions in real terms.
    • While a small contribution is made to closing the gender gap by improving some child benefits, it opens the door to a future extension of the qualifying period that will substantially reduce the pensions of current workers and seriously widen the gender gap in the future.
  3. What has put the brakes on Brussels’ plans has not so much been parliamentary work as the persistent social mobilisation of pensioners in Spain and workers in France. That is why our reading is not that we should reduce the present movement, but on the contrary we are going to increase it as much as possible and we are going to try to extend it to the present workers, who are the ones who have suffered the most from this law.
  4. Although the extension of the number of years has been delayed and this is the result of our struggle, on the other hand, it has been conceded that the current 25 years will be extended in the future by subtracting the decision to the Parliament and depositing it in the AIREF. An institution historically linked to financial power and which, without representing anyone, is given an executive role that belongs to the parliament and the government. Once again, democracy has been degraded in order to exempt current and future members of parliament from responsibility for social cutback measures, in order to hand them over to supposed experts and technicians who are nothing more than lobbies of economic power.
  5. Reforms continue to be justified on the grounds of the supposed unviability of the system, which has never been proven. On the other hand, they have avoided carrying out the audit of the Social Security accounts with guarantees and transparency, as required by law before June last year.
  6. We are not stupid and we know perfectly well what the plan of the conservative right and their deputies is. Our action is not against any party, but in defence of a clear and concrete programme that we will not renounce, which we understand protects the great social majority affected by neoliberal projects. We believe that to subtract these debates from the population and to accept new cuts without resistance or mobilisation is not the way to win social support. If there is an electoral regression, it is not our responsibility, but that of those who promised something that they have not fulfilled or at least have not publicly defended with the necessary energy and pedagogy, shutting themselves away in the institutional world far from the daily suffering of the population.

With this exchange of positions, we remain open to any meeting with UP or with any political or trade union force in the future, but we will continue our mobilisation to defend current and future pensions from any current or future cuts.

I would like to make the following considerations to help us to continue in a successful defence of our demands.

We are going to suffer a new attempt of confusion in which we are going to be presented as ultra-radical madmen. These days I have had interviews with the media with the permanent background music of the fires and riots in France, absolutely out of context and aimed at frightening our population and isolating us. They are going to try to oppose us workers as if we were privileged by higher raises than those obtained by them. Finally, in an electoral scenario it is possible that leaders of left-wing forces will appeal to their militants (who make up an important part of our space) to distance themselves from our movement, presenting it as anti-progressive and allied with the conservative right.

The scenario is very serious and no one is playing parcheesi. Western financial power is facing a new bank collapse of enormous dimensions, the impact of which is growing day by day. Just one piece of information: if Silicon Valley Bank had 200 billion in deposits, Credit Suisse had 500 billion, Deutsche Bank, the latest in the series, had 1,300 billion:

  1. issuing money supply of euros and dollars, to finance public bailouts of their frauds, which inevitably increases the inflation they say they are fighting.
  2. They are also trying to rinse themselves by capturing part of the workers’ wages, taking over their pensions (which are a deferred wage) in order to clean up their accounts.
  3. while governments are committed to increasing military spending and need to replenish their arsenals emptied by the war on account of social spending.
  4. productive companies need next generation (recovery plan) aid, but want to avoid raising taxes in the future to pay it back, and are demanding that governments pay for it by reducing pension spending.

In this context, Europe is in a major institutional crisis. Strikes and mobilisation are spreading across the continent. In France the attack on pensions has generated a huge and unexpected response from those in power. But strikes and mobilisation are spreading across the EU and the UK. They need to cut back, but they are beginning to fear the people. Today the situation is very different from when the Greek people were assaulted by the Troika and the men in Negro. Victory is possible, but it will not be easy and we have to work with intelligence and patience.

In the face of all this, it is essential to maintain unity among those of us who are fighting. That is why it was right to propose a joint response to the Law from all the movements and to share the meeting with UP. This does not weaken COESPE, but strengthens us and strengthens the movement.

The big trade unions have played the role of a stone’s thrower. They played no part in the negotiations and their leaders were called upon to sign at the bottom of the page, once the agreement between the government and Brussels was concluded. Their leaders have withheld information about the project (if they had it) and have limited themselves to signing agreements that give them commissions on the agreements they sign, incorporating the opening of mandatory private pensions. This is behind the backs of their members and voters, who are unaware of the trap that is spilling out from under them. It is essential to reach out to young people and workers, to explain to them pedagogically what awaits them with these agreements. We must seek the complicity of all working people, with respect for their personal beliefs, political and trade union affinities. We must explain what is happening and what is the programme we defend and the method we are developing to defend decent public pensions. Today in UGT and CCOO there are tens of thousands of delegates and members who know nothing about what is happening. Insofar as they have an important weight in the State, we must count on them to reach the workplaces. We must also reach out to the alternative unions, which often do not understand the importance of this battle and limit themselves to a rhetorical solidarity, but isolated from the social life in the companies and even from the formation of their members. Let us remember that neo-liberalism is terrified of inflation and only resorts to it as a last resort, because they know that it activates the workers’ struggle for wages. Although today the unions seem to have disappeared from the scene, sooner rather than later, workers will create the necessary tools to defend themselves against the wage squeeze of inflation and the landscape of labour struggles will be very different from what we have seen over the last 30 years with very little inflation.

We have to strengthen our links throughout the state with other social movements in defence of health, housing, care for the elderly, public education, gender equality, ecological and social sustainability… They too are often used in election periods to confront the neoliberal right, but the next day the promises are forgotten and they are plunged into frustration. It is necessary to create from each autonomy and each reality, a social alliance that allows to open another horizon from mobilisation and struggle. We must also create a culture of effort, organisation and long-term social commitment.

We are faced with powerful media that are in the hands of financially powerful companies. They work to isolate us, promoting a selfish, corporate, individualistic culture that treats those who are expropriated as losers, whether they are old, young, unemployed, women or migrants. A culture that promotes sectarian and fanatical ways, the inability to dialogue between those at the bottom, the easy insult on the net, the simplification of problems and a world in which everyone is a wolf to everyone else. These media and those who control the social networks are at the service of the system to confuse, isolate and discourage us. That is why we must promote another culture. The one that removes it from the couch to dialogue with fellow citizens in the street, to cooperatively build responses, to seek spaces and programmes that unite us in difference and create complicities. Knowing how to leave aside the freaks who appear everywhere to complicate community building, the provocateurs who try to swim in so much rubbish to seek their personal outlet at the expense of others, who are constantly diverting us from the central problems we have as working people, to lead us to eternal debates on secondary or formal issues, which isolate us from reality.

Little by little, by defending our most immediate rights, we are learning to develop a resistance that will end up creating a social Tsunami, which, like other times in history, will sweep away so much indignity, misery, suffering and exploitation. France is a good example of how the people in the form of a social movement. From the occupation of roundabouts for years, it has evolved to alter the subsidiary role of trade unions and parties, to impose an enormous social mobilisation that builds a new Republic and Society. Perhaps the one that De Gaulle in 1968 managed to abort.

Neither Spain, nor Greece, nor Italy, nor England, nor Moldova, nor Slovakia, nor Portugal, nor The Nobodies… we are outside this possibility and hope. No evil lasts a thousand years, as our grandparents used to say.