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Truncheons, blood, strikes & elections in Barcelona

The explanation of the Police thugs was that they didn’t mean to crack open the head of a 13 year old, walking next to his mother during yesterday’s demonstrations.
Apparently, the truncheon bounced off the kid’s ruck-sack and hit his head, leaving him with blood pouring out.

It happens. Of course, it does. Welcome to Bahrain.

Yesterday’s general strike took place within the context of the Catalan election campaign, with voters going to the polls on November 25.
The two parties not present yesterday, the Right-wing nationalists CIU and Unionist Right-Wing Partido Popular (PP) are agreed on one thing: they both approve the austerity programme.
The difference between them is: who pays the bill?

CIU wants €5 billion back from Madrid but will want to enact the same disastrous programme of cuts to show the financial markets that Barcelona can take the axe to public sector budgets like the rest.

The CIU will win the election and do some populist grandstanding.
However, its leader, Artus Mas, is riding the tiger. The social unrest has been channeled into strikes and also a call for independence.
The CIU is only a stop on the journey to social transformation.
Breaking the chains of Madrid is not going to be enough.
The battle will then be between the likes of ICV (Greens), ERC and popular networks against the entrenched big business friendly Catalan nationalists of the CIU.
Or to put it another way: Left-wing and Green Nationalists vs. Right-Wing nationalists.
A similar dynamic is in place in the Basque Country, also set to leave the Spanish straitjacket.

The slow-motion crash of the State of Spain continues and the social conflict is shifting to a clash between Right and Left.

ICV says Alternative Left exists in Catalunya calling for an alliance against Austerity

El candidato de ICV-EUiA a la Presidencia de la Generalitat de Cataluña, Joan Herrera, manifestó hoy en el Fórum Europa que el próximo 25 de noviembre los catalanes no votarán en las urnas sobre la independencia, aunque algunos lo crean, sino sobre otras cuestiones importantes para la sociedad, como los servicios públicos o la “austeridad dogmática” que defienden CiU y PP.
Herrera fue hoy el conferenciante invitado en el citado encuentro informativo, organizado en Madrid por Nueva Economía Fórum y en el que fue presentado por la escritora Almudena Grandes.
“El 25-N hay gente que cree que se vota independencia, pero lo que se vota es política de salud, de educación, fiscal… Se votan muchas otras cosas”, dijo Herrera.
Para el candidato ecosocialista a la Presidencia de la Generalitat de Cataluña, el próximo 25-N hay que “derrotar las políticas de austeridad dogmática, que están causando tanto sufrimiento en la sociedad, no en la identidad”.
Herrera abogó por una “alianza contra la austeridad”, porque es necesario “redistribuir para crecer” y también “cuestionar la deuda”, como hacen cada vez más países, pues hay que discutir si parte de ella es legítima.
A su juicio, en Cataluña empieza a existir una alternativa de izquierdas a la Cataluña de Artur Mas, “esa que es más conservadora y profundamente neoliberal y que hace que la realidad de muchos catalanes sea cada vez más dura”.

(SERVIMEDIA)

“Socialist” pro-Madrid PSC vote set to collapse in Catalan elections

Support for Catalonia’s independence grows and polls say pro-independence parties would win the next elections
CNA

Barcelona (ACN).- The day before the Catalan election campaign kicks off, the survey centres run by the Spanish and Catalan governments have both issued their own surveys.
They both indicate that the Centre-Right Catalan Nationalist Coalition (CiU), which currently runs the Catalan Government, would clearly win the next elections, scheduled on the 25th of November.
CiU would gain more votes and would be very close to or even obtain an absolute majority. In fact, the parties supporting the self-determination process would globally gain more votes and increase their share in the Catalan Parliament, reaching a possible 70% of the MPs, within a 135-seat house.
In fact, support for Catalonia’s independence from Spain is growing, according to the survey issued by the Centre of Opinion Studies (CEO), run by the Catalan Government.
At the moment, 57% of Catalans would vote for independence in a referendum, while in June the percentage was 51%.

The survey issued by the Centre of Sociological Research (CIS), run by the Spanish Government, did not include this question.
Both surveys indicate that the main opposition party, the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC), which is against independence, would dramatically drop, losing between 30% and 45% of MPs, while it had already obtained its worst results ever in 2010.

As a consequence, the People’s Party (PP), which runs the Spanish Government, might become the party in second place, despite obtaining similar results (the surveys indicate it might lose or win 1 MP). The Left-Wing Independence Party (ERC) would increase its representation by 40% to 70% and might become the third party again. In addition, the populist and anti-Catalan nationalism party Ciutadans (C’s), which only had 3 MPs and lacked its own parliamentary group, would double its results. The Catalan Green Socialist and Communist Coalition (ICV-EUiA), which supports self-determination and has been the most vocal party against budget cuts, would obtain similar results or show a very small improvement. In addition, those undecided represent a large group of the population, as 29.5% of the people interviewed by the CEO had not decided their vote yet. In addition, both surveys forecast a significant electoral turnout. According to the CEO the turnout might reach 65%; according to the CIS, 74%.

57% of Catalans would vote for independence in a referendum

According to the CEO survey, in a self-determination referendum, 57% of Catalans would vote for independence from Spain. In the previous survey, issued in late June, the percentage was 51%. According to the survey issued in November, 57% would support independence while 20.5% would vote against it. In addition, 14.3% of citizens would abstain or would not go to the polls.

In addition, 44% of Catalans consider that Catalonia should be an independent state, and 25.5% of citizens would prefer Catalonia to have its own state but be within a federal Spain. 19.1% would support the current status quo, with Catalonia being an autonomous community within Spain. Finally, 4% would prefer a unitary state with Catalonia considered to be a region.

The CiU would win the Catalan elections and could reach an absolute majority

The Centre-Right Catalan Nationalist Coalition (CiU), which has been running the Catalan Government for two years ago and is leading the current self-determination process, would improve their results according to both surveys. In the last elections, CiU obtained 62 MP seats, while the Catalan Parliament’s absolute majority is set at 68 seats. According to the Spanish survey, CiU would obtain between 63 and 64 seats. According to the CEO, CiU would get an absolute majority of between 69 and 71 MPs.

The PSC would drop votes and obtain its worst results ever, once again

The main opposition party, the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC), would dramatically drop the number of votes. Already, in 2010, the PSC got its worst results ever, obtaining 28 seats, far below the 52 seats obtained in 1999 or even the 37 seats in 2006. Now, it could drop even more and become Catalonia’s third or fourth party. According to the CIS, the PSC might obtain 19 seats. The CEO gives only 15 MPs to the Socialists. The PSC is against Catalonia’s independence and proposes a federal Spain.

The PP would get similar results

The People’s Party (PP), which currently runs the Spanish Government and is absolutely opposed to Catalonia’s independence and the possibility of organising a self-determination referendum, would get similar results. In 2010 it obtained 18 MPs, which were its best results ever in Catalonia. According to the CIS, the PP could lose 1 or 2 MPs, getting between 16 and 17 MPs. However, the Catalan survey states that the PP could repeat the 18 seats, or even get an additional MP, reaching 19 seats. Depending on the PSC’s drop, the PP could become Catalonia’s second party for the first time ever, even if they hypothetically lost MPs.

The ERC would significantly improve results

The Left-Wing Catalan Independence Party (ERC), which had traditionally been the main pro-independence party in Catalonia, would significantly improve its results. In 2010, ERC got very low results resulting from an internal crisis and only obtained 10 seats, far from the 23 and 21 MPs from 2003 and 2006 respectively. After a change of leadership, in the next elections, ERC could get 17 seats according to the CIS. Depending on the PP’s and PSC’s results, ERC could become Catalonia’s third party and be very close to be the second political force. However, the CEO gives 14 seats to ERC.

The ICV-EUiA would slightly increase support

The Catalan Green Socialist and Communist Coalition (ICV-EUiA), which has been the most vocal party against austerity measures and budget cuts, would slightly increase their support or get the same number of MPs. Furthermore, for the first time, ICV-EUiA has given its support to Catalonia’s self-determination process. The CIS survey gives ICV-EUiA 11 MPs. In 2010 it obtained 10 seats. The CEO survey gives ICV-EUiA the same 10 seats.

The C’s would double results and get a parliamentary group

The populist and anti-Catalan nationalism party Ciutadans (C’s), which is absolutely opposed to Catalonia’s independence, would double its results, although it would still be a relatively small party in the Catalan Parliament. In 2010, C’s got 3 MPs of the Parliament’s 135 seats. Now, the Spanish survey gives C’s 6 MPs. The CEO survey indicates that C’s could even obtain 7 seats. In both cases, for the first time ever, C’s would get its own parliamentary group.

The SI and CUP might not be in the Parliament

The results of two radical pro-independence parties are doubtful as they are very close to the minimum percentage to get parliamentary representation. The populist Solidaritat (SI), which obtained 4 seats in 2010, might be left out of the Catalan Parliament. The CIS gives SI 1 MP, but the CEO leaves SI out of the Parliament. In addition, the radical Left-Wing pro-independence party (CUP), which is running in the Catalan Elections for the first time, might enter the Parliament. The CIS does not give the CUP an MP at all. However, the CEO indicates that they could get between 0 and 3 seats.

Technical data in the surveys

Both surveys took interviews throughout Catalonia, covering rural and urban areas, and towns and cities of different sizes. In addition, both surveys tried to get a representative sample regarding age and gender. The Spanish survey took 3,000 face-to-face interviews between the 9th and 29th of October, with a 1.8% margin of error for the entire sample. The Catalan survey took 2,500 phone interviews between the 22nd and 30th of October, with a margin of error of 2.47%.

Source: catalan survey

Are the General Strikes in Europe today an investment rather than a cost?

The reactionaries will no doubt focus on passengers have missed flights as a consequence of today’s General strikes in Southern Europe.
They will divide the GDP of each country by 365 days and claim that that one day’s worth of Gross domestic product was “lost”.
They will ask: can we afford to lose this wealth in the middle of such a crisis.

To which we can respond by asking them to calculate:

a) the potential wealth-generation of half of the youth willing and able to work but unable to find a post
b) the potential GDP of 26% of Spain’s unemployed and the vast multiplier effects as each Euro earned changes hand several times
c) the continual loss in revenue by governments as they allow Multinationals to get away with not paying taxes
d) the health, psychological and social costs of cuts, loss of jobs and livelihoods and homes to live in caused by the current policies.

Whether the general strike is enough on its own or not, the fact that Greeks took to the streets meant that vulture bond holders had to take a severe haircut on their worthless bonds.
The more the fightback by Europe’s peoples, the more likely the governments will abandon this 1930’s era of Cuts and austerity for the majority and replace it with a 21st century strategy of creating decent jobs, reducing inequality and moving to an innovative, Green economy.
In that sense, strikes act as a long-term investment in the future of economies by attempting to stop the current madness.
Docility can no longer be the zeitgeist of this generation. Action and a call for an alternative way of thinking is fast becoming the dominant paradigm of the population.

Should we limit top execs pay to be no more than 6.5 times that of the lowest paid worker?

Democracy is not limited to voting. You have to spread the income, wealth and power evenly.
For economic democracy and reduce the feudal levels of inequality we have in England (because of our slavish adherence to the American model of globalisation), we have to put limits on the disparity of incomes between top and bottom.

Is this possible in the real world?
Mondragon, the Basque cooperative, set up during the dark days of Franco’s dictatorship by a Catholic priest shows it is not only possible, it is real and it is happening now.

The maximum disparity in incomes cannot be more than 6.5.

But coops are small things aren’t they?
Sure, if you think a annual revenues of $20 billion and a work-force of 83,000 is small…….

We keep saying we need an alternative.
Well, it’s staring us in the face… Perhaps we can’t quite believe that it is possible.

The Mondragon Model: how a Basque Cooperative defied Spain’s Economic Crisis

Author
Race Mathews
Senior Research Fellow (retired 1998), doctoral candidate at Melbourne College of Divinity

The Basque cooperative Mondragon has remained resilient, despite Spain’s deepening economic slump.

Back in the early 1980s, the former Secretary of State for Education in Harold Wilson’s Labour government, Shirley Williams, alerted me to a remarkable instance of regional economic development through employee empowerment, centred on Mondragon in the Basque region of Spain.

Taking an early opportunity to see for myself, it was impossible not to be impressed by what was already the world’s largest grouping of worker co-operatives, and my admiration has grown over subsequent visits, most recently late last year.

My 1999 PhD thesis and Mondragon book,Jobs of Our Own: Building a Stakeholder Society, set out in detail the origins of the co-operatives, how they work and the outcomes that have been achieved.

Noteworthy in particular is their commitment to manufacturing excellence and export growth, through cutting edge technological innovation.

At the time of my first visit in 1985, their R&D priorities were already industrial robotics, computer assisted design and control systems, artificial intelligence and sustainable energy sources.

Faced in the aftermath of the global financial crisis with circumstances — where unemployment nationally is in excess of 25% and 53% among young people — Mondragon has demonstrated impressive resilience in helping keep jobless levels in the Basque region to under half the national average.

Even so, the ongoing economic crisis has not left the co-operatives unscathed, and their return to growth has only recently gained momentum.

For the first time since its inception in 1959, Mondragon’s Eroski worker/consumer cooperative — until now Spain’s largest and fastest growing chain of supermarkets, hypermarkets and shopping malls — experienced losses consequent on reduced consumer demand, and only in the current financial year anticipates a return to profitability.

Fagor, Spain’s largest manufacturer of domestic appliances (and also part of the Mondragon cooperative), has successfully managed down production by 30 to 40% in the face of a precipitous contraction of the consumer durables market.

The cooperative group’s Caja Laboral credit union — effectively Spain’s ninth largest bank — is recovering from a 75% reduction in its profitability.

The essentials of the Mondragon story are simple. What arose in 1956 as a handful of workers in a disused factory, using hand tools and sheet metal to make oil-fired heating and cooking stoves is today a massive conglomerate of some 260 manufacturing, retail, financial, agricultural, civil engineering and support co-operatives and associated entities, with jobs for 83,800 workers, and annual sales in excess of $US20 billion.

Mondragon co-operatives now own or joint venture some 114 local and overseas subsidiaries, and are committed to their conversion to employee ownership on a case-by-case basis, consistent with local laws, customs and other cultural and economic considerations.

As equal co-owners of their workplaces, members enjoy job security together with individual capital holdings, equal sharing of profits on a proportionate basis and an equal ‘one-member one vote’ say in their governance. Remuneration within the cooperatives is egalitarian, with the highest rates payable other than in exceptional circumstances being no greater than six and a half times the lowest.

And members share at one remove in ownership of a unique system of secondary support co-operatives, from which the primary or frontline co-operatives draw resources including financial services, social insurance, education and training and research and development.

For example, capital for expanding existing businesses and establishing new ones is drawn in part from the group’s bank and social insurance funds and workers are skilled to high levels at a university of technology, which is itself structured as a co-operative and attracts students in disciplines such as engineering and metallurgy throughout Spain.

Reflective of the high priority attached by the primary co-operatives to the competitive advantage of intensive research and development is the augmenting of the original Ikerlan research and development support co-operative with thirteen sister bodies, specialising in the needs of particular aspects of manufacturing activity and product development.

Faced repeatedly over their 50-year lifespan with cyclical economic downturns, the co-operatives have been able to avail themselves of significant flexibilities. For example, non-members employed on a temporary basis can be put off until conditions improve.

Members can agree to forfeit or postpone entitlements such as one or more of their fourteen per annum pay packets or the payment of interest on their individual capital accounts, or in extreme circumstances authorise individual capital account draw-downs.

Co-operatives experiencing reduced demand are able to transfer members to ones where it is increasing, without detriment to their rights or entitlements. And supplementary capital can be accessed from centrally held inter-co-operative solidarity funds.

One wonders what lessons for productivity, workplace wellbeing and industrial harmony might “the world” learn from the Mondragon model of business.

Greek Society is crumbling

This article from the Big Story is painful to read. But we must.

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — A sign taped to a wall in an Athens hospital appealed for civility from patients. “The doctors on duty have been unpaid since May,” it read, “Please respect their work.”

Patients and their relatives glanced up briefly and moved on, hardened to such messages of gloom. In a country where about 1,000 people lose their jobs each day, legions more are still employed but haven’t seen a paycheck in months. What used to be an anomaly has become commonplace, and those who have jobs that pay on time consider themselves the exception to the rule.

To the casual observer, all might appear well in Athens. Traffic still hums by, restaurants and bars are open, people sip iced coffees at sunny sidewalk cafes. But scratch the surface and you find a society in free-fall, ripped apart by the most vicious financial crisis the country has seen in half a century.

It has been three years since Greece’s government informed its fellow members in the 17-country group that uses the euro that its deficit was far higher than originally reported. It was the fuse that sparked financial turmoil still weighing heavily on eurozone countries. Countless rounds of negotiations ensued as European countries and the International Monetary Fund struggled to determine how best to put a lid on the crisis and stop it spreading.

The result: Greece had to introduce stringent austerity measures in return for two international rescue loan packages worth a total of €240 billion ($313 billion), slashing salaries and pensions and hiking taxes.

The reforms have been painful, and the country faces a sixth year of recession.

Life in Athens is often punctuated by demonstrations big and small, sometimes on a daily basis. Rows of shuttered shops stand between the restaurants that have managed to stay open. Vigilantes roam inner city neighborhoods, vowing to “clean up” what they claim the demoralized police have failed to do. Right-wing extremists beat migrants, anarchists beat the right-wing thugs and desperate local residents quietly cheer one side or the other as society grows increasingly polarized.

Our society is on a razor’s edge,” Public Order Minister Nikos Dendias said recently, after striking shipyard workers broke into the grounds of the Defense Ministry. “If we can’t contain ourselves, if we can’t maintain our social cohesion, if we can’t continue to act within the rules … I fear we will end up being a jungle.”

CRUMBLING LIVING STANDARDS

Vassilis Tsiknopoulos, runs a stall at Athens’ central fish market and has been working since age 15. He used to make a tidy profit, he says, pausing to wrap red mullet in a paper cone for a customer. But families can’t afford to spend much anymore, and many restaurants have shut down.

The 38-year-old fishmonger now barely breaks even.

“I start work at 2:30 a.m. and work ’till the afternoon, until about 4 p.m. Shouldn’t I have something to show for that? There’s no point in working just to cover my costs. … Tell me, is this a life?”

The fish market’s president, Spyros Korakis, says there has been a 70 percent drop in business over the past three years. Above the din of fish sellers shouting out prices and customers jostling for a better deal, Korakis explained how the days of big spenders were gone, with people buying ever smaller quantities and choosing cheaper fish.

Private businesses have closed down in the thousands. Unemployment stands at a record 25 percent, with more than half of Greece’s young people out of work. Caught between plunging incomes and ever increasing taxes, families are finding it hard to make ends meet. Higher heating fuel prices have meant many apartment tenants have opted not to buy heating fuel this year. Instead, they’ll make do with blankets, gas heaters and firewood to get through the winter. Lines at soup kitchens have grown longer.

At the end of the day, as the fish market gradually packed up, a beggar crawled around the stalls, picking up the fish discarded onto the floor and into the gutters.

“I’ve been here since 1968. My father, my grandfather ran this business,” Korakis said. “We’ve never seen things so bad.”

Tsiknopoulos’ patience is running out.

“I’m thinking of shutting down,” he said, “I think about it every day. That, and leaving Greece.”

JUSTICE

On a recent morning in a crowded civil cases court in the northern city of Thessaloniki, frustration simmered. Plaintiffs, defendants and lawyers all waited for the inevitable — yet another postponement, yet another court date.

Greece’s sclerotic justice system has been hit by a protracted strike that has left courts only functioning for an hour a day as judges and prosecutors protest salary cuts.

For Giorgos Vacharelis, it means his long quest for justice has grown longer. Vacharelis’ younger brother was beaten to death in a fairground in 2003. The attacker was convicted of causing a fatal injury and jailed. The family felt the reasons behind the 24-year-old’s death had never been fully explained, and filed a civil suit for damages. Nearly 10 years later, Vacharelis and his parents had hoped the case would finally be over.

But the court date they were given in late September got caught up the strike. Now they have a new date: Feb. 28, 2014.

“This means more costs for them, but above all more psychological damage because each time they go through the murder of their relative again,” said Nikos Dialynas, the family’s lawyer.

Vacharelis and his family are in despair.

“If a foreigner saw how the justice system works in Greece, he would say we’re crazy,” said the 35-year-old.

“Each time we come to court we get even more outraged,” he said. “We see a theater of the absurd.”

VIGILANTES

In September, gangs of men smashed immigrant street vendors’ stalls at fairs and farmers’ markets. Videos posted on the Internet showed the incident being carried out in the presence of lawmakers from the extreme right Golden Dawn party. Formerly a fringe group, Golden Dawn — which denies accusations it has carried out violent attacks against immigrants — made major inroads into mainstream politics. It won nearly 7 percent of the vote in June’s election and 18 seats in the 300-member parliament. A recent opinion poll showed its support climbing to 12 percent.

Immigrant and human rights groups say there has been an alarming increase in violent attacks on migrants. Greece has been the EU’s main gateway for hundreds of thousands of illegal migrants — and foreigners have fast become scapegoats for rising unemployment and crime.

While there are no official statistics, migrants tell of random beatings at the hands of thugs who stop to ask them where they are from, then attack them with wooden bats.

Assaults have been increasing since autumn 2010, said Spyros Rizakos, who heads Aitima, a human rights group focusing on refugees. Victims often avoid reporting beatings for fear of running afoul of the authorities if they are in the country illegally, while perpetrators are rarely caught or punished even if the attacks are reported.

“Haven’t we learned anything from history? What we are seeing is a situation that is falling apart, the social fabric is falling apart,” Rizakos said. “I’m very concerned about the situation in Greece. There are many desperate people … All this creates an explosive cocktail.”

In response to pressure for more security and a crackdown on illegal migration, the government launched a police sweep in Athens in early August. By late October, police had rounded up nearly 46,000 foreigners, of whom more than 3,600 were arrested for being in the country illegally.

Police say that in the first two months of the operation, there was also a 91 percent drop in the numbers of migrants entering the country illegally along the northeastern border with Turkey, with 1,338 migrants arrested in the border area compared to 14,724 arrested during the same two months in 2011.

HEALTHCARE

At a demonstration by the disabled in central Athens, tempers were rising.

Healthcare spending has been slashed as the country struggles to reduce its debt. Public hospitals complain of shortages of everything from gauzes to surgical equipment. Pharmacies regularly go on strike or refuse to fill subsidized social security prescriptions because government funds haven’t paid them for the drugs already bought. Benefits have been slashed and hospital workers often go unpaid for months.

And it is the country’s most vulnerable who suffer.

“When the pharmacies are closed and I can’t get my insulin, which is my life for me, what do I do? … How can we survive?” asked Voula Hasiotou, a member of an association of diabetics who turned out for the rally.

The disabled still receive benefits on a sliding scale according to the severity of their condition. But they are terrified they could face cuts, and are affected anyway by general spending cuts and the pharmacy problems.

“We are fighting hard to manage something, a dignified life,” said Anastasia Mouzakiti, a paraplegic who came to the demonstration from the northern city of Thessaloniki with her husband, who is also handicapped.

With extra needs such as wheelchairs and home help for everyday tasks such as washing and dressing, many of Greece’s disabled are struggling to make ends meet, Mouzakiti said.

“We need a wheelchair until we die. This wheelchair, if it breaks down, how do we pay for it? With what money?”

___

Costas Kantouris in Thessaloniki, Greece contributed to this story.

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