Tag Archives: Aznar

The Economy II: The ‘Thousandamonthers’

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One of the recent media phenomena in Spain has been the extension of the idea of the ‘mileurista’, or ‘thousandamonther’, someone whose monthly income struggles to breach €1000. The term has become a byword for long term employment insecurity, lack of prospects and advancement and, perhaps most crucially, well-qualified graduates in their twenties and thirties who have a job which is well beneath their actual skills and capabilities. The thousandamonther lives at home until he or she is in their thirties and can finally move out, or else moves abroad to find work in line with their qualifications.

This phenomenon is not a minor issue. According to Europa Press, nearly sixty per cent of salaried workers in Spain fit into this category. Obviously it is a huge problem for Spain and young people, who are beginning to feel that going to university will not guarantee them a good job. Currently, you either do the civil service exams (which goes for most public sector posts, including teaching) which offer a relatively well-paid job for life with protection virtually unheard of in the private sector, or you’re stuck as a thousandamonther for a least the foreseeable future: an engineer fluent in German working in Zara, for instance. Some escape abroad and, upon finding better working conditions, encourage others to follow them, which is also a depressing problem for Spain, but a problem which is never highlighted in the press. With so much focussed on immigration, nobody seems to note that Spain’s long tradition of being a country of emigration continues but in a new and worrying way. Rather than those who would leave at the beginning of the twentieth century to make their money in America and return to invest it in Spain (like how El Corte Inglés started) or those workers who left during the dictatorship for economic or political reasons, it is the well-qualified graduates who are leaving, a problem denominated ‘brain drain’ and which is usually associated with developing countries. It is these minds that Spain needs to move out of the recession and become an innovative and globally competitive country.

Another interesting dimension of the ‘thousandamonther’ phenomenon that merits further discussion is the culture of staying at home until you’re thirty. Personally, I am a ‘thousandamonther’ and if I lived at home with my parents, I would have a large disposable income. In other words, the figure of €1000 is an interesting one. It makes it difficult for a person to move out on their own into accommodation, yet at the same time they have a relatively large amount of money to spend each month. And in the modern world of consumerism, globalisation and advertising, this money is spent. Thus, a thousandamonther can experience a relatively good standard of living whilst he or she lives at home (for example multiple foreign holidays due to the explosion of cheap flights) but this is intrinsically linked to living at home with the resulting lack of independence and depressingly, at the same time, the €1000 barrier means that once the person leaves home, it will be difficult for them to maintain such a standard of living. €1000 means more than just a low wage, it means dependence on the previous generations.

Let’s move on to a slightly different but nevertheless closely related issue. Why is there so much job insecurity? Firing someone in Spain who has an indefinite contract is not cheap, so the usual practise nowadays is the use of temporary contracts, including the graduate contracts, which mean that graduates can be employed at 60-75% of the price of a ‘normal’ person for the same job. This is great for the top dogs and fat cats at the top of the pile, but a disaster for everyone else. There are complaints about the lack of productivity in Spain; perhaps if businesses were encouraged to hold onto their staff for longer, expertise would grow and the whole economy would benefit. Instead, people drift from temporary contract to temporary contract, hoping for the perfect job which will give them long term stability and security, as well as the ‘nómina’, the regular salary paid directly into a bank account, essential for buying a house and even opening certain basic bank accounts. This is why the dream of so many people is to work for the state.

The Spanish economy suffers from many problems, of which the ‘thousandamonther’ issue and the contracts are just two. With the rate of unemployment running at nearly 20%, posts need to be created as fast as possible. But that should not mean the reduction of workers’ rights again. Commentators and politicians recall those heady early Aznar years during which unemployment dropped sharply. They would do well to also remember that in that period the relative acquisition power of the Spanish worker dropped whilst temporary contracts increased. It was a myth of development, propelled by a property bubble which only benefited a few, whereas the reform is required now has to address the needs of many: the four million unemployed and the 25% of employed, but who remain in temporary employment.

Anatomy of a distinctly different instant

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Recently I have been reading Javier Cercas’ Anatomía de un instante about the failed military coup of 23rd February 1981. His is an interesting perspective on the events of that day, coming from the fact that he is a writer and novelist before a historian. His main point for examining the subject is the gesture made by Adolfo Suárez when the guardia civil entered the chamber and attempting to understand the gesture, through the historical and personal context. Instead of dropping to the floor like the majority of the other MPs he remained calmly in his seat as the bullets ricocheted off the ceiling.

Cercas cites the work of Hans Magnus Enzensberger and his theory about the recent historical phenomenon of the statesman hero who is a hero of withdrawal, great not for what they build, rather what they dismantle, with Mikhail Gorbachev and the USSR being a clear example. Cercas’ work struck a distinct chord with me on Thursday when an José María Aznar stuck his middle finger up at some protesters after a meeting in Oviedo. Sometimes a photo speaks a thousand words.

What can we draw out of this gesture? Can it be compared to Adolfo Suárez? From the outset it’s clear that Aznar is not a hero of withdrawal, who quietly exits the stage after his moment of glory. The PP has never been able to accept that they lost the 2004 elections to the PSOE. This bitterness is still present in the party.

Is the gesture a gesture of defiance in a similar way to Suárez? No. There is an unbridgeable difference between sitting calmly as gunshots echo around the parliamentary chamber and showing the middle finger after a secretly-organised political meeting to the handful protesters who arrived to protest, with a self-satisfied smile. For me, the smile is the key element of the gesture. It’s a self-assured smirk, full of security and contempt for those who criticise. Such a cynical gesture is not the mark of a great statesman, it creates barriers between the people and the political leaders; the finger held up exemplifies and magnifies the distance between them. Aznar is cynically demonstrating how untouchable he is. Quite different to John Prescott’s famous 2001 punch.

Aznar is no anti-Establishment punk who can justify showing a defiant finger to the ‘System’; he embodies part of the establishment and has a central role in the machinery of power at the top of the political class in Spain.

Essentially, Suárez’s gesture was in defence of democracy, of the transition, of what had been achieved during his mandate (whether he did out of selfless sacrifice or to reinforce his historical legacy depends upon your point of view.) Aznar, in contrast, is sticking his finger up against democracy, against what has been achieved since the death of Franco, even against Suárez himself. It’s the gesture of a self-assured and conceited individual who thought it pertinent to remark: ‘Hay algunos que parecen empeñados en demostrar que no pueden vivir sin mí [there are a few who appear determined to demonstrate that they can’t live without me].’ It’s not the mark of a great statesman, but rather that of an embittered cynic, who still believes he is at the centre of the nation’s politics, making a gross gesture against criticism and debate, which are the lifeblood of democracy.

An additional note: To compound this move against democracy, the local mayor, Gabino de Lorenzo declared that those who had protested should be arrested. For what? For protesting peacefully?

Introduction

Welcome to my blog, ‘Reflections on Spain’, which will attempt to provide an interesting account of economic, political and social affairs in Spain, all from the viewpoint from an Englishman, living and teaching in Asturias.

I’m going to kick off with a piece about Aznar’s famous finger, before a few articles about the economic situation here and what I consider to be the problems (and perhaps even the solutions.) I don’t pretend to be an expert but I feel I can offer a critical opinion of the goings on in this large and diverse country.

There’ll also be some articles about society, demographics and politics, all with something of a historical bent, and which will hopefully offer a different perspective to those who are only familiar with Madrid and Barcelona.

Any questions or comments, please get in touch.

¡Hasta pronto!