The Socialists’ honeymoon on the rocks

David Baird November 14 1983

The Socialists’ honeymoon on the rocks

David Baird November 14 1983

The Socialists’ honeymoon on the rocks


David Baird

With the rallying call of cambio (change),

Spain’s Socialists swept to power one year ago, forming the first leftist government since the 1936-39 Spanish Civil War. The new premier,

Felipe González, promised more jobs, greater social justice and, above all, he said that he would steer the country onto a more progressive track.

Since then, his government has laid the groundwork for muchneeded, but often controversial, reforms, while generally pursuing moderate economic policies. Now, the cambio, radical for some, too slow for others, is provoking government confrontations with impatient trade unions, outraged clerics and a

sabre-rattling military. Steadily pushing toward their dream, the Socialists are grappling with harsh political realities and bureaucratic inertia.

In his euphoric election campaign González preached the need for “a new model of society,” declaring, “we have to recover the taste for work well done, for the work ethic.” But moral regeneration is a slow process in the nation of 37.7 million, where the stultifying years under Gen. Francisco Franco between

1936 and 1975 reinforced entrenched privileges and customs. Eduardo Lopez, for one, clearly resists any change aimed at increasing productivity in the workplace.

For Lopez, an unadventurous 42-year-old civil servant, the Socialist rule has wrought only one noticeable change: it has forced him to grow a beard. Explained Lopez:

“In the old days I arrived at the ministry around 9:30, did two hours’ work, spent some time moving bits of paper around and was home by 2 p.m. The new

government ordered us to work a full eight hours. Now I have to get up at a ridiculous hour, giving me no time to shave. I still do two hours of real work, then three or so of tidying up. Then there is nothing to do, so one of the fellows opens a bar and we chat.” Lopez’s slovenly attitude is a common one. Still, the country is performing better than many political pundits expected when one of Europe’s youngest cabinets assumed office last December. Learning

from French President François Mitterrand’s errors, the Socialists have taken care not to frighten away private investment and they say they do not plan major nationalizations. The one exception to that policy occurred in February when the government took over Rumasa, a massive business empire with such varied interests as banking and wines, because the company was riddled with “irregularities.” But the government assured the concerned Spanish business community that it

would eventually return most of the Rumasa empire to private enterprise. Commented Málaga civil Gov. Placido Conde: “For years, conservative types said that we Socialists had horns, tails and smelled of sulphur. Suddenly they discovered that we are normal people and know how to use a knife and fork.” For his part, González, a personable, charismatic 41-year-old, retains much of his popularity after one year at the helm of the country. Spaniards respect the premier for his sincerity, and the latest survey shows that 60 per cent of the population believes the government is efficient. González prudently sidelined the more radical party Marxists four years ago and he continues to distance himself from petty party squabbles. Still, there is a great deal of speculation about how long González can remain untouchable. During September’s opening parliamentary session, when the Popular Alliance opposition, dominated by right wingers, claimed that the government had solved no major problems, González gave an impressive performance, but calmly ignored two of his biggest vote-winning pledges. One was a referendum on NATO membership. Most Spaniards, certainly most Socialists, would vote to leave the alliance, but the government has placed

the volatile issue well down on its list of legislative priorities. The other issue was the government’s election promise to create 800,000 new jobs within four years, an achievement that seems almost impossible in the present economic climate. The jobless total has edged upward to 2.2 million—17 per cent of the work force—and despite incentives to business, the moderate policies enshrined in the 1984 budget will not likely make much impact.

Although the government has carried out some of the economic reforms outlined in its election platform—it has raised pensions for retirees and is extending benefits for the jobless—unions continue to view with suspicion its ef-

forts to curb wage increases, hold down public spending and make labor contracts more flexible. But the Communists are attempting to organize nationwide mobilizations in protest. Open rebellion has already flared at the Sagunto Steelworks, near Valencia on the east coast of Spain, where about half of the 4,000 workers may lose their jobs in the Socialists’ campaign to purge staterun enterprises and streamline industries where heavy losses have become endemic. The Socialists have also angered the powerful Catholic Church with their plans to reduce the church’s influence in schools and with their recent legalization of abortion in special circumstances.

For its part, Spain’s military establishment has not escaped unscathed. Although the government has trod delicately with its project to modernize the army by updating training, reducing its size and concentrating on defence against threats from abroad rather than on internal unrest, fresh wounds in army-state relations appeared in September, just after a leading officer,

Lt.-Gen. Fernando Soteras Casamayor, revived fears of a coup by telling Interviú magazine that jailed conspirators from the Feb. 24, 1981, coup should be released. He also threatened that, in case of government incapacity, “the army would assume its constitutional mission.” Repeated insults to the national flag by Basque separatists had incensed the general and many other military officers.

Dissension within the interior ministry, which is responsible for the police, has made keeping law and order a difficult task and has raised doubts about the ability of the minister, José Barrionuevo. Last month he implemented a new security plan to try to combat soar-

ing crime. The latest statistics for the period from May to July reveal that the crime rate is up 41 per cent over the same period last year. The authorities consider the release of 7,000 detainees who had been awaiting trial, some of whom had spent years in crowded jails, partly responsible for the higher crime rate. Still, the authorities maintain that the penal code reforms that triggered the prisoners’ release were overdue.

Inevitably, some Spaniards say that the rise in crime rate would not have happened under Franco. And a recent cover story in the sensationalist magazine Interviú further jolted them. The aging flamenco singer Lola Flores, a national monument from the dictator’s epoch, posed nude. Agonizing over the stunned outcry over “a pharaoh’s withered breasts,” columnist Manuel Vincent wrote in the daily El Pals: “This is what happens just before a society goes to hell.” Perhaps. But after one year of socialism, it also suggests private enterprise is still flourishing. For her part, Flores collected at least $20,000 for baring her bosom. &l;£>