I am writing this from Spain, where I will be for the next while. Talking to a couple of people today who told me that in the last couple of months they had seen various people searching for food in the bins of their neighbourhood: this sort of thing was unheard of until now. A number of weeks ago Madrid’s city council introduced fines of €750 for people who scavenged for food in bins. This is one of the products of a polity dominated by two parties steeped in neoliberal dogma, albeit of differing ideological tinctures.
One of the stories dominating the news at the moment is the scandal of the son-in-law of the King’s involvement in flagrant embezzlement of public funds. This was barely acknowledged in the King’s traditional Christmas speech. El Jueves, a satirical weekly that had its offices raided and magazines confiscated some years ago, when it published a cartoon of the King’s son and his wife having sex in order to take advantage of a birth grant, with a speech bubble of the Prince saying that this was the closest he would ever get to working, has this week named the filthy rich King as ‘asshole of the week’, with the following accompanying graphic:
A small box cites Article 56 of the Spanish Constitution that “The person of the King of Spain is inviolable and is not subject to responsibility”. The speech bubbles read “Hello I am the King of Spain! The only Spaniard who is inviolable and immune to justice! That means I could, right now, be raping, boiling and eating children, and nothing would happen!”
The King, of course, was Franco’s chosen successor. I was in a bus yesterday and overheard a conversation between two senior citizens, one of whom was returning from Belgium, where they lived. The other had been to the airport to see off a relative. The latter started claiming that the economic crisis in Spain had been caused by people borrowing too much money and -to use a colloquial translation- losing the run of themselves. This lack of realism about their situation was now pursuing them into unemployment, where their delusional laziness was getting the better of them. The woman who had returned from Belgium was disgusted, pointing out, using illustrations from personal experience, that it had nothing to do with laziness, but that the ruling classes -such as the thieving royals- benefitted from a large pool of unemployed people since it enabled them to drive down the prices of all the goods they bought. At this point the man -who was emitting the usual mating call of cynical resignation that characterises one who votes Partido Popular- declared that the King, ‘according to the statistics’ actually earned very little.The Partido Popular -which, although ideological heirs to the Franco regime, describes itself as ‘liberal’ (rather like its European parliamentary stablemate with a fascist past, Fine Gael), is in power now, and is slashing expenditures everywhere, preparing the ground for the privatisation of health and education, and blaming it all on the previous government. It does so with serene contempt for the plight of millions driven into desperation. One of its first actions has been to freeze the minimum wage, for the first time in 45 years. Below, a translation of a piece by Juan Carlos Monedero, from his Urgent Course in the Theory of the State series, on minimum wages and who funds whom.
Precisely the same argument applies, mutatis mutandis, to Ireland, and to any number of measures introduced by the present and past government on behalf of the Troika: the maintenance of corporation tax at the same level whilst disability, mental health and childrens’ services are cut; the application of a flat rate household charge; the payment of billions of public funds to pay Anglo creditors whilst the public health budget is cut by €543 million this year. And the explanation as to why this is allowed to continue is the same: the construction of hegemony by the rich. It is an urgent task, in Spain as in Ireland, to see to it that this hegemony is broken.
Who funds whom? The Partido Popular’s reduction in the minimum wage.
The social State has been based upon the Marxist argument that labour is not a commodity like any other, and as such, beyond the number of available workers, the minimum price that a human being ought to receive is fixed politically, something that is not done with potatoes or sardines, whose price depends on supply and demand.
The liberal argument against the social State is centred on the idea that those who are productive and efficient have no reason to fund those who are unproductive and lazy. Under feudalism, the lords appropriated the surplus -created by workers, principally peasants- through coercion: the feudal-vassal pact, which obliged the payment of a percentage of the harvest in exchange for a protection against the feudal lords themselves, always sanctioned by the Church which closed the justifying frame with the help of God. Under capitalism, the surplus is approprated by the owners of capital – business owners, landlords, rentiers- via a supposedly free contract between the employer and the employee. And when relations are free, it is presupposed that they are consensual. The whole business of dismantling networks of mutual support, developed by the capitalist system during the 18th, 19th and 20th Century, remains out of focus. This is the reign of “liberty” and, as such, in liberty, each person is responsible for their fate. If society is homogeneous, if all run the same risks, all will agree on collaborating in the same way to protect themselves against those common risks (this is what happens in Nordic societies). Now, if there are large inequalities, the scene changes. Why should a liberal professional, or even, a well-paid employee, want to subsidise those who have more risks than they? Why pay more taxes when their problems of health, unemployment, aging, leisure and education are satisfied elsewhere? The liberal catechism sanctions the response: taxes are a way of subsidising those who did not know how to use their liberty to find their place in the world. And to establish a minimum salary is an indirect way of curtailing liberty.
Now then, is it not the case that those who earn minimum wage subsidise those who enjoy the advantages of social life in a privileged manner? Would the rich live as they do if bus drivers, electricians, primary school teachers, fishermen, olive-pickers, housewives, social workers, cleaners, nurses..earned a ‘just’ salary, that is, in accord with the social advantages that they create? To lower the minimum wage is to make the poor subsidise the rich. But since hegemony has been built by the rich, the reading is the opposite: to cut the minimum wage is to do away with slavery and the authoritarianism of a voracious state that wants the rich to subsidise the indolence of the poor. Only when the greater number demand a just wage for their work will this fallacious schema be broken. Until then, the reign of impunity will remain in place.