May 15th - a Peripheral Conversation about the crisis & the EU periphery

Date:

This conversation between anarchists from the so-called “peripherals” in the Eurozone, Portugal, Ireland, and Spain took place by timely coincidence on the very day that saw the birth of the Spanish M15 movement.  This spread for a period around the globe and was to some degree a precursor or pattern for the “Occupy Everywhere” movement which emerged later this year. On a historical point of interest, in this conversation we also look at the precursor to the M15 movement, the March 12th mass demonstrations in Portugal called by the Geração À Rasca movement.

The discussion took place on the Sunday after the 2011 Dublin Anarchist Bookfair, at which the speakers gave a presentation on the conditions of thir countries. Unfortunately our Greek comrade was not able to stay for the Sunday, so the participants in this talk were, in order of appearance - Paul Bowman (PB) of the Workers Solidarity Movement (Ireland), Manuel Baptista (MB) a veteran anarchist from Lisbon, Portugal, and Manu Garcia (MG) from Seville, Spain.

This talk lies somewhere between an interview and a dialogue and the two main speakers both have English as a second language. The decision in the transcription was to stick as closely as possible to the words spoken without attempting to second-guess what the speaker “really meant to say” to avoid misrepresenting the speaker’s views and so readers with some ability in Spanish or Portuguese may better deduce what the concepts or phrase the speaker is, in some cases, struggling to put into English. The resulting text, by staying close to the spoken word, is inevitably a little messy or chaotic in places (transcription of passages where more than one person is speaking at once is problematic) but hopefully it will not obstruct appreciation or comprehension too much.

May 15 2011, a kitchen in North Dublin

PB: So, I guess, I mean, to start somewhere, in the English.. talking about the general language used in the media, newspaper, TV etc, in the English language media, the Eurozone debt crisis, and this idea of the peripheral countries started to appear about a year and a half ago etc when, with the first problems with Greece started to appear. So, has that language, those ideas, of the peripheral countries in the Eurozone, has that appeared in Spanish language media and Portuguese language media?

MB: Me first? Well, yes indeed, and they, as media linked to corporate interests, they tried to induce people in believing that there, it's just like a natural catastrophe, something that was inevitable, and that we had the past that was long ago designed, and we had now the consequences of this overspending and all this consequences. This, of course, we know that, we know and, but we can not counteract at the same level this garbage, this pseudo-information with more serious analysis and showing that we were pushed by the speculators and by financial piracy, I say, to this situation. We are pushed with the accomplice of the state and government but it was not, for sure, the consequence of overspending in social programmes et cetera.

MG: In Spain, the most of the media are controlled by the hard, hard-line right. So, the most of them are centering in the effects of the crisis in Spain. And they are using the Zapatero government as.. goatscape, goatscape?

MB: Scapegoat.

MG: Scapegoat. So they are saying that it has been the so-called 'socialist reforms' that, that have driven the country to the crisis. So they are, they are trying to...

PB: So they are separating the discourse from any idea of a.. of an international or European-level thing.

MG: Yes. They present the aspects of the international crisis, but they try to separate it from the Spanish case. They always try to focus on the Spanish crisis, saying that, in our country, the crisis is very extreme and different from the crisis in another, another capitalist countries.

PB: Right, OK. So they're trying to blame the government and..

MG: Yes, yes.

PB: Playing down other factors.

MG: Nobody, nobody talks about the, the...

MB: In a sense, also, in Portuguese media, but they, they try, they were being pushed, the, these right-wing journalists and interests, they, they were pushed to support a sort of a wide coalition solution that was imposed by IMF, the ECB, and, eh...

MG: European Commission

MB: We call the troika.

PB: The troika, yeah, yeah. That's the same here.

MB: That was - by you also?

PB: Oh yeah, the same, exactly the same. And, and in, in the English language media they come up with this acronym, this PIGS, like, I don't know if you've heard this - Portugal, Ireland, Greece, Spain. So they call us the PIGS, cos of course it's a funny, it's, in English it's a funny joke.

MB: Ah yes, acronym. Like, the Greek, Greek...

MG: Or the PIIGS, with Italy.

PB: With Italy as well, yeah. I mean, but is there, so, what I'm saying is that there's an awareness in English, or, there's this idea within the English language media, that the peripherals, Portugal, Ireland, Greece, Spain, are kind of a set, if you like. Is, is there an awareness in Portugal that there's a, there's a connection with Greece, Spain, and Ireland?

MB: The, yes, the, the prime minister, along the last 2010 trimester -

PB: Socrates?

MB: Socrates, was all the time saying "No, we have a different situation from Spain and from Ireland and it's a different case, our economy and our finance system is much more solid and there is no reason for asking for IMF" repeatedly, but just, just propaganda, I think, because the, the real politics is made no longer at national level, but the, the, so, what is politics in Portugal nowadays? It's just to fool the electorate, to make them believe that there is some degree of national autonomy when there is none. When they have no, no power, they just have to yield to the, to the superpower that are this, embodied by this troika and what they, they try is to show that the, that the politics matters, that politicians can, can make a difference, but...

MG: In Spain...

PB: But in this, in this there is a difference though, between Greece, Ireland, and Portugal on the one hand, because we are all less than five percent of the European zone population, we're all very small economies, and of course Spain is different, because you are much bigger, you're the fourth largest economy in the Eurozone etc. So, it's, a question of scale becomes a question of a difference in quality.

MG: Yes it's a question of scale that is, that is why the big European trains, locomotoras, I don’t know, trains?

MB: Train machines. [i.e. “big engines”]

MG: Train machines, France and Greece are putting much effort to convince the Zapatero government to doing preventive reforms.

MB: Sorry, sorry? Preventing reforms?

MG: Preventive, preventive reforms.

MB: Ah yeah. So before they come in it's better that they do the...

MG:Yes, yes.

PB: So, the same austerity packages that has been forced on Greece, Ireland, Portugal -

MG: Yes.

MB: But this was made in Portugal, because...

MG: Yes, yes, of course. Th- Zapatero is doing it without...

MB: The Portuguese, eh, you go the same path as Portugal because the, they made Pact 1, Pact 2, Pact 3

MG: And four.

PB: Four different...

MB: And the fourth was, was.. how do you say, not passed in the.. eh, because there was a minority, minority government, and the right wing decided to overthrow the government, but now they are going to put in practice these measures that they voted against and even surpass.

MG: In Spain, Zapatero government, from the start of the debt crisis, told the public opinion that Spain was different, Spain was not Greece. Then, Spain is not Ireland.

PB: In Ireland also they said, "Ireland is not Greece." [laughs]

MB: In Portugal too.

MG: Then, Spain is not Ireland. Then, Spain is not Portugal. But now -

PB: It's getting closer.

MG: Yes, it's getting closer. Everyone, everyone knows that Spain is next.

MB: Spain is Spain.

MG: But the problem is, that Zapatero has a strong support for the, for the reforms but not for the government, but as for the reforms. I don't know if I'm explaining. The main party in the opposition in Spain, Popular Party, is the right wing, and they are always threaten to expel Zapatero, and they critique the measures, but they critique the superficial of the measures. They agree with the core of the measures. So the problem is that the public opinion only has access to one version of the crisis. Zapatero is saying the crisis is a European thing, you cannot, and a, and an international crisis, you cannot, er.. culpa? [PB: blame.] ..blame us. You cannot blame us. We are, we are, we are innocent. And the, the Popular Party is saying the, the opposite - "You are the only, the...” [PB: cause of?] Yes, yes. The only guilty.

MB: It's like Portugal. The same game, eh-

MG: The same game, the same game, what's?

MB: The same superficial things, and that, that...

MG: Yes, was a problem for us, in the left. So, we have to, to be clearly in, there is a problem of the system itself, and we are not clear in that. Even the social democratic left is losing their points of view. A time to confront the crisis. Only a small number of people talk about, for example, the model, about, eh.. it was construct, the European Union, and European Union, at the.. shaped for the interest of the financial powers of Germany, above all, and nobody, nobody talks about, or only small, small groups talk about. Only small groups talk about a real alternative for the Spanish economy in front of the.. the crisis. Hmm. So, I think, it's a, it's a real problem for the left too, being so, so lost in this deep crisis of capitalism.

PB: I think with this...

MB: Yes, the, in Portugal, the left, the electoral left, the left to the Socialist Party [of Portugal], which is not left in my concept, because they, they have a long, long history of enforcing the most neoliberal policies that Portugal has ever met. And, the, the, this reformist left is not, is not able to combat, and even in electoral terms it is very weak. Ah, say, even according to, to, what would be expected, they should have a more firm stance, and eh, but they, they have the old-time reflex that when you come to election, you dilute your, your points of view, you don't above all, you don't want to look as radical, as extremist, because it will, it will, eh.. make? [PB: Alienate] Alienate the, the centrist vote, and eh, so, so what they expect is to, to have a shift from people that used to vote Socialist Party, so that they will vote Bloco de Esquerda or Communist Party, and so, this, the electoral campaign is just a fool's game, as ever, but also in this dramatic situation, people have no clues to understand the situation because it's not in these left wing parties' aims and policies to give the, the.. [PB: Radical analysis?] ...keys, the keys for the understanding. And this is very clear, they, they want a chunk of power, they don't aim for all power, no. They don't aim for grabbing the power because they know they can't, they couldn't, never. So they, they try, a chunk of power, they try, for instance, that the Socialist Party becomes too weak, and, but the right is not strong enough to, to form a government in this case.. [MG: Make a pact.] They.. force a government, because for them, it's.. this is the, the focus of all the fights.

PB: Little, little steps to power.

MB: It's not the class struggle. It's not the class struggle, it's to win electors, and the class struggle can be something that they say they, they are committed to or... that is... And, eh, you see this because when the elector-, the, their, their membership, the grassroots, they are in unions, and they make nothing to push or to sustain ongoing struggles. If there are shopfloor struggles, these are, these are moments of, of peace, of social peace, because they have instructions not to, to arise and to put forward any situation...

PB: Radical demands, or...

MB: So that can be... All the energies are focused on electoral issues. And, I think it's very empty pedagogy, is very bad the role that the unions play, the so-called left-wing union is something CGT-P, and it's left to the UGT but only in the sense, only in the sense that it is controlled by left-wing people. But, in fact, they are just like the others, and they make the same kind of, of attitude, because they participate in, you know in this, called the convers.. Permanent Conversation Board, I don't know it.

MG: Social pact.

PB: Social partnership?

MG: Social partnership.

MB: It has another name, but it's the same concept...

PB: The same concept, yeah.

MB: And they both participate in TU, TUC, trade union con.. European...

PB: Oh, the European Trade Union Congress.

MG: Yes.

MB: So they are members, both members, and many policies and subsidies come from there, and so, the...

PB: A similar situation to in Spain where you have the UGT and the CCOO...?

MG: Yes

PB: Two Federations but in practice...

MG: Yes, they are two federations but really, in fact, there are not many differences between them. They have a strong unity of action since many years ago. That unity of action it’s not against the cuts but for the social partnership. They are always the... interlocutor? the necessary interlocutor for the government to sign the pacts for the social peace. So they sometimes have to confront the government to show them that they control the workers and they have the power (of the workers to back them).

MB: Same in Portugal.

PB: It’s a bargaining position

MG: Yes a bargaining position, and because the bosses press them to do something. But then they, first they convoke a demonstrate, first, and second, they sign. It’s always the same.

PB: [laughs] We have a very similar pattern here

MB: Like in Portugal, it’s the same.

MG: What is important in Spain is there is a combative syndicalism. Some of them were fighting inside above all commissiones obreras since some years ago but in later years they have started to create alternatives, they have joined the CGT or CNT or independentist unions in the Basque country above all or in Galicia or in Andalucía too. But they have also created another union Commissiones de Bases? Bases committees, like in Italy...

MB: This is a very important difference with regard to Portugal. This alternative union is completely absent. We as anarchists were not aware of how important - collectively aware - it is to have the capacity to directly to work and put our methods... These bureaucrats in both [union] centrals have no alternative model that the workers can look at. But in Spain, in Italy, in France they have.

PB: Yeah. In some ways that’s a kind of discipline on the mainstream unions as there is always that little bit of a threat of an alternative. They might lose legitimacy or credibility.

MG: Yes I think so

MB: It’s easier in these countries (with alternative unions) that the big union leaders could lose face.

MG: In spite of it all I am a partisan of class unity and the union, or the syndicalist unity. But it’s very difficult to achieve this unity inside the commissiones obreras and UGT. By its own nature they are more and more only an apparatus, a vacuum from real force, from real participation of the workers. So it’s very difficult working from inside because easily you are expelled. So more and more people that created in the commissiones obreras, for example, are going out and looking for an alternative. The question, in my point of view, is that all the alternative syndicalism, all the combative syndicalism has a strong need to find points in common. Each syndicalism, each organisation has its own peculiarities and, it’s ok, we have to respect that, but we need to hit together. So I think that is the fight... il desafío? [MB: the challenge] the challenge we have in the combative unions. And I think its, the main task of the real left, the more important task of we, the libertarians, to achieve that real unity in the struggle.

PB: Unity amongst the combative unions?

MG: Yes, unity for fight, unity for action, for... intorno? - around some relevant points in common. Opposition to social partnership, a real social policy, for a real empowerment by the working class.

PB: A big difference from what we are getting from the mainstream trade unions. In Ireland its a very similar story to what you’re saying about Spain.

MB: In Portugal things are getting worse and worse and worse. In 12th March there was a huge demo called by groups of young people that were in precarious jobs or students that were losing their grants, and things like that. It was amazing because these self-organised and anarchistic in spirit people were able to put in the street not only their generation but all kinds of generations. Sometimes there is a spark that happens. In this case it was a song by a pop group that said “How stupid I am, I am studying for being a slave”. This has a strong echo in the young people who say “Yes we are being described by this song”. It was labelled A Rasca generation. The generation that is living on the... you know... A Rasca is to be in a very bad situation, to live with the minimum, I cannot translate it the expression.

MG: Precarity?

MB: More or less, but it’s sort of a slang phrase.

MG: Ah! Yes, the name of these people is Geração À Rasca In Spain there is a similar movement called Juventud Sin Futuro “Youth without future”

MB: Ya, it’s the same.

MG: It’s the same movement.

MB: The media, controlled by the interests, mocked it, defamed it beforehand. Because they didn’t believe things like Twitter and Facebook were enough.

MB: It’s true. They didn’t see any commitment of left-wing parties or so-called left-wing unions in this. And it wasn’t expected that a hundred of thousands of people turned up in Lisbon, eighty thousand in Oporto and a few thousand in various cities. And when they saw this, immediately they saw that as they could not minimise this movement, they tried to speak for them. And the parties and left reformist parties they tried to, how do you say, to “Shanghai” the people into their electoral circus. That is very bad politics.

PB: You were saying also that in the run up to the March 12th demo the mainstream unions decided to call a demo the week after.

MB: Yes, beforehand they imagined, as they are very self-sufficient, they are very proud of themselves, they said well, this will be a flop. So we are smart and we going to call a union demo one week later. This union [demo] was [in] a unique place. It was with union money and they hired buses to bring people in from all over. Even though, it was much smaller and mainly people of a certain age. It was nothing. And the problem is, we need in the short term, we cannot build alternative unions in one step. But we can however enter, massively the existing bureaucratic unions, because there is no alternative like in Spain. And there force these unions to behave like unions. And this is possible if there is a massive entrance of people who know what they are doing inside of them. But it’s very difficult because people that say “Oh, no, the bureaucrats have given such a bad name to the unions that most young people will refuse this.”

PB: Can I just come back to Manu you were talking about in Spain this Juventud Sin Futuro. Is that a similar kind of phenomenon?

MG: Yes, its the same, the same phenomenon. It’s a phenomenon that is born from the university youth, not from the workers youth. And the problem is the left is trapped in electoral tactics as Manu has said about Portugal, and is unable to capitalise on this movement and attract them to left positions and class struggle positions. This movement, I have no illusions but I don’t want to be over pessimistic. But, by now it’s an inter-classist phenomenon. But is interesting because every analyst, every... opinolog... opinion maker, spin doctor, all of them were saying since ten years ago that our generation was a very capitalist generation. What is happening now in Spain, in Spain most of the youth still shares in capitalism. But capitalism has...

MB: What do you mean?

MB: They rely on, or have confidence in it. Capitalism has betrayed them. They have capitalist aspirations but the system cannot provide them the goods and services that they want. So, now is the moment for a politicisation, real politicisation of the people. Now is the moment where we can present our socialist program for the people, saying capitalism has failed and that there is an alternative and it is libertarian socialism.

PB: It’s interesting in, we have a similar phenomena in Britain, and in Ireland, the demonstrations that have been most confrontational, are in fact the ones from the students, from the youth, against the student cuts, and so on, but which turned into larger, more generic confrontations with, you know, they attacked the Tory party HQ in London, they fought with the police and so on, and again its the same thing that there was, from the 1980s through the 1990s, there was this idea that students were becoming less political, that they were children of Thatcher, that all they were thinking of was getting a good job after they finish their studies, [MB: It’s the same everywhere] so they would put up with shit, precarious jobs while they were students, because they didn’t imagine themselves to be workers, they imagined themselves that in 20 years time they were going to be a doctor or a solicitor of something like this. And, like you say, now all of a sudden, the ability of the system to maintain that illusion has disappeared, because they realise that there’s not going to be anything more than the shitty, precarious jobs

MB: I don’t agree all, because many people that were in this demo, they were long ago suffering the situation of the most precarious workers class and, jobs and having precarious lives and subject, for sure they are very cultivated, even if they have capitalist-minded education, you must not forget that there are many, many ways, many channels that they can drink from other waters, other sources, and it’s really clear that by the slogans and by the, how d’you call, they wrote posters, interesting posters, there are collections of pictures, I can send the links for that, where there are these things they express, show that they have no illusions about capitalism. The problem is, we don’t have a clear way out of this mess that is being done at, in our countries, and this is, in my view, the problem is this. Is because we have, we cannot rely on a party, there is no party that is reliable in any how. The anarchists are defamed, are demonised, and so people are afraid to approach anarchist organisations or anarchist er... because they have demonised image in the media. And sometimes the radical left, and even the libertarian left, is self-defeating in er... with ultra-sectarian behaviour, even among them, between the tendencies. And the result is that someone who looks from the outside, says “no, I won’t mix with these guys”

MG: Yes its our proposal and our... our organisations are not attractive because... many things. So I think there is a real drama, the people is starting to awakening, they are seeing that capitalism is in crisis, that capitalism cannot provide any more, or at least in this moment, the goods and services that capitalism has promised them. It has, capitalism, that has broken the social pact. OK, not the workers, not the youth, it has been capitalism. What is the problem? Now the people is starting to fight, the people is mobilised, the people is awakening to politics. What is the problem - is that we are not, right now, in conditions to capitalise that discontent. That is the problem. That is the real problem. The real problem, not only in Spain but in Portugal, Ireland, in Greece, even in Greece. And this vacuum is being filled by reactionary forces.

MB: Which forces?

MG: Which forces? I’m talking about the far-right...

MB: Ah, the far-right.

MG: Yes, I’m not talking about the left, as you have described in Portugal, is lost. They don’t know how to do. If go to elections, support the mobilisations... they don’t know what is the language that they have to use with the people...

MB: But even they don’t have strategic aim. [MG: Yes!] A strategic aim must be, even in a party, must be beyond the next election.

MG: I am talking of the majority of the left. There are sectors that are talking of things like we are talking now. But we are a minority, by the moment, and the time is running against us. I don’t want to be pessimistic, but we have work to do...

PB: I think still that there is an opportunity for our kind of politics there, if you like, which is this. The weakness of the conventional left, is their electoralism blinds them. It creates a discourse where the politics is vertical. That the national working class in Spain, in Portugal, Ireland, must fight the government of the state, as if somehow changing the government would change the situation. Now from out point of view, because wee are free of the drivers, the pressures of the electoral game, we can look and we can go, ok, no, this is a problem of European constitution, and we can look outwards, horizontally, rather than simply vertically. And we say, ok...

MB: You mean the European constitution at large, say...

PB: The composition, not the constitution in terms of a document, but the capitalist composition [MG: the process of...] [MB: the frame] the frame of Europe. So, for example, students in Ireland were aware of students in Britain rioting, but they’re not aware of the May 12th demo, or in Spain etc. So simply by communicating to...

MB: March 12th.

PB: March 12th, beg your pardon. Simply by communicating to, like youth here, like we have people in organisations, radical student organisations, can say look, we are not alone its happening in UK, its happening in Barcelona, Madrid and Seville and so on, and to make a reality of this idea of the circulation of the struggles, in order to broaden the perspective, so that it’s not simply an Irish problem, it’s not simply a Spanish problem, a Portuguese problem...

MB: The problem is that we have not found yet found a... we too, we have to be self-critical sometimes, we didn’t find a strategical way out. in terms of a... so, I can put forward some hypothetical things, just for thought. That we should voice, in a loud voice, the idea of a social class struggle front. A social front of all the people that are exploited, and we are 95% of the population, would have reasons to fight - at least 95% - have true reasons to fight against this. This is one thing. The other thing is to find weapons, weapons that are appropriate to make them feel that we can counteract, not in a symbolic way - because what I fear the most, is that we exhaust ourselves in demos, in all kind of symbolic things, that are necessary to a point, but it’s not this the core of the fight.

PB: And in Ireland, actually, these demonstrations are used by the mainstream unions to dissipate energy.

MB: Exactly. To dissipate energy. Its the pressure valve. The safety valve. What I would like to see is that on one hand we have people that enter unions, because unions, it’s a class, it’s worker’s class... [MG: organisation?] come se dise - patrimonio [PB: heritage?] - patrimoine - it’s not heritage, it’s a different... belonging. Belonging, its workers class collective belonging [possession], and its doesn’t belong to the bureaucrats. They are using our money, they are using money of our fathers and forefathers, the sacrifice of many people, workers that for many generations built these unions. So its abuse. So we should make clear that we are going to take it back to where it belongs, it belongs to the workers class. To make occupations, but not occupations of abandoned houses, but occupations of unions. Occupy them, in a pacific sense, not in the sense of destroy, no, its to give them back their primeval reason. Why this? Because they have accumulated things that they, there are many things that its very important. Otherwise if you have to build a brand new union from scratch, its impossible. Or you will have a tiny little union that will have no power of bargaining, and if it has no power of bargaining it will not be taken seriously, even by workers, and even by committed workers. So this is a strategical move from the anarchists, and we have to look back to the beginning of the 20th century, it was exactly the same situation. The anarchists, but not the same, because the anarchists realised they were being self-defeated by this terrorist approach, and they changed in the end of the 19th century and the revolutionary syndicalism is born from this change. It was very fruitful change, it make most of the unions we have nowadays were built up by this extraordinary movement. So we can say, well now its not the beginning of the 20th century, but it is somewhat similar in a sense that we have this instrument and we can invest in them as organised as anarchist tendency as libertarian, socialist libertarians, as syndicalist tendencies and we don’t have to have, we don’t have to be clandestine, its our patrimonio. Its our patrimonio, we have to right to be there. And this is one move. The other move is to make campaigns of divestment against corporate capitalism. Not that we will make a victory or something, but if we make boycott campaigns against Israel, if we call for withdraw the troops from Afghanistan, etc, etc, why not making a divestment campaign from the corporate banking that is responsible for all this crisis. The direct responsibility is not the small capitalist. The direct responsibility is this big bankings that are using and have used our money, the money of pension funds, etc, etc, for speculation, and want to go on and want the state to give them money, and the loans at very good, er...

PB: I am going to interrupt a little bit there because I want to steer the conversation onto banks precisely, so I am glad you brought that up. I don’t know if you are aware but in Ireland a big part of our crisis has been related to the banks and the banking system. So I would be interested to hear, in both of your countries, what role the banks played in the crisis in 2008 and until now. I believe in Portugal it is a similar story so maybe Manu I will start with you.

MG: In Spain the crisis has been, above all, a financial crisis but the banks have been solid, until now. But at what price! The government, at the first moments of the crisis, only a few weeks after the US did the same, gave many million euros to the banks.

PB: By banks, do you mean the big national banks and the Caixas as well?

MG: Yes, yes, to the whole financial system thinking that they could revive the financial system and the credit, but in the end it has not been that. The credit is still at the lowest levels, and its affecting so much the economy. The government, from the first moments of the crisis, started a plan called FROB. That plan was aimed to restructure the internal savings of the banks, some of them buying the toxic assets, changing the function and privatising the Caixas

PB: Were they like mutual banks, where everyone can deposit, like building societies?

MG: Yes, it is a mixed figure, social and private, with a supposed social aim

PB: So now they are trying to privatise those banks

MB: Just a point, I think the Spanish situation has something peculiar, that is the fact there was a heavy investment, and also popular investment, in real estate. And the banks were heavily conducting this and the people were borrowing money to buy property, to buy flats.

PB: This is the same as in Ireland - but not so much in Portugal I believe?

MB: I think it is much as in Portugal, with a slight difference because in Portugal, the banking system has, since long ago, had this inflation in prices. What happens is that they are interested in supporting this market and because why? Because the banking system derives a big part of its profit from the credit to buying flats. And what happens is, mainly to families, and also to the enterprises that many of them are directed towards the construction, so it is two ways. At the same time, what happens is, you have to see Portugal as a country that had the big influx from emigrants money that came and now many houses. We have 10 million population…

PB: Sorry, is that Portuguese people who have left to go and work in other countries and then send money back?

MB: Yes, because it was a country of emigration. What they did, these emigrants, was to buy houses, sometimes for their sons, or for themselves, sometimes as a placement.. [PB: As a pension?] and they are, the estimation is, 350,000 to 400,000 houses, it is not very clear, and we have.. these houses are empty, many are never used, others have excellent conditions. To be rented or put on the sales market. And these 350,000 houses, they, of course, because they are there, and some, probably many, would like to sell them, how come this doesn’t make the prices go down? Because the economy is directed by banks, it is the banking system that is directing everything and making, sustaining this artificial thing. It has nothing to do with the supposed automatic connection of offer and demand, because you have a big excess of offer and you don’t have the lowering of prices.

MG: In Spain is the same

MB: In Spain you have the lowering of this price, very significant lowering. If you compare the real estate lowering in Spain is very abrupt. There is a big lowering in real estate and in Portugal there is lowering but somewhat…

MG: In prices?

MB: Yes

MG: It is not as pronounced, the prices still are high

PB: In Ireland now, we are 40% down so there has been a relatively large decline

MG: In Spain it has been very very (soundslike?) slowly

MB: I thought it was about 30% in Spain, I heard 30%

MG: But they are not at the real levels

MB: Value? It didn’t reach the bottom?

MG: Because the only people that now is selling houses are the people that really need it. Why? Because most of the people has done a very high investment in these houses so until they can recover, or at least.. [MB: They have hopes] Yes, still they have hopes and they have no urgency of selling. There is a sector that, there is one sector, other sectors are totally different because the banks are on backs of the people giving the money, giving the money, the mortgage so, in Spain, if you lose your house, with the bank you should still pay your mortgage.

PB: Even though they take the house, you still owe the money

MG: Yea

PB: It is the same in Britain and Ireland

MG: So that people is desperate, pressured to sell the house but the other people didn’t want to sell.

MB: In Portugal, what happens is similar but, in my view, there is another thing, we have a salary level that is significantly lower that the Spanish and this means that, you know, the mean salary is €700 a month and the minimal salary is €450 a month, something like that, not even €500. And what happens is, in Portugal, there is a high percentage of families that own their homes outright and this is not normal.

MG: In Spain the same

MB: Because, there was, I think there was, the explanation is simple, there was a period where Portuguese families saw an increase in their economical capacity, in the nineties. They were able to go to the banks and ask for a loan.. [MG: And it was very easy money] ..mortgage, and they thought it was feasible to become an owner-occupier. There are many that have paid for 5/10 years or something like that but they need to pay for twenty years or so to the banks.

MG: 30 years in Spain

MB: And here in Portugal it is the same. This situation put the population under, how do you call, blackmailing?

PB: Yes

MB: Because banks use this situation and they can change the mortgage rates, the spread and all this stuff and so the people, they feel powerless

MG: Now in Spain the banks has passed to be banks giving credit to be real estate owners

MB: Like in Portugal

PB: They are landlords

MB: Landlords and real estate owners

MG: There is an increasing concentration too of the richest

MB: The biggest real estate, lets say firm?

PB: Intermediaries? If you want to buy and sell your house you go to them?

MB: Yes, how do you call them?

PB: Yes, real estate firms

MB: The biggest one in Portugal has, lets say, a number of flats and properties that result from these mortgages. So the banks give to these..

PB: Estate agents

MB: … intermediaries something new, I never heard that

PB: We have an interesting situation here, in that the, I think what you were saying about the fruit, we have something called NAMA which is the National Asset Management Agency. It has taken the bad loans from the banks to try and make the banks, and has nationalised it so effectively now there are now…

MG: Socialising the loss

PB: … thousands of properties throughout Dublin, and of course we are not allowed to know which ones they are, that technically we own, although we are still paying rent for it [laughter]. So that an interesting thing. And also they say, in the discourse in the media in Ireland, in talking about the crisis, we say that the mortgages is the sleeping giant because I think…

MG: Sleeping giant?

PB: It’s a metaphor for something which will cause great destruction when it wakes up, in that, Ireland, as you know, is a country of 4.5 million but they reckon that the number of people who are behind on their mortgage payment is somewhere in the region of 200,000 people [FACTCHECK: more like 40,000] or families

MB: That cannot meet their payments?

PB: are having difficulties. Now what they have done for the last two years, they have, they keep passing these emergency, its not really legislation but just acts of government, if you like to say that, we will not evict people who are in arrears so they are delaying dealing with this problem but the problem is getting bigger. Because for historical reasons, really since the foundation of the Irish state, they have not gone in for evictions because, of course, evictions create this cultural memory of what the British used to do. So politically it’s a very toxic subject but at some stage they will have to deal with it properly. People are not paying their mortgages so what happens then?

MG: So, in Ireland, there are no evictions or only a few?

PB: Very few, its generally people who have…

MG: So they are denying the solution [situation?], are putting the garbage under the carpet.

PB: Yes, they are trying to. We have an expression in English, “kicking the can down the road”

MG: Yes, it’s the same [laughter]

MB: In Portugal, speaking about banks in Portugal, the banking system had some people that are very, very, ahem.. shrewd; and they made a bank using their influences in government and the main parties. And this was bank was all, em, how’d you say, something that was complete out of [its?] mind because .. it was sold, it was owned by Cape Verde based banking society, holding company and this holding company de-capitalised bank you see? …more or less this was more or less a very very horrible situation because you had lots of people who put with their deposits and they had the head of the bank that was making such crookery and they made a society that was based in another country – in this case Cape Verde - and this society owned the bank. So this society de-capitalises the bank and the bank was on the brink of bankruptcy. The State comes in – nationalises because it has to has to save the banking system.

PB: And this bank, what’s it called?

MB: Bank Nacional Populare. BNP. And there was another other – that was a tiny little bank – but it was business ..

PB: business loans

MB: .. you know..special - for rich people. It was also big bankruptcy or something like that. And they saved also this BPP [Banco Privado Português]. The deficit ..was 2% [GDP] risen? Arisen? Arisen because a rise..this 2% rise because of these operations. So it’s the classical - they nationalise the losses

MG: and privatise the benefits, the profits.

MB: Now they are going to privatise the most profitable parts of the public sector. Namely, there is a public owned bank called Caixa Geral de Depositos. it’s not Caixa [i.e. Spanish “Savings & Loans”]..its not..

MG: yeah, it’s the name of the bank. It’s not special regime or...

MB: it’s a state owned bank. And all the civil servants have bank deposit there, for processing their salary.

PB: OK..right. And the pensions?

MB: And their pensions… no, they want to privatise a sub business from.. because it is a group and there is a business that is working? I don’t know.. that is insurance. this group created an insurance … this is a profitable part – yes - insurance companies depending on this..

[…]

MB: Just to say, how they do the same in every country.. but with differences from country to country.

MG: Yes different structure, from the point of the social struggle or… but it is more or less the same..

MB: It is the same. The essence is the same.

PB: It’s good for us to hear the stories from each of the different countries so that people become aware of how much how similar, how its done..

MB: It repeats… It’s repeating. I think what happened to Ireland happened to Portugal eight months later. It’s like the fate ..

[…]

PB: We were talking about how the BNP bank in Portugal how this bank was set up in a murky way; then it was de-capitalised and then it was..

MG: One of the biggest attacks against the public sector or one of the biggest pieces of the cake that want…that sharks - the sharks of the finance, of the banking - is the pension funds. So, the worst of all is that the main unions – the bureaucratic union have signed an extraordinarily regressive agreement on pension funds… without fight. That is the question that these …

MB: What does this agreement say..

MG: It was signed in January.

MB: What is the content?

MG: First of all, you are not going to retire at 65, like until now. You are now going to retire at 67, after a period of adaption [?]. But we.. I for example..

MB: will never be able..

MG: For example.. And you should be paying during for more years than before for having that paid retired. You need more requirements to access to these funds. So, what is happening? Many people is seeing that they are not going to have a decent retirement, so they are going to the private funds. And this is the real objective of that reform.. because the are milles [millions?].. thousand of millions … there. It is an impressive number that these ‘sharks’ are seeing. The problem is the same as I have said before: the public opinion is dominated by the right. We, from the radical position – from the left – I don’t know how to express - we have not been able to confront the propaganda of the regime. We have been able to confront it until the point of convince the people. It was very simple, that it was..

MB: We don’t own/hold a TV channel.. that’s the reason why! [laughs]

MG: ..It was regressive. Regressive. But if we have a real, massive, grassroot work – we can contra-arrest the lies of TV. But it is not the question. The question is that we can convince the people because it is very easy that the reform is bad. But we cannot convince them that there is an alternative.

MB: Convince. Convince. Persuade…

MG: ..Persuade that there is an alternative. So always, all the people are saying “Yes –its very bad. No to reform; but ok, it is necessary as this system is unsustainable, because in Portugal there are many, many old people”. So..

MB: In Portugal it is the same.. in Portugal during many years, the social security and the pension – state run pension fund - was de-capitalised. Why? Because they had a schema, a mechanism that they could go and draw from the pension fund – state run pension fund, to make loans to the state. Loans that are very bad for the pension fund – interest rate – because the state would never obtain loans in the market, at these rates. So it is equivalent to de-capitalise the pension fund. So it’s not surprising, that this is one reason why it is not sustainable between commerce. The other reason is because the private sector - not the public servants; but the private sector had decades – various decades long policy - of sending to pension [retirement], people before pension age because, you know, the old workers are not adaptable and they lack some formation. They don’t, are not familiar with informatisation.

MG: They earn too much.. it is a problem! [laughs]

MB: They earn too much; they are unionised and they have fighting experience… and the pretty girls are sweet and very attractive..

PB: I don’t know the system..

MG: And pliable.

MB: And pliable.

MB: And so if you enter, for instance, a bank, you are only attended by young people before/ under 40 or under 30 - really young people. Of course, there are some that have our age, but it’s very few in the hierarchy. So what happened to these old or middle aged bank workers? They were retired with extra..

MG: paid with public money

MB: .. extra given by the bank – the bank gives an extra indemnity and they sometimes take a second, a second accumulating with their pension. They take a second…erm [MG: Pay; PB: Job?] MB: Job! [MG: Ah, second job.] Second job, they make. For instance, I now, I retired from teaching, from teacher, but I could. I think it’s immoral to let this happen. I earn a pension - I will soon be a pensioner, but I could hire myself to a private college. And still earn, but I think it’s immoral.

MG: Yeah yeah..I understand.

PB: Other people do it of course..

MB: But it was permitted.

PB: Could I just ask a quick question of facts. The majority of pensions in public and private sector, are they still the state pension or are they private pensions..?

MB: No. State pension…

MG: In Spain it’s still the public pension...

PB: OK. In terms of the neoliberal revolution, you’re behind the curve then, if you like, of where England and Ireland are..

MB: Yeah.. yeah.

MG: But now they are attacking..

PB: From a capitalist point of view .. [MB: We are forward in another..] ..a state pension, in fact does not represent a set of money. It just represents when you finish working, they have to pay you. Whereas a private pension – you pay into and you create a thing of capital

MG: You pay yourself

PB: A deposit of capital which then they play with. So yeah..

MB: The banks.. will play with this in the speculative economy

MG: They play with your money

PB: And you can lose as well - you can lose your pension. Whereas with the state pension at least, they still owe you money.

MG: In Chile, for example.. (My wife is from Chile) and..

MB: And it was in Japan as well a few years ago. And there is also something that I want to stress: is because the public sector is so bad in health care and in hospitals and so on, that it is a big business in Portugal; and it is the privatised sector – private health – and [the] so-called socialist government built some monstrous thing called Public Private.. er..

PB: ..Partnerships [laughs]. We’ve heard of them [laughter].

MG: They are trying to do that now in Spain.

MB: They only loose money and they have built …erm.. white elephant, big hospitals; perhaps they are functioning well in terms of public attending or not. I don’t know. But what is not functioning well is that the losses are for state..

PB: for public [laughs]

MB: and profits are private. So the public deficit is being always increased by this public-private partnership.

PB: I’m going to bring the discussion back to this idea of the capitalist composition of Europe – of the Eurozone – because what I find in some ways ironic but in other ways you kind of expect it, is that the left in our various countries have very little to say about the European dimension to this crisis; if only perhaps to say “oh the Germans are running everything” if you like; but this is only in relation to people in Ireland who will say “oh Frankfurt is running this” - but there is no concept of that happening to anyone else, but Ireland. But then if you read the bourgeois media – the bourgeois financial media – like The Economist or Financial Times etc., you’ll find commentators there who are going ‘well clearly the problem here is that we have monetary union without a political union’; and obviously that’s not the kind of model we are interested in, but at least they are posing the question of the composition of Europe - which is what’s at stake within this crisis. Now I guess for us, the radical left – whatever you want to call it – we have to provide some level of argument at that level, say the composition of Europe – if it means that we have this relationship between core and periphery, where effectively in Greece, Ireland and Portugal democracy is now meaningless, because economic policy is dictated from Frankfurt and this is in fact, a very strange occurrence. For the last 200 years we’ve had this liberal model of history where things go from colonialism and dictatorship, to post-colonialism and then to democracy; and now all of a sudden the arrow of history has gone backwards in Europe – we have gone from liberal democracy back to direct rule. And in the liberal model that’s unusual – it’s not supposed to happen.

MB: The so-called peripheral countries of Europe, they are putting into practice what they have done in Africa and Latin America in the 80’s. This is disaster capitalism in action.

MG: I wanted to talk about Chile because it has been one example and one model – not only for the region but for all the world – the neoliberal revolution started in Chile with Pinochet and the Chicago boys.

MB: Counter revolution.

MG: Counter revolution, of course.

PB: The first 9/11

MG: Yes. One thing is that the brother of the nowadays president of Chile – Piñera – was the brain behind the reform of the pension funds in Chile; and this is the model that is going to be applied and is starting to be applied in Spain. The bourgeois press, the bourgeois media is saying it is a very good model – a successful model and sustainable; but they are not saying the private funds are putting [the funds?] in the speculative market. And nowadays the people in Chile, that are forced by circumstance to have a private pension fund because the public sector has already told it has already been done – de-capitalise it. So the people are losing money, because with the crisis, these funds have been falling. So what model are they trying to sell us? A model of high benefits, high profits for a minority and where the majority have to pay and have to work for them as well. This is completely a result of the state of class struggle nowadays.

PB: You can see this as an egalitarian move - they are trying to make not only the young people precarious but no – precarity for all people. [Laughter]

MB: The contradiction makes the old system totally unsustainable, even in capitalistic terms. It is unsustainable to continue in such capitalist ways because it cannot be so. Because the financial system and all this speculation is only diverting welfare from the productive system. The goods and the services are the real economy; and the real economy is preyed [upon] even more and more by the financial system. So the financial system is a load on – so in fact there is a big contradiction because the financial system cannot go on having profits preying on the productive system. And what they have done is – what they do – is they externalise the loss – either preying [upon] the state pension funds instead of the ..

PB: This is a huge contradiction in neoliberalism – neoliberalism was supposed to get rid of the state, but now who is going to take all the losses but the state…

MB: They prey on the state..no. No perhaps at some extremist - Hayek and so on - discourse , but only [as] discourse, because the main aim was to prey on the state – it was not to get rid of the state. To prey on the state and to use the state for them to become more and more.. and they preyed on the state and now they cannot generate value by themselves. The financial system cannot generate value by themselves. They can only prey upon the value that is generated in the real economy; but the real economy is weakened. It becomes weaker and weaker because of this preying. So you see the contradiction – how can they continue this parasitic [relationship] – so it’s an internal contradiction to the capitalist system – and it has no solution inside the capitalist system. So this is the way out – the way out is to put this contradiction to light and make sure that – it is not the chaos if we… the chaos is made by this capitalist – they are running the society towards the chaos – towards the collapse. We are rescuers of human civilisation. Of you know… we want an economy not shattered, but an economy that produces for human beings instead of human beings being slaves to the economy.

PB: This is where I’m going put another steer on it (because we’re getting towards the end of our time) and this is the idea that.. As well as opening a discussion horizontally between the left of peripheral countries, we need also to open a dialogue with our comrades in the core countries – in France and Germany and so on. In order to do that we have to explain to them – um, yes, we need to challenge some of the racism that we see, for example in the coverage in Germany of how the so-called peripheral crisis has been covered in terms of simplistic explanations and xenophobic explanations of ‘lazy Greeks’ and ‘useless Irish’ – ‘irresponsible spenders’.. not proper, good protestant value Germans or what have you.. So partly some of that but also we need to explain that our vision is not a fairer sharing out of misery, if you like, that instead of simply just the Irish, Portuguese and Greeks paying for the losses of all the banks - because the money came from the core countries as well; but that we have a vision that is equally relevant to workers in France and Germany and Italy as well Spain, Portugal and Greece. And I think partly that ties into what you have just been saying about the system - it’s creating chaos and breakdown, that’s not simply a problem of governments overspending or…

MB: No, the logic of the system is to increase entropy – increasing entropy, because it is the logic intrinsic to the system; and they know it – the economists know it but they hide it because they are hired to make us believe that capitalism can be run - the economists are hired to make us the believe that the economy can still be run in a capitalistic way.

MG: I think they really are convinced in what they say.

MB: No. Most are intelligent to understand..

MG: Most have been learned [educated] in the orthodox economy. They have been said that the economy can grow indefinitely – upon this basis. The system needs a constant flux of money. The system needs a…

MB: Yes, yes the bullshit .. you know for me... the economy they teach in universities – it is not an economy as a science … it is an ideology.

MG: The economics that is thought in the top universities is management of capitalism. It’s philosophical, if you want to say it that way, foundation ..psychological…

MB: These so-called laws are only meaningful inside a capitalist system, so they are not laws at all. Because a law is something that is meaningful in nature. The general term of law, when we use law in the context of a science – [is] something that is valid here or on Mars or on Jupiter – the same. But they use laws in a sense that is only meaningful inside the capitalist system – and this is not law.

MG: And even in the capitalism they are not true. They psychologicist explanation and how the human beings act, and they try to destruct…

MB: They change [apply] a simplistic model to a law and they want us to believe that this is a law.

MG: For example, the rational election [expectations] model.. One child of five years is more clever… People don’t have that motivation but it is very useful this model – not for explaining reality but for ..hiding.. justifying..

MB: I think that we come to a point – I want to introduce another thing, that is for me very, very important. We left - anti-authoritarian/ libertarian left – we should be aware that people need to feel that some alternative model is workable. It’s not only something like a sociological science fiction novel. And this means we should be bold enough to build co-operatives, that are self-managed and that are run and that are economically sound. That address.. that go in the market.. I know that if we make a co-operative we are working inside the capitalist system, but the real interest of it is that it empowers workers, so the workers can see by themselves that to manage an enterprise is not so extraordinary. That people, common people, can take sensible decisions and can run – not in a perfect – but in a very sensible way, the economy at their scale. Because most of the people are dis-empowered – the people are convinced of their total incapacity to change whatever; and to look at this catastrophe in a fatalistic way. My concern is how can we invert this defeatist mentality that invades our field, our ranks too.

MG: I think the best way to gain is small reforms; and I think that is not a reformist strategy, but a way of accumulating forces; and so for the people – the power that is in their hands when they unite. One thing more is the importance of the unions – the popular [tr: has sense of lowest class in latin languages] union and other types of popular organisations. The importance too of being fully aware of the real struggles of our class – where we are living. Of acting there – of taking them as the model and taking them as the space where we can promote our vision of things, because it is the space where the people can grow politically – in that struggle..

MB: Self manage of the struggles.

MG: Yes of course but you are not going to have a pure self-management struggle or a pure self-management enterprise, but you have to promote it … with examples.

MB: Yes I agree.

PB: Because there’s an interesting thing that has happened in the last six months we’ve seen the events in Tunisia and in Egypt and across North Africa and so on. And we saw within Tahrir square people gathered against the dictatorship of a man, creating this self-managed space, in fact, of cafes and restaurants and media tents and toilets and so on. So within a space of struggle of pure opposition, they started to create self-managed things and that transformed the people’s experience. But what I find interesting is this contradiction that we have is that where they are getting a feeling of empowerment fighting the dictatorship of individuals, here in Europe we feel completely powerless against a dictatorship of the markets. And we have to find a way, in some ways, of turning that around, and going: “No. We can find a way of.. confronting the dictatorship of markets in the same way that people have confronted the dictatorship of individuals.” Now of course that’s more difficult because the market appears to be an impersonal force, almost like a force of nature. And all the media discourse presents it as a force of nature - a “tsunami” as they called the collapse of 2008. So I agree with you, we need to find ways to fight reforms to remind people that it’s not a natural force but a contest. That we can achieve things...

MG: That is the most important because this is the examples that can encourage the people for fighting.

MB: I have to make a remark because in past centuries we had terrible crisis with massive unemployment and things like that. But nowadays we have a difference in our countries now. We have a very high level education in this proletariat, we are a highly educated proletariat that is suffering this attack. So what about this? We can take advantage of this because I insist .. One century ago there was a crisis and there parts of the world where there were unemployment of 30% or more. But the problem was that these people they had only a chance not to starve to death, is a chance to be hire themselves as a wage slave to someone. And now we have the possibility to build our own self-managed enterprises, just like in Argentina. Look, in Argentina in 2001 we had a similar situation. The economy went bankrupt, the old economy and the people were there and sometimes the factories were taken by workers because the owners, the bosses just left away. And it happened the same in Portugal in ‘74. I remember very well, the self-managed industries and this arised because of need, urgent need. They have nothing and because they flee the workers in these enterprises they have other choice but to take control and put the things producing by themselves. And then, what happens, contrary to Portugal, in a second episode, lets say, in Argentina they managed to transform these in a self-management but legalised it so cooperative status. They became cooperatives. And there are many things that can be done so that we show that we don’t have to have the fear. Because the reformists they always appeal for people to claim their rights to the state. Well its true, but on the same time, we put always looking at the state as the sole provider of all the things from education to..

PB: What I’d say though, in the Argentinian situation there was a difference that, because there had been this collapse in 2001, you had the situation where people would go out and find that in their neighbourhood someone had written in chalk, on the corner of the road: “Meeting here, Wednesday 7 o’clock”, and people would come. Now, our situation at the moment is that still, even within the crisis, we have that people are still atomised into their individual things, so that if we go out and write “Meeting here 7 o’clock Wednesday”, no one will come. So our problem first of all is to break through that lack of collectivity that we have at the moment. There’ s still this capitalist mentality of everyone staying at home and watching the world through their TV screen. And that’s.. yeah, I don’t think.. because we need that mental transformation for people to have that confidence to say: “Yes, we can make alternative institutions, cooperatives, stuff like that. And I think to a certain.. I’m coming back to what Manu is saying that by winning even small achievements through the unions and stuff like that, that is a way of trying to..

MB: I think if you had the classical idea about unemployment that is the reserve army of the labour force. While there is unemployment, the lower the bargaining capacity of the still-employed workers. So, if part of the reserve army is becoming a army… [PB: guerrilla army!] .. or just army - they are in the economy, put themselves in the economy by themselves. This is a very big blow to the capitalist economy. They say: “Ok, if we don’t give decent wages, our best workers they flee to the cooperatives”.

MG: The problem is that as happened in Argentina, in a situation of crisis that crisis is objective. And this crisis not only for the hierarch[ical] enterprise, is a crisis for the cooperative too. And what was the case in Argentina? … in Argentina was, that the most of the companies taken, was the companies without, er.. proveedores? [suppliers] and sin cliente [without clients], without investment, without credit, without nothing. Without machinery.

MB: But they changed it..

MG: No. It was a project defeated.

MB: No, there were enterprises that now are..

MG: But they are islands. They are exceptions. The movement as a whole was defeated. You can talk with the comrades of the Red Libertaria. They have written a recent article. What’s the problem? We can create islands of self-management in the core of the capitalist system, as a strategy.. I think is a very marginal strategy and it only works in... [PB: like the kibbutzes in Israel...] ..in concrete moments of vacancy of the system. As a way of survive. But in the moment in Argentina it started the economic recuperation, most of the cooperatives or the initiatives for surviving, disappeared. There are only a few [surviving]. And these ones have been promoted or sustained by militant work. So the workers there are doing an extra effort. [PB: self-exploitation?] Yes. So I think it’s a very complicated way. I’m not against the cooperatives but I think that its a strategy with many limits.

MB: You are right. But I have to say that we are in a mainly a service provider society. Parts of our society that are devoted for material goods, is a minority. Mainly we are service providers, [MG: in our countries] in our countries, in Europe, it is for Europe that I am talking. I know that of course we are profiting, we are taking from the third world countries goods, because otherwise, heh, we could not survive [laughter] .. exactly. And so, .. our food comes from somewhere, of course. But for the moment we have economies that are very heavily based on service. So it is necessary to asses this problem that at the present we have high competent unemployed personel. That for instance, would be able to make one school as self-managed cooperative school. Of course it would not be aimed to.. how do you say ..it would have a, lets say, solidaire [adj. form of solidarity] attitude and let people of small income.. But we let this corporate sector of the, for instance, the high-quality school. There are many now, in spite of the crisis, they are not in crisis now, you know. In my country this sector, the private schools of high-quality, they have huge files of parents that want their children to be inscribed in this school. And why it has to be run in a capitalist way? No need.

MG: But you are not solving the problem.

MB: I’m not solving any problem. I only want to find ways of fighting.There are many ways. Unions - you are right. Confrontational forms of class struggle - and also we should build something that is providing us with subsistence and another culture. We don’t have to invent the things that were invented two centuries ago. And cooperatives seem to be a solution. If .. now unemployed, I would try to form a cooperative with other comrades so we can go to the market and say “we offer these services in these conditions and .. we are good professionals..” So I believe it has a chance to..

MG: But these type of initiatives are a chance for only, I only speak in this .. now I am talking.. these initiatives are taken by militants, if I understand. Because a cooperative, without bosses, equal responsibilities, equal profits, so.. You need very militant people, and even with very militant people, is difficult to continue. In Spain - you know - it has been many projects of libertarian school. You know, In the last in the last 30 years only one has survived - Paideia - and at a very high price. Is true, is a work alternative for militants. You have 20 - 30 militants working there. First of all they are isolated. They are militants, 20 - 30, isolated on that project for 30 years. In 30 years that project has not achieved expanding. It is the same as it was 30 years ago. Another problem, the people who is paying for the school is the middle class or higher class progressive people that wants a higher standard for their child. What’s the result? You have very clever and well educated boys and girls. I know personally people who have been education in Paideia and nobody is anarchist. So is very difficult. I didn’t want to descartar? [despise - tr: actually more ‘be dismissive’] to despise … but I think is a very difficult way of promoting libertarian socialism. Because the limits that we have in this society. And as a way of educating people in self-management, I think it has too limited power.

PB: There’s also a strategic question of, is it better to take.. if you have 30 active militants, is it better to take them and put them alone in a cooperative, or to have them working in 30 different workplaces where they can infect the minds of their fellow workers? But I guess you were talking about the unemployed..

MB: What my feeling is that we have to be open to many solutions. That there is not one main avenue for the class struggle, there are many, many, many. And the way is always to say, we confront their side, and we are a class and we have differences, we are not agreeing with things that are not, sometimes that are not details, sometimes that are significant differences. But we are mature enough to overcome this, because we know at this time the fight is at this level and this is what has to be theoretised, and the problem I see, for instance, nothing is more psychologically self-defeating than the thing that my leftist comrades from Portugal, the launch a petition - a petition - to not to pay the debt.

PB: In Ireland as well there is one part of the Trotskyist movement...

MB: The petition, as a mechanism is something that is like, you know, psychologically is like .. [MG: not always!] ok, but... the one that is disempowered to pray to the powers : “Please consider my point of view”. This is the first thing. The second thing is that there is no way that this campaign is effective. And I prefer...

MG: That is not the only problem..

MB: (sorry) I prefer, not putting on the agenda anything that I know has no chance to succeed. And I put .. I can write an article and say, “Yes, in fact, in theory we could, make default of the debt because of this and this and this, and it is not as the corporate media say because of that and that and that”. And .. could try to argue, in a theoretical field, these things. But what I think we should adopt as a attitude is something that stemmed from the tactical/strategical thought, because we are very good, in the left, we are very good in theory, but we fail dramatically in the strategically and tactical level, and this is..

MG: I think we are not [good] in theory and not in practice. I think that the problem is not that we have demands and we present demands. The problem is that in many cases we don’t fight for win. Because I don’t think it’s a bad habit .. [MB: what I don’t like is to represent fighting] One thing is that you present one demand and you have to fight for a win. It’s very different that you present a demand and you wait for the government, by the grace of god, will give you it. So. But if you fight for win, and you really win that demand then it is a big increase in consciousness. So I’m going to put an example. An example related with the unemployed people, one solution for the unemployed people. I’m aware that its a solution, not universal, but it’s a solution taken in a very concrete context. The context of a town. Near Seville, we have three years ago, we have a very strong struggle with the unemployed people of the town. It was a town of around 30,000 people. So they do the demand to the city council, of contract that people. They say, we are unemployed, you have to contract us. We don’t have work, it’s not our problem. You have to contract us. Because we the workers, need to work. Ok? And if you don’t have work then you have to repart [redistribute?] the work. But we are going to organise how the work is going to be given. Not if you are a sheep I give you the work, if you are rebel I don’t give you the work. You have to use our list - first, second, third, fourth... First is going to work the first on the list, second is going to work the second on the list.. Borsa de trabalho

PB: This reminds me of the Swedish, the SAC did with their, with this old tactic of the charter [register]? They would say, you don’t hire people, we hire the people...

MG: Yes

PB: ..You tell us how many people you want and we will send them to you.

MG: Yes. The CNT always has done this. With force. .. What is the positive for this?

MB: But the American unions in the history did this, and then they became mafiosi. It became just like, you know, to have work you had to be in the union and you had to please the union bosses..

MG: Yes, but this is why its necessary for the unions to be democratic, to have the democratic management of the unions. Because in the union of Seville, everyone has a voice and there is no a boss, everyone has a voice.

MB: Well this is the condition, otherwise [MG: of course!] very soon you become like the mafia.

MG: Of course. I don’t want to be like the Teamsters in the United States. Or another one the FLA? [PB: the longshoremen]. The model is another one. The model is that the workers has the power to force capital to impose its own conditions. Exactly the opposite to how it is now. To build our counterpower.

MB: But how do you build this power relationship? That’s the point.

MG: That’s the task of the anarchists!

PB: Coming back to you [MG], you were talking about this town of 30,000 people and the unemployed there, how they organised. They went to, what, the local council?, and said ok, you need to give us work. So how did that work? What did they threaten them with?

MG: Yes. The process was, first of all in that town there was a small group of the CNT, 20 - 30 people. And there were well-known by other people in the town, because they are honest people, people you can rely, you can trust. So they were there - we have this problem, since 7 months, 8 months, 9 months ago, we don’t have work. Our families need to eat, I need to pay the rent or the mortgage. So we are desperate, what can we do? So the people in the union started to think. So that there was only one alternative, achieving that almost all the unemployed people in the town united around one.. revendicativa? [demand] Programme of demands. So, it was a slow process of two months.. it was like a ball of snow. Now it will be entering in details, but for example in one assembly there were 200 people. And the people they say we need be more. So for the next assembly each one of you must come back with two friends and.. with your woman. Because.. [MB: er, compagnera?] Yes. You need to come here with the woman. Because we need to be both - men and women. And we need to do more, to do more pressure. So, that was the process.

PB: But how were they going to exert pressure?

MG: Yes, they declare a general strike in the town. OK, they were unemployed people, they are not working so they were not in strike. But everyone has sons, daughters, fathers, mothers.. it’s a town. It’s the reason that I am saying is not a model that you can transport/generalise...

MB: What’s the town name?

MG: Lebrija. [MB: spells out name] I did a very interesting interview and it’s translated to English. Nestor translated [it] to English.

PB: And what was the outcome? Did they get...

MG: Yes. They did a general strike. It was a success. It was a strike where everyone was against.. when I talk ‘everyone’ I refer [to] political parties, the city council, the reformist unions, the press.. But it was a very popular demand. So, they paralysed the town and so the politicians were very impressed by the people. They have to sign an agreement where the union present a list with the people that has to work. For avoiding the danger of the union being a mafia like in the United States, it’s a very transparent process. So it’s not only the union who says who is one, two, three etc. It’s a list that is controlled by the city council, by the union. So everyone can work.

PB: So, who is giving the money so that everyone can work? Is it the city council?

MB: Of course, it is the city council.

PB: Right. Guys.. I’m sorry we’ve run out of time..

[RECORDING ENDS] 

Like what you're reading?
Find out when we publish more via the
WSM Facebook
& WSM Twitter