A few months ago, just as Zapatero was beginning his turnaround on economic policy, many in the Partido Popular were howling at the Spanish trade unions because they were not taking action against the government. Now, when the same unions have organised a general strike for September 29th over the government's labour market reform, the PP and their media friends have turned on the unions because they are taking action. Nothing too surprising I suppose, that the PP should be opposed to strikes is something you can almost take for granted.
First to sieze the moment has been the ever vigilant Esperanza Aguirre, usually far quicker off the mark than the national party; especially as Mariano Rajoy now has such a colossal mountain of issues that he is busily thinking about. He'll get back to us in a while. Aguirre knows a thing or two about the opportunist, Sarkozy style, politics of distraction. Ineffective, pointless, but headline grabbing measures are the name of the game. So she launched an attack on what are known as the "liberados", union representatives who are able to dedicate themselves to union activities instead of the job they were originally contracted to do. Aguirre has waited for her chance to strike at the unions, for the last few years it has been common for Madrid's regional government to claim that all protests over the creeping privatisation of health and education in the region are just a result of the liberados having too much time on their hands. So she has launched a bid to slash the number of liberados in her administration, even having the cheek to try and present this as an austerity measure. Not unless she's going to sack people it isn't.
Much has been made in the right wing press about the difficulties of knowing how many liberados there are. This is actually not too surprising. The liberados are more or less the equivalent of shop stewards in the UK, but the law in Spain does not establish anything on full time union activity. What happens is that a certain number of working hours can be dedicated to such activities by elected union representatives based on the number of employees they are representing. The existence of liberados comes from these hours being pooled, so that some representatives carry on working full time whilst others take their hours and effectively become full time union representatives in the workplace. Not a situation that is unique to Spain by any means. Whilst the law sets a legal minimum, the number of hours available for union activities in any given workplace can be increased by negotiation. This is what has happened in Madrid where the unions agreed the hours available for their representatives with...er, the administration led by Esperanza Aguirre!
You want real liberados, I'll give you liberados. How about if we start with all those very highly paid posts that Aguirre's administration created for so many who faced the awful prospect of getting a real job when the PP lost power at national level? Safely ensconced in Madrid, they have little else to do except follow the well established Gürtel procedure for handing large amounts of public cash over to friends in the private sector. Every one of them a true economic liberal you understand. Or how about the security force they set up to spy on people in a regional government that has no power to have such a force and where no documentary evidence exists to tell us what those people employed are actually supposed to be doing? If funds are really the problem then I'm sure all the political allies of Aguirre who have received radio and television franchises from her government will have no objection to these being sold off to the highest bidder? That is, after all, the ideology they espouse as they rail against anyone (else) who receives a public subsidy.