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Corona virus: State of Emergency without social emergency plan

by Manuel Garí

Last night the "Royal Decree 463/2020 of March 14 came into force, declaring the state of alarm for the management of the health crisis situation caused by COVID19", after a long extraordinary Council of Ministers in which basically they approved two groups of measures with a period of 15 days, after which they must be debated in Parliament:

1 Confining the population in their homes:

Restricting the use of public use routes individually and for the following cases: purchase of food, pharmaceuticals or basic necessities, visits to health centers, banks or insurance entities, to go to work, return to the usual home in case of being outside the same, to take care of the elderly, minors, dependents and people with disabilities and for reasons of force majeure or justified issues.

Private vehicles will also be allowed, and the Ministry of Interior can order the closure of roads. In turn, the Government recommends teleworking. This measure in itself is justified from the preventive point of view, although its impact will be very uneven in society since the real possibilities of teleworking are limited to a minority sector of the population and only to a part of the work activities, and the effective possibilities of carrying them out with the educational centers closed are also different in the case of having to combine work at home with the care of schoolchildren.

The problem that this entails and which the government has not solved is the cessation of economic activities, the first effect of which will be the increase in unemployment of employees and the decrease of income in the self-employed. This effect will manifest itself in the loss of employment and salary in the case of the most precarious sectors, multiplication of temporary lay-offs (ERTE). This is a golden opportunity for the restructuring of staff by many employers since, according to what Sánchez said at the press conference, the procedure will be made more flexible, which may mean the elimination of the already few existing requirements.

Given this, it is worth asking what extraordinary measures are going to be adopted to ensure wages and incomes of salaried or self-employed workers who have lost their jobs? What extraordinary provisions will be made to be able to assume the public cost of the temporary lay-offs? What resources to address the social emergency situation to which a significant part of the population is facing?

In accordance with what was approved in the Council of Ministers of last Tuesday the 10th, in which flights from Italy and third age trips or sports activities with public were suspended, it made the following provision: 18,225 million euros, of which 14,400 are intended for SMEs and the self-employed to theoretically mitigate the negative effects of the impact of the epidemic, but with a trick, since 14,000 million are substantiated by tax deferral and 400 million will be given through ICO(Official Credit Institute) credits.

In both cases, it is a matter of postponing the problem, fundamentally through the current reduction in state income. Therefore, 3,825 million euros will be dedicated to the attention of social and health needs, of which 3,800 million are advances to the Autonomous Communities to meet their competency obligations in terms of health, so it is not new money since it will have repercussions, if it is not resolved, in a lower future endowment.

The remaining 25 million will be dedicated to school feeding scholarships. This means that, at the moment, 0 euros are available for salaries or income of the self-employed or emergency situations that occur in the poorest sections of the population.

The question that remains to be asked at this point is: will the Council of Ministers next Tuesday, March 17, approve the necessary items to ward off the social emergency? Will you take measures to prevent mass impoverishment? Will it establish the possibility of non-payment of mortgages for incomes of less than 30,000 euros per year? Will it allow the cessation of rent payments in cases that require it? Will it cancel the obligation to pay rents to the vulture funds that the PP welcomed? Will it regulate working conditions to prevent, once again, the crisis and the way out of the crisis, at the expense of working people?

This leads us to a second group of questions associated with the need for funds to invest and spend: will the government claim and collect at once the 65,000 million euros of the bank bailout, with a more than healthy and buoyant banking system ? Will it decree the creation of an extraordinary tax on the profits of large companies?

The dilemma is clear. At the moment Sánchez has only asked the population to adopt a series of self-protection measures, which is necessary, but today he has not taken the corresponding decisions to avoid, again, the blood, sweat and tears falling always on the people of below and without diminishing the privileges and gains of those of above.

Let the government be clear. Now we are not going to remind you that you walked behind the events dragging your feet during decisive days and that you accepted the reality of the seriousness of the epidemic reluctantly because of fear of having to adopt unpopular measures, but it should be borne in mind that if something creates alarm and social unrest it is the feeling of the absence of a plan, of a road map, which manifests itself in two questions.

Firstly, in the adoption of partial measures, sometimes disconnected, with the excuse that the epidemic is changing (we have already seen it in the Chinese or Italian cases!) And, secondly, the lack of political will to mobilize the necessary economic resources following Nadia Calviño's neoliberal orthodoxy. In this discomfort, the right-hand side can find the troubled river in which to remake its electoral revenues.

2 Centralization of command

In a General Staff composed of the Ministries of Defense, Interior, Transport and Health, this crisis administration council will be led by the Prime Minister, who has called on all the others (parties, institutions and citizens) to get behind him. This means that it confers the entire sanitary decision to the State, both from the public and private sectors, including the possibility of intervention in the sanitary industry, but also extraordinary powers to the police and a police role is reserved for the army itself. To summarize the most immediate: all the police forces, including the autonomous and local ones, will be under the sole command of the Ministry of the Interior. In turn, the Ministry of Health will have in its hands "all public and private, civil and military health facilities."

The first meaning of this decision is that the labor dimension of the effects of the state of alarm is undervalued with the consequent marginalization of the Minister of Labor and the Minister of Commerce and that at a time when the distribution of goods is going to be essential. In political terms, this means that Sánchez monopolizes command of the crisis within the government by giving all powers to socialist ministers, leaving Unidas Podemos (UP) without any role.

But there is a second dimension to this even more important decision. Sánchez establishes the direct relationship of the government with each individual residing in the territory of the Spanish State as if the society were exclusively a sum of individualities, neither counting on the union and social organizations that support the interests of the popular classes, nor acknowledging the reality of the legal system that distributes powers within the State between the central government and the governments of the communities.

If the first involves reinforcing the neoliberal conception of society composed of individuals and the State without further mediation, the second means dynamiting the State of Autonomies in practice and an open path to unitarian re-centralization, renouncing the possibilities offered by self-government.

This issue is especially serious in the cases of the Basque Country and Catalonia, where the few acquired national rights are violated. Sánchez, instead of presiding over the coordination of efforts, has opted for the way of replacing the rest in his functions in a harmful (and inefficient) political maneuver. It will be difficult to solve this problem at the meeting today with the presidents of the governments of the communities.

Due to the treatment given to UP and especially to the second aspect related to Euskadi and Catalonia, the future of the PSOE alliances becomes uncertain, which together with the victory - at least for now - of the most neoliberal wing of the government of the ministers of Finance and Economy, it is not ruled out that we see a new post-alarm state panorama in the debate on the General State Budgets. At the moment there are worrying movements.

On the one hand, the maneuvers of Arrimadas (Ciudadanos) to get closer to the PSOE if it breaks off the talks with the Generalitat and specifically with Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC), on the other the poisoned support of Abascal (Vox) to the government's decisions, precisely for what they suppose of disciplinary re-centralization.

For his part, Casado (Partido Popular) is pursuing the attrition of PSOE at all costs, taking arguments from here and there, trying to lead the possible social unrest of broad working classes, proposing measures of Keynesian appearance combined with the mantra of reductions in business taxes, forgetting that the privatization of healthcare and the deterioration of hospitals and public services, which lost thousands of professionals, saw their means deteriorate and had to close beds, was the work of the central governments and the communities of his party, always eager, as now with the medicalization of hotels, to find niches for private business.


We are experiencing three concomitant crises that as such are fed back. The economic one that is worsening now, the sanitary one that is harder due to the systematic dismantling of the public and, in turn, affects the first one, and the climatic one that as a backdrop has a correlation with the previous two. It is in times of crisis that strategic bifurcations can be taken.

Either repeat and reinforce the logic that presided over that of 2008 and that determined the action of the Zapatero's government until it was consummated in the accelerated reform of article 135 of the Constitution, while continuing to underpin the current economic model, environmentally unsustainable, economically ineffective and socially unfair because it is subordinate to the dictates of finance and the European Commission; or to promote investment in a new production model that respects the biosphere, highlighting democratic planning, defending the interests of the social majority against the oligarchy, creating a solid public and social sector in strategic industries, in the research and services for citizens and, ultimately, building a society on a new floor.

Manuel Gari, economist, is part of the Advisory Council of Viento Sur. This article first appeared in Spanish in Viento Sur. Translated by Noemi Argerich. Reproduced with permission

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