SPAIN: AT BREAKING POINT? A political and economic analysis for 2013 IBERIANS OF THE YEAR: The most influential people and groups of 2012


| Category: Iberoblog, Featured, Spain News | |

Privatisation through the back door

We all know that times are hard and we’ve been told relentlessly that we must cut back. The austerity measures come as no surprise and it looks as though we must live through them whether we believe they will ‘solve’ the crisis or not. But there is something more disturbing going on under our very noses. The privatisation of our public services.


Rough times for public education in Spain. Photo: Julio Gonzalez (Spain) (CC-Creative Commons)

The messages that have come out of the recent demonstrations in Valencia are not just about the effect of the cutbacks on schools and the poor spending decisions of the Valencian government. Even police brutality is only a small part of the story. There is also the underlying accusation that private schools, unlike the state sector, are having their budgets protected.

This is not an austerity measure. This is a political spending decision that will create a trend of irreversible privitisation of schools. And it’s not just in Spain. The coalition government in the UK is responsible for something very similar.

As school budgets are squeezed and the UK braces for more cut backs, the government is simultaneously outing millions into its own ‘free school’ and academy projects. At odds with the need to tighten belts, this waistline is expanding. Disturbingly, these attacks on the fundamentals of state education are passing through almost unchallenged.

There has been a very muted reaction to the great spread of private companies and trading arms under the disguise of ‘charities’ taking control of UK schools. Rather than challenging this growing trend, teachers and their unions seem to be most preoccupied with their pensions. Whilst this is understandable, it does not really promote an image of unselfish custodianship.

Local Authority services are being disbanded in favour of ‘chain’ service providers with rampant private interests and escalating salaries. There seems to be little acknowledgement of the impact that this will have on children’s education now and for the foreseeable future. The professions are focused upon preserving the interests of their members rather than encouraging a fight to preserve the interests of children. Although articles are written and some voices speak out, there is an absence of united protestation about what’s happening.

This can’t be said for Spain. In contrast, there is a ground-level campaign going on here. A campaign that is backed by unions, the professions, parents and pupils. Changes to pensions and conditions of service may be partly fuelling the indignation but there is also a very strong message about preserving public education.

The protests over the past few weeks throughout Spain are evidence of a growing anxiety about where the cuts are hitting. The impact has been particularly acute in Valencia. A scandal made all the more poignant by the ‘not guilty’ verdict for former regional premier Francisco Camps. The juxtapositioning of stories of a victorious Camps with a region relegated to financial junk status could not have been starker.

Neither could the reaction of the authorities. The majority of people will have seen the YouTube images of apparently peaceful protesters being very ‘firmly’ handled by the police. This has led to further indignation and protest. The sight of streets heaving with protesters is an indication that whatever your political views might be, many Spanish citizens are prepared to make themselves heard.

It’s not just through large scale rally and march. Protests have been regular, local and persistent. On Sunday, for example, a march was organised across the town of Torrevieja. Over 700 individuals chose to come out on a Sunday afternoon and walk for more than two hours with banners and placards across the city. Bystanders looked on and balconies were full of interested voyeurs as the local police stopped traffic and meandered at the back of the marchers.

The protest this time was organised by AMPA, the parents’ association, “We felt it was important to show our solidarity with the teachers,” explains a representative. “Some people are saying it’s just teachers fighting for their salaries and conditions. It’s not. It’s public education that’s being threatened. We thought if AMPA organised this one it would demonstrate clearly that we are all in this together, parents and teachers on behalf of our children.”

One of the parents protesting with her three children explains her reasons: “Public education is being eroded. For example, it is being proposed that parents who currently send their children to private schools should have the fees subsidised if they lose their job. It is their choice to send them to a private school in the first place, I object if public schools are having their budgets cut to preserve the places of children in private education.”

Ironically, she isn’t happy with the turn out at the march, “Where is everyone? There should be so many more people here.”

The protest is a family affair. Children chant, “no a los recortes en educación,” the symbol of coffins and death is a prominent feature as those marching recognise that state education is being culled. It’s a service that they value and that, for all its weaknesses, still represents one based upon a vision of equality and aspiration.

The message about public services seems lost in the UK debate. As schools are being forced into Academy status, sponsored by charities that sell their services to them, public money is being squandered to profit individuals. It’s by the backdoor but it’s hardly invisible. The surprise is that the unions seem to be so disinterested in championing what’s being demolished in front of them.

What’s going on here is not to do with austerity. This is to do with the conservative belief that services do better when they are run for private gain and profit. A system that operates in the US for the benefit of a very small number and to the detriment of the majority.

The economic frailty of the UK and Spain might suggest that capitalism itself is on trial. That the building block of capitalism – privatisation – is taking over our schools and hospitals by the back door is not just a national but an international scandal.

Related stories:


Published: Mar 6 2012
Category: Iberoblog, Featured, Spain News
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
Short URL:
You can follow any responses to this entry via RSS 2.0
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

2 Comments for “Privatisation through the back door”

  1. In Catalonia the regional government is about to chop up the public health service into neat little pieces. Word is that these pieces would be easier to administer. Oh yeah.

    Meanwhile, The Catalan Water Agency ACA is being left to drown, or so it seems.

  2. Gret article. But you are wrong the unions. They are interested in resisting privatisation. They support our campaign to do this among other things. Please contact me if you want more info.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Recently Commented

  • Tim: From my point of view, girls working in a brothel are not forced,...
  • tom scott: sorry, but after having known someone for only one evening you...
  • tom scott: really stupid article! of course there are other options! the fact...
  • Matt: I am English and my girlfriend is from Madrid. My girlfriend’s ex...
  • betty: I hope that these comments will be read by new afa press applicants....