A Tale of Two Supermarkets – Notes from Spain | Edward Anderson
Last week in Spain, two Supermarkets were in the news for very different reasons. On one hand, a gang of people whose (how can I say this tactfully?) immigration status may be questionable, looted an Aldi Supermarket in Girona. On the other, around 13,500 workers at Lidl went on strike due to allegation that promises of pay rises for extra work in the crisis and changing hours (to the detriment of family life) were broken. Guess which one generated more media attention?
I’m not going to talk about the event in the States because that has been done to death and my entire point is that Spain has nothing to do with an event in a foreign country. There is no link between a death in the States and the horrific lawlessness we saw in Spain, except in the imaginations of people who make excuses for the mob.
Predictably, Vox Leader Santiago Abascal has used the event on Twitter to attack the introduction of a minimum income being rolled out by saying these are the types of people Spaniards will be handing over their cash to. It would be a horrible thing to say if it wasn’t actually true. In the equivalent of a red rag to a bull, the Vice President of Catalonia decided that the same week was a good time to ask for over 150,000 ‘irregular’ immigrants to be ‘regularised’.
It’s no good for the fact checkers to get semantic by pointing out you have to be living in the country for a year to claim it, if people who come to the country illegally will then be entitled after having their criminality rewarded. For what it’s worth, I am not in favour of the minimum basic income (for how can it be anything other than a subsidy for landlords?) but this event strikes at the heart of wider problem for people who are actually left wing. That being, the incomparability of ‘diverse’ societies and the social trust, cohesion and solidarity that makes a functioning society (let alone a welfare state) possible.
There is an ocean of evidence showing that more ‘diverse’ societies reduce social capital, can lead to lower levels of investment in public goods and have the potential to also lower trust between people of the same group. It’s no surprise that a small relative culturally homogenous nation like Denmark can maintain a high welfare state, strong Trade Unions and good pay for low skill jobs (without the need for a minimum wage I may add), whilst America cannot even have a national insurance model for the health of their own citizens. It’s not hard to see why. People, when paying for collectivist goods or being involved with the dozens of little platoons (friendly societies, co-operatives, Unions, the list goes on) which were the bedrock of actual left wing politics, need to have high levels in trust that the person next to them would come to their aid in times of need too.
When we pay into the collective pot or join collective organisations, we all create an image of who the ‘other’ person is that will dip into it. This image may change as we grow or move but it is always there. What do you think happens when that image becomes not of a shopworker fighting to have dignity at work, or the young person desperate to start a family but that of a looting mob?
Real left-wing politics is a long, unglamorous, often fruitless task. It is the fighting of many losing battles. It is not guaranteed that the striking workers of Lidl will be successful, any more than the tenants unions that have sprung up in major Spanish cities to combat the astronomical costs and degrading quality of housing caused by speculators and tourists (and yes, immigrants like me) will triumph. There are no celebrity millionaires who will be speaking outside Lidl, no massive international business will be tweeting in support of these campaigns but they plod on anyway.
What isn’t left-wing is the selfish, individualistic right-wing actions of people who have brazenly broken all social distancing restrictions by parading outside the Girona courthouse singing “fuck the police”, using an event thousands of miles away as a cheap smokescreen. They are openly spitting in the face of every Spanish person who has suffered by proclaiming their selfish desires trump the collective wellbeing of (and responsibility to) their fellow citizens and, in the case of any immigrants involved, the country that they live in.
So thank you but no. I won’t be standing, kneeling or robbing the local supermarket in solidarity with any of them. When the selfishness of the latter damages the potential of the serious work of the former, actual left wingers need to draw some clear red lines about who and what is actually worthy of support.
A serious left-wing party would not be waiting for Vox to draw attention to the issue nor have any concerns from criticism of “adopting the language of the right” because every single theft from that store is a knife in the heart of the welfare state.
We could be a few years out from a national election here in Spain (but I wouldn’t bet on that) and the parties of the right have begun to consistently out poll the left-wing coalition that governs with an already wafer-thin mandate. You don’t have to vote for Vox to see what a disaster the events we have seen in Girona are for Spain but if actual left wingers don’t get a grip on this, a lot more Spaniards will.