Adventures in Spanish Bureaucracy – Notes from Spain | Edward Anderson


This website has a wide range of views, going from the “Give me rich husband now” trad musings of Simone Hanna to the “I’ll breathe where I want” delusional libertarianism of William Yarwood and all shades in between. However, I have found the one issue that all sides can unite behind and that is: slagging off bureaucracy. For the last month or so, I have been engaged with an organisation so impenetrable that not even Francis Drake could destroy this Spanish force and that, dear readers, is SEPE.

Despite making the application online almost five weeks ago (seven by the time of writing), no-one has been able to tell me whether I am entitled to an amount, how much and when would I receive it. Now before we continue there should be some throat clearing. Yes, these are unprecedented times and the system is under incredible pressure, I am sure the staff at the organisation have been working incredibly hard under very difficult circumstances and nor is this type of action only bad in Spain. In the gap before leaving my job in the UK and returning to Spain last year I missed out on money I would have received, such was my hostility to stepping foot inside the job-centre ever again.

Still there have been some awesome displays of that uncaring, obstructive and mind numbingly stupid service that makes me want to burn the whole system down. Highlights include: Asking me to reply to an email (then sending me an incorrect email address that was wrong and would have gone to thousands of Spaniards). Asking me to send evidence of my NIE by photo and having an impossibly small limit on the email to send said photo. Point blank refusing to answer my email asking them to send my all information via email not post, despite them asking us to do applications online, by shuffling me to a FAQ page.

There has only been one ray of hope throughout this entire time: Unión General de Trabajadores or more specifically, the Union Official at UGT Cantabria. He has been helpful from the word go, able to contact whilst dealing with other issues and trying himself to get answers. As of yet, he too has been unsuccessful (finally getting SEPE on the phone to be told that ‘my application is being processed’ and giving no answer whether they can email me the information) but the night and day difference in treatment and basic humanity has been astounding. This is all while being buried under more concerns and issues of other members than he would have had for a decade, maybe forever. All of this leads me to the belief I would rather the Union run my unemployment insurance than the state.

This isn’t a new idea of course, historically unions and friendly societies in the UK had huge memberships that were in them precisely for this purpose. It is still done in many northern countries under the ‘Ghent System’ and the results for people of a conservative communitarian outlook are overwhelming better.

For a start, Union density is significantly higher as people have (historically) had to join a union to get the entitlement. This means the benefits of high levels of unionisation in wider society to secure better rates of pay, conditions and crucially, have an organisation who will make sure those better conditions are enforced. Unlike in so many progressive countries, where without enforcement these rights exist only on paper. It’s no surprise that working class Danes enjoy a significantly better standard of pay and Denmark has lower levels of economic inequality then oceans of countries, all achieved without a mandatory minimum wage (I would argue that it is because there isn’t a minimum wage, but that is an old left argument for another time).

Crucially though (especially for those of us who believe in bread and butter Unionism), it heavily restricts Unions from being hijacked by a minority of activists who think Unions exist to protest for transgender diversity awareness for badgers or other liberal causes (thus alienating the very class of people who set up Unions) and gets them to stick to focussing on economics. It is no surprise that whilst UK Union policy makers think their job is to be an armed wing of the Guardian, Danish Trade Unions were successful in pushing the Danish Social Democrats to move against low skilled immigration due to the clearly negative effects on their model. When Unions are mass membership organisations that have to focus on the money, we all benefit from their presence but they need to be given the responsibility to be responsible.

Even the immigrants who live in such a system (legally of course) would benefit as joining a Union to pay your unemployment insurance would be a significant deterrent to the incredible common way immigrants are taken advantage of by awful employers (which is why employers will always demand more immigrants and increasingly do so in the most ‘woke’ ways possible). Plus, if we are moving towards the model of minimum incomes we might as well get the good bit of such a system by making Unions responsible for any additional top ups that would come by making contributions. It would also kill the dumb rules such as: You must claim within 15 working days of your contract ending or wait till next time. Or my personal favourite: If you claim paro but then get a new job you lose all of that entitlement and it doesn’t bank, it just disappears.

Plus with young people not having the permanent housing security on which to be certain they will see documents posted in the mail, an online portal to send, see and receive documents would have been brought in long before this date if anyone who had to worry about losing customers was in charge.

For me, I have largely given up on chasing and am crossing my fingers and hope money goes in whilst I am on the road. I have no idea if, what and for how long the contributions I have made will get me. I also leave Cantabria not knowing if I needed to go in for an interview when this could all have been cleared up in five seconds. Other people are in a much worse position, having received nothing for months on end.

There are dozens of reasons why left wingers should always favour ownership over handing responsibilities over to the state but the blunt one is this: Faceless government bureaucracies or pseudo semi detached companies will always be worse than self-governing institutions when it comes to dealing with people, being effective and fundamentally, helping you. There is a simple reason: You have nowhere else to go.


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