Spain: from semi-periphery to the G-8?

Understanding recent transformations in the Geo-Economy of Spain

While carrying out this project of research and immersion in new movements practices, and especially militant research and activist cartography, we’re encountering more and more incredible information about the transformation that are going on within the territory of the Spanish state. Much of this info would be relevant for any deeper understanding of current movement practices as well as why it is important to search for new forms of militant intervention.

The more time passes- the more it seems clear that the country is going through a series of vary impressive and rapid changes, many within a relatively short period of ten or fifteen years. We’ll try to highlight some of these by listing a few and reflecting a bit on what this may mean

Timeline a grosso modo:

-’75 beginning of the transition period from Franco’s regime. First general elections in ’77, constitution adopted in ’79 and last attempt at coup d’etat in ’82. At this point Spain is considered well “behindâ€Â in terms of the rest of Europe and the First World. In fact a popular phrase referring to Spain and Portugal was “Africa begins in the Pyrennesâ€Â (i.e. once you crossed the Southwestern border of France you were in Africa not Europe).

-During this period and with the state-wide victories of the PSOE (euro-socialist) Party during the 80’s, two quite large scale processes begin to get underway in Spain: the construction of welfare state on the European model (with its own peculiarities); and the beginning of economic and political integration into the European Union/Community- in particular regards to this last point Spain solidifies its role as a second-tier industrial country producing goods (such as cars & ??) for the European market, labor is still cheap and European capital begins to flood in. It should be stressed that these processes were already beginning in the later part of the Francoist period: manufacturing outposts for large industrial groups (including US capital like Ford and General Motors). Massive rural to urban migration really began in the 50’s and 60’s. During the 60’s and 70’s Spain was a net exporter of people, mostly people going for a period of time to Germany and some other countries to work. From that period were inherited a number of state-owned companies and elements of a fascist-planed economy while favoring powerful industrial groups.

So as we arrive in the 1980’s one can see a picture of a country that had recently passed from primarily rural to primarily urban; served as a manufacturing base for foreign companies to sell in foreign markets (the domestic market was building but still much smaller); a very frugal population and consumption culture, consumer cap had not hit, financial mechanisms like credit cards, mortgages etc. were weird and distant. The capital Madrid was “an industrial city in crisis, capital of a semi-peripheral countryâ€Â (Rodriguez 2007 p.14-Diagonal #55). No powerful multinationals of Spanish origin existed.

As the 80’s end and we enter the 90’s –Spain enters NATO and the EC in ’86- the economy begins to transform. De-industiralization, “rationalizationâ€Â of companies begins to take place- the early 90’s are rocked by 20% unemployment across the country, higher in some areas, and much higher across the board for youth, prospects look grim for an entire generation. Large public companies begin the privatization process: Iberia airlines, Telefonica, energy companies like Repsol, Endesa & Iberdrola, etc. as the nineties march on regional and national banks begin to become huge global players: BBVA & Banco Santander in particular. Instead of being a net exporter of people, migrants begin to arrive: from Eastern/Central Europe, North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa- initially Spain serves as a transit country, but as the years pass people begin to settle and form communities (It should be noted there existed regions where migration has been a reality for decades though, often it was temporary migration or limited in geographic scope, it is only in the 90’s & 00’s that it becomes more of a country-wide phenomena)

Briefly then some data to think about what is going on:

-in 2006 Spain was the second country in the world, after the US, in number of migrants received (BBVA sociological study 2007). In 1992 it would probably not even have been 10th. Migration has grown exponentially almost every year without a break from 1994 on- to the point were the foreign-born population is currently about 8% of the total (only counting legal migrants). Not only is this one of the highest in the EU but considering the fact that in 1993 foreign-born population was less than 1% this is pretty uncanny- a radical cultural and demographic shift is underway. This should also be read in the context of Spain being and EU “borderâ€Â country- while its borders with Portugal and France are opening- the border with Morocco is militarizing heavily, beginning to eerily look like the US-Mexicio border (or maybe its vice versa ???)

-from being an industrial platform it has gone to a mini-center of finance, urban speculation and service industries: On this note it is interesting to talk about tourism. This has been one of the major development poles of the Spanish economy: about 10-11% of the GDP is from tourism currently- and Spain this year was second only after the US in number of tourists and second to France in amount of money generated form tourist dollars/euros (it might be vice versa but you get the picture). This may have helped explain the decrease in permanently unemployed on the one hand and the skyrocketing of precarious forms of employment on the other (temporary, no benefits, seasonal, low unionization, etc.)

-From not having any multinationals based in Spanish capital to note in the 80’s, nor having many headquarters of global corporations hosted there… to being the eighth city of the world for large corporate headquarters (Rodriguez). The privatization of public industries, and the take-off of an unleashed private sector, has also lead to the creation of what are sometimes referred to as the “new conquistadorsâ€Â or the “new Spanish Armadaâ€Â- especially in reference to their entry into Latin American markets. Due to the opening up of those markets trough IMF & IADB adjustment plans Spanish corporations took advantage of linguistic and cultural facility to rapidly enter those markets during the mid-late 90’s becoming key players (controllers) of key sectors such as: telecommunications, commercial air transport, energy/petrol, banking, in quite a few countries. Ironically now the third largest stock market of Latin American stocks is in Madird- and is a specific subsidiary of the IBEX (the Spanish stock market) called the LABOX (or something similar).

-Five out of the ten top European construction companies are based in Madrid. And this is no joke- just ask Greenpsan on the importance of housing markets and construction …There is currently a construction and housing super boom going in Spain that has only just recently begin to burst, some say that its was this boom that was helping the economy keep afloat. Construction is going on all over the place- unclear who or what it is for sometimes, interesting to note that many of these top companies though are also huge global player and much of their earnings comes form foreign contracts.

-mass consumption is booming- cell phones, computers, cars, designer clothing at accessible rates, increase in the use of credit through cards; as well as loans: mortgages and others.

-While unemployment has fallen- precarious employment has skyrocketed: especially in domestic work, constructions and services such as restaurants, hotels, entertainments etc. lots of jobs have been created but many of them just “go awayâ€Â after a while. Salaries have remained more or less stagnate with regards to prices, while prices have skyrocketed especially due to the entry into the Eurozone as well as the speculation going on in housing markets. (see Berrendero)

-these things have also translated into other social practices: from being a country of fairly traditional and solid family structures to being the second in Europe in terms of separations of marriages. Spain currently has one of the lowest birth rates in the world as well- only stemmed by immigrants and their families. Also being the top in Europe in terms of new Commercial Centers “mallsâ€Â being built (replacing the type of local commerce for which the country was so famous) and which many would proudly compare themselves to countries such as the US, UK, France, etc.).

In some sense then Spain may be a copycat case of a modernization paradigm- but moving very fast?

All of these dizzying changes are hard to capture- and it is not always clear the movements are armed with strategies to deal with them. In the particular case of the corporatization of the economy and the increasing role of multinationals in the country- it seems that the institutional left and to a large degree extra-parliamentarian movements do not really realize the transformations or discuss what to do about it. The absence of practices such as ‘corporate campaigns’ and similar tools, seem to speak to this.

It may very well be the practices such as militant research and radical cartography are responding to precisely this situation. We can’t read this link too directly of course as in: <rn
> this would be somewhat ridiculous. But it could be part of what is happening- as in movements need new tools to understand the rapid transformations taking place and new ways to diffuse=se information about these processes. At least in the case of the Observatorio Metropolitano and the ‘Map Madrid’ project these seem to be particularly the case. A large research project was undertaken by a group of people involved in different social movements collectives and different struggles to try and understand what is going on in Madrid: rapid urban transformations, gentrification, segregation, immigration, subcultures, movements etc. Large volumes of different projects then are being put together for a book and accompanied by a series of maps the results that include interactive online maps for user to try and create those maps with the information most relevant on them. A serious and more than a year long attempt collective effort (more than a dozen people involved regularly in the project) to grab at what in the world is going on and what can be done about and to put it into debate amongst different antagonistic networks in the city.