Spain’s socialists in the vanguard of change

Juan Fernando López Aguilar on the achievements of Spanish socialists before, during and since the Franco regime

The Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE), of which I have been a member since 1983, has always been at the forefront of social transformations in Spain, fostered in a decisive way by its ethical commitment and its resolute political action. Spanish socialists tend to say that our party is the one that best resembles Spain; that is, the one that best resembles Spanish society. As a matter of fact, our name has channelled the demands and, ultimately, the achievement of rights and social advances of indisputable historical value. So much so that the bulk of the people has embraced them and no conservative government, irrespective of how fierce its opposition to our measures, has dared to modify them.

A short overview of our almost 142-year-old history shows the crucial role that the PSOE played in the attainment of the first laws for regulation of labour, the approval of universal male – and subsequently women’s – suffrage, and the defence of republican values by the proclamation of the Second Republic in 1931. It also championed the fight against Franco’s dictatorship over four decades and, needless to say, spearheaded the design, institution building and defence of a fully democratic Spain with the 1978 Constitution, whose framework has allowed the development of the freest and most prosperous period in our history.

With the Socialist governments of Felipe González, the PSOE contributed to the historical change that Spaniards needed to modernise the country. This included the deployment of the welfare state and the Social State after successfully overcoming several complex structural reforms that had undermined Spanish development for decades. Furthermore, it ushered in an era of openness towards Europe and dismantled the burden of the Francoist State in specific strategic areas. Along these lines, a military reform was implemented after the putsch of 23 February 1981. By retrieving some of the ideas put forward by Manuel Azaña, former president of the Second Republic, it transformed the military into a professional body subject to the Constitution over a short period of time.

In terms of external policy, the González administration secured the accession of Spain to the European Economic Community in June 1985, a fact that underpinned in the widest sense the Europeanisation of the country. The Ibero-American summits, held since 1991, have also conferred on Spain a leading role in the region and the world. This role was clearly portrayed during the Barcelona 1992 Summer Olympics and the Seville Expo, two landmarks that projected a modern, open and global image of our country.

The Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party has promoted every achievement on social protection and civil rights, two basic pillars for our citizens. Despite the People’s Party (conservative right) opposition, compulsory and free education was expanded to the age of 16, while public, secular and egalitarian education has always been an utmost priority. In the same vein, the PSOE universalised access to public health, passed fundamental laws that decriminalised abortion and extended aid for dependant persons. It also revolutionised our lives in day-to-day aspects such as the penalty points driving licence, which dramatically reduced the number of road deaths, and the anti-smoking law.

During my term as a Minister of Justice (2004-2007), some of the most remarkable achievements were the adoption of a law against gender violence, the recognition of same-sex marriages – pioneered by Spain – as well as laws on gender equality and equality in gender identity civil registration. Moreover, procedures for streamlining separation and divorce were adopted, and courts on violence against women were set up. In the field of the fight against corruption, the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office was strengthened and expanded all over the country, and an aid office for victims of terrorism was created.

In this regard, the fight against the terrorist group ETA culminated in one of the best legacies of Zapatero’s era: the announcement of the “permanent cessation of armed activity” in October 2011, a milestone that marked the beginning of a new era for the Basque Country and for all of Spain after half a century of horror and indiscriminate violence. The search for mutual understanding through political channels – from a federalist perspective sensitive to the cultural, linguistic, and identitarian plurality of the country, based on the premise of respect for the rule of Law – is the approach that socialists will continue to follow in order to lower the secessionist tension in Catalonia, fuelled by the PP government between 2011 and 2015, and still far from being dispelled.

The current Spanish government, headed since January 2020 by Pedro Sánchez in a coalition between the PSOE and Unidas Podemos, has managed to launch a number of initiatives, despite the fact than many of them still have a long legislative path ahead. These are the guaranteed minimum income; an increase in the national minimum wage to €950 (from €648 in 2015); an update of pensions tied to the Consumer Price Index; the suppression of dismissal due to medical leave; the extension of paternity leave; the suppression of pharmaceutical co-payment; the introduction of new taxes on the large technology companies; the regulation of the price of property rents; and the climate change and energy transition act. Further, we have the euthanasia law, the law on sexual violence and trafficking in women, the transgender law, the new law on education (which reduces the weight of religion in the school curriculum), and the law on democratic memory, among others.

After the blow caused by Covid-19, the administration led by Pedro Sánchez has chosen to pass an expansive budget which represents the highest social expenditure in our history – €239,765 million, 10.3% higher than the previous one. The ‘social shield’ measures designed to safeguard the welfare state from the scourges of the pandemic prevent both objective dismissals and termination of temporary contracts, and regulate the duration of special temporary labour force adjustment plans (known as ERTE in Spanish) until the situation improves. Finally, evictions of vulnerable households have been suspended and electric social bonds have been extended to 1.3 million consumers.

In sum, the PSOE has acted in our democracy as a catalyst for deep transformations that have allowed Spain to achieve high welfare standards and one of the most advanced social legislation programme reforms in the world. Both the values that inspire our political action and the results attained qualify our party to head up the economic and social rebuilding that Spain and Europe will require in the post-pandemic era.

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