Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Under Martial Law

Rabbit tracks in the snow
Note: this was written on Sunday evening and is unamended (in other words I haven't done any research, or even read the papers).

Anyone who came here looking for enlightened and enlightening comment on the Spanish air traffic controllers' strike will, I fear, be disappointed.  I have beenb deep in the country these last few days and have no internet access, and little interest in the real world. I only found out about it by chance as I took a radio to listen to the football.

Don't believe anything you read in the British press, by the way; I guarantee they will know even less than I do about it.

The facts appear to be as follows: the air traffic controllers' union called, for Saturday, an illegal and abusive strike, deliberately causing utter chaos at the start of what is for many people a five-day holiday here. The (socialist) government responded by declaring a state of alarm, as set out in the Constitution, for the first time in democracy. It's a rung or two below a state of emergency, and in this case involved pacing Spanish airspace under martial law, and the controllers under military discipline and at the orders of the military high command. By refusing to work they would be liable to court-martial. They quickly scuttled back to work, but the state of martial law will last for two weeks, and they may ask permission of parliament to extend it over Christmas and New Year, in case the union gets ideas again.

Those who didn't work on Saturday, the majority, will be investigated and may be disciplined or charged and they could be held personally liable for the losses they have caused to the airports, airlines and passengers.

The opposition, centre-right, Popular Party has expressed its support for the decisions the government has taken, although it reserves the right to slag them off about it later when it's all over.

So much for the facts. The rest of this post is speculation, unless I can be bothered to do some research.

I don't know what the controllers were complaining about, but since they earn a lot of money and are almost impossible to sack they don't have much to complain about, and they don't have the sympathy of the public, 90% of whom would kill to have their problems. I couldn't say whether the threat to law and order or to the economic activity of the country was really great enouh to justify placing civilians, even greedy, irresponsible civilians, under martial law, but it seems an extreme reaction.

The opposition was quite right to support the government now, but they will make great political capital out of it later. Among other things because a home office minister said that it was the dutry of an opposition to stand by the government, forgetting that when Spain went to war in Iraq, and was later attacked by Islamic terrorists, his party and himself, then in opposition, did not support the gover4nment but played a nasty game of politics with national security.

The current opposition is genuinely centre-right, not remotely extreme, but it has inherited a little DNA from the Falange, which it is not allowed to forget. The governing socialist party has democratic roots, but it has some Marxist DNA, including recent intromission, and still has extreme factions within it. Even so the Popular Party, had it taken this decision to impose martial law, would have been called fascists and tyrants, and would have faced calls for civil unrest from the very people who have, in fact, taken that decision themselves. This will be pointed out at length later on by the opposition leader when it can no longer be construed as frivolity or disloyalty.

Btw, the prime minister, Zapatero, has disappeared. He hasn't been seen from start to, well, to whatever point we are now at. The party leaders, the real leaders, have clearly told him to stay indoors and to keep his mouth shut. It could not be clearer. He's barely competent at reading scripts, shaking hands and wearing suits for the cameras; when the time comes for real government they lock him in with his toys and tell him to leave it to the grown-ups.

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