Spain through the looking glass

Power struggle

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At around 2 o’clock yesterday afternoon, or about mid-way through Spain’s latest general strike, I started receiving internet links to photos of the nation’s streetlights burning brightly in the middle of the day.

Among all the other images I was seeing of edgy police, excited demonstrators and hirsute union bosses, these pictures (click and scroll down) were seriously puzzling. Had a band of surrealists infiltrated the nation’s media outlets? Or were the Policía Nacional trialling some new technology designed to temporarily blind all those pesky protestors?

The truth – when, after much joining of dots, I finally pegged – was nearly as bizarre.

You see, it’s all to do with how people decide who has ‘won’ a general strike in Spain (and yes, there does have to be a winner – the strike is, after all, basically a referendum on government policy minus the ballot boxes). Anyway, beyond the usual hoo-ha about how many people actually chose to down tools – the unionists say 76.7% while the employers are claiming it’s 12% – there are four key performance indicators both sides use to assess the results of this strike. First, there is the question of how well the unions manage to paralyse the country’s public transport networks. Next, everybody weighs up the syndicates’ success in shutting down large retailers. After that, they look at how many of the country’s highly-politicised teachers walk off the job. And lastly, people try and gauge how effective the trade unions have been in stymieing the nation’s industrial output.

So what does any of this have to do with the mysterious street lamps? Well it’s connected to the industrial output indicator because one of the clearest ways to demonstrate a drop in industrial production is to measure electricity use.

In other words, the less power is being used, the less stuff is being made and the more successful the general strike has been. Or so the theory goes (of course it’s far more complicated than that but such public relations wars are not won with details anyway).

Anyway, the upshot of all this is that commentators spent a lot of time yesterday talking about how many kilowatts were coming off the nation’s grid. All over the Internet, you could find the nifty graphics provided by Spain’s national power company Red Eléctrica de España showing the difference between anticipated and actual consumption.

Early in the afternoon – and then again later in the day – Spain’s (totally anti-strike) Interior Ministry, published a statement showing that power usage had dropped only 12.7 per cent from normal levels during this latest stop-work. This was against 15.18 per cent during the last general strike in March and 15.9 per cent for the 24-hour strike of 2010.

The ministry said this was evidence that popular support for such strikes was falling.

A short while later, the Secretary General of Spain’s General Workers Union Cándido Méndez, appeared on Spain’s public broadcaster RTVE La 1 explaining that you couldn’t compare power use between this strike and the previous strikes. He argued that, in percentage terms at least, the drop in output was largest this time around because many more people were unemployed now.

Which brings me back – finally – to the puzzle of those weird streetlight photos. And perhaps some of you have already cottoned on to what was happening. But for those of you that are still scratching your heads, here’s the reason. All those images were being posted by people who wanted to show that government-friendly councils nationwide had deliberately flicked on all their power switches to artificially massage (read ‘lift’) power output figures and make it look as if less people were striking than was actually the case.

If we were anywhere in this world, I might dismiss this as the talk of a bunch of Photoshop-happy conspiracy theorists. Unfortunately, this being Spain, I fear people might be on to something.


Written by georgemills25

November 15, 2012 at 09:35

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with , ,

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