Ástor García Suárez born in Oviedo (1978), is a Spanish communist politician and professor. He is the current Secretary General of the Communist Party of the Workers of Spain. He graduated in law from the University of Oviedo and began his communist militancy in the early 2000. His Communist Party of the Workers of Spain (Partido Comunista de los Trabajadores de España – PCTE), is a communist and Marxist–Leninist political party in Spain, which was founded on March 3, 2019 as the result of a split in the Communist Party of the Peoples of Spain (PCPE). The youth organization of the PCTE is called the Collectives of Communist Youth.
Recently, your party has signed a Declaration on immediate measures to protect the health and rights of the people, together with sixty Communist and Workers’ parties worldwide. Tell me exactly what it is about?
This declaration comes from the need to give an international political position to a problem that is affecting all countries. CoVID-19 is a pandemic that is affecting the health of the population and saturating the health systems of a huge number of countries, and every day more. That is why, in this declaration, the signatory Communist and Workers’ Parties express our support for the people affected, the health workers and the countries that exercise solidarity. We do this while denouncing the deficiencies of the public health systems in capitalist countries, directly related to years of cuts and privatizations.
In this declaration we demand the strengthening of public health systems, the provision of means of protection, the protection of income for working families and popular strata, no decrease in democratic rights, the end of economic sanctions and blockades that make this situation more unfair and the rejection of imperialist interventions and military exercises.
Your country is one of the most affected countries since this crisis with a new virus, so the health sector is increasingly burdened by this. Is it because of decades of poor health care reform as a result of neoliberal politics?
Of course, for years we have seen public health is cut and how private health is promoted in our country. Today we have fewer beds in hospitals, fewer sanitary equipments and instruments, fewer facilities, fewer health professionals and with worse working conditions than 10 years ago. Meanwhile, private healthcare is increasing its business thanks to lack of public healthcare, which has transferred part of the work to it. And in this moment of maximum crisis … private healthcare allows itself the luxury of temporarily dismissing part of its workers!
I have the impression that the populist policies pursued by the left-wing government of Pedro Sanchez cannot deal with the challenges of this crisis in a timely manner. Is that really so?
In this crisis, we have been able to observe three types of measures, those related to the health field, the labor and economic sphere, and the social sphere. At first, the influence of the virus in our country was underestimated, and therefore it was not until Saturday, March 14, that the state of alarm was declared in Spain. With that declaration, the movement of great part of the population was restricted, and with it the confinement began. However, on Monday, March 16, many companies still were open and continued producing, and during that week many workers were exposed to infections in their jobs, on public transport, etc. It was not until March 28 that activity in those “non-essential” positions and sectors was paralysed, although in a very limited way and in a very curious manner: the affected workers went on a “recoverable leave”, which means that they will have to “give back” the lost working hours to their companies.
The paralysation of production was a measure that PCTE have been asking for since the beginning of the crisis, but of course the capitalist Government has done this in a capitalist way…
Both decisions from the Government have been adopted together with labour, economic and social measures that, in addition to being insufficient, what they do is clearly protect the interests of the capitalists in Spain and their corporate profits.
For example, in the declaration of the state of alarm, the possibility that the State managed the resources of private health, as well as the production of companies, was included. However, the measures of the central government and the autonomous governments are being completely lukewarm regarding the use of facilities and resources from private healthcare and are late in putting the necessary healthcare supplies into production in the facilities of large factories.
What is certain is that, from this crisis, the working class will be hit the hardest again. Why are workers still silent and allowed to be exploited again?
As you say, the consequences of this crisis will be disastrous for the working class of our country. The new unemployment figures for March already indicate this: 900,000 workers have lost their jobs and more than 250,000 have their contracts currently suspended. That is why we denounce that it is the workers who are carrying the burden of this health crisis and who are suffering the consequences of the economic crisis that the virus outbreak has uncovered.
In these circumstances, the organization of the working class is complex, given the confinement. However, through popular mobilization from the balconies, the role of the trade unions and through the political work that we are doing, we are able to put a criticism of the government from a class perspective. Our Party is clearly pointing out that this crisis is not going to affect the entire Spanish population equally, and that there is an important class component that will determine its consequences. We are also pointing out the important role of the working class and its organizations in the struggle so that we do not pay for this crisis neither with our health nor with our rights. In this sense, the crisis we are experiencing openly shows the contradictions of a parasitic capitalist economic system.
This crisis has once again shown that there is no unity within the European Union, which was already shaken after Britain left it. What is your opinion on the future of the EU?
For us, the analysis of the European Union is clear, and it has been clear for a long time, years before this crisis. The EU is an alliance of imperialist states, organized to favour their various monopolies. And this will not change because of this crisis. Otherwise, it can be clearly seen due to the crisis.
The EU is being harshly criticized by some sectors at the moment, just as it is in a process of discredit among part of the working class. However, this discredit and this criticism are not always made from the class positions from which the PCTE analyses the imperialist alliance that is the EU. We continue to intervene with the aim to channel this discontent into a breakout force not only with the EU, but with the capitalism that spawned it.
It seems that Italy and Spain will emerge as the worst affected by this crisis. In Italy, many political options already advocate leaving the Union after crisis. Is such an option also considered in Spain, and is such a decision really possible in reality in such political relations?
For the PCTE, unilateral abandonment of the European Union has always been a strategic demand, and we have stated this and asked for it in all areas in which we have participated. The different governments in Spain, including this social democratic government, have always defended the EU as a project for the European oligarchy. Therefore, this issue is not currently under discussion among Spanish parliamentary forces, but it is also true that things could develop very quickly under these circumstances.
However, let me say that a rupture of Spain with the EU similar to “Brexit” – some speak about a “Spexit” – for us makes little sense if it is not accompanied by a break with the capitalist system itself that promotes it. Our commitment to unilateral rupture with the EU starts from a position of open rupture with capitalism.
What is the solution offered by PCTE at this time as the crisis deepens?
We have been quite clear saying that the most effective way to tackle this crisis was the socialization of the strategic means of production of the country and their control by the working class. Of course, no capitalist Government would accept this, but it is our duty to express that capitalist solutions have worsened the situation.
However, we need to take into account that we cannot remain silent while the Government is making decisions that affect the daily situation of the workers and people. We also demand immediate measures, trying to show that capitalist management itself is unable to guarantee health and security for the working class.
At the health level, we call for the control of private health centers by public services, the adoption of special measures to finance public health, more jobs with good conditions and stability in public health system, the establishment of centralized plans for the provision of the necessary means and equipment, the daily disinfection of the means of transport and the adoption of measures for the protection of personnel, the adoption of a special protection plan for nursing homes and, finally, a control of preventive resources that prevents speculation with certain equipment.
And at the labour level, we have demanded the approval of a new state of alarm decree that establishes, immediately and among others, the obligation to pay wages for all those companies (or their foreign matrix companies) that declared benefits in 2019, the intervention of all companies in the strategic sectors, organizing their activity according to the criteria of respect for the health of the workforce and compliance with the minimum essential and production services for the satisfaction of popular needs under worker control, the immediate paralysis of all collective suspensions of contracts and layoffs in progress and prohibiting all dismissals for objective reasons. This is important because the Government is saying that layoffs have been prohibited, and that is not true, they have just become a little bit more expensive for the companies…
And at the end of this interview, can we expect in the near future the final unification of the three Communist parties in Spain in order to lead a political struggle jointly?
That issue is not on the agenda nowadays. Let me say that we think that a strong Communist Party is a true and urgent necessity for the working class in Spain, but any kind of “unification” process which would be done without a previous deep debate on all key matters would be a total failure. We have enough experience about this. There are strong differences in strategic and tactical issues, there are strong differences about the role of a Communist Party, about the character of imperialism, about the tasks of the revolution in Spain, about the stance towards capitalist governments, about the work of the communists in the trade unions.
On the other hand, let me say that we do not share the opinion that claims that “unification” of parties is the only way to develop a strong Communist Party. For example, that did not happen in October Revolution. What is needed firstly is to develop tools of class unity, and that starts in the workplaces and neighbourhoods. We are committed to that in this moment and we think that we should put all our efforts now, because it is a very hard work. At the same time, we openly express our political and ideological views and are open to debate, but debate with other forces should never be our sole activity.
Interview by Gordan Stošević