More Cigarrettes, Fewer Immigrants, and Lots of Cuts: What does the Future Hold for Spain?

It’s been barely a week since the Conservative PP (Partido Popular, or Popular Party) swept the elections in Spain, winning an absolute majority in parliament here.  For the currently (but not much longer) ruling social democratic party, the PSOE, it was its worst defeat ever.  For weeks polls had been predicting a conservative victory, and the socialist party had drawn “a line in the sand” at keeping 120 of the 350 parliamentary seats – its performance, ten seats bellow that has been called a “debacle,” a “fiasco,” and a “major defeat” in the papers.  While the parties to its left, the IU (the Izquierda Unida, the United Left, a sort of refoundation ex-communist party) won 11 seats, and the Catalan Republican Left won 2, it appears the electorate has spoken and conservatives have a clear mandate.

And what will they do?  While next-door Portugal burns – general strikes, severe austerity, and the country’s credit rating reduced to “junk” – the question here in Spain is what will happen once conservatives come into office.  The PP candidate, Sr. Rajoy, was vague during the campaign, though at different times saying he would spare education, health, and pensions.  But the general expectation are that there will be cuts and streamlining as a way to try to restart the Spanish economy.  This week Rajoy met with heads of banks, but has announced few specifics.  One was that he was intent on finding a way to restore smoking to public places like bars and hotels, something that has evoked quite a stir in response.

The other came from the PP itself, and it was on immigration: the government will revoke the current “amnesty-style” law that permits immigrants without documents to regularize their situation within three years if they can establish they’ve worked for one of those years.  It is wrong, according to their press release, to “incentivize immigration when unemployment is so high in Spain,” and they would like to encourage “circular migration” rather than settlement.

There is a specific kind of nastiness in the logic of the argument, the same that once was used to justify the Bracero program in the United States: “they are less desirable as citizens than as laborers.”  If previously the language of integration (“they must integrate to Spanish culture”) barely hid paternalism or cultural chauvinism, and the distinction between “the good immigrant” and the “lazy immigrant” barely masked contempt – the latest discourse is, I think, actually quite a bit nastier because it does not even allow for the possibility of “integration” or being a “useful immigrant.”  It simply states: “we don’t want you” but recognizes that “we need you.”

Spanish unemployment is tremendously high.  A report this week on regional unemployment figures in Europe showed that 8 of the 12 highest regions were within Spain (the 4 others being French Colonies, I mean, “overseas territories”), with some regions like Andalucía having unemployment close to 30%.   But these figures are relative, and need to be understood in the context of social democratic unemployment insurance and other social rights like universal health care and education.  So, those nearly one out of three Spaniards looking for work are, in many many cases not going to settle for some of the more precarious, seasonal, and low paying job positions that have come to be occupied by immigrants who now make up over 10% of the population.  If you add to the that the fact that Spain has an aging population with low birthrates, and a very high proportion of retired people to working people, it becomes clear that this country needs working-age immigrants who will pay into the system.

The relatively civilized immigration rules here may well come from enlightenment, but they serve a function.  The anti-immigrant discourse that circulates – sometimes quite nasty, especially when dealing with Romanians,  is present in public discourse but even conservative party policy makers recognize that immigration is important to the economy.  This most recent proposal – we’ll take your labor and taxes but please don’t stay too long – is a way to try to reconcile plain disdain with economic imperatives.  Unfortunately, it has traction during these times of uncertainty.  The Bracero program was one shameful chapter in US history (also originally hatched during economic difficulties), and it would be terrible to see something like it emerge here.    Unfortunately, so far it appears that the smoking proposal has more opponents than the immigration one.


Faculty Calls for UC Davis Chancellor to Resign

You can read the letter here: Open Letter to Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi | UCDavis Bicycle Barricade.

The text of the letter, by Nathan Brown, assistant professor of English follows:

18 November 2011

Open Letter to Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi

Linda P.B. Katehi,

I am a junior faculty member at UC Davis. I am an Assistant Professor in the Department of English, and I teach in the Program in Critical Theory and in Science & Technology Studies. I have a strong record of research, teaching, and service. I am currently a Board Member of the Davis Faculty Association. I have also taken an active role in supporting the student movement to defend public education on our campus and throughout the UC system. In a word: I am the sort of young faculty member, like many of my colleagues, this campus needs. I am an asset to the University of California at Davis.

You are not.

I write to you and to my colleagues for three reasons:

1) to express my outrage at the police brutality which occurred against students engaged in peaceful protest on the UC Davis campus today

2) to hold you accountable for this police brutality

3) to demand your immediate resignation

Today you ordered police onto our campus to clear student protesters from the quad. These were protesters who participated in a rally speaking out against tuition increases and police brutality on UC campuses on Tuesday—a rally that I organized, and which was endorsed by the Davis Faculty Association. These students attended that rally in response to a call for solidarity from students and faculty who were bludgeoned with batons,hospitalized, and arrested at UC Berkeley last week. In the highest tradition of non-violent civil disobedience, those protesters had linked arms and held their ground in defense of tents they set up beside Sproul Hall. In a gesture of solidarity with those students and faculty, and in solidarity with the national Occupy movement, students at UC Davis set up tents on the main quad. When you ordered police outfitted with riot helmets, brandishing batons and teargas guns to remove their tents today, those students sat down on the ground in a circle and linked arms to protect them.

What happened next?

Without any provocation whatsoever, other than the bodies of these students sitting where they were on the ground, with their arms linked, police pepper-sprayed students.Students remained on the ground, now writhing in pain, with their arms linked.

What happened next?

Police used batons to try to push the students apart. Those they could separate, they arrested, kneeling on their bodies and pushing their heads into the ground. Those they could not separate, they pepper-sprayed directly in the face, holding these students as they did so. When students covered their eyes with their clothing, police forced open their mouths and pepper-sprayed down their throats. Several of these students were hospitalized. Others are seriously injured. One of them, forty-five minutes after being pepper-sprayed down his throat, was still coughing up blood.

This is what happened. You are responsible for it.

You are responsible for it because this is what happens when UC Chancellors order police onto our campuses to disperse peaceful protesters through the use of force: students get hurt. Faculty get hurt. One of the most inspiring things (inspiring for those of us who care about students who assert their rights to free speech and peaceful assembly) about the demonstration in Berkeley on November 9 is that UC Berkeley faculty stood together with students, their arms linked together. Associate Professor of English Celeste Langan was grabbed by her hair, thrown on the ground, and arrested. Associate Professor Geoffrey O’Brien was injured by baton blows. Professor Robert Hass, former Poet Laureate of the United States, National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize winner, was also struck with a baton. These faculty stood together with students in solidarity, and they too were beaten and arrested by the police. In writing this letter, I stand together with those faculty and with the students they supported.

One week after this happened at UC Berkeley, you ordered police to clear tents from the quad at UC Davis. When students responded in the same way—linking arms and holding their ground—police also responded in the same way: with violent force. The fact is: the administration of UC campuses systematically uses police brutality to terrorize students and faculty, to crush political dissent on our campuses, and to suppress free speech and peaceful assembly. Many people know this. Many more people are learning it very quickly.

You are responsible for the police violence directed against students on the UC Davis quad on November 18, 2011. As I said, I am writing to hold you responsible and to demand your immediate resignation on these grounds.

On Wednesday November 16, you issued a letter by email to the campus community. In this letter, you discussed a hate crime which occurred at UC Davis on Sunday November 13. In this letter, you express concern about the safety of our students. You write, “it is particularly disturbing that such an act of intolerance should occur at a time when the campus community is working to create a safe and inviting space for all our students.” You write, “while these are turbulent economic times, as a campus community, we must all be committed to a safe, welcoming environment that advances our efforts to diversity and excellence at UC Davis.”

I will leave it to my colleagues and every reader of this letter to decide what poses a greater threat to “a safe and inviting space for all our students” or “a safe, welcoming environment” at UC Davis: 1) Setting up tents on the quad in solidarity with faculty and students brutalized by police at UC Berkeley? or 2) Sending in riot police to disperse students with batons, pepper-spray, and tear-gas guns, while those students sit peacefully on the ground with their arms linked? Is this what you have in mind when you refer to creating “a safe and inviting space?” Is this what you have in mind when you express commitment to “a safe, welcoming environment?”

I am writing to tell you in no uncertain terms that there must be space for protest on our campus. There must be space for political dissent on our campus. There must be space for civil disobedience on our campus. There must be space for students to assert their right to decide on the form of their protest, their dissent, and their civil disobedience—including the simple act of setting up tents in solidarity with other students who have done so. There must be space for protest and dissent, especially, when the object of protest and dissent is police brutality itself. You may not order police to forcefully disperse student protesters peacefully protesting police brutality. You may not do so. It is not an option available to you as the Chancellor of a UC campus. That is why I am calling for your immediate resignation.

Your words express concern for the safety of our students. Your actions express no concern whatsoever for the safety of our students. I deduce from this discrepancy that you are not, in fact, concerned about the safety of our students. Your actions directly threaten the safety of our students. And I want you to know that this is clear. It is clear to anyone who reads your campus emails concerning our “Principles of Community” and who also takes the time to inform themselves about your actions. You should bear in mind that when you send emails to the UC Davis community, you address a body of faculty and students who are well trained to see through rhetoric that evinces care for students while implicitly threatening them. I see through your rhetoric very clearly. You also write to a campus community that knows how to speak truth to power. That is what I am doing.

I call for your resignation because you are unfit to do your job. You are unfit to ensure the safety of students at UC Davis. In fact: you are the primary threat to the safety of students at UC Davis. As such, I call upon you to resign immediately.


Nathan Brown
Assistant Professor
Department of English
Program in Critical Theory
University of California at Davis

On other news, AAUP upholds Academic Freedom

A story here describes the American Association of University Professors’ statement about the treatment by University of Colorado of Ward Churchill, the well-known ethnic studies scholar, and Phil Mitchell, a conservative history adjunct professor.  I was not familiar with the other case, but had been aware of the egregious way Churchill had been treated.  I was happy to see this report, but unfortunately not much is likely to come of it.  I seem to remember some similarly grand condemnations of De Paul University over Norm Finkelstein’s firing, and some good that did.

The story is below.

AAUP Unit Slams U. of Colorado Over Firings of 2 Controversial Faculty Members

By Peter Schmidt

The University of Colorado has been accused by that state’s affiliate of the American Association of University Professors of numerous violations of academic freedom and due process in its dismissals of two faculty members: Ward Churchill, a leftist ethnic-studies professor fired for alleged academic misconduct in the midst of a media firestorm over remarks he had made about the September 11 terrorist attacks; and Phil Mitchell, an adjunct history instructor whose contract was not renewed after he complained that his academic department was trying to oust him for his conservative views.

In a prologue to reports issued last week on the two faculty dismissals, the Colorado Conference of the AAUP argues that both Mr. Mitchell and Mr. Churchill lost their jobs at the university’s Boulder campus “because other people did not like their opinions.” Based on its conclusion that the university has shown “indifference to the ideals of academic freedom,” the conference recommends “that any faculty seeking employment accept a position at the University of Colorado only as a last resort.”

Bronson Hilliard, a spokesman for the University of Colorado at Boulder, responded Tuesday by arguing that both faculty members lost their jobs for valid reasons. In an interview, he denounced as “idiotic” the reports’ assertion that Colorado has shown a pattern of firing faculty for their political beliefs. “This is a place of lively discourse and debate,” he said, calling the state AAUP conference’s warning to potential faculty hires “ridiculous on its face.”

“These are not abuses of academic freedom, nor are they cases that are even remotely related to each other,” he said.

Both of the state conference’s reports were prepared by its standing committee on faculty rights, based on the committee’s investigations of the dismissals.

The Churchill Investigation

The report on Mr. Churchill, whose lawsuit challenging his 2007 dismissal remains pendingbefore the Colorado Supreme Court, argues that the university’s firing of Mr. Churchill over charges of research misconduct “violated many of its own rules as well as the most basic principles of academic freedom it purports to uphold.” It accuses the university of a long list of due-process violations, such as convening an investigative committee that, it says, was stacked against Mr. Churchill, gave him too little time to develop his defense, and judged his research based on standards that were vaguely stated or created out of whole cloth.

The university panel’s report “suppressed and misrepresented evidence that worked in Churchill’s favor, and contrived evidence against him,” the AAUP committee’s report says. The university, it says, “repeatedly violated the rules of confidentiality by conducting press conferences, releasing statements to the press, and posting statements and documents on its Web site during the investigation.”

Echoing the position the university has taken in defending itself against Mr. Churchill’s lawsuit, Mr. Hilliard on Tuesday argued that the professor “was given complete due process,” involving several faculty hearings, and clearly found to have committed academic misconduct.

An Adjunct’s Termination

The Colorado AAUP’s report on Mr. Mitchell, who had been a senior instructor in history at the Boulder campus’s Sewall Residence Academic Program, argues that university’s history department tried to dismiss him for his conservative political views and Christian religious beliefs in 2005, but backed down after he spoke out against his potential termination in more than 30 media interviews. The department, the report says, then retaliated against Mr. Mitchell for taking such steps by contriving a justification to get rid of him, ending his contract in 2007.

Describing Mr. Mitchell, who had taught at the university for 23 years, as an award-winning instructor who was exceptionally popular with students, the report says the history department built up a case for firing him by subjecting him to exceptional levels of scrutiny, holding him to tougher standards than other faculty members, and heeding only those colleagues who negatively evaluated his performance while ignoring those whose evaluations were positive.

The report calls Mr. Mitchell’s dismissal “a prime example” of how adjunct faculty members at the university lack the job protections afforded to those with tenure. It says: “A dual employment structure exists at the University of Colorado, wherein most of the faculty can be fired at any time for any reason, or for no reason, thus allowing the administration and sometimes tenured faculty to suppress the academic freedom of the majority” of instructors, who are adjuncts.

Mr. Hilliard, the university spokesman, on Tuesday said Mr. Mitchell’s contract termination had “nothing to do” with his religious or political beliefs and instead stemmed from his failure to comply with directives to instructors in the Sewall Residence Academic Program to make their seminar courses more rigorous.