Iberia has announced the firing of a quarter of its staff, and a sharp salary reduction for the remainder. Our pious labor minister, Fátima Bánez, who often refers to the succor we can expect from the Virgin, has called for “sensitivity” in the application of the labor-market reform with which her name is associated: the very legislation under which such mass firings are taking place.
But this “reform” has all the sensitivity of an armored car. It is the most unbalanced reform (in favor of the interests of companies, and of the lawyers who interpret it) among all those enacted since the time of Franco. Its contents did not figure in the electoral program of the Popular Party (PP), whose leaders repeatedly stated that their plans did not include any reduction in the cost of firing employees.
Since it has been in effect, we have seen an exponential burgeoning of company downsizing plans in Spain, with tens of thousands of firings, at far lower cost. The PP general secretary, María Dolores de Cospedal, is right when she says that the reform is “bearing fruit.” It is, and rapidly: most studies agree that the year 2013 is going to see a splendid 26 percent of the active population unemployed.
This swollen percentage, unknown in the countries around us and comparable only with Greece, shows that the problem of the Spanish labor market is, above all, one of economic growth and of deficient corporate tissue, not of labor legislation or its rigidity. A further false step is this reform, which is only generating suffering.
With so much firing going on, someone who could raise the money might well film a Spanish version of the film The Company Men: a film that offers a good look into the lacerating personal effects of crisis, though so far it has not enjoyed the commercial success of Inside Job, Margin Call, Too Big to Fail or Up in the Air. The Company Men tells the story of a downsizing in GTX, a big American corporate group where one of the sections of the group has begun to lose money, while the others are still profitable. With the cost-reducing firings the executives of GTX aim to achieve an upturn in the market value of company’s stock — with which they will enrich themselves both directly (they hold lots of stock and options) and indirectly, by raising the company’s value in view of a possible sale, which is always at the back of their minds.
One of the mid-level executives thus dismissed, tells of the relevant data: the emoluments of the top executive of GTX are equivalent to 700 times that of an average worker (“Does he work 700 times as much?”). In the year of the massive downsizing (another round of 5,000 is in preparation) this top executive appeared in The Wall Street Journal’s list as one of the best-paid executives, at $22 million.
However, the film is not about the life of the winners, but of the losers in the corporate crackup, most of them feeling themselves to be firmly members of the middle class — “they fed their families, bought houses, sent their kids to college... they were people who knew what they were worth.” These people now find themselves thrown into a spiral of fear and anxiety as they see themselves substituted, in the best of cases, by others like themselves, but without children, without mortgages, with far lower salaries, and more leonine conditions of employment.
One of those who finally stays on in the company, living with the guilt syndrome of a disaster survivor, comments to the top executive of the company: “We built something here, together. It wasn’t just you, or me, but many, many people [...] They were good people.” And the other answers: “We’re not breaking any laws. Now we’re working for the shareholders.”