Saturday, September 19, 2009

Blind Faith

The Germans go big on Mallorca. Watch German TV and most evenings there will be something about the island, even if it's just the weather forecast. And most evenings there will be an announcer referring to the "paradise island". This comes from the same lexicon of blind faith that gives us all those "beautifuls" and "lovelys" to which I referred the other day. There's nothing wrong with blind faith, except blindness. It's another day for you and me in paradise. Paradise lost, paradise to be regained - some time. Sir, can you help me? Or help others. Those in unparadise.

The economic crisis was always likely to cause some tensions. It's just a question of how tense. The CCOO union puts an estimate on the number of workers unlikely to qualify for benefits this winter - 80,000, more than half of them from the hotel sector. That's getting on for ten per cent of the population of the archipelago, to which can be added a similar percentage on the dole. The union is concerned that there will be a winter of discontent, or one of social conflicts, to use its words.

The crisis has also made even more apparent the deep flaw in Mallorca's economy, that of seasonality. Generally it works, just about, but when the season is shorter and workers do not have employment long enough to qualify for winter payments, the flaw, the fault line grows ever wider. As does the gap between the haves and have-nots. The gap becomes a gorge, a vast canyon. And there is no bottom to the canyon, no cement to fill this great gap of unemployment and societal disconnection, especially as the construction industry is right down in the hole as well.

One can overstate the situation, and the union might well be guilty of exaggeration, but it may well also be right. You can also take into account the fact that citizens of the Balearics have slipped from a prosperity in the '90s to one of being poorer than the Spanish average in terms of disposable income. This may be across the board, but that board is broad. One man's lower spending power on luxury items is another one's breadline.

The truth is that many workers receive not a great deal more than subsistence wages even during the summer. At least the paradise delusion of hot days and nights can divert attention from impoverishment. And the safety net of the state has, until now, been there for the colder days and nights of winter. It won't be for many this winter.

The deep flaw in the economy is mirrored by the deep flaw in island society: the extremes in terms of wealth or not. Few societies are immune from such a gulf, but the compactness of Mallorcan geography makes it more apparent, more inescapable, unless you retain that blindness of blind faith.

The lateness - the 1960s - with which an industrial revolution arrived in Mallorca, at a time of a regime only starting to come to terms with true economics, provided little or no preparation for greater diversity. And that revolution was predicated on an industry far removed from the grit of manufacturing. The Mallorcan economy is something of an unreal economy. Rightly so perhaps. Paradise is a state of unreality. Unparadise, however, is the reality confronting many. And some of the wealth that was and has been accrued has an unreality as well. It was as if it was magicked, the consequence of being there, of luck, and of the benevolence of tour operators and visitors from the first days of mass tourism.

One can overstate the situation, and I hope I am, and that the union is as well. But the ingredients for discontent exist, and I keep in mind the actions of those Sardinians, around the time that the crisis broke, who bombarded luxury yachts with wet sand in disgust at displays of ostentatious wealth (16 August 2008: Careful What You Wish For). There might be more than wet sand this winter in Mallorca. Paradise, anyone?

Yesterday's title - Massive Attack with Tracey Thorn, Today's title - who were they, and which groups were they in prior to this one?


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