So the MWC is in town this week. That’s the Mobile World Congress. And it’s brought into focus the new reality of Barcelona’s alcadesa, Ada Colau. With sadistic timing and symmetry, this week has brought two of the issues that seemed destined to define her reign at the Town Hall into direct collision, or ‘colausion’ if you will. The future of the World Mobile Congress in Barcelona. And TMB (Barcelona’s integrated transport service, Transports Metropolitans de Barcelona) workers’ rights. The problem? TMB workers have decided to strike, while MWC participants need to use the Metro.
Colau, who was voted into office a year ago on the back of her reputation as a leftfield social activist, and would have been expected to side with workers’ syndicates, had last year signed a new deal for the MWC to carry on in Barcelona until the year 2013, after previously expressing doubts about its value to the city. Why? It appears she was sufficiently swayed by the alleviating effect of a reported €450 million on Barcelona’s economy and 10,000 temporary jobs on Social Security’s paro payload. Not to mention all the business start-up such events engender beyond their stay in town. Barcelona will be on the front line in all the latest movements and gossip in mobile technology: including 5G services and the rise of graphene (a honey-comb lattice with over a hundred times more durable that steel).
But she wasn’t always so convinced about the MWC taking part in BCN.
Let’s rebobinar (rewind) again. Before taking office, Colau was on the front line encouraging transport strikes. Now, as once again Metro workers go on strike, not for the first time, she finds herself in the middle of a monumental conflict of interests. While only too mindful of the working conditions and rights of TMB workers, this time it just so happens to coincide with an event she recognizes is economically of extreme importance to the city’s coffers. The general secretary of the Sindicato Unitario de Catalunya, Mercedes Portoles, claimed TMB workers were looking for a 1% rise in every worker’s salary (approx. €360 per year). This led to an unsuccessful last-ditch nine-hour dialogue between Colau’s people and the TMB’s syndicates to find a compromise. One which was ultimately unsuccessful and led her to call the strike ‘desproporcionada’ in light of its timing. Just how ‘disproportionate’ is it? Between 22 and 24 February, services are being reduced to 50% of full capability at rush-hour times in the morning and afternoon, and a massive 30& the rest of the time. Slap bang in the middle of the MWC, which involves an estimated 100,000 participants.
Suddenly Colau finds herself being criticized by and estranged from the syndicates, while protecting the interests of big business. So will Colau go full backtrack after the congress and appease the syndicates? Or is this a political brave new world for someone who had jumped over the barricade to form part of the establishment, after railing at it from the other side? That remains to be seen, but it could shed interesting light on the kind of problems of political integrity a future Podemos government might have. How would Pablo Iglesias react to similar conflicts of interest in office? Is that a tie he’s been wearing recently, since the elections?