Making the democratic revolution happen

We live in turbulent times. Every day we wake up to a new story of corruption in the newspapers. Of course we're angry. But this indignation is useless if there is no alternative. Widespread corruption makes us feel powerless and fatalistic, that nothing can be done. How many times have we heard people say that 'this is a country of cheats'? It works out very nicely for those involved in corruption to try to convince us that we're all corrupt, to make us tolerant of, and even complicit, in their actions. That's the only way of explaining paranormal phenomena like the support for the Popular Party in Valencia, for CiU in Catalonia, or the presidency of Mariano Rajoy itself. Add to this a legal system that almost guarantees impunity, and the result is perpetual corruption.

Nevertheless, after years of consumerism and depoliticization, citizens have finally had enough and are getting down to work. A democratic revolution is sweeping the country which aims, not only to kick the mafia out of our institutions, but also to change the rules of the game so that this can never happen again. For some time, people in the streets have been demanding an end to the luxuries of high political office, and in recent years we've used Whatsapp and email to discuss ideas like salary and term limits, an end to expenses and life-long pensions, and the abolition of the Spanish Senate, among other proposals.

Salaries are often at the centre of these debates. This has limited discussions and oversimplified the question, but it has become symbolic. Guanyem Barcelona has approved an code of political ethics that limits salaries, but it also deals with many other issues. It includes 25 concrete measures grouped into three areas: auditing and accountability,   financing and transparency, and measures to tackle corruption and the excessive professionalization of politics. Of course, we aren't the first or the only group to make these suggestions; CUP, Bildu and ANOVA have had similar ideas, and these issues were front and centre of the proposals of the X Party and Podemos at the last European elections.

But let's talk about salaries. The democratic revolution must, avoiding demagoguery, make specific proposals in order to be credible. Personally, I haven't ever wanted to discuss this issue. Given that I'd been asked if I'd be willing to be a candidate for Guanyem Barcelona, I didn't think I should take a position in support of any specific salary level. I'd support whatever the majority decided. As long as I could pay the bills and have a decent standard, it'd be fine by me. After a broad, participatory process, the people have set the limit at 2,200 Euros per month, so that's what it'll be.

What I would like to discuss is the process that has taken place. Some people think that 2,200 Euros is too much, and they have strong arguments. Half of the population gets by on 1,000 Euros per month or less. This isn't just a convincing piece of data; it's an authentic dose of reality. Others think that the limit we've set is too low, and they also have strong reasons for doing so. They say we shouldn't resign ourselves to a precarious labour market and miserable wages. If we don't guarantee a salary that is in line with public sector salary scales then we won't attract skilled professionals to take on the responsibilities and workload as political representatives. Both positions seem sensible. So, how can we resolve this? There's only one way: through dialogue, participation in debates, and giving way sometimes in order to achieve a broad consensus. By being co-responsible.

Either way, I would urge those who don't like the 2,000 Euro salary limit, whether your consider it too high or too low, to not lose sight of the forest for the trees. The salary limit set by Guanyem Barcelona is at least 40% lower than that which councillors in the Barcelona City Council currently earn. And the ethical code includes many other measures that are even more important, like preventing secret bonuses and expenses, stopping people from holding more than one public office, making meeting agendas, wealth and all income sources public, and effective accountability mechanisms. These measures and many others have a radical consequence: changing the rules of the game so that people go into politics to serve the common good, rather than to get rich. In my view, that's what's important.

It should also be recognized that this code of ethics has been approved after long, public and transparent deliberations in which anyone could take part, in person and online. We've made great efforts to gain the endorsement of other political groups who were already debating similar measures, including Podemos Barcelona, ICV, EUiA and Procès Constituent. Given all of this, I think that anyone who wants to reject the code of ethics for the sake of a 200 or 500 Euro difference in salary limits is handing over victory to those who don't want anything to change. Our ethical code has been inspired by other examples, but it is unprecedented in Barcelona: no party represented in the City Council complies with even a tenth of our proposals. However, the public debate that is being generated by the process of drawing up the code of ethics is making other political groups consider adopting some of its measures. While this isn't enough, it is a small victory, a real win that encourages us to try for more.

If we want to make a change and democratize our public institutions, we have to win elections. If we want to win, lots of different people will have to reach agreements. We must distinguish between absolute issues of principle and smaller disagreements that we can put up with. Let's not let details get in the way of what is essential. This is about taking back politics to kick out the corrupt, stop evictions, end hunger, guarantee basic services and, above all, put our resources at the service of the majority of the population. An ethical code won't solve all of our problems, but it's a good start. The proof of the pudding is that you wouldn’t see Mayor Trias, or President Mas, or President Rajoy signing it. It would be political suicide for them. For us ordinary people, it's a positive first step. Thank you to everyone who is making it possible.

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