The crisis has taken its toll on all Catalan municipalities without exception … but not equally expensive. After the series of articles on the cities facing the recovery in pole position, the local editions of LaVanguardia.com now approach the opposite situation with a new cycle of reports. This week we bring the focus to a selection of locations that face the desired lift-off with more weight in the shoes. Chronic unemployment, industry in check, low levels of training and social cohesion, an indigestible public debt or recent closures of large companies are some of the factors that most drag the exit of the crisis to the bottom of the recovery.
The crisis has wreaked havoc in Sant Vicenç dels Horts : closures of companies, a still low educational average, sunken construction sector … Comparing their unemployment data with those of Baix Llobregat , it is clear that it suffers a higher percentage than the rest of municipalities of the region. The hardest years were 2013 and 2014. With the now vice-president of the Generalitat, Oriol Junqueras, as mayor, the unemployment came to rise above 24%, more than five points above the average of its neighbors, a whole drama for a population that does not reach 28,000 inhabitants.
Indeed, Sant Vicenç dels Horts is not – nor was it before the crisis – the economic engine of the Baix Llobregat. According to data from Idescat in 2012, it had a Gross Domestic Product of 535.9 million euros, corresponding to a GDP per capita of 19.2 thousand euros, below the average for the region (27.6 thousand euros). This figure is also lower than that registered by other neighboring municipalities with a similar number of inhabitants, such as Sant Andreu de la Barca (23.9 million GDP) and Martorell (60.2 million).
“The problem of Sant Vicenç is that unemployment has a structural component,” says Arnau Mata, spokesman for the municipal government, now commanded by Maite Aymerich after the resignation of Junqueras. “We were the last municipality in Baix Llobregat to have an institute,” he recalls. While it is true that the municipality started from a higher unemployment rate than usual before the start of the crisis, the differences became larger during the worst years. It is the low formation of its active population one of the keys that explain the high rate. Many of its citizens, with few studies, were excluded from the labor market when the housing bubble burst and the subsequent destruction of jobs related to the construction sector.
Create line charts
As in the rest of Catalonia, companies closed . A paradigmatic case in Sant Vicenç was that of FERCABLE . “We were the first company to suffer the labor reform of the PP,” explains Manolo Ortega, who was part of the committee of the company owned by the Prysmian Group. An ERO proposed leaving 95 families on the street in a plant that “continued to generate benefits,” according to Ortega. “They waited for the labor reform,” he criticizes. The workers camped for weeks in front of the cable factory. In the end they managed to relocate 40 companions and five obtained early retirements.
FERCABLE, after a crisis in the 1980s, was saved thanks to the establishment of a cooperative by the workers. A succulent offer returned the factory to a large company. The workers sold it. “The multinationals passed by but we still had the awareness that the company was ours,” says Ortega. But no, it was no longer his property, and the crisis took it away. “We were the easiest plant to close,” he says. The fate of Ortega was somewhat different from that of his teammates and Junqueras signed him to be part of his government team. Now it is precisely councilor of Economy and Finance in the consistory. “Things look a little different from here,” he admits.
Another case that caused a stir in Sant Vicenç is that of the emblematic Ciments
Molins cement factory, where a large number of people from that town and from surrounding municipalities such as Pallejà or Molins de Rei work. In 2010, the collective agreement was extended but with the entry into force of the new labor reform it expired. During the negotiation to draft a new one, the company threatened the dismissal of 59 of the 191 workers of the plant. This caused intense mobilizations and calls for strikes by the workers. Finally, an agreement was reached through the collective agreement. Although the jobs were saved, that meant a change in labor relations in a company that for decades was characterized by solving labor problems effectively.
And is that because of its link with construction, the cement sector has also suffered the crisis with a sharp decline in domestic demand that has led to records comparable to the decade of the fifties. In the first quarter of this year, the consumption of cement in Catalonia registered a decrease of 4% over the same period last year, according to data from the employers’ association Ciment Català, a figure far removed from the expectations of the beginning of the year that pointed to a growth of between 5 and 8%. However, the external demand cushions the weakness of the domestic market and the good results of the international companies led Ciments Molins to record a profit of 50.8 million euros in 2015, 65% more than the previous year.
The powers of the municipalities to create employment are quite small
In Sant Vicenç not bet by a short-term policy, but tried to go “to the root of the problem,” according to Mata: education. “We have promoted a school success program that is placing us above the Catalan average,” says Mata. It is based on networking with help outside school hours. “We offer specific training to guide young people to the world of work,” explains the councilor, betting on collaboration between institutes and companies to get interesting job profiles for companies. The consistory understands that training is the only way to end the great structural unemployment suffered by the city. There is no other way.
In parallel, they also apply policies with a gender perspective. A program carried out in collaboration with the Diputación de Barcelona is about “empowering women to act as business leaders”, says Paco Rodríguez, Councilor for Economic Promotion. “We accompany them so that they feel capable of carrying out their own business,” says Rodríguez.
On the other hand, they also bet on facilitating the landing of companies in Sant Vicenç: they offer aid for those who hire unemployed people from the locality and provide them with a continuous advisory service. The self-employed quota is also paid to the new self-employed workers. “We must be prudent, but little by little we are generating economic activity,” says Rodríguez. For example, the food company Ta-Tung plans to arrive in the city in the second quarter of 2016, generating 75 jobs in two years. It will occupy the ship that Prysmian left empty.
This week the Regional Minister of Labor of the Generalitat de Catalunya, Dolors Bassa, has announced a battery of projects to encourage employment in the municipalities of more than 50,000 inhabitants of Baix Llobregat. Sant Vicenç, which does not reach this figure but would need these aids, will be left out.