Politics 16/03/2021

Yolanda Díaz, Iglesias's successor who already questioned Spanish democracy

The future second vice-president, with family ties to the trade union struggle, was one of the forerunners in the confluences of the transformative left

3 min
The Minister of Labour, Yolanda Díaz, in a speech to Congress

MadridYolanda Díaz (Fene, A Coruña, 1971) will succeed Pablo Iglesias as second vice-president of the Spanish government - if this is confirmed by the president, Pedro Sánchez - and in Unidas Podemos's leadership, but the paths of the two have long since crossed. In 2012, and in very different circumstances, it was the now Minister of Labour who signed Iglesias as an advisor in the Galician elections in which a first experiment of confluence of the transformative left was being tested - the Galicia's Left-wing Alternative (AGE), formed by Anova, Equo and Izquierda Unida - which would burst into Parliament with nine deputies and would overtake the Galician Nationalist Bloc (BNG) and would end up inspiring projects such as Unidas Podemos. Three years later, En Marea, allied with Podemos, entered Congress with Díaz as candidate and Iglesias as state leader. And this Monday it has been Iglesias who has anointed the Galician leader as the person called to take over in the Moncloa and lead the party.

The two have had parallel political lives. Communist militancy runs through their veins through their parents: Javier Iglesias was a militant in the Anti-Fascist and Patriot Revolutionary Front (FRAP) and Suso Díaz was a Communist Party militant in the underground and secretary general of Comisiones Obreras union in Galicia. Díaz lived through the industrial reconversion process on both sides of the Ferrol Estuary in the 1980s, a workers' struggle that she has always felt part of. In an interview to El País in 2009 she explained that Santiago Carrillo had kissed her hand when she was four years old. On the verge of turning 50, Díaz received the 10 March award given by Comisiones Obreras on the Day of the Galician Working Class, which commemorates the murder at the hands of Franco's police of two workers who were demonstrating for labour rights in 1972.

Long before being part of the first coalition government in the state, Diaz had already tried the experience of governing with the PSOE. She was in the City Council of Ferrol between 2007 and 2008 and in representation of Izquierda Unida - party of which she was general coordinator in Galicia - but only lasted 16 months. In 2014 the memory she kept of it was not good. "We broke the agreement. That is why it is clear to me, because I saw it directly, that it is impossible to govern with them," she said. Like so many fellow party member, she would later have to take that back.

Now Diaz has been governing in coalition with the socialists in the state for 14 months and, unlike Iglesias, has not exactly stood out for confrontation with her partners. The Minister of Labour has ended up being the visible face of social dialogue with trade unions and employers, but also with economic profile ministers such as José Luis Escrivá and Nadia Calviño, whose positions are far from hers. It remains to be seen whether Díaz's managerial profile becomes more political profile with Iglesias's departure.

Division on the left

A labour lawyer with experience in this field, sources around her underline Díaz's long history of political commitment, who has experienced the left's endemic division very closely. It was already present in her family roots: while her father opted for the Communist Party, her uncle Xosé - her father's twin brother - ended up occupying a seat for the BNG in the Galician Parliament. Years later, the initial success of AGE in 2012 would lead to a bad internal atmosphere and a clash between her and the former leader of the candidacy, Xosé Manuel Beiras, a historic nationalist leader.

In conversation with ARA, Beiras describes Díaz as a "very intelligent, ambitious and bold" politician, and places her clearly in the sector of the left that "prioritises interests at the state level". Although he does not want it to sound like a criticism, Beiras considers that the award she received is also a consequence of a "political culture" that he associates with that of the Galician PP and which consists of putting a "political career" before "combat". The president of Galicia, Alberto Núñez Feijóo (PP), who has always been suspected of intending to end up making the leap to Madrid, also made this criticism of Díaz when she entered the state executive.

Sources in the parliamentary group of Unidas Podemos admit that hers is a profile more linked to the federalist tradition than to the sovereigntist. It remains to be seen whether Catalan independence will now have an ally in Díaz as it had in Iglesias, at least rhetorically. The leader of Podemos sowed chaos in the Spanish political arena a few weeks ago by stating that there was not a situation of "democratic" normality in the state due to the existence of political exiles. Díaz had already made similar remarks in the past, although in reference to the precariousness of the working classes after the crisis, when she stated that "democracy must be recovered; the one in Spain is only formal".