Thursday, May 26, 2011

Spain: This is what working class revolt in 2011 looks like

Alex Snowdon
20 May 2011

Spanish people have taken to the streets in huge numbers, with public squares occupied by protesters opposed to anti-worker austerity measures and calling for real democracy.

Emmanuel Rodriguez and Tomas Herrero wrote from Madrid in a May 19 article that on May 15, “around 150,000 people took to the streets in 60 Spanish towns and cities to demand 'Real Democracy Now', marching under the slogan 'We are not commodities in the hands of bankers and politicians'”.

“The protest was organised through web-based social networks without the involvement of any major unions or political parties. At the end of the march some people decided to stay the night at the Peurta del Sol in Madrid. They were forcefully evacuated by the police in the early hours of the morning.

“This, in turn, generated a mass call for everyone to occupy his or her local squares that thousands all over Spain took up. As we write, 65 public squares are being occupied ...”

The extraordinary scenes in Madrid can be seem live at The mass movement seems to have swelled since its emerged on May 15 in the capital and across Spain.

It is both militant and massive.

A May 18 article by Gemma Galdon Clavell explained that the protests are “the immediate continuation of the May Day demonstrations that were organized independently of mainstream trade unions and parties and largely ignored by the media”.

The article explained some of the longer-term background, pointing especially to the movement opposed to the “Sinde law” (which clamps down on illegal file-sharing). Galdon Clavell also pointed to the role of a Facebook group (“real Democracy Now”) in catalysing the “May 15 movement”.

The article said the larger context is “skyrocketing unemployment rates (45% registered youth unemployment), generalized cuts in health, education and wages, tax cuts for the rich and widespread political corruption”.

None of this is being discussed or contested in mainstream political debate. There is a profound disconnection between the elite and the street.

The article explained: “Trapped in the tougher-than-you-on-crime race to the bottom, the gap between a population that hardly makes ends meet and sees banks and corporations get away with murder, and a political class that has built a wall of arrogance, incompetence, impunity and empty promises to keep the young, the unemployed and the evicted out has grown to reach seemingly unbridgeable proportions.”

The social democratic, or centre-left, Spanish government has presided over the unemployment, cuts and corruption. The entire political class is therefore the target of people's rage.

It is therefore unsurprising that “anti-politics” sentiment is widespread on the demonstrations, with contempt for all political parties.

Emmanuel Rodriguez and Tomas Herrero said: “It is possible (in fact it is quite probable) that on 22nd May, when local and regional elections take place in Spain, the left will suffer a catastrophic defeat. If that were the case, it would be only be a preamble to what would happen in the general elections.

“What can be said today without hesitation is that the institutional left (parties and major unions) is the target of a generalised political disaffection due to its sheer inability come up with novel solutions to this crisis.”

However, this may not mean an automatic rejection of all things political. Gemma Galdon Clavell noted: “[D]emonstrators have not given up on institutional politics — while the slogan in 2001 in Argentina was ‘que se vayan todos’ (get rid of them all), the #15m movement is giving non-mainstream parties a chance, and while claiming independence and autonomy, seems to be interested in building bridges with some parties.”

There is clearly a huge spontaneous element to the current upheavals, but there's also some background in the anti-Sinde law and May Day protests. Similarly, there's visceral anger with politicans, but that doesn't mean absolutely no co-operation with any kind of political organisation.

What happens next is highly unpredictable.

Social media have played their par and will continue to. But a radical idea only goes viral, and translates into mass protests and occupations, if it connects with large numbers of people's grievances.

In the absence of any lead from established organisations — such as reformist parties or unions — a Facebook page and a Twitter hashtag can become detonators.

This popular working class revolt doesn't look how many would expect it to. The unions appear to be nowhere. At best they are lagging behind the mainly young people taking to the streets; at worst they are neutered by compromise with a failing centre-left government.

It will be tempting for many protesters, and their supporters elsewhere, to conclude that spontaneity is all, organisation is irrelevant, and the unions should be ignored.

But the protesters will need to rapidly construct new, grassrooots, democratic forms of co-ordination and decision-making. They will have to demand the unions, which can still potentially mobilise millions, to get behind them.

The mass protests in Spain are an inspiration to everyone facing austerity and fed up with the hollowing out of democracy. The movement fuses economics and politics, just like in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere.

It takes inspiration from the Arab Spring, while seeing itself as part of Europe-wide resistance to cuts. Spain's young workers, jobless and students are showing us the way.


About This Blog

Revitalising Labour attempts to reflect on efforts to rebuild the labour movement internationally, emphasising the role that left-wing political currents can play in this process. It welcomes contributions on union struggles, internal renewal processes within the labour movement and the struggle against capitalism and imperialism.

  © Blogger templates The Professional Template by 2008

Back to TOP  

Creative Commons Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Australia License.