General strike marks another step forward for indignados

by Carlos Delclós on March 30, 2012

Post image for General strike marks another step forward for indignados

The major success of Thursday’s general strike in Spain hails the maturation of the movement and the emergence of a new type of networked labor action.

By Raimundo Viejo and Carlos Delclos

Predictably, most of the neoliberal media’s coverage of the general strikes in Spain focuses on the targeted property damage that took place during the protests in Barcelona, where hundreds of masked citizens seriously damaged several major banks, a Starbucks and the Opus Dei-related, upper-class hypermarket El Corte Inglés. It is no mistake that conservative representatives of that country’s eroding institutions are resorting to desperate terms like “criminal instinct” in order to paint the protests as some form of violence. Faced with a situation in which property destruction is increasingly accepted as legitimate, and having exhausted their repertoire of fear-inducing discourse and repressive measures in the weeks prior to the mobilizations, the only thing left for a proto-fascist like Felip Puig (the Catalan Minister of the Interior) to criminalise is that human instinct which favours life over property.

These attempts to divide citizens through an abstract debate over “violence” clash with the reality of what took place all over Spain yesterday, and what’s been happening in that country in recent months. There were certainly a number of violent acts directed towards people on Thursday, but none of them were carried out by protestors. In Torrelavega, Cantabria, a shop owner attacked a picketer with a knife. In the Basque country, a 19 year old was left in the ICU with serious head injuries after the Ertzaintza (Basque national police) beat him down with clubs and fired a rubber bullet into his head from point-blank range. In Barcelona, 20 people were injured by rubber bullets, one 22 year old is in the hospital with a ruptured spleen and one man lost an eye. And on a broader scale, Spanish banks and their complicit government kicked 58.200 families out of their homes in 2011 alone, with no support and heavily indebted (since foreclosures in Spain do not pay off mortgage debts and, in fact, simply increase interest rates).

The fact of the matter, and what is so terrifying to Spain’s elite, is that Thursday’s strikes were another success for movement-based politics. The ruling Partido Popular proved this when the city governments in their control chose to turn the streetlights on during the day to offset the effects of the strikes on energy consumption (the indicator by which strikes tend to be measured in the media). They also demonstrated how clumsily they manipulate the basic rules of the game.

Yet, when we say “strikes” and not the singular “strike” it is because, in reality, this general strike contained two different types of strikes. On the one hand, it was a traditional general strike called for by the often timid mainstream labour unions, which are generally prudent to a fault when it comes to mobilizations and have, over the course of the last three decades, allowed successive governments and parties to take the lead in the bargaining process over labour rights. On the other hand, it also contained an emerging form in the repertoire of collective action which has only recently begun to take its first steps, but which, if we look back to the previous general strike of 29 September 2010, appears to be maturing remarkably fast. What we see is that the general union strike is giving birth to another kind of strike: the metropolitan strike, protagonised by the precariat and animated by networks of activists who are constantly learning, aggregating and experimenting with a variety of tactics.

The metropolitan strike goes beyond the old repertoire of transport paralysis, factory paralysis and the collapse of production from inside the workplace to reveal another innovative and dynamic repertoire that is capable of synergistically projecting movement-based politics beyond their traditional forms and achievements: strategically located universities had been occupied since Monday to strengthen transport blockades, a consumption strike which gave people who couldn’t strike a chance to participate, metropolitan picket lines made up of women, youth, immigrants or senior citizens, and black bloc-style anonymity facilitating targeted property destruction (including the a small-scale casino heist) all contributed to the success of 29M. Once again, the tactical richness of a multitude that ignores the institutional limitations of the concerted social action favoured by mainstream unions proved surprisingly effective (surprising, at least, to the ruling elite).

The evolution of this new repertoire is no easy task. It has yet to be institutionalized or clearly define a common strategy. And the traditional left, after years of focusing on resistance and defensive positions, has on many occasions viscerally and ideologically attacked these types of actions without offering any alternatives beyond those traditional forms of action and representation over which they maintain a certain hegemony. But this matters less and less, and the wave of mobilizations continues to leave a trail of successes in its wake: the 29F and 17N educational mobilizations, the 15O global day of action, the birth of the indignados movement on 15M and the general strike and Bank of Spain occupation of 29S are just some of these landmark moments of its still recent history.

This wave is unstoppable, at least as long as the political regime does not change course, which doesn’t seem likely. In fact, this past summer the Partido Socialista and Partido Popular agreed to shield the regime against all possibilities of change by modifying the Constitution of 1978 to include a balanced budget amendment that was not submitted to public debate or referendum. Despite the indignados’ persistent calls for a substantial modification of electoral law, the ruling parties, obscene beneficiaries of the status quo, are apparently willing to uphold this fundamental component of their dominance for as long as possible.

In effect, the only form of mass opposition available to people in Spain is in the streets. Through mobilization, dissociation and the emergence of new types of actors, distances are opening up between the formal constitution of the government and the material constitution of society to reveal new possibilities for the future. As each day passes, breaking with the current regime and establishing an alternative are less the ideological desires of revolutionaries and more an issue of necessity for the average person in light of the dire circumstances they face daily. Those who wish to work will have to do it through cooperatives. Those who wish to learn will have to organize their own alternative universities. Those who wish to inform themselves will have to look to the alternative media. And those who wish to have cultural goods will have to share them. This is the politics of the common that we saw in action in our streets today, and which we will see in the alternative institutions of tomorrow.

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Stacco March 30, 2012 at 17:13

I’m surprised, Jerome, and, what seems to me, an apology and endorsement of the destruction of property, I thought ROAR’s stance was entirely non-violent . Certainly within “diversity of tactics” we can find many that don’t involve burning garbage containers (aid for with tax money btw) or giving Spain’s conservative media their wet dream photo-op.

In my opinion, acts like this, provoke more polarization than union among the oppressed. Leaving aside the issue of whether their “legit” forms of protest or not, What is their tactical value?

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Jerome Roos March 30, 2012 at 17:19

Since when is targeted property destruction violence? Vandalism is a laden term with negative connotations that I could find at least some understanding for, but the semantic confusion of property destruction with violence shows to what extent capitalist society has merged our human identity with the material possessions we own. Besides, the article never condoned any violence OR property destruction — it merely serves to highlight that the real violence came from the other side.

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Stacco March 30, 2012 at 17:42

You are totally correct in pointing out my semantic slip and I agree, I should have written “vandalism” for which I apologise for. I also agree that the “real violence” does come from the other side, which is uniquely equipped, for materially and intellectually, for such endeavours. I still fail to see the real tactical value in targeted property destruction as opposed to more creative forms of protests (yayo-flautas occupying banks, fake brick walls in ATMs etc).

Overt vandalism and destruction, to me, seems to form part of an implicit agreement with “the other side”, where the portrayal of an escalation of conflict, therefore, the justification to employ more and more punitive measures. The system is destructive by nature and is fully prepared to deal with destruction, in opposition to it I suggest being constructive.

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Bob April 4, 2012 at 12:31

Similarly you could see A to B marching as implicit agreement with “the other side” about acceptable protest that the system can cope with and ignore or co-opt.

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Carlos March 30, 2012 at 18:24

Also, you don’t need to be surprised at Jerome. It’s Raimundo and I who wrote the thing, and Jerome doesn’t have to be 100% in support of every argument we make.

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Stacco March 30, 2012 at 22:31

Right on, I just noticed that, I had assumed that Jerome was the author.

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Jelle March 30, 2012 at 17:36

@Staccco: Why even focus on ‘the destruction of property’? Why are you so bothered by that, instead of focusing on the massiveness of yesterday’s general strike?

And on a sidenote; the site’s name is Reflections on a Revolution. I’ve never read about a revolution without violence, even though we may all wish to avoid it. So what would “entirely non-violent” mean? For instance, that all writers on ROAR should condemn people who don’t run away when the police starts kicking them, but try to fight back?

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Stacco March 30, 2012 at 18:07

Case in point (for those that read spanish). Action: Reaction: http://www.publico.es/espana/427745/el-pp-de-barcelona-pide-aplicar-las-normas-de-la-kale-borroka-a-los-violentos

Again, entirely predictable, how does providing an “excuse” for an escalation of the already horrid level of instutionalised violence aimed at protesters help our movement?

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Bob April 4, 2012 at 12:06

The authorities will always find an excuse for escalation, should they need one. It’s annoying to provide them with the excuse, but they already use weapons against us they are not allowed to in a way that kills and maims, without any provocation. How the police work here is to commit random acts of violence, perhaps in order to terrify I’m not sure, but it just makes many people angry and more determined. I was beaten with batons myself for the pleasure of walking along a street with nothing happening, nothing burning, hardly anyone there, long after things had quietened down, and nothing to do with our behaviour, but just because they could.

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Carlos March 30, 2012 at 21:58

This discussion is ridiculous.

“Don’t be violent because then they’ll talk about us in ugly terms and they’ll repress us even more.”

“They already talk about us in ugly terms and the already repress us as much as they can.”

“Yeah, but people will like us less and they’ll only focus on the violence and not the message.”

“You’re the one focussing on the violence. You should stop. Get back on message. This time the message is ‘No, and we mean it.’”

It’s fun for theoreticians to think about, I guess. But guess what? Those ordinary, everyday people aren’t theoreticians. They’re angry, desperate, scared and a little tired of seeing twinkly hands. They also know that the news is trash. This strike was for them.

I don’t think property damage is especially transformational. We state what we think a transformation should be like at the end. But it’s not like this was senseless destruction. It was targeted, political and it resonated. I saw moms, kids, immigrants and older women applauding the hoodies, and honestly, it was a nice thing to see.

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Bob April 4, 2012 at 12:36

Indeed.

When protests are successful, they will vilify you – the suffragettes (a sometimes violent and property-destroying bunch) were condemned and imprisoned, as just one example.

To expect that the message will be properly discussed in the media on, whether there’s riots or peaceful marching, is unrealistic.

By the by though, people aren’t sick of ‘twinkly hands’ (a term from the US; actually it’s silent handclapping, borrowed from Deaf communities). Here the 15M movements have been amazing – silent agreement and tools of consensus have gone along with occupations anger and confrontation. Hoorah.

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Stacco March 30, 2012 at 22:53

Hi Jelle. I am focused on the massiveness of the protests as I guess we all are, I just don’t agree with comments such as “Faced with a situation in which property destruction is increasingly accepted as legitimate…”.

The piece starts by criticising the right wing media’s portrayal of the protests but, ironically just uses the same types of photographic material favoured by ABC, La Razón, El Mundo: fire in the streets, vandalism etc. This, of course, isn’t the whole of the protest. ROAR has repeatedly used images from Puerta del Sol filled to the brim in its coverage of the 15-0 protests, yesterday we saw it filled again (and similar images from the rest of Spain) yet no such image appears in today’s article.

Non-violent revolutions? Here’s a few: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nonviolent_revolution#List_of_nonviolent_revolutions_by_era

… and while I have no doubt that there’s been civil unrest, disturbances and destruction of property in every single one of those, but I don’t think that’s what made any of them finally successful.

Apart from, what I feel (and I may be misreading here) is a fetishization of vandalism as an effective long term tactic (I am yet to be convinced otherwise) I agree with Raimundo and Carlos’ analysis.

On a personal level, I can assure you that seeing a bank’s shopwindow break doesn’t break my heart, but, apart from giving a nice hike in biz to the“cristalero” guild, I still fail to see how it helps.

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me March 31, 2012 at 10:03

And who of these so excited Media, who claim “no violence” from the protestors, are similar excited by the damages and violences in the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya claiming “no violence” from the military aggressors? Spain as a member of the NATO is part of this thousands people killing and whole towns and countries damaging wars!

By the way: property is robbery and the greatest crime at all. It’s interesting that the ruler are shouting “robbering and damaging property is criminal”, but nobody is shouting: “Robbering the people by selfmade laws to get more property is criminal.”

It’s always the same sad game: Right becomes criminal and crime becomes right…

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Connie March 31, 2012 at 16:32

People are angry, yet we have some apologists who think that we should sit around a camp fire and sing “Kumbaya” and not fight. This is a fight for our very right to have a dignified life. I’d rather have done peacefully, but if violence becomes the only way to get it, then I will fight. Many of us refuse to become beggars to our existence, while the corporations and their political and media enablers destroy us and this planet. As Martin Luther King said, a riot is the voice of the unheard. As long as they’re not listening, the riots will continue, and if it brings down the edifice, then we have to build a completely new one. Am I advocating violence? Possibly, but I’d rather die on my feet than live on my knees.

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Marcos April 1, 2012 at 00:17

They dont need an “excuse”… destrucktion of symbols of bourgeois power, expolitation and property are fine as long as innocent bystanders and working class people do not get hurt and I”m all for it…! eventualyl we’ll have to smash the entire
capitalist state in order to form a new structure for the new better world we keep clammerin on about…

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Frank April 1, 2012 at 12:25

There is a history of property destruction, and violence, being used effectively in the American Labor Movement detailed in “Dynamite: The Story Of Class Violence In America,” by Louis Adamic, originally published in 1931 but reissued by AK Press (Oakland and Edinburgh) in 2008 in paperback. (For many years it was considered the best history of the US Labor Movement. Come to think of it, after ’31, no updates were really needed.)

It’s often said that non violence was the key to an effective Civil Rights Movement in the US, but that depended at least partly on violence. It was calculated that TV images of police beating protesters and police dogs attacking protesters would sway public opinion.

Have you ever thrown a brick through a window? Try it once. Then at least you can say you’re not just theorizing.

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Okasis April 2, 2012 at 07:48

There was plenty of violence in both the labor movement and the Civil Rights Movement in the US. For that matter, India got its independence with the help of Mahatma Gandhi and his principled belief in non-violence, but not all of the Pro-Independence backers agreed with him. I believe one Revolutionary walked into a Bureaucrats office, shot him in the head and walked out. He got away… Gandhi didn’t support that act, but he did say something about not being willing to condemn anyone who felt that strongly about throwing the Brits out.

WW2 Black Veterans organized armed militias to protect Black communities in several Southern States. If the KKK showed up, they were met by a large group of Black Men blocking the road. Most were armed with rifles and shotguns, but some had machine guns, provided by Black Servicemen. They seldom had to fight as a bunch of racists wearing sheets are obviously not too brave, but in one case, a Black Militia rescued a Black who was about to be lynched, and shots were exchanged. The Black Panthers and Malcolm X also were not proponents of non-violence.

I am currently reading Dixie Free Radio about a Black Activist who was forced to flee the US with his wife and 2 kids, after he was labeled a Communist and Terrorist by the CIA. He broadcast Radio Free Dixie to the Southern US from Cuba for some time. It’s a fascinating story.

As for the Labor Movement, Bill Haywood and the IWW were not pacifists. They didn’t initiate fights, but they would defend themselves. My Dad was a Longshoreman in Seattle, and the violence on the docks certainly did not end in 1931. The entire West Coast was on strike in ’36, and right after the war ended, there was another massive shutdown in 1946. The Longshoremen did not depend on their ‘cargo hooks’ only on the job. Most of the carried one anytime there might be trouble.

IMO, the US Labor Movement was paralyzed by the Taft Hartley Act, and the break-up of the Teamsters when Jimmy Hoffa went to Prison. Ronald Reagan administered the killing blow with the dismissal of Striking Air Controllers in the 1980s. Except for the ILWU, the thing they are the best at now, is rolling over when threatened, except for a few notable exceptions that usually do not have the support of the ‘Pie Cards’ at the National Headquarters.

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Frank April 3, 2012 at 05:29

Indeed.

Also, I wanted to add that the 1966 Gillo Pontecorvo film The Battle of Algiers, which details the Algerian War of Independence, starts off with a guy placing a suitcase bomb in a restaurant. (That’s just a very good film, too, and is available here and there on DVD.

The authorities are always busy trying to instill in everyone the fear that you can’t get away with anything nowadays, with all this talk of massive 24 hour surveillance, reading our emails and so forth. It was always such. “We always get our man,” was always the FBI’s motto, but they almost always didn’t. Think of all the terrorists and drug cartel members running around, sitting in cafes. Think of the cartel of terrorist criminals who started the Iraq and Afghan wars. All of them are still at large. Law enforcement is usually playing catchup, actually, and whenever they get an advantage someone soon figures it out.

I mention all this to say that fear should not be the thing that limits the debate about this subject, but practicality.

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Casey April 2, 2012 at 16:36

Thank you for this very interesting reporting/analysis. Cheers and solidarity from NY. -C

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Leah April 5, 2012 at 09:57

Thanks Carlos for this visionary piece. What is the casino heist you refer to here?

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Carlos April 20, 2012 at 20:09
sandeep May 7, 2012 at 03:18

Dear Carlos
you wrote <> and in the end of that same para <>
i would like to read what those activists wrote (if any), would like to have links for that, some way so that we can learn from them (in English/ Español).
will you and/or other readers/commentators help me in this regard por favor

Reply

sandeep May 7, 2012 at 07:10

i was surprised seeing things I put inside <> marks vanished. so writing all over again.
Dear Carlos
you wrote “when we say “strikes” and not the singular “strike” it is because, in reality, this general strike contained two different types of strikes” and in the end of that same para “the general union strike is giving birth to another kind of strike: the metropolitan strike, protagonised by the precariat and animated by networks of activists who are constantly learning, aggregating and experimenting with a variety of tactic”.
i would like to read what those activists wrote (if any), would like to have links for that, some way so that i can learn from them (in English/Español).
will you and/or other readers/commentators help me in this regard por favor

Reply

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