Millions on streets as Spain unites against austerity

by Santiago Carrion on July 20, 2012

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Struggles converge as miners, firefighters, judges, public employees, the unemployed and even the army step up their resistance against EU-enforced cuts.

On Thursday, millions of Spaniards took to the streets in over 80 cities around the country in the largest protest since the past 15th of October, just hours after the Rajoy government ratified the largest budget cuts in the history of Spanish democracy. Once again, in times of crisis, the system shows it true face: as Congress and the streets around it were barricaded by militarized police forces, the ruling party (PP) enforced its absolute majority by carrying out the vote alone, while other parties left Parliament in protest.

Government Ratifies Austerity to Backdrop of Political Turmoil

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy arrived five hours after the debate had begun, just in time for the crucial vote. He has yet to appear in Congress to explain the actions his Government is carrying out, which include, apart from the mentioned austerity measures, an inexplicable deluge of lies and deliberate misinformation: as Spaniards learnt this week through the international media, their sovereignty (that is, the amount and conditions of a full bailout of the financial sector) is being debated not in Spain itself — but in Germany, Holland and Finland.

This new agreement, which Mr. Rajoy has failed to even bring up, implies a loan of up to 100bn euros that will fatten up the public debt even further. The deal, which will lead to even harsher austerity measures in the coming months, was simply left out of the public debate until mainstream media caught onto a document made public by the Dutch government mentioning the agreement and its possible conditions. A full review of this and other documents, some of which were kept confidential, was made public and explained yesterday by El Pais — Spain’s largest newspaper — and led to widespread criticism from different segments of the Spanish population.

#19June: The Climax After a Week on the Streets

These events, cramped into a very tense week, have made the legitimacy of the Rajoy government hit its lowest level so far. In fact, the pressure on the establishment is becoming ever more evident as a wide range of the population is uniting to fight back. In Madrid, a spectacular and diverse protest of hundreds of thousands (200,000 to 800,000, according to some sources) marched under different banners, flags and slogans. The large central workers union’s — UGT and CCOO — were present, as well dozens of other professional organizations, representing firemen, nurses and doctors, public transport workers, teachers from every level of public education, miners, feminist and pro-gay collectives, forest guards, 15-M sympathizers and old and new political groups — each of them with their own demands but with one common goal: “a por ellos”. Furthermore, in a very interesting twist, hundreds of local and national policemen marched as well, as their union decided to protest against falling wages and bonuses. Massive protests also took place in Barcelona, Valencia, the Canary and Balearic Islands, Seville, Alicante as well as in another 80 cities and towns across the country.

The success of Thursday’s demonstration marks the culmination of a week of unrest, with spontaneous protests organized daily via the #alacalle hashtag on Twitter, usually in front of Congress. Police presence in the area was very heavy throughout the week, and for the first time the whole premises were shut off with metallic fences guarded by riot police armed with rubber ball shotguns. The official headquarters of both main parties (PP and PSOE) were also guarded by militarized police as protesters randomly congregated before the buildings. These marches, made up mostly of indignant social workers, walked around eluding police lines chanting, making noise and blocking main roads.

Future Turbulence, Towards a General Strike

There is no doubt that social tension is on the rise throughout Spain. The government will have a very hard time to legislate as even its traditional allies are turning their backs. In a very significant declaration last Tuesday, the  AUME (Unified Association of the Spanish Military) announced that it will support future popular protests, as a response to the reduction of  their retributions and rights. Secretary General Mariano Casado, told the Público newspaper that AUME “might even contemplate calling for specific protests” involving all of its current members if the Ministry of Defense does not step back. This would be the first time in Spanish history for the military to organize a demonstration against a Conservative  government led by the PP.

At  the same time, other powerful groups are also organizing and have already announced strikes. Judges, prosecutors and other civil servants have denounced the government in a press release for “trying to dismantle the judiciary power (the General Council of the Judiciary),” as well as “attacking the independence of judges and the impartiality of prosecutors.” The seven independent associations inside the the General Council of the Judiciary have agreed, for the first time in history, on creating a joint commission to coordinate and canalize all forms of retaliation which almost surely include future strikes.

In the following weeks the situation is bound to become critical. Sooner or later Mariano Rajoy must face the inevitable bailout, which has already been passed through the Bundestag. The reaction of the people can only be guessed. It is clear, however, that the situation has reached a turning point, as several different struggles are converging in pursuit of the same goal. The common enemy — the austerity dictatorship of the Conservative government, the neoliberal EU technocracy, and the powerful financial sector — is now very clear-cut.

On Saturday, the 15-M movement is organizing another series of marches that will be arriving in Madrid from around the country. This time the key actors are not the miners, but another key constituency that has been heavily hit by Spain’s social and economic crisis: the unemployed. As activists have emphatically repeated, “if we get every unemployed Spaniard on the streets we would be millions.” The first attempt starts this Saturday, #21J. A general strike is projected for the 25th of September.

With these different social struggles converging and popular resistance exploding into the streets and squares, Spain appears to be up for a wild ride in the weeks and months ahead.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael Kenny July 20, 2012 at 16:27

On the one side, the author states that the amount and conditions of a full bailout of the financial sector is being debated not in Spain itself — but in Germany, Holland and Finland, but then claims that the “enemy” is the “EU technocracy”. Which is it? Who has the final say in EU matters? The sovereign Member States or some unnamed “technocracy”? As we all know in Europe, it is the Member States and the reference to technocracy is simply a repetition of the US neocons’ “party line”, that is to say, the very people whose cynical divide and crush under the American jackboot attack on the EU caused all this misery in the first place. If Mr Carrion is Spanish, I would criticise him for teaming up with his country’s enemies.

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sandeep July 22, 2012 at 03:37

1. what the mineros did is contra the UGT (or CGOT) line, workers have already started to defy the lines of old established bureaucratic TU-s and all established parties who are direct/indirect colaborator of the regime.
2. But how the rising new will assert? 1. Most Straight Forward way is taking the streets on their own, toma la calle, and that was there before too + what is newer: “Vamos dibujando el camino”. What are such signs in Spain (and Greece) – those are to be highlighted.
3. Separation of the new from the old may take different shapes in different countries/places. Suppose, for Tunisia there the dynamics was inside the UGTT, trying to change the UGTT from within from below. Whereas in Egypt the Gazl el Mahalla workers started forming separate and ‘workers own’ organisations like Textile Workers League (and didnt bother to ‘register’ it officially) and then the tax-cllectors … etc. I found a snapshot-like narration of the Tunisian picture — “self immolation of Mohamed Bou’azizi in front of the Sidi Bouzid City Hall acted as a spark to ignite public anger pent up for decades. Since then, there have been daily demonstrations in the small town, which soon spread to neighbouring cities. But then what happened to the UGTT? “The reports that police had shot peaceful protesters such as 19-year-old Jamli spurred the divided leadership of the UGTT, the workers union, to back the uprising. Thousands rallied against Ben Ali at a Jan. 12 demonstration in front of UGTT headquarters in Sfax, Tunisia’s second-largest city. “The union leadership was corrupt and part of the system,” Goldstein said. “But the rank and file and leadership in the regions were with the opposition.”” [Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times, January 27, 2011]
Actually the workers pushed UGTT to go against Ben Ali dictatorship. But top UGTT leadership was always wavering. After Ben Ali fled his Prime Minister Ghannouchi, a brain behind IMF-WB privatisation programme, headed the government. UGTT quickly recognised the legitimacy of that govt [http://allafrica.com/stories/201101280361.html]. UGTT even sent its three representatives to ministerial berths of this govt. But workers again pressurised – all UGTT ministers had to resign. And later, even the PM had to resign.
Now Sami Tahri, secretary general of the Union of Secondary Education Workers said in that same interview we quoted – “There is no doubt that today this question [privatisation] must be debated as a top priority within the UGTT. It is absolutely clear that the revolution requires that the UGTT change fundamentally its economic policies and that it return to its founding program, which clearly affirms the UGTT’s socialist commitment. It is also imperative that the UGTT take up the issue of re-nationalization of all privatized enterprises, such as 35% of the postal sector or the railways or certain services or Sonede or Steg. Tunis Air has now been regrouped after being dislocated into several companies.””
4. How exactly the things are going on in Spain? Please illuminate us.

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L Hammer July 23, 2012 at 11:34

Interesting article. What do we think the final consequence of all this angst and suffering is going to be? The rise of the Far Left? Or the rise of the Far Right?

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jack September 26, 2012 at 20:57

Whatever arises isn’t going to be good. Probably some kind of bullshit dictatorship…

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