SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Socialism Today 150 - July/August 2011

Spain’s new explosive movements

JUNE 19 witnessed the biggest mass demonstrations since the economic crisis began in Spain, as the streets of every major town were flooded in support of the 15-M (15 May) movement. A human tsunami of young and old emerged. The 19-J (19 June) turnout surpassed all expectations, and represents a vital widening out of the movement.

Six marches took place in Madrid alone, meeting in the centre. The demonstration in Barcelona may have been even bigger than the one on 29 September to mark the one-day general strike (around 400,000 strong). On top of that, 70,000 marched in Seville. Along with the huge demonstrations in Valencia, Bilbao, Murcia and many other cities, the combined total almost certainly surpassed the 1.4 million who marched on 29 September 2010. This is a far cry from the ‘tens of thousands’ reported by the El País newspaper.

The pro-capitalist press and political establishment spent the days before 19-J in a flurry of hostile attacks on the 15-M movement. They claimed that it had become ‘minoritarian’ and hijacked by ‘violent thugs’, following attacks by police provocateurs at the peaceful blockade of the Catalan parliament on 15 June. If the 19 June protests represent a minority movement, it would be interesting to see what a majority one looks like!

During May we saw the explosion of a youth revolt, with the plaza occupations and camps, which gained wide support. 19-J has seen that revolt continue, but with other sectors also taking action, most notably the older working class.

Although the demonstrations were made up mainly of youth, there was also a huge participation of workers, families and even pensioners who had come to protest, not merely to show support. In Barcelona, blocks of postal, refuse, hospital and education workers were out in force, among many others. In the context of the lack of a fighting lead from the trade union leaders, many workers have begun to see the 15-M movement as their own. This is hugely positive. It must be translated into the formation of a mass movement. The proposals of Socialismo Revolucionario (CWI Spain) for a democratisation and linking up of the barrio assemblies, and their extension into workplaces, to build a mass movement from below, are now of an even greater urgency.

The main trade union leaders, from the CCOO and UGT, changed their approach over the few days leading up to 19-J, calling for participation by their members. But their last-minute support probably came after it became clear that, with or without their call, union members were preparing to flood the streets. The 15-M movement, so far, has been a magnificent example of how this essential unity can be achieved, from below, by appealing to workers and the base of union activists. 15-M must continue to develop as a movement which fights for a break with the demobilisation strategy of the union leaders, and builds from below a campaign for a new general strike against the tidal wave of attacks on living standards. Initiatives, such as the protest of thousands of indignados which took place outside CCOO and UGT headquarters in opposition to the leaders´ policy of pacts and collaboration, and demanding a general strike, encouraged important union militants.

The march in Barcelona had the demand for a general strike as one of its main slogans. Indeed, a general strike could blow apart the already-weak government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero – or any rotten Partido Popular (PP), or coalition government which could replace it. The union leaders may call a general strike under pressure, maybe for a few months’ time, in an attempt to save face. But it should be called to take advantage of the momentum of struggle currently building up. If the call was made now by the unions, built for and in support of 15-M, it would bring the overwhelming majority of workers into action.

Danny Byrne

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