Spain: Lessons for our Movement

Thousands of students and young workers are involved in a growing movement in Spain. The fallout of the economic crisis has left a situation where 21% of the workforce is unemployed,housing crisis meaning 85% of people under 30 still live in their family home and a widening gap between rich and poor. The discontent and anger has led to a widespread feeling amongst people in Spain, “we won’t pay for their crisis.”

On the Monday following the 15th May the police attacked the spontaneous camp a small number of people had set up in Madrid. This provoked a backlash against the state and spread the demonstrations across towns and cities across Spain. There are now around 120 protests and assemblies, but the political nature of these assemblies is very uneven. In Barcelona, Catalonia, where there is a history of strong left wing activity, the assemblies have established that the local movement is anti-capitalist. However, many of those involved in these protests are unorganised and have no experience in political activism or direct action.

No single group initiated the protests, but instead groups and activists met face to face or online to call for the actions and protests. The 15 May movement, as it is now known, called for “democracia real ya” or real democracy now. This was in defiance of the political system, political parties and the banks that are responsible for the crisis.

Yet, as Egypt showed, protest alone cannot topple a regime or reverse Government policy. It was when the power of striking workers entered the stage of the Revolution that Mubarak was toppled. The same will apply in our resistance to European wide asuterity. We need both the street based protests and direct action, alongside the strike movement to break the back of the European governments implementing austerity.

It is clear that the developments in Spain are inspired by the revolutions in the Middle East. The occupation of the main square in Madrid is a tactic directly inspired by the events in Tahrir Square in Egypt. And whilst there are clear differences that separate the experience of the people of Spain and Egypt, there are many more shared similarities. Austerity, state violence and the failure of political representation are all apparent in both Egypt and Spain, and this thread can be traced from the Middle East, across the Mediterranean to Spain, Greece and beyond.

The austerity measures of European governments as a result of the financial crisis have seen widespread resistance. In Greece, there were over half dozen General Strikes in 2010 alone, and last week saw 100,000 demonstrate outside Greek parliament, echoing the call in Spain for “real democracy now”. In Spain and France, General Strikes have rocked the governments but failed to halt the reforms to pensions or the public sector and welfare cuts. Finally, in the UK, on March 26th 500,000 workers, students, pensioners and the disabled marched in London against public sector cuts, whilst in late 2010, 30,000 students occupied Parliament Square on the night of the Tuition fee vote in the House of Commons.

It is clear, from the experience of Greece and of Ireland that austerity does not work. We need to link the militancy and anger of the student rebellion in late 2010, with the might that coordinated strike action of the trade unions can wield in order to stop austerity measures in Britain.

On the 30th of June, the PCS, UCU, NUT, ATL and elements of Unite the Union will take coordinated strike action against public sector cuts. The resounding slogan on the March 26th demonstration was, “if we can march together, we can strike together”. Len McCluskey gave his support for the actions of UKUncut and the students beaten by the Police on the 9th of December, 2010. It is clear that the student protests of November and December were not a blip, but tapped into a growing mood around the Coalition and the wider question of austerity.

We should learn from the experiences of the students in Spain, the workers in Greece and the people in Egypt. Whether calling for “democracia real ya”, an end to austerity or for a day of rage against the Tories, we need to support the striking workers on the 30thJune, argue for a General Strike in the Autumn and to reverse to regressive measures of this illegitimate Government.

Video from a London protests in solidarity
with students and workers in Spain.

About essexean

Essex Education Activist Network: coordinating resistance to the marketisation of Higher Education at the University of Essex. A section of the Education Activist Network.
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