Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
A fairy with a broomstick is sweeping the Puerta del Sol, Madrid’s central square. In front of her, a handful of weather-beaten activists are dispensing information from what looks like an upturned ship, a semi-permanent legacy from the occupation that began here on 15 May (M15). Strip away some of the tourists, and this scene could have been plucked from anywhere in the decade-long back catalogue of alter-globalisation movements.
Fast-forward five hours and Sol is full of demonstrators, hundreds of whom have walked here from across Spain. Six marches have converged from across the city, with chants and banners directed against the political and financial system. The targets included a corrupt political class, with chants of ‘No hay pan para tanto chorizo!’ (there isn’t bread for so many chorizo sausages, a colloquial reference to thieving politicians) and the injustice of austerity measures: ‘Vuestra crisis no la pagamos’ (‘We won’t pay for your crisis’). Branches of Spain’s largest banks are routinely denounced as ‘Cul-pa-ble!’ (guilty).
As we enter Sol, the banners read ‘Bienvenida dignidad’ (‘Welcome dignity’). There is a celebratory atmosphere as we sit on a packed square and listen to speaker after speaker recount their journey. Many of the gestures and practices adopted by the indignad@s (‘indignant’ or ‘outraged’) build upon and adapt those of existing activist networks: thousands of hands waggle along signalling agreement with the speeches, and a long weekend of activities culminates in the first M15 ‘social forum’. But it is abundantly clear that this movement has extended way beyond the usual suspects, and that its demands for ‘real democracy’ in the face of a remote two-party system that is tainted by corruption, an out of control financial sector, and swinging cuts in public services have tapped into a deep well of popular discontent.
The Sol protest marks the culmination of a month-long series of marches (‘Marcha Popular Indignada’), in some cases covering over 600 km in over 30 degree heat. We listen for several hours, as speaker after speaker reports of the generosity and warmth with which they have been received in small towns and villages across the country. A quarter of Spain’s population lives in rural areas, and the marchers report on how their route opened up countless new connections. For example, one speaker from Leon (in northwest Spain) recounts villages without drinking water, and a story of a local mayor who had raised his own salary by 200 per cent. These stories multiplied as marchers traversed the country, covering around 20 km by foot in the mornings, and spending the afternoons and evenings in dialogue with their hosts. Sol was the goal, but the journey was more important than the destination.
While the marchers were predominantly young, those present on the square and at the subsequent demonstration come from all generations and backgrounds. For example, our journey to Madrid was in a bus arranged by the Pensioners’ Commission of the Placa Catalunya camp, which had occupied Barcelona’s central square from May to July. It took in the arrival of the marches and a demonstration of over 30,000 people the next day, Sunday 24 July.
These returns to Sol made the headlines, but the bigger story is that the movement never really went away. On 20 July, the passage of an austerity by the right-wing Catalan government brought over 20,000 protesters onto the streets of Barcelona. Smaller but more numerous protests continue locally, co-ordinated through neighbourhood assemblies (around 25 in Barcelona alone), each of which is sub-divided into working commissions. In the last fortnight, for example, protesters have joined staff protesting the closure of two Barcelona hospitals (‘l’Esperança’ and ‘Dos de Maig’), which form part of a €2 billion package of health and education cuts across Catalunya in 2011. They have also resisted home repossessions resulting from the collapse of a housing bubble – in one case, meeting with violent police repression. Similar actions continue across Spain, with speakers on Sol reporting over 70 successful attempts to stop repossessions. There have also been actions to prevent indiscriminate immigrant checks, as documented by this widely-circulated video from Lavapies, a district of Madrid.
Summer is traditionally a quiet time for social movements, but a series of actions are planned for the ‘holidays’, including calls to ‘Toma la Playa’ (‘Take the Beach’, a play on the ‘Take the Square’ theme of one of the movement’s main rallying calls and coordinating sites) and ‘Toma la Montaña’ (‘Take the Mountain’), a call for a week long environmental protest camp at one of Spain’s largest open-cast coal mines.
Stoked by the success of the Madrid marches, a group set off from Puerta del Sol to Brussels, some 1,150 km away – a rather literal take on one of the movement’s key slogans, ‘Vamos despacio porque vamos lejos’ (‘We’re going slow because we’re going far’). They are scheduled to arrive in the de facto capital of the European Union a week ahead of a global demonstration on 15 October, called for by Democracy real Ya! (Real Democracy Now!), the platform that initiated the Spanish protests.
The day of action is one landmark in what many predictions suggest could be a ‘hot’ autumn. With the Eurozone crisis deepening, the ratings agencies on the offensive and Spanish public debt costing ever more to service (thanks to bond market speculation, amid moves to protect northern European banks at the expense of countries on the ‘periphery’), the Prime Minister José Zapatero has called an election for 20 November, in which he will not stand as a candidate. The right wing People’s Party (PP) is expected to win, while the populist right also registered gains in the regional elections last May that were the occasion of the first M15 protests – a sobering reminder that the progressive spirit of the M15 mobilisations is far from the only response to the current predicament.
In a system where increasing numbers distrust the political class, the results at the ballot box are also a landmark for a rapidly maturing movement. As the moderators of the 185,000-strong Facebook group #spanishrevolution dryly noted: ‘Elections brought forward to 20N. We should do something… no?’ And the banners heading to Sol – ‘No es la crisis, es el sistema’ (‘It’s not the crisis, it’s the system’) – can be read as a statement of intent as the movement marches on.
Hsiao-Hung Pai meets people affected by the fire, and finds sadness and suffering mixed with a continuing wariness of the official investigations
Chris Williamson MP, winner of the election's tightest marginal, Derby North, and recently reappointed shadow minister for fire services, talks to Ashish Ghadiali about Jeremy Corbyn, the housing crisis and winning from the left
The Corbyn-supporting group is preparing for another election at any moment, writes Adam Peggs – and now has the potential to create powerful training initiatives, union links and party reform efforts
’We believe in you. We are with you. We will never forget.’ Grenfell solidarity sweeps East London in mass banner drops from housing estates
Michael Calderbank profiles Jeremy Corbyn's new supporters in parliament
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) continues to witness devastating political violence, but the world refuses to act. Ishiaba Kasonga and Serge Egola Angbakodolo ask why?
When fire safety has become a privilege for the rich, it’s time to stop austerity and fund emergency mass works to raise standards immediately, writes Jane Shallice
The election result has irreversibly changed political discourse in the UK, writes James Fox
In commemoration of the 30th anniversary of Bernie Grant's election to parliament, Ayo Wallace explores the life and legacy of his radical representation of Tottenham's black communities.
Across Britain, hundreds of thousands of people have now taken part in mass rallies for Corbyn's Labour. Eli Regan soaks up the atmosphere in Warrington
Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part
Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper
Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s
Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach
Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.
Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite
Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead
Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee
Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power
The Grenfell public inquiry must listen to the residents who have been ignored for so long
Councils handed housing over to obscure, unaccountable organisations, writes Anna Minton – now we must hear the voices they silenced
India: Modi’s ‘development model’ is built on violence and theft from the poorest
Development in India is at the expense of minorities and the poor, writes Gargi Battacharya
North Korea is just the start of potentially deadly tensions between the US and China
US-China relations have taken on a disturbing new dimension under Donald Trump, writes Dorothy Guerrero
The feminist army leading the fight against ISIS
Dilar Dirik salutes militant women-organised democracy in action in Rojava
France: The colonial republic
The roots of France’s ascendant racism lie as deep as the origins of the French republic itself, argues Yasser Louati
This is why it’s an important time to support Caroline Lucas
A vital voice of dissent in Parliament: Caroline Lucas explains why she is asking for your help
PLP committee elections: it seems like most Labour backbenchers still haven’t learned their lesson
Corbyn is riding high in the polls - so he can face down the secret malcontents among Labour MPs, writes Michael Calderbank
Going from a top BBC job to Tory spin chief should be banned – it’s that simple
This revolving door between the 'impartial' broadcaster and the Conservatives stinks, writes Louis Mendee – we need a different media
I read Gavin Barwell’s ‘marginal seat’ book and it was incredibly awkward
Gavin Barwell was mocked for writing a book called How to Win a Marginal Seat, then losing his. But what does the book itself reveal about Theresa May’s new top adviser? Matt Thompson reads it so you don’t have to
We can defeat this weak Tory government on the pay cap
With the government in chaos, this is our chance to lift the pay cap for everyone, writes Mark Serwotka, general secretary of public service workers’ union PCS
Corbyn supporters surge in Labour’s internal elections
A big rise in left nominations from constituency Labour parties suggests Corbynites are getting better organised, reports Michael Calderbank
Undercover policing – the need for a public inquiry for Scotland
Tilly Gifford, who exposed police efforts to recruit her as a paid informer, calls for the inquiry into undercover policing to extend to Scotland
Becoming a better ally: how to understand intersectionality
Intersectionality can provide the basis of our solidarity in this new age of empire, writes Peninah Wangari-Jones
The myth of the ‘white working class’ stops us seeing the working class as it really is
The right imagines a socially conservative working class while the left pines for the days of mass workplaces. Neither represent today's reality, argues Gargi Bhattacharyya
The government played the public for fools, and lost
The High Court has ruled that the government cannot veto local council investment decisions. This is a victory for local democracy and the BDS movement, and shows what can happen when we stand together, writes War on Want’s Ross Hemingway.
An ‘obscure’ party? I’m amazed at how little people in Britain know about the DUP
After the Tories' deal with the Democratic Unionists, Denis Burke asks why people in Britain weren't a bit more curious about Northern Ireland before now
The Tories’ deal with the DUP is outright bribery – but this government won’t last
Theresa May’s £1.5 billion bung to the DUP is the last nail in the coffin of the austerity myth, writes Louis Mendee
Brexit, Corbyn and beyond
Clarity of analysis can help the left avoid practical traps, argues Paul O'Connell
Paul Mason vs Progress: ‘Decide whether you want to be part of this party’ – full report
Broadcaster and Corbyn supporter Paul Mason tells the Blairites' annual conference some home truths
Contagion: how the crisis spread
Following on from his essay, How Empire Struck Back, Walden Bello speaks to TNI's Nick Buxton about how the financial crisis spread from the USA to Europe
How empire struck back
Walden Bello dissects the failure of Barack Obama's 'technocratic Keynesianism' and explains why this led to Donald Trump winning the US presidency