Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
‘We, the unemployed, the underpaid, the subcontracted, the precarious, the young … demand a change towards a future with dignity. We are fed up of reforms, of being laid off, of the banks which have caused the crisis hardening our mortgages or taking away our houses, of laws limiting our freedom in the interest of the powerful. We blame the political and economic powers of our sad situation and we call for a turn.’
When a new and unknown platform called Real Democracy Now called for a demonstration last Sunday, 15 May, few expected that something like 130,000 people would turn out across Spain. Around 1,000 of those attempted to occupy Madrid’s central square, the Puerta del Sol, overnight in a conscious imitation of Tahrir Square. They were violently evicted by police, but the next day similar camps sprang up in most major cities. They are still mostly there and intend to remain until Sunday’s local elections.
Of course, though the movement has taken even the organisers by surprise, it has antecedents and a context. Its roots include those groups and movements connected to the World Social Forum process as well as the protests organised by young people before the financial crisis over the high cost of homes as a result of the property boom. More recently, a ‘Youth without a future’ demonstration attracted up to 3,000 people in April, marching under the slogan ‘No House, No Job, No Pension, No Fear’. This was not a particularly impressive turnout, though it matched the unimpressive turnout for recent trade union mobilisations.
The trade union response to the crisis was slow in coming and quickly lost steam. A general strike last September happened nine months after the first austerity measures were announced. Then the large unions signed an agreement with the government on pension cuts in January. Although they were denounced by smaller, more militant unions, those unions were unable to call a significant mobilisation against the agreement. Union rank and file members are showing clear signs of demoralisation.
Then came the election campaign. A court battle concerning the possibility of pro-ETA candidates running in the Basque Country resulted in them being allowed to run (good news because it signals a better chance of bringing terrorism to an end) but provided the right with an opportunity to stoke Spanish nationalistic chauvinism. On the other hand the austerity policies and the high rate of unemployment have alienated a lot of the popular classes who would normally support the PSOE. As a result the polls were forecasting a landslide defeat of the PSOE to the PP. United Left (IU) is showing significant advances in the polls, but nothing to match the major shift away from the PSOE.
Then the marches last Sunday erupted. They were called mostly by word of mouth and through social networks. Thousands marched against the banks and for real democracy. Botín, CEO of Banco Santander, and other prominent businessmen were identified as responsible for the crisis, while one of the most popular slogans was ‘PSOE and PP are the same shit’. Corruption is also targeted. People shouted ‘no hay pan para tanto chorizo’ (there is not enough bread for so many sausages). As well as being a Spanish sandwich sausage, ‘chorizo’ also means ‘crook’ in popular slang.
Some are now advocating a ‘blank’ vote in the elections, but in most cases ‘real democracy’ is understood as the need to reform the electoral regulations and, more significantly, the primacy of elected bodies over the ‘markets’ and the accountability of elected officials.
The right will still most probably win the elections although a surprise cannot be ruled out. If the defeat is large enough, PSOE prime minister Rodrigo Zapatero will probably be forced to call an early general election. It does not seem realistic to expect a left turn as his government is highly committed to the austerity policies that are being designed at the European level.
But the Spanish landscape the day after could be different. There could be new actors on the stage. Whether or not this particular movement survives, contestation in Spain is gathering momentum and it will recover. And although this new impetus will not automatically shift either the unions or the PSOE grassroots to the left, this week’s mobilisations will certainly have an effect on the labour movement. The anti-globalisation movement in Spain, which was thought dead, has reappeared under a new incarnation.
Michael Coates reviews a new film revealing the shocking state of housing inequality in the UK.
The vicious media campaign against trans people is part bigotry, part strategy, writes Roz Kaveney
Jon Trickett MP reports on 'Dickensian' levels of poverty and hardship felt across the UK.
Natasha King busts some myths around the No Borders debate
He was once a radical icon, but now he's a mouthpiece for racism and nationalism. Time to get off stage, writes Michael Calderbank
Consensus seems to have shifted, but austerity is far from over. The chancellor has committed us to yet more years of misery while the rich get richer, writes Richard Seymour.
Frustrated at the idea of another royal wedding? You're not alone. Joana Ramiro argues we should stop idealising a fundamentally undemocratic institution.
Liberal elites are using Russian interference to minimise their own political failures, writes Matt Turner
Nick Dearden from Global Justice Now argues that after years of colonial domination and dodgy trade deals, the UK must make amends and support Zimbabwe in this uncertain time.
Last month's mass far right demonstration can be linked to a toxic mix of government tolerance of fascism and neoliberalism on steroids. Ewa Jasiewicz investigates.
Meet the frontline activists facing down the global mining industry
Activists are defending land, life and water from the global mining industry. Tatiana Garavito, Sebastian Ordoñez and Hannibal Rhoades investigate.
Transition or succession? Zimbabwe’s future looks uncertain
The fall of Mugabe doesn't necessarily spell freedom for the people of Zimbabwe, writes Farai Maguwu
Don’t let Corbyn’s opponents sneak onto the Labour NEC
Labour’s powerful governing body is being targeted by forces that still want to strangle Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, writes Alex Nunns
Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism
Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists
Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson
As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win
The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution
Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.
‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition
#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny
Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke