Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Austerity Anger Rising in Spain

A nice symbolic representation of the police's role in austerity-torn Europe
Last week's double whammy of brutal new austerity measures and brutal police repression of miners and their supporters seems to been the spark which has set working class Spanish resistance alight. Six consecutive days of spontaneous protests have now shaken the country, and the Spanish royal family's decision to make a cosmetic cut to its budget speaks of growing unease in ruling class circles.

Seven days ago, the long 'Black March' of miners reached Madrid, where trade union leaders were to give speeches urging concessions on the banker-dictated withdrawal of mining industry subsidies - which is expected to spell the loss of forty thousand jobs. But the march received enormous support from working class Spanish, who saw their own struggles reflected in that of the miners. Tens of thousands lined the capital's Puerta del Sol, where they were set upon by cops wielding batons and firing rubber bullets.

At almost exactly the same time, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of the 'centre-right' Popular Party was announcing his third extra austerity package in just six months. As I reported:
"Under this combination of cuts and tax rises totalling €65bn (£51bn), VAT was increased by 3%, unemployment benefits were cut for those claiming for more than six months (against an unemployment rate of 24.6%), and an increase in the retirement age was brought forward. With the bankers breathing down his neck - and as the example of Greece has repeatedly shown - there will be more austerity measures not far behind these."
As these numbers were announced, one Popular Party MP clapped and shouted "fuck them all", referring to the quarter of all working age Spanish who are unemployed. These events were the straw that broke the camel's back, and the past days have seen a rising tide of rebellion.

On Thursday morning, civil servants took action, blocking traffic in some of Madrid's central streets, while others marched to the Popular Party headquarters, and yet another group paid a visit to Rajoy's residence in Moncloa Palace. The latest measures have hit civil servants particularly badly, as they have lost their Christmas bonus (worth 7 per cent of their annual pay), some sick pay, and personal days. This is in addition to the five to fifteen per cent cuts in wages under the previous Socialist Workers' Party government.

That evening, five hundred police and firefighters gathered in front of parliament, in a protest that was organised via Facebook. A firefighter told the Diagonal newspaper that "We are angry because we have lost 30 per cent of our income."

Friday saw civil servants set up more roadblocks, but they were joined on the demonstrations by nurses, doctors, teachers and university professors. In the evening, another Facebook protest brought thousands to the front of the Popular Party HQ, where police charged, prompting a move to the Socialist Workers' Party HQ, and finally to parliament, where police set up a double line of fences to protect the building from the people its members are supposed to represent.

On Saturday, hundreds gathered in Barcelona, Malaga, Valencia, and other major cities, before a Sunday march of civil servants again targeted the parliament, with slogans including "Hands up! This is a robbery!" and "Less crucifixes, more permanent jobs."

Then thousands blocked central Madrid on Monday morning, with firefighters, police in civilian clothes, and civil servants again trying to reach parliament, where their path was blocked by riot cops.

This uprising is still in its early stages, but the royal family's move to falsely claim that all Spanish are 'in it together' proves that the ruling class are extremely wary of doing anything to promote greater public anger in the height of the Spanish summer. For their part, the union bureaucracies must be utterly perplexed at events so quickly escaping their control, and they will no doubt scramble to attempt a recovery. Their task will be to slow the pace of the new movement, and re-segregate workers into sectional blocks, undermining a class-wide solidarity born of class-wide suffering, and given breathing space by social networking technology. The General Union of Workers had already called a demonstration for July 19th - the day the budget is scheduled to be voted on - but this formally involves only public sector workers. The stage is set for a far more combative response to the budget than the UGT bureaucracy had bargained for.

This thread on the LibCom website has excellent regular updates on the Spanish rebellion.
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