Eyewitness: Spain’s ‘indignados’ spirit spreads to the workplace

There were beautiful scenes on October 15 when more than a million people took to the streets across Spain, reports Daisy Farnham.

One protester in Seville described it as “a human rain, an indignant rain which was to clean the streets of the filth of capital.”

Importantly, the “Indignados” (indignant) movement, that began with mass demonstrations and square occupations in May, is starting to link up with workers fighting the effects of the economic crisis.

The demonstrations gave inspiration to the indignados movement in the face of disparaging media coverage proclaiming it in decline. But people are angrier than ever about the crisis. The Labor and conservative parties have put a cap on public spending, instead prioritising paying the state’s debt that was accumulated by bailing out the banks. Unemployment is now at 21 per cent.

In Madrid our numbers were boosted by tens of thousands of teachers fighting education cuts.

In some cities the demonstrations ended with symbolic occupations.In Madrid and Barcelona, protesters occupied vacant bank-owned buildings and converted them into housing for those evicted from their homes by the banks. In Barcelona three families have already moved in.

Beyond the squares

But many in the movement are finding that the occupations alone will not stop the cuts or be enough to build a new economic system. After a month of occupying public squares in May, the movement was exhausted by the colossal logistical task of maintaining the protest camps.

Some in the movement have said that creating “autonomous” spaces outside the system is the solution. They saw the protest camps as an end in themselves and now advocate small-scale local activities to promote “self organisation”.

But most people couldn’t maintain the rhythm of sleeping in the square when they had to work or study the next day.

The shift to create assemblies in the suburbs in June expanded the movement and shifted the focus from the internal organisation of the camps to the coordination of actions to address concrete political issues. It connected the indignados with workers’ struggles against job losses and cuts.

In regions affected by the spending cuts, hospital workers and teachers have formed mass assemblies like those of the movement to make decisions about the way forward. In Catalonia the assemblies have organised militant occupations of hospitals, some lasting more than 50 days. Recently, in the face of the inaction of their union leadership, several assemblies of hospital workers voted for an indefinite strike.

In Madrid, primary and high school teachers’ assemblies have already organised seven days of strikes, more than the one day proposed by the union leadership. The confidence of the workers was undoubtedly boosted by the presence of a supportive social movement in the streets.

Teachers and parents occupied several schools the night before their strikes whilst students gathered outside in support, holding meetings and discussions. One activist said, “The coordination between schools has been important. United action has given us confidence”.

These are important steps forward for the movement that has been held back by suspicion of trade unions and organisations. The strikes have demonstrated the power that workers have.

Activist Juan from Seville said, “I think the movement should use the trade union base that already exists to demand a general strike”.

Inspired by the Madrid teachers, the students’ assembly in Barcelona has called a general strike of students and workers for November 12. It was immediately endorsed by the left wing unions and even the major conservative unions, showing that they will act under mass pressure from below.

This month elections will be held. The government is struggling to maintain credibility in the face of a social movement demanding real democracy and actively creating it in the assemblies and the workplaces. The cuts will not be stopped at the ballot box—Spain’s future will be decided on the streets.


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