Eyewitness: Spain’s indignant take democracy into their own hands

An atmosphere of rebellion has swept across Spain. On May 15, tens of thousands of people took to the streets for statewide demonstrations calling for “real democracy now” under the slogan “we are not merchandise in the hands of politicians and bankers”. Masses of people, who have spent three years being told that “tightening their belts” is the only solution to the crisis, have finally said “enough!”

Fifty thousand marched in Madrid and about 80,000 in more than 60 cities across Spain, yelling chants like “gold of the banker; blood of the worker” and “no solution without revolution”. At times deafening roars went up in anger at the government.

In the larger cities people ended the marches full of energy to take more action and the idea went around to hold a protest camp until the coming election day to expose the lack of democracy in institutional politics. One hundred massive protest camps have sprung up since May 15.

The camps even went ahead in defiance of the normally sacrosanct “day of reflection” before elections when any political agitation is illegal. Some camps have now declared themselves indefinite. Police appeared at some camps but they were simply too big to clear out. In Barcelona on May 27, a brutal police crackdown that shut down the camp earlier in the morning was met with a huge response that afternoon, when thousands came back to retake the square and sent police running.

The level of self-organisation within the camps is staggering. Just like in Tahrir Square a few months ago, they prove in practice that people are fully capable of collectively organising themselves efficiently and democratically. Joel Sans, a student in Barcelona said, “(the movement) has broken with the generalised pessimism, it has…shown that people are able and willing to fight.”

There is amazing initiative and enthusiasm. Every day people bring donations of food and supplies and endless ideas for actions: to extend the assemblies to the suburbs where more people can join in; occupy dole offices; stop evictions and take solidarity action with workers resisting sackings and pay reductions and more. Students are on strike at the University of Barcelona and another statewide demonstration is planned for mid-June.

Old and young, students and workers, people with political experience and people who had never been to a demonstration before are working together and debating the way forward. Commissions have been formed to manage camp logistics, communications, future actions, food, and childcare. Decisions are made there and then passed in the mass assemblies of tens of thousands that are held every evening.

The demands of “los indignados” (the indignant) have been various; linking their terrible social conditions to the laughable democracy that has created them. People want the reversal of the Socialist (Labor) government’s neoliberal cuts and reforms and the recuperation of the billions handed to the banks. They want decent housing and employment and the end to corruption, spending cuts, privatisations, pay, pension and benefit reductions and the spiralling unemployment which has left 44 per cent of youth without work.

So far the movement has been characterised by strong anti-party and anti-union sentiment, a major obstacle to its success. People are angry because the main unions aren’t leading the fight against the government’s austerity but backing the cuts; in January they signed an agreement to lower pensions and delay the age of retirement to 67.

The Madrid protest camp rejected an offer of supplies from one of the main unions. But now there are calls from Malaga, Seville, Valencia, Barcelona and more cities that the unions unite with the movement and organise towards a 24-hour general strike. Last week, hospital and education workers’ marches in Barcelona ended in the protest camp and the camp passed a motion in support of all workers fighting back against the cuts. When the fire fighters were called on to take down the protestors’ banners, they refused and instead held a one-hour strike.

As Joel Sans said “if the workers stop working, the system stops. So we need to spread the contagious energy of the protest camps to the workplaces”. This in contrast to the arguments of many of the autonomists involved in the movement, who think that establishing an alternative world in the squares will be enough.

The protests are extending rapidly across Europe. Already tens of thousands have protested in Italy, Greece, Belgium and more. We need to extend and deepen the resistance. As the movement’s manifesto proclaims: “if we join forces, we can change it [society]. It’s time to change things, time to build a better society together”.

Daisy Farnham, in Spain


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