Catalonia on the brink as Spanish state unleashes crackdown

The Spanish government is facing a major crisis as the struggle for independence in the Catalonia region intensifies.

The Tory government headed by Mariano Rajoy unleashed brutal repression to try to stop a referendum on 1 October. He declared the referendum “illegal”, after a ruling by Spain’s constitutional court.

Rajoy deployed the paramilitary police Civil Guard to seize around ten million ballot papers, as well as pro-independence material. The Spanish Constitutional Court also announced that 24 referendum organisers would be fined up to $20,000 per day.

Police tried to raid the offices of the pro-independence, anti-capitalist party the CUP. But there was a huge response, with hundreds of thousands of people rushing to the streets. Crowds prevented the police from occupying the offices and forced riot police to retreat.

People mobilised in their thousands to occupy polling stations on the day of the referendum and prevent efforts by the Spanish police to close them. Almost 900 people were injured in savage police violence.

“A village of 250 people was attacked by 60 or 70 paramilitary police”, said activist David Karvala in Barcelona.

“Elsewhere the police targeted a woman with official responsibilities in the referendum. They dragged her down stone steps by her hair, touched her breasts, then broke the fingers of her hand one by one. They shot a person at close range with a rubber bullet. He’s having emergency treatment and may lose an eye.”

But the vote went ahead. Ninety two per cent or just over two million people voted for independence.

Catalonia is a region of 7.5 million people with its own language and culture. In 2010 Rajoy’s party blocked in court a deal between the Spanish and Catalan governments for greater autonomy for the region. This provoked a million-strong demonstration and revived the radical independence movement, which had already existed for decades previously.

An independent Catalonia would be a blow against an imperialist state and a victory for a popular grassroots movement.

Following the vote Catalan President Carles Puigdemont said, “We have won the right to an independent state, in the form of a republic.”

As Solidarity went to press he had begun moves to make a unilateral declaration of independence, saying, “Catalan institutions must implement what citizens have decided”.

But instead of building on the mobilisations from below, he has called on the European Union to help him mediate with the Spanish state.

Struggle from below

A general strike on the Wednesday following the referendum saw huge demonstrations and major roads blockaded. Firefighter Pau Serra told Socialist Worker UK, “The strike has been a success. I’ve walked all over Barcelona and everything is shut except for small cafes.”

The strike was initially called by left unions, but was also backed by the larger unions and a pro-independence alliance which described it as “a walkout for the country” not a “traditional strike”. The Catalan government gave public sector workers the day off and some bosses closed up shop voluntarily. But big business in Catalonia opposes independence as a threat to stability.

Winning independence will require mobilising the power of workers over the economy—against the wishes of their bosses—to force the Spanish government to concede. Such a struggle could spill over into a wider fightback across the Spanish state against the neo-liberal cuts imposed by the Rajoy government.

By Miro Sandev and James Supple

Magazine

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