Sofia Tipaldou reports from a decisive turning point in the Spanish workers’ fight against austerity
‘It’s not a crisis, it’s a fraud!’, was the chant of the people in Spain’s biggest mobilisation since the labour reforms were introduced.
The 19 July general strike was the turning point of the people’s struggle against their government’s austerity policies. Participation was even bigger than in the 29 March general strike. This time, the cuts do not only affect specific groups (like the 14 million wage-earners the labour reform affected), but everyone.
The new austerity measures include a VAT increase, an income taxes increase for the self-employed, suspension of the civil servants’ Christmas pay, cuts on unemployment subsidies, dismissals in public firms, plus the pensioners’ participation in paying their medicines.
‘It is the moment to go out on the streets, I am a chronic patient and now I have to pay more for my medicine’, said a retired firefighter who took part in the demo.
The demonstrations of 19 July were the popular reply to the €65 billion new cuts that were passed only with the governmental party’s (PP) vote. Six labour unions (UGT, CCOO, CSI-F, CGT, Intersindcial, and USO) called the demo jointly for the first time and more than a thousand organisations and social movements went out to the streets with them.
Green t-shirts symbolized the opposition on public education cuts, black ones were used by civil servants, firefighters took to the streets with their uniforms and helmets, and in Valencia even police officers marched in uniform.
In over 80 cities the demonstrations united hundreds of thousands of people under the slogan ‘They want to destroy the country, we have to prevent it. We are the majority’. The country’s largest demo was in Madrid. More than 100,000 people, according to the newspaper El País, participated (800,000 according to organizers, 25,000 according to the police).
At night violent incidents that left 26 injured. The police detained 15 people, one of whom was a firefighter.
The writers Benjamín Prado and Marta Sanz read aloud a social and union manifesto in Madrid that concluded with the following: ‘Facing the government’s decision to dismantle the social state: We are not going to allow it. We are not going to stop the mobilizations. There are other policies. Those who have more have to pay more’.
That was on the sixth day of non-stop demonstrations in the country’s capital. The mobilisations continued in the aftermath of 19 July. The very next day hundreds of civil servants in Ministries stopped the traffic for half an hour in various streets. On 21 July, about 3,000 people (according to the police) gathered in Madrid’s main square, Puerta del Sol, to join in the unemployed march that arrived in the capital from various provinces.
In Barcelona, the demo brought together 400,000 people (according to organisers). ‘It is the biggest demo I have seen in the last many years’ said Marc, who has been living in Barcelona for the last 15 years. In the atmosphere of a big fiesta, one could see people from all ages, with ‘grandpas-flautists’ (iaioflautes) and firefighters in the first line, shouting ‘Let the next unemployed person be a deputy’.
In Valencia, there were approximately 50,000 participants. Demonstrators included employees of the Valencia Radio Television (RTVV) who are threatened with 76% job cuts.
On 23 July, police officers - together with firefighters - will demonstrate for the first time in Valencia under the slogan ‘Your security is in danger’. ‘We are not going to tolerate another government that uses us as a scapegoat’ said the representative of the syndicate Unified Association of Civil Guards in Valencia.
Firefighters asked for the resignation of the Security Minister in Valencia on grounds of mismanagement. At the same time, public servants have established ‘Black Fridays’, which will take them out on the streets every Friday dressed in black, in order to represent the death of public services.
This is just a part of the whole picture. The government was not expecting such a massive turnout. People took over the streets in all provinces.
In Zaragoza there were about 100,000 people, in A Coruña 70,000, in Valladolid 60,000, in Bilbao 20,000, in Pamplona 15,000, in Sevilla 50,000, in La Palma 20,000 – to mention only a few.
The popular response to Andrea Fabra’s outburst ‘Screw them!’ (¡Que se jodan!) triumphed. That was what MP Andrea Fabra shouted in the Parliament when President Mariano Rajoy was announcing the cuts for the unemployed.
She did not resign. Why? Maybe because she is the daughter of Andrea Fabra, president of Popular Party in Castellón. Believe it or not, Mr. Fabra is the only man in Spain (and probably in the whole world) who has won the lottery nine times in the last ten years! No wonder Mr. Fabra is under trial for corruption, bribery, tax offenses, etc. It was now his daughter’s turn to proudly represent the family in the parliament.
President Rajoy surely managed something unusual: to unite big and small labour unions. All of the unions warned that the battle has just started, and that if the government does not reduce the cuts, they will call another general strike.
In line with Barcelona’s trade unionists, the general secretary of CCOO stated from Madrid: ‘Today’s demonstration is not just another one; it is not the final act. There will be more in August!’ We are looking forward to them