There were clashes between police and protesters as thousands of people rallied in the Spanish capital, Madrid There were clashes between police and protesters as thousands of people rallied in the Spanish capital, Madrid

On 22 March 2014 thousands of people from different areas of Spain converged in a major demonstration in Madrid. Olga Abasolo reports

On 22 March 2014, five columns (Northwest, North, Northeast, East and South) traveled hundreds of miles to converge in a major demonstration in Madrid. This popular, non-partisan  action had been promoted by a broad range of people from the left and alternative unions from the South and North of Spain (SAT in Andalusia  and CUT in Galicia) and many of the activists from the post – 15M mareas (“tides” against austerity and social welfare cuts, mainly health and education), bringing together people from the working classes, different ages and different regional origins. Thousands of people had set out on the these “Marches of dignity” two weeks earlier.

Something seems to be changing in terms of social mobilization. On the one hand, unity of different social groups. On the other, the scale of the violence.

What we saw during the 15 M movement in 2011 with the occupation of the plazas was, arguably, younger people who shared with the middle classes a sense that their anticipated futures and aspirations were vanishing under the impact of the crisis, the expression of the break-up of a sense of belonging  to a society which seems to promise what it can no longer provide or guarantee.

In the immediate aftermath of the occupations, we saw the development of new political practices and a new repertoire of collective action organized “sectorially” (against evictions, in defense of public health, education) with no visible organizations backing them. Now it is the working-classes that are organizing and there is a  growing sense of anger.


The ‘Marches of Dignity’ have been built around a discourse which links feelings shared by a majority of the population hit by the crisis and the cuts (the need to defend all that is being taken away from us: public services, decent employment, the right to housing) and a clear awareness of who is to blame: the troika, the swindle of the debt, and the Government.

Organization of the marches began months ago all over the country. Platforms of supporters encouraged them as they passed through towns and villages on the way to Madrid.


The marchers´ demands have been built around a feeling of indignation, along with new more open forms of participation which have helped bring different groups from across a broad spectrum of the Left, who merge in these marches: local neighbourhood associations, political parties, unions, platforms, assemblies of the 15 M movement, groups against evictions, etc.

The marchers were accompanied by 100 buses of more protesters when they arrived in Madrid. Hours earlier, the conservative President of the Madrid Regional Government had compared the organizers to the Greek neo-Nazi group “Golden Dawn”.  Some 1,700 riot policemen were waiting for them.

The demonstration lasted more than 3 hours. We will never know how many people really took part in it.  The figures, depending on who is giving them, range from 36,000 to 2,000,000.

What we saw on the streets on March 22 was a revival of “classical” political organizations, with communist, anarchist and above all, a sea of Spanish Republican flags on display. This is a very strong contrast with other recent demonstrations  distinguished by the absence of any signs of explicit political identity.

What we saw in the streets was the first massive demonstration for months. A feeling of tiredness and frustration seemed to have spread among the people after a very busy year (around 4,000 demonstrations were held in Spain during 2013). Most of them were non-violent, but many ended with police charges and arrests. Plastic bullets included.


Violence against the people

There has been on-going brutal repression of protest, and a new Civil Law and Order Bill , the constitutionality of which has been questioned by some sectors of the judiciary. Amongst other measures, the proposed law would introduce heavy fines on any action of “civil disobedience” and publication of videos or pictures of police action.


As this video shows violence has obviously escalated, but let us define violence. Isn´t it violence against the people when there is 25.6% unemployment (36% in Andalusia)  and youth unemployment rising to 53%; and an average of 184 evictions per day?

The mainstream media have focused on and condemned the images released after the demonstration, giving scant attention to the structural violence being unleashed on us.

It is hard to know who actually started the incidents on March 22. But the truth is that something seems to have changed. Like in England, we are used in Spain to undercover police instigating violence (as shown in numerous videos and photos on internet), and there seems little doubt that some of that was going on that day.

However, more significantly, what we saw was understandable given the sense of “no future” and many activitsts’ and young people´s recent experience of police repression, the sense that civil liberties and the right to protest are under attack, etc, but also that violence is being played into the government´s hand. On the other hand the government´s  warnings against a possible burst of violence provoked by anti-system militants on the eve of the Marches begin to look like self-fufilling prophesies.

Many people fear that a tragedy is bound to occur as the anger builds up. On March 22 there was anger emerging in Madrid, but also unity and a sense of “we are the people”.