"We will come back onto the streets, we will strike if necessary. This has only been made possible by the unity of action of the UGT and CCOO unions all over Spain. Let no one rob us of the fight! Let no one rob us of our unity!"
With these words Javier Lopez the regional Secretary of CCOO ended his speech at the rally in Madrid. He also said: "We have no country other than our work that makes us free and equal (...) We are all together here: Catalans and Madrileños, Basques and Andalusians (...) We have done ... We have done it!... A strike united as never before!" declared its
Days earlier, the basketball players' union had come out in support of the General Strike. So did CEMPE, the Confederation of Small Business and Self-Employed in Andalusia and other independent groups of the social economy, which comprises tens of thousands of self-employed workers and small businesses in Andalusia. They issued a manifesto which it rejected "the labour reforms and cuts". More than a thousand political groups and social organizations rallied to the unions’ call to action.
The beginning of the strike. Pickets
Fernandez Toxo (Secretary General of CCOO) waved a copy of ABC [a right wing newspaper] that had published an early edition on the Thursday in order to avoid the the strike having an effect on its staff. That fact alone speaks volumes about the attempt of the media to manipulate and deceive the public about on the impact of the day of action.
Victor Dominguez, provincial coordinator of IU [the United Left] in Alicante, reported: "There were more people than two years ago at the first meeting of the pickets in Alicante". The same goes for most other cities.
Clearly, there is a layer of young fighters who have to relearn the old traditions. Only in few places there were scenes like in the factory rail CAF Beasain Goyerri in the Basque province of Gipuzkoa, where there was a massive show of hands of more than 1,000 workers in favour of the strike.
But this strike has had a tremendous impact in breaking with the old routine, pointing to a new period in which class struggle will be on the agenda, with all the implications that this will have. It will serve to unify the working class through struggle. It will weld the class together through collective struggle (with victories and many defeats). This is the only alternative to a situation that is becoming more terrible every day.
In Cantabria, a businessman wounded a member of the CCOO trade union with a knife, as you can see in the picture we provide. In that case, the police were conspicuous by their absence.
At the end of the morning of the strike a veteran fighter from Granada, Lola Maiztegui, put his experience into words:
"In one night of picketing our children have learned what the real war they have declared against us is all about. Are they scared? Not at all! Let those who have reason to fear begin to fear! The working class is here!”
The strike in figures:
About 10 million workers supported the strike; UGT and CCOO reported a 77% response.
There has been a massive strike all across industry: the ports, municipal services, transportation and construction were all out. In the public sector the strike marked a clear advance over the strike of 2010.
In health, the corporatism of SATSE (the majority union in nursing) showed its limitations, precisely on the eve of a budget that will leave thousands of nurses jobless. This division was noticeable in different hospitals, but this will serve to make the nurses draw the necessary lessons in future on the need for unity and for class unionism.
In the Basque Country, the strike was an overwhelming success. In the shops, the employers acknowledged that the protest had the support of 85% of workers. The El Corte Inglés in Bilbao opened its doors an hour and a half late and even then it did not have enough workers to commence business. In Pamplona, the centre of this prestigious shopping chain also had its activity disrupted.
All across the north of the country, from Catalonia to Galicia, with its massive industrial base, the strike was certainly more than 75% and in some areas, the response to the strike was over 90%.
Unai Sordo, Secretary General of CCOO in the Basque Country said it was the largest strike since the general strike of the 14th of December 1988.
In the South and East, where there is very high unemployment many workers are only just scraping by on low wages, people are afraid of losing their job. "I really want to go on strike, but I cannot afford to lose the money," one often hears."I have a very low wage and children to support".
But here too the movement is coming into being. Many of these workers have not been affected by labor reform. But they will see it in action in the next few months.
The effect of the strike on the television companies was higher than at other times, affecting the live broadcasts on all channels. In Canal Sur and the Catalan TV3 was greater still, as in the publicly owned stations, which had to publish a subtitle every few minutes, stating that the contents had been "agreed" with the union organizers.
In Telemadrid, where the workers have for years been locked in a bitter struggle against the manipulation of news and attacks on the unions by Esperanza Aguirre, the reactionary President of the Madrid Autonomous Community, the workers simply pulled the plug on the channel. The accumulated indignation was expressed at a total stoppage. The technicians just pressed a button and the screens went black.
Deputies to the left of the PSOE boycotted the parliamentary sessions in state and regional parliaments everywhere, with the sole exception of the Compromis-EQUO in Valencia.
In some regional parliaments PSOE deputies either did not attend or left in the middle of the session to attend the demonstrations, despite pressure from the national leadership. The PSOE leader Alfredo Rubalcaba and the Party’s MPs in the national parliament voted unanimously in favour of the PP’s Financial Law just few weeks ago.
In the coming months PP leader Fernando Rajoy will probably have to go to see Rubalcaba as the result of the inevitable collapse of his political support, and Rubalcaba, together with practically all the leaders of the PSOE, will demonstrate show their “statesmanlike qualities" and pitch in together the PP, responding to the country's problems and pressure from the markets.
Members of IU and other organizations on the Left were at the forefront of the pickets.
In Barcelona the media focused on the damage caused to the Plaza Catalunya by certain individuals who smashed the windows of El Corte Inglés, which gave the excuse for the Autonomous Police to unleash ferocious repression, firing hundreds of rubber bullets and smoke canisters. But what the media do not say is that, at the same time, some miles away, a countless multitude of people who had nothing to do with such incidents were walking down the Barcelona’s Gran Via in a demonstration several kilometres long. And the side-streets running parallel to the Gran Vía were full of people who were unable to march down the main street, which was packed with 800,000 demonstrators.
UGT leader Cándido Méndez was right when he said the "workers' demonstrations were unprecedented." In Murcia, 90,000 people packed the city in a demonstration that measured three kilometres from head to tail. In Valencia, there were 250,000 on the streets. In Alicante and Castellón, 50,000.
There were about 160,000 in Vigo, between the three different demonstrations that circulated separately through the city. The biggest was the united demonstration of UGT-CCOO.
200,000 attended the demonstration in Zaragoza. 100,000 were out in Bilbao between the two demonstrations, something that was repeated in all the capitals of the Basque Country and Navarra. Unfortunately, The call for united strike action by the nationalists and the state-wide unions did not here lead to unified demonstrations that could have greatly enhanced the power of the industrial working class. However, the trend towards unity is growing stronger, as workers have experienced for themselves the success of a united action, after so much division.
In Oviedo, in the afternoon, the demonstration was comparable to those of the late 1970's or the demonstrations against the industrial conversion of the 1980s.
In Andalusia, the handicap of holding the demonstrations in the morning, except in Algeciras (counter to most of the country) did not prevent the demonstrations from being the biggest in the history of organized labour in history. This was the case in Granada, where 60,000 attended the demonstration. One demonstrator said: "When people had reached the end of Gran Via, there were still people in Recogidas street.” CCOO leaders say this was the largest labor demonstration in the history of Granada ".
There were over 70,000 in Malaga, in a march that was far too short and caused a situation in which the protesters, at any given time, could hardly move. 100,000 participated in the demonstration in Seville.
Maiztegui Lola, from Granada, says:
" The demonstration in Granada was huge and magnificent. We closed most of the shops, and the few establishments that stayed open had the blinds down." The people united will never be defeated ", now sung by a flood of young voices, sounded as if it had just been composed.“They can say whatever they want, but believe me Rajoy today has all the data and he knows very well, that this "little walk” of what was supposed to be an apathetic Spain" is a revolt he cannot put down".
The Spanish Island also recorded historical figures. Las Palmas de Gran Canaria saw a prodigious attendance of 100,000 people. In Palma de Mallorca there were 60,000 participants, shouting, among many different things: “¡No pasarán, no pasarán!”("They shall not pass!")
In Madrid, and throughout the country, the cry was widespread: "Andalusia, thank you for reining in the right!" [the PP failed to win the regional election in Andalusia, as they had confidently expected] Once again we are witnessing the spectacle, broadcast live through some websites, of a demonstration that could hardly move, filling the streets in a few tens of minutes.
"The street is ours, forward comrades!" cried the principal animator of the demonstration, megaphone in hand.
Another participant said there was a general feeling that exploded in indignation whenever they walked past a bank: "Those who are responsible for the swindle do not pay a cent, while we , who have not done anything, have to pay for it all."
The demonstrations were far more numerous than the 111 announced by the two major trade unions. In the small town of de Espera (Cádiz) made up mainly of agricultural labourers, many hundreds lined the main streets. In many anonymous villages whose name will not be remembered by history it was the same story.
Yes, this was indeed a GENERAL strike, and it is recognized as such by the entire organized working class, regardless of the exact figures of strikers. How many marched through the streets of Spain? Was it three and a half million? Or four million? In any case, many, many people came out.
In Madrid, where 900,000 joined the demonstration, this historic event ended with the singing of the INTERNATIONAL. The strike had been a triumph. Many activists marched away to take a rest, tired but happy. A veteran fighter Malaga, Carmen Gonzalez, said on his Facebook:
"I'm going to rest, but today was a great day in Malaga, the demonstration has been a success. Whatever they say, there were a lot of people. In previous demonstrations I saw that people were serious, even sad. Today we sang, we danced, and we've even heard a speech by Lenin. There was hope, pride, dignity in Alameda de Malaga! ".
The speeches of Toxo and Mendez
At the end of yesterday's demonstration in Madrid, Toxo said:
"This is not just about labor reform, it is to defend the social model. Tomorrow, when they approve the budget there will be more cuts...".
This is very correct. Those of us who have participated in meetings or stood on the picket line know from experience that we have had the greatest effect when, we have not only advocated a counter-attack against the labour reform itself, but when we have linked this to the current context, explaining the reasons for the attack and what the results will be. That is to say:
- The financial reform to recapitalize the banks with public money.
- The inability to 51% of Spanish families who have a mortgage to pay it when their wages are increasingly depleted.
- The hundreds of thousands of new layoffs that will result from the adjustments arising from the latest cuts of 35,000 million euros, mainly in the public sector.
Toxo said that to maintain the welfare state, we must raise the taxes on the rich, but then he claimed that "we need to create a strong consensus of the majority of Spanish society." This expression is unclear, since in the past the unity of "all" Spanish society always meant the same kind of unity as that between a rider and his horse: one goes up and the other goes down.
The leaders should explicitly say that the only consensus that we need is the one that brings together the vast majority of people around the working class. In Intereconomía, the COPE, El Mundo and other reactionary media, we can see from the rabid scribblers of the Spanish bourgeoisie just what kind of consensus they are seeking.
Today Rajoy will clarify this point yet another adjustment program worth 35,000 million euros. While some of this money is supposed to come from removing some get tax breaks of the rich, the main weight of the adjustment will fall squarely on the usual shoulders.
Toxo was clearer when he spoke of what would be the next steps. At the end of the demonstration he said that [if the government does not give way] "there will be a rising and prolonged conflict to do all that is necessary to avoid this state of things (...) UGT and CCOO will make some decisions in the coming days. We are going to win this strike sooner or later.”
For his part, Mendez said something which was agreed by all the protesters when he refered to the practical conclusions of the Andalusian and Asturian elections, stating that "has undermined the political credit of the Government."
Now what? What strategy to follow
Cándido Méndez said yesterday that "when the government does not recognize reality, the latter does not recognize the government," and he was absolutely right. Now we must take this statement to its logical conclusion.
The Government has approved cuts in the State Budget of around 35,000 million euros.
From the pages of Class Struggle we have explained how the PP government attempts to reconcile the specific interests of Spanish capitalists with their creditors and the dominant powers in the EU. But this only creates new contradictions.
The end result, in any case, it is clearly harmful to the workers. The new reforms mean some hundreds of thousands of employees will be dismissed. That means an escalation of the class war. We have shown on 29 March that THE REAL POWER IS IN THE STREETS and that the popularity this government is in free fall, as is shown by the results of the CIS survey February and Andalusian, Asturian elections on March 25.
Never in recent Spanish history has there been such sharp and fast turnabout in popular support for a new government within 100 days of its formation. And this trend will only deepen even more quickly as the international economic situation impacts more negatively on the Spanish economy. The Spanish economy is suffering from a bad dose of flu, but this new remedy is going to cause a relapse into something far more serious.
The stage is set for social upheaval, and adjustment in the public sector will impel the public sector employees, both manual workers and civil servants, into the first line of battle. But, like the whole working class, they will need a clear strategy to win.
"Mariano, with this reform, you will not get to the summer". This slogan was massively chanted in many of the rallies yesterday, and the essence of this slogan is going to become a powerful idea that will catch millions very quickly. At one point, the government will not be able to continue with its “adjustments”. .
After yesterday’s show of force, Rajoy, is trapped by interests that transcend Spanish capitalism itself. The risk premium is up to 400 points, and he is forced to press on with his original plan, with many more problems than a week ago.
The new attacks are a real challenge for the labor movement. The resulting polarization will affect all of society: even the Bishop of Ciudad Real protesting against labor reform. He will be accompanied by many other personalities and social sectors are going to have to keep up with the working class.
The fact is that class consciousness has increased and there is an the awareness that the workers’ strength lies in unity. The Asturians cheer Andalusia and Madrid applauds the Basque. Though there are many traditions we must rescue, and there is a clear weakness of the political and union cadres, a new consciousness is dawning on many new people in the field of politics and the union. People will enter to try and change the existing reality. Of course, for this events are needed, because most people most do not learn from books. And, as the saying goes, every vegetable has its season.
In the coming months it will be apparent to millions that the only hope for the workers and oppressed people in the Spanish state is to throw out the PP and replace it with a government of the Left, in the midst of a process of mobilization, which is subject to the will of the workers and willing to act in their interests.