Last Saturday 12 December, 200,000 people attended a mass demonstration in Madrid organised by Spain’s biggest trade unions, the UGT and CCOO. The demonstration represented the first opportunity for the working class and young people in Spain, a country devastated by the crisis, with over 4 million unemployed, plummeting living standards, to give a national expression of the boiling anger that has developed in the last period. Despite a relative blackout in the capitalist media in the build up to the demonstration, the massive turnout, with thousands-strong delegations from all of the Spanish state’s regions, was an impressive show of strength. However, a striking feature of the demonstration was the veritable gulf separating the protest’s participants from the union leaders, as far as militancy and the willingness to fight is concerned.
The main emphasis of the union leaders was for “social dialogue” to ensure “social protection” in the face of the crisis. For the demonstration’s participants, the real situation in Spain today, with mass unemployment, an acute social crisis, with millions moving towards poverty conditions, represents the fruits of the trade union leaders´ approach of “social dialogue”. In the present situation, with the bosses and government gearing up for further attacks on workers´ rights, jobs and public services, the clear message from the thousands of workers and youth on Saturday’s protest was that the time for social dialogue had passed; now was the time to stand up and fight! Chants and songs throughout the crowd calling for a general strike dominated the demonstration.
Despite this, the question of a general strike was not even mentioned from the platform by the leaders of the UGT or CCOO. Tied into sporadic talks with the government and bosses’ organisation (CEOE), the union leaders have thus far prevented serious action being taken against the devastation of the crisis. However, it is clear that given the situation and judging from the mood of Saturday’s demonstration’s participants, their attempts to keep a lid on the anger of the working class cannot continue indefinitely. Their attempts at dialogue have revealed that, from the point of view of the capitalist class, any measures taken to combat the crisis can only be made on the basis of further attacks. The reforming of labour law, to attack the entitlements of organised workers in manufacturing and the public sector, in order to make them cheaper to fire, is their bottom line.
In the context of the mass unemployment that already exists, such a measure, which could facilitate a further avalanche of jobs losses, will not be taken lying down by the working class. Added to this, massive attacks are currently being planned by the government to bridge their 60 billion euro public deficit, (for example, they have recently announced that they plan to raise the retirement age). The emergency measures taken by the government so far, such as the provision of emergency unemployment benefits to those without entitlements, represent a desperate attempt to prevent social collapse and stave off social explosions, not a ’move to the left’ as some on the Spanish left have argued. The PSOE government remains fundamentally capitalist, and will inevitably move to bridge its deficit on the basis of attacks on living standards, social welfare and public services in the next period.
This situation will see the working class and young people enter the stage of struggle in a decisive manner. Given the generalised nature of the impact of the crisis, the prospect of general strikes is implicit in the situation. The CWI intervened on Saturday’s demonstration with an international delegation, and received a good response to our demand for a 24 hour general strike to be called immediately.
The calling of a general strike would receive an enthusiastic response from workers and youth throughout the Spanish state. It could serve to draw together the opposition to the crisis and its effects and give a glimpse of the power of the working class in action. Committees of action should be formed in workplaces, communities, schools and universities to prepare for a 24 hour strike as the beginning of a united struggle against the bosses and government.
Fighting socialist left needed
The inability of capitalism to provide for the basic needs of the majority in society is clearer in Spain than anywhere else in Western Europe. Particularly from the point of view of young people, with 38% officially unemployed after the implosion of the construction boom, and no prospect of another motor for economic growth which could lead to the creation of jobs on a large scale, the future seems bleak on the basis of capitalism. This situation places huge responsibility on the shoulders of genuine socialists and the left to rise to the opportunities presented by the discrediting of capitalism as a system, to build support for a socialist alternative.
An end to the capitalist system and the dictatorship of the market, upon which the livelihoods of millions and futures of young people are gambled for profit, and its replacement by a socialism, where wealth and resources are publicly owned and controlled on the basis of a democratically planned economy, offers the only way out of the present situation, as far as the majority are concerned. In the next period, the left has the potential to become a mass force, capable of fighting for a workers´ government on a socialist programme to change society. However, in order to gain mass support, the left needs to distinguish itself clearly from the bosses’ parties, by making the case for the transformation of society along socialist lines.