On Saturday 15 September, workers from all over the Spanish state marched on Madrid to protest against the massive cuts to public services by the right-wing PP government. This represents the kicking off of this autumn’s movement against ’austerity’ imposed by the big banks and EU and rubber stamped by Mariano Rajoy’s increasingly unpopular government. The majority Spanish trade unions, UGT and CCOO branded the demo as the launching of a campaign to compel the government to call a referendum on the cuts. Over 200 other civic organisations supported the march. It was a magnificent sight to see the 10 feeder marches assemble in the centre of Madrid. Each section wore their own distinctive t-shirts - red for unions and industrial workers, white for health workers, violet for women’s groups, through almost all the colours of the rainbow.
It was almost impossible to reach the end of the march in Plaza Colon as the various marches snaked slowly forward. Columns of marchers had to leave the Plaza to allow others to get in. Laughably, the Madrid regional government claimed only 65,000 workers had marched. El Pais and other serious newspapers put the figure at more like ’hundreds of thousands’, with union estimates ranging from half a million to more than one million.
And they said there were 65,000?!
Away from the arguments over numbers, the real significance of the March on Madrid is the arrival on the scene of the organised working class. CCOO/UGT had already organised a General Strike of 24 hours last March which the government has tried to ignore, and the union leaders did not follow up with and continuation and escalation of the struggle, as Socialismo Revolucionario (CWI in Spain) argued for. However, pressure from below, as well as the deepening financial crisis and ever more vicious cuts have compelled the main trade unions to act again.
The UGT and CCOO leaders, Toxo and Mendez, met with the King Juan Carlos to put their position. They also pulled together a ’Social Summit’ in which hundreds of civil organisations participated. A petition in favour of the referendum has also been launched. However, their campaign for a referendum does not match either the needs of the situation or the militant instincts of workers from below, as was seen in the miners’ strike and spontaneous walkouts of public sector workers against the austerity measures. Only two days after the march, transport workers took national strike action and had a big impact, despite scandalous anti-trade union “minimum services” laws which obliged over 50% of services to operate in some cases.
The young people behind the 15M ’indignados’ movement have thus far kept a certain distance from the unions, but with many joining in the call for a further General Strike. Many young people from 15M did participate in the March on Madrid, but as part of the “critical bloc”.
During the summer, the left IU leader, Sanchez Gordillo, in Andalusia and the SAT trade union made headlines all over the world with their bank occupations and expropriation of goods from supermarkets to distribute amongst the poor. The economic situation in Spain is worsening by the day with unemployment over 5m and the spectre of home repossession hanging over thousands of families. Over half of under 25 year olds have never worked and students have returned to college and university to attend much bigger classes (and fees) and awful conditions.
For a 48 hour general strike as the next step
This is the context of the developing mood in the trade unions in favour of militant action. One of the highlights was on the day was the column of firefighters who marched into the square in their helmets carrying a coffin. As they let off rockets and bangers they opened the lid to reveal Rajoy inside! It was extremely inspiring to see thousands of workers from all over Spain marching together but it is true to say that the day lacked a certain focus. The CCOO/UGT leaders are appealing to deaf ears. It is highly unlikely that the PP government will submit their austerity plans to a referendum. At the rally the union leaders said the ball was in Rajoy’s court as to whether there would be another General Strike. Unfortunately, vague threats are not enough at this stage.
SR (CWI) campaign for a 48 hour general strike
The “critical bloc” on the march contained many groups which agitated for another General Strike. However, SR was among the only groups which had materials which clearly put forward a strategy to take the movement forward. Our demand, for a 48 hour strike got a good echo from marchers throughout the demonstration. Such a strike would serve to escalate the struggle build a movement capable of bringing down the increasingly weak Rajoy government, setting our sights on a struggle for a workers’ government to implement socialist policies as the only way to break from the spiral of crisis.
SR had members participating in the march from Catalonia, Andalusia and the Basque country. We distributed over 2,000 leaflets and sold copies of our bulletin, calling for a struggle to unite all the struggles in the Spanish state and build for a 48 hour general strike as the next step in a movement to do away with this government and its policies. There has already been one General Strike this year and another one of only 24 hours would not be enough. It is a time for serious action by the unions. As 1 million taking to the streets of Portugal on the same day against the same austerity policies shows, there is also a pressing need for international coordinated action and general strikes on an all-European level.
In Catalonia we have seen up to 2 million take to the streets for independence but also in opposition to the cuts and in Euskadi (the Basque country) there will be a General Strike called by the majority Basque unions on 26 September. SR believes this is no time to mess about. At the very minimum, the CCOO/UGT should support the General Strike in the Basque Country and also give a lead to Catalan workers who are clearly ready and willing to fight to bring down the PP government.
Spain is now entering a decisive phase. A continuation of the EU/Banks/PP/ PSOE policy will mean economic chaos and a dismantling of the public services and reforms gained over the last 30 years of ’democracy.’ The deepening crisis is also opening up national contradictions in Catalonia and Euskadi. The struggle is on to build a united movement with a genuine socialist and fighting leadership.