Spain: Students' Union surges forward in historic congress

Hundreds rally to celebrate 30th anniversary of SE and 40th anniversary of Izquierda Revolucionaria / El Militante

SE report of congress in Spanish here 

Photo gallery here 

On 19/20 November, 300 young fighters from 26 cities throughout the Spanish state – accompanied by dozens of trade unionists and working class militants – met in Madrid for the 18th congress of the Spanish Students Union. CWI members and representatives – including Peter Taaffe, Socialist Party general secretary – had the privilege to attend. A historic meeting for all who participated, the congress was one of a vibrant organisation whose forward march already has Spain's new illegitimate PP government on the ropes.

Founded in 1986, and forged in the heat of another historic student movement which defeated the Felipe Gonzalez government, the Sindicato de Estudiantes (SE) is today at the epicentre of the class struggle. It was responsible for calling and organising the momentous general student strike of 26 October (26O) which brought millions of students out on strike and over 200,000 onto the streets.

Government wavering, victory within reach

26O opened a breach in the situation, shattering the suffocating “social peace” of the last years. In her opening speech, Ana Garcia, the General Secretary of the SE explained that its struggle against the LOMCE education attacks and the anti-working class Francoist “revalidation” exams has become the new government's most troublesome “hot potato”. Indeed, on the eve of the congress, press reports spoke of an imminent retreat on the “revalidations”, as Ministers hinted they could be withdrawn or neutralised.

Ana and others however, correctly responded: “We don't believe a word. Until they officially scrap them, we continue the struggle”. On 24 November, the SE will again empty the classrooms and fill the streets in another general student strike. For the government to begin its mandate with a defeat to the SE’s campaign of mobilisations, would have an enormous impact. The message that struggle, with militant methods, pays off will not be lost on the rank and file of the labour movement, whose leaders’ main policy of social peace and class collaboration has won no such results.

Francisco Garcia, the General Secretary of the CCOO teachers’ union, by far the most important teachers’ union in the country, addressed the congress. His leadership had failed to join with the students in a general education strike on 26O, despite pressure to do so. However, he was compelled to recognise the strike’s success, and to praise the role of SE as the leading representatives of students in struggle. He also expressed support for the 24 November strike, but again his leadership will not be calling teachers out. Following his speech, SE comrades welcomed his words but, to a massive ovation, underlined that the time for words has passed, now is the time for militant struggle in defence of public education and our futures.

Nonetheless, his presence as well as that of the President of CEAPA, (the Spanish parents’ association) and of a leading member of Izquierda Unida, is testament to the standing of the SE. SE’s class character, and unbreakable link with the working class, was underlined throughout the congress. Speaker after speaker emphasised that this was not a mere union of students with education demands, but a union of working class students, wedded to the struggle of the wider working class against austerity and capitalism.

The atmosphere throughout the weekend was electrifying. Those attending, many of whom had only joined the union in the last few weeks and months, were full of confidence and combativeness. The anger against the ruling class, the sorrow of mass emigration and determination to fight for a future, were all vividly on show.

Despite their youth and the fact that they were new to the struggle, they already had the organisation of a hugely successful mass mobilisation under their belts, and this showed in their speeches. It was a congress of new and developing mass leaders of the youth and the working class, and mainly young women.

Hundreds celebrate anniversary of SE and Izquierda Revolucionaria/El Militante

On Saturday evening a joint rally was held to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the SE, and the 40th anniversary of Izquierda Revolucionaria/El Militante (IR), the revolutionary Marxist organisation which formed the union and continues to lead it.

Over a dozen speakers addressed the rally. Antonio Garcia Sinde, a leading IR trade union cadre, spoke of the birth of Nuevo Claridad (IR’s predecessor in the 1970s), as a Trotskyist organisation working in clandestine conditions, under the Franco dictatorship. A small group of young revolutionaries, he explained, they made contact with Militant in Britain and developed the methods necessary to build a powerful force. Soon they had a leading position in the workers’ and socialist movement in the Basque country and other regions. Representatives of COMUNA, an organisation of political prisoners under Franco, also gave greetings to the rally.

Speakers from throughout the history of the SE and El Militante spoke, about the history of the union: from its foundation, to the anti-war movement and the struggle in response to the terrorist attacks in Madrid in 2004.

A leading shipyard worker trade unionist and historic cadre of IR, Xaquin Garcia Sinde, also spoke about the organisations’ history, which is testament to the potential that a small organisation, armed with the correct ideas, tactics and programme, can achieve. Representatives of the heroic struggle of the Coca Cola workers, who have waged a militant battle for over two years, were greeted like heroes at the rally.

El Militante/Izquierda Revolucionaria was founded as a section of the CWI, though a split in our forces at the beginning of the 1990s led them to chart a separate path for over 20 years. The common roots of both organisations was on show throughout the weekend, with multiple references to Militant in Britain, and the Liverpool battle of the 1980s, etc. The participation in the weekend of CWI comrades, and of Peter Taaffe representing the CWI’s International Secretariat, was a key part of the process of discussion and collaboration through which our paths are again converging. Sean Burns, from the Socialist Party (CWI) in the North of Ireland also spoke on behalf of the young CWI comrades present, who attended from Portugal, Ireland, England & Wales, Belgium and Germany.

Peter was met with a standing ovation before he had even begun speaking! He greeted the congress on behalf of the Socialist Party, the inheritor of the legacy of Militant which defeated Thatcher not once, but twice. He explained how both our past and present successes, along with those of SE today, show the necessity of revolutionary leadership, methods and policies, even in the struggle for reforms. The building of unity between the CWI and IR is an important step in building this revolutionary socialist leadership, which will be key to the next period internationally.

The meeting again rose to its feet as Peter explained that while the 20th century had been one of revolutionary struggle, the 21st will be one of revolutionary victory. Paraphrasing the heroic sans-culottes of the French revolution whose slogan was “tremble tyrants the masses are coming”, he addressed himself to arch-reactionary Donald Trump: “Trump, the working class is coming”.

Juan Ignacio Ramos, who was the first general secretary of the SE during the historic battle of 1986/87 and is currently the General Secretary of IR, was the final speaker. His graphic account of how a small but audacious revolutionary group had built a mass rebellion of the youth against the Gonzalez government, leading three months of student strikes and occupations, was electrifying. The victories which were won by that movement – including free second level education and the building of schools – are among the rights being defended by the SE in struggle today.

Juan Ignacio detailed the Gonzalez government’s attempts to confuse, bribe and buy off the leaders of the fledgling SE, but to no avail. The incorruptible, audacious and revolutionary character remains visible for all to see and the congress was testament to it.

Both the SE and IR have enormous potential to grow and develop in the next months and years. Many of the students who were present took the decision to join IR during the weekend, recognising that to fight, and to be organised is key, but not enough. A revolutionary socialist political leadership must also be built.

All the CWI members who attended the congress left with a deep conviction that IR is on the right path towards the building of such a political instrument.


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November 2016