Catalonia: Historic demonstration in Barcelona in support of refugees

‘Volem acollir’ 
Last Saturday, 18 February, saw Barcelona hold the biggest demonstration in Europe in support of refugees under the slogan ‘Volem acollir’ (We want to welcome them). Between 300,000 and 500,000 people according to the organisers, Casa Nostra, Casa Vostra (Our home is your home) and other organisations and groups that support the refugees (160,000 according to the city police) flooded the streets to show their solidarity with people who risk their lives every day to escape the barbarism caused by imperialism, as well as call on governments to welcome them and grant them asylum now. An idea of just how big the mobilisation was can be gauged from the fact the starting point of the demonstration was still crowded when a large part of the demonstrators had already reached the end.

This historic demonstration reflects the enormous popular anger at the monstrous policies condemning refugees, especially those fleeing the war in Syria, and also shows that in Catalonia, the fascist demagogy and manipulation of the bourgeois press will never be able to hide the fact that we, the masses, have absolutely nothing in common with our governments, who only remember human rights when it comes to protecting the right of banks and major companies to privacy, so they can hide the corruption and criminal origins of a large part of their capital. We took to the streets and said loud and clear that we reject being accomplices to the crimes of a system that condemns the greater part of humanity to misery and provokes a mass exodus to the advanced capitalist countries, where the Right whip up hatred against immigrants to divide the working class, while “big business” and their hired politicians profit from all this despair.

They have profited from the situation emigrants find themselves in by paying them poverty wages, and then accusing them of being criminals; they have profited by selling arms to both sides in the Syrian conflict (including the Islamic militants) and now they want to profit by accusing the refugees of being ISIS terrorists. But the mobilisation of hundreds of thousands of young people and workers who demonstrated in Barcelona last Saturday has shown that their plans clash with the conscience and instincts of millions of workers. The working class gains nothing from their criminal policies, just the opposite: terrorism, the loss of social and democratic rights for domestic and foreign workers, borders that stop people but not undeclared money, etc., etc. That’s why the Popular Party(PP) did not take part in the demonstration, showing their lack of humanity and that, despite being in power in the State, they have nothing in common with the people who are suffering at the hands of their government.

However, the criticism expressed on Saturday’s demonstration was not limited to a rejection of imperialism, xenophobia and the repressive policies against immigrants applied by the Spanish Right, represented by the PP. A very significant aspect of the demonstration was the element of criticism levelled at politicians who mouth about solidarity with the refugees (and other issues) as is happening now in the Spanish State and, without going any further, in Catalonia itself. In 2016 the Spanish government took in 609 of the 17,000 people it had agreed to take. In Catalonia, the Parliament unanimously agreed to take 4,500 but the number that has arrived is less than 200. So lots of the groups that called the demonstration added the words “enough excuses” to the central slogan “we want to welcome them”. And, in case there was any doubt, one of the most visible posters among the demonstrators made this criticism even more explicit: “Catalan politicians, enough excuses. We want to welcome them now”. Along the route of the demonstration you could also hear different immigrant groups and individuals speaking in a personal capacity denouncing, from lorries equipped with loudspeakers, the intolerable conditions in the refugee shelters, the existence of internment centres (CIEs), police harassment (as in the case of the manteros, street pedlars, in Barcelona itself) and the workplace exploitation suffered by immigrant workers.

Besides the element of solidarity with the refugees and rejection of imperialism, racism and the policies of the PP, there was also a clear criticism of the right-wing policies being implemented in practice on this and other issues by the Catalan government (Generalitat). Likewise the inaction and lack of an adequate response and specific measures from the city councils for change or left-wing organisations with institutional representation. This element of criticism and profound social discontent, very much present on the 18 February demonstration, ties in with other mass demonstrations Catalonia has experienced recently (the national day demos and others) which express the demand of millions of people for a profound social change, which should not be ignored by left-wing organisations.

Faced with “no we can’t” and the policies of demobilisation and social pacts, the youth and workers of Catalonia have shown again “yes we can”. It is vital that the left-wing organisations that took part in the demonstration defend the right of exiles to a decent life in Catalonia, the whole of the Spanish State and across Europe. But this demand must be linked to a programme that can mobilise the masses decisively and on an ongoing basis, linking all their problems and specific demands to the need to transform society, eliminating the cause of war, which is none other than the pitiless search for capitalist profit and the imperialism created to defend it.


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February 2017