Spanish Protests Find New Actors

Bhaskar Sunkara

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I spent a chunk of this weekend speaking to activists involved in the Spanish indignado” movement. The Spanish protests predate Occupy and were a source of inspiration among that movement’s early organizers. The indignados were portrayed by many as apolitical,” a tendency fueled by the movement itself, which was keen to portray itself as post-partisan” and neither left nor right.”

Similar posturing was seen in Occupy. Last fall, Talking Points Memo covered demographic surveys of Occupy Wall Street participants, which jived closely with Peter Frase’s arguments at the time — they conflated partisanship” with political ideology” among both elites and the protesters.

One survey was posted to the OWS website. It introduced the findings of Héctor R. Cordero-Guzmán, a CUNY sociologist who the site’s operators asked to analyze a poll of its visitors.

Among the most telling of his findings is that 70.3% of respondents identified as politically independent.

Dr. Cordero-Guzmán’s findings strongly reinforce what we’ve known all along: Occupy Wall Street is a post-political movement representing something far greater than failed party politics. We are a movement of people empowerment, a collective realization that we ourselves have the power to create change from the bottom-up, because we don’t need Wall Street and we don’t need politicians.

A post-political movement” of people who recognize that they have the power to create change? It’s an obvious contradiction. If one side is pushing austerity and the other wants to save social programs by taxing the wealthiest 1 percent,” a high-stakes class struggle is being waged.

The Spanish protests faced this problem especially acutely, because unlike in the United States, Spain actually has a genuine social democratic party, a party with roots in the Left, a party that even calls itself the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party, a party that happened to be governing and delivering the austerity doses at the time.

It was a natural response, then, to explicitly reject the notion of politics all together, even while embarking on the extremely political project. But the composition of the protests in Spain middle class, disconnected and even hostile to the political vehicles in which Spanish workers found representation – kept them largely isolated from organized labor.

So it was interesting to see last week that the movement in Spain is finally getting new life from this very discounted working class. As Ter Garcia over at Waging Nonviolence reports:

Now, miners are opposing a 65 percent cut in the subsidy of the coal sector, which puts thousands of jobs in danger in Asturias, Aragón, Castilla-La Mancha and León. A month and a half ago, miners began a strike in Asturias, and dozens organized a sit-in in the mines, demanding that the government maintain the subsidies. Since then, roadblocks have been continuous, as has police repression. Police have besieged coal towns in Asturias, and Ciñera, where they enter citizens’ homes and subject protests to almost daily tear gas attacks.


Spaniards continue to show their support for the miners. On June 22, 150 miners marched from Asturias to Madrid. A few days later, miners from Leon, Aragón and others Spanish cities joined the march, and when they arrived in Madrid last Tuesday, there were more than 300 of them in total. That night in Madrid, nearly 20,000 people marched with them from the city’s main gateway from the north to Sol square, where they arrived at 2 a.m. singing the Santa Barbara hymn, a song traditionally associated with the miners’ struggle during Franco dictatorship. Workers from other sectors that are also fighting against cuts, like teachers and firefighters, formed a security chain around the miners to protect them. People from all over the country came to Madrid to participate.

It’s a sign that bodes well for the struggle in Spain, and elsewhere.

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Bhaskar Sunkara is the founding editor of Jacobin magazine. Follow him on Twitter: @sunraysunray.
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