Protesters still holding Spanish Square
Once again, for the fourth night running, thousands of people have gathered in the iconic Puerta del Sol square in central Madrid to protest against high unemployment, austerity cuts and political corruption.
The occupation of the Puerta follows rallies held on Sunday, May 15th, which involved tens of thousands of people, including students and workers, activists and the unemployed, in over 50 cities across the country. Demonstrators are protesting the political establishment’s bailing out of the banking elite, while imposing vicious austerity measures against the Spanish working class.
Echoing the demonstrations and rallies in Tahrir Square, focal point of the Egyptian revolution, protesters have brought mattresses and sleeping bags, while volunteers distributed food. Deriving inspiration from the Egyptian protest movement, who toppled the hated Mubarak dictatorship in February, Spanish protesters have also set up citizen’s committees to handle communications, food, cleaning, protest actions and legal matters.
After initially being dispersed on Monday, the protesters returned again on Tuesday (May 17) and stayed overnight, in spite of enormous police pressure and intimidation.
Despite these oppressive and provocative moves by the Spanish ruling class, the atmosphere in the Puerta del Sol remains peaceful, festive, but determined.
Once again, social networks such as Facebook and Twitter have helped mobilise the demonstrators.
However, though social media helps grease the wheels of popular revolt, the causes are chiefly massive unemployment, economic meltdown, ruthless austerity, and growing anger at a political elite that panders to the will of bankers and speculators.
The Spanish jobless rate is the highest in the industrialised world, at 21.3% or roughly 5 million out of work. Many of those taking part in the protests are the unemployed youth. There are now 44.6% under the age of 25 without a job, almost one in every two young people across many regions of the country.
According to a report by Amnesty International, the levels of poverty are also shocking. More than 20% of the population- 9 million people- are below the poverty line. Nearly one third of all households say they now struggle to make ends meet.
On top of this, the programs of austerity rammed through by the govt have been particularly savage. In May 2010, a 15 billion package of cuts was forced through parliament, as demanded by the markets and the EU. These included pay cuts for public sector workers totalling 6 billion Euro, cuts in welfare and a pension freeze for 2011.
Another austerity budget in December announced a further 24% in cuts to public spending. To make matters worse, inflation has now risen to a three year high, heaping extra misery on an increasingly angry populace.
For the past few years, through constant attacks on workers and a drastic economic climate, most protests were organised by the major trade union leaderships. However, failure to halt the cuts and bank bailouts has highlighted their weakness, leading many to become angry and frustrated. As a result, the new protest movement behind the rallies, known collectively as “May 15th”, is essentially grass roots, with no visible leaders, trade union or political party involvement. With slogans such as “the guilty ones should pay for the crisis”, and chants like “they call this a democracy but its not”, the movement have struck a chord amongst a population seething with frustration and anger. Spearheading the movement are the Real Democracy Now platform.
The protests are occurring amidst local and regional election campaigns. This led to an attempt by the Madrid Electoral Board to push through a ban on the protests, to be reinforced by the riot squad. However, just as the revolutionaries in Egypt defied curfews imposed by the regime, so the Spanish demonstrators seemed to have ignored this ban. One hour after it was supposed to take effect, the protesters remained in the Square, and the police took no action, as of yet.
The ban has also been defied in the southern cities of Grenada and Seville. Protests have also been held simultaneously in Barcelona, Valencia, Zaragoza and Palma de Majorca.
The elections themselves will be contested within the extraordinary narrow confines of Spain’s rigid, virtual 2 party political system. Both the governing Socialist Party under PM Zapatero, and the Popular Party, a right wing remnant from the Franco era, are enthusiastic supporters of neo liberal capitalist ideology.
This ideology includes bailing out the Spanish and European banking elite by forcing ordinary Spanish working people to pay for private financial gambling debt.
Little wonder that the “May 15th” movement is demanding a voting boycott against the major political parties next Sunday.
Fear is now spreading through the European ruling class that the 4th largest economy in the eurozone may collapse under the weight of govt and banking debt. Spanish debt as a percentage of GDP is expected to reach 88% by 2013! Having initially set aside 9 billion euro to bail out the their banking sector, the Spanish Ministry of Economy has now approved up to 99 billion in potential bailout funds! However, the problem is that there are an estimated 165 billion euro in toxic loans in the banks. A bailout for Spain would be unthinkable for the EU as it is twice the size of the economies of Greece, Portugal and Ireland combined, and would almost certainly lead to the collapse of the neo liberal “Euro Project”.
Is the Arab Spring turning into a European Summer?
As with all great social revolutions this movement is grass roots, without leaders, and completely spontaneous.
The year 2011 is truly the year of popular revolution, spreading first from country to country, across the Arab world, and now from continent to continent, across the Straits of Gibraltar, and into Europe.
The global capitalist ruling elite are frightened- the tyranny of the market and its obedient supporters in the political establishments have pushed the global working classes beyond endurance and into outright revolt.
Workers, students, the unemployed, young or old, men and women, regardless of colour or religion, are rising up and fighting back.
From North Africa and the Middle East to Europe, global capitalism is now being met for the first time with global resistance.
The great battle of our time has begun.
VICTORY TO THE PEOPLE!