German libertarian communist group Wildcat's contemporary analysis of the 15M Spanish protest movement of summer 2011. With a particular look at struggles against austerity in Murcia.
The riots in the French banlieues and the heavy clashes in Athens at the end of 2008 were said to be related to high levels of youth unemployment. In Spain this rate of youth unemployment has approached the 50 per cent mark – so when would the youth in Spain finally breach the social peace? Though the youth in Spain took part in the protests against the Iraq war in spring 2003 – and for the first time they put up tents in public squares, which was taken up again and expanded by the student movement against the Bologna reforms in 2008/2009 – it was puzzling that in general the younger generations in Spain have remained rather passive for a long time, despite the fact that since the crisis has taken off, their future prospects have deteriorated daily. Now they have finally entered the political stage in the form of a broad protest movement.
An aggregation of movements
Without any doubts the uprisings in the Arab countries and particularly in Northern Africa had a stimulating effect on the movements in Spain. The protest of the 'scraping by' generation in mid-March in Portugal gave another impulse; but there have also been several protest mobilisations in Spain itself which came together in the current movement. After the anti-Bologna movement some 'hard cores' survived the end of this mobilisation. These more or less informal collectives have contributed their experiences to the later protest movements. Up to now these movements have developed largely independently from each other. We can make a rough distinction between the mobilisations of workers and unemployed on one side and those of the 20 to 40 years old generation of 'citizens' on the other.
The former is comprised of protests against redundancies, deterioration of working conditions, privatisation and non-payment of outstanding wages; in most cases smaller conflicts, which occasionally are fought out in quite militant ways. After many such conflicts in the private companies, a wave of mobilisations recently started in the public sector, first of all in the education and health sector. These mobilisations remained within the boundaries of conflict with their respective provincial governments, but all of them contain the potential for generalisation, as we could see most recently during the big demonstrations 'against the cuts' (see the example of the movement in Murcia below).
The public sector strike staged by the trade unions on the 8th of June 2010 and the general strike on 29th of September 2010 have generalised these conflicts on a merely symbolic level and were organised to let off steam. The alternative oppositional spectrum made use of the strike in September in order to develop their experiences with practical initiatives (pickets, occupations, demonstrations). In the current situation it is unlikely that the trade unions would dare to call for a general strike again.
For about one to two years, unemployed assemblies have attracted public attention by way of smaller actions, but so far without the necessary dynamic to generalise. In 2009, with the foundation of the 'committee of mortgage victims' a movement against evictions started, which is now very popular. They make use of public pressure and take legal steps in order to oppose the fact that in cases where people are unable to pay their mortgage banks are entitled to cash in the homes 'for half the price', while people are still burdened with the full debt amount. Increasingly they actually obstruct evictions and negotiate a 'compromise' with the banks. This type of action is supported from within the 15M-movement, but it remains symbolic: there are about 230 evictions each day, which compares to two or three resisted evictions.
In 2006, before the actual economic crash, the movement 'V de Vivienda' ('H for Housing') was able to organise demonstrations of up to several thousand participants over a period of several months. The main issue was the worry of the younger generations, that 'they will never be able to afford their own home'. In Spain it is very difficult to find a flat to rent, so it is common to take out a mortgage and buy your home - you quasi pay the rent in form of a loan to the bank, with the future prospect of paying it off. The real estate boom resulted in mortgages with maturities which went beyond a person’s life span and rents which ate up growing shares of a person’s income. Precarious incomes - at the time people spoke about the '1,000 Euro generation' – forces a lot of people over 30 to continue living with their parents.
Since December 2010 a mobilisation named 'Anonymous' emerged which targeted a law passed by the Ministry of Culture, which is meant to circumvent the free downloading and consumption of movies, music and computer programs from the internet. These were largely actions of 'flash-mob'-character and they met with large support. In April 2011 a collective named 'Youth without Future' was able to mobilise thousands of mainly young demonstrators in several towns. The fact that these demonstrations, which explicitly addressed the youth ('Without home, without pension, without future, without fear'), were openly supported by and drew in 'older folks' was a positive surprise which were a precedent for the M15 mobilisations. In May 2011 the book 'Time for Outrage' became the absolute bestseller in the Spanish book charts.
From the DRY movement...
The current movement, which has been named in different ways (15-M, DRY, Indignados, Acampada) has been characterised right from its start by a moral and behavioural code, which hints at the political socialisation of its activists in the anti-globalisation movement and the wider network of NGO-/support groups. Out of 1,200 organisations which took part in the World Social Forum in Dakar in February 2011 nearly 100 came from Spain alone! The movement 15-M started with a call for nation-wide demonstrations on 15th of May, which was circulated on the internet. This call was issued by the umpteenth alliance of concerned citizens. Inspired by the events in Iceland and Northern Africa, ten of them had initiated a blog and Facebook-group named 'Youth in Action'. Within a short period of time around 200 more blogger, self-aid groups and other miniscule organisations joined them. The initiative turned into a pool for various groups and its composition became more and more heterogeneous. The students and young academics were joined by professors, freelance professionals, self-employed and professional civil rights activists of Attac, Intermon Oxfam etc.. The age-spectrum of the mobilisation widened significantly.
In January 2011 the group changed its name to "Plataforma de Coordinacion de Grupos por la Movilizacion Ciudadana [Citizen, Civil. ‘mobilsation of citizens’ might be the translation but it aims more at ‘civil disobedience’]". The dominant perception within this circle identified this as the moment of uprising of civil society against the corrupted rule of the political caste and of finance capital: "We are not commodities in the hands of politicians and banks". The unifying slogan became the final name of the initiative: "Real Democracy Now" (Democracia Real Ya, DRY). Local assemblies of their supporters were organised for the first time in March 2011. "It was strange to meet each other face to face; all of a sudden everything became real. We noticed that we were very different from each other, but that we agreed on the essentials", said a woman activist. At the beginning of May 2011 the 'local meeting' has grown to 300 people gathering in a park. On 15th of May 80,000 people demonstrated in 52 different cities. The atmosphere was like that of a big happening, a rave - and the initiators were happy.
...to the movement of the Acampadas
But then something actually new happened, something unpredictable. The movement was spontaneously initiated anew and would correctly have to be called 16-M or 17-M. This movement was born on the streets, in struggle for the appropriation of actual public space and in confrontation with the police. The demonstration in Madrid had ended with minor scuffles and a few arrests. In the evening a group of 35 people, who had met on the Plaza del Sol in order to discuss, decided to just stay on the square overnight. During the same night they drafted a manifesto and demand the release of the arrested people. The next afternoon they put up a tarpaulin and set-up an info-stall. About 100 people came to an assembly in the late evening. This time 400 people stayed overnight. In the early morning they were evicted by the police. During the late evening people turned up again... and more and more people came. Around 8 pm 6,000 people were in the square! People debated throughout the night, several assemblies were held simultaneously, and finally commissions were formed – most of them were for the actual organisation of the camp. More camps were set-up on central squares of 60 to 80 other Spanish towns. In nearly 200 towns people called for protest actions in solidarity with the camps. In reaction to the threat of eviction the movement expanded exponentially. Municipal elections were to take place the following Sunday – the state tried to legitimise a legal ban of the camps by re-interpreting the 'campaign-free time of reflection' inscribed in the electoral laws. On Friday night preceding the elections 25,000 people met on Plaza del Sol. The situation was similar in other towns.
However, the elections were not effected by any of the actions. Due to the total collapse of the ruling social democrats, the right-wing Partido Popular won the elections in an easy victory. The turn-out was not particularly low, but over a million 'white' and invalid votes was an historical record. In the meantime people debated about the expansion of the movement in innumerable open assemblies on a growing number of public squares – scores of working-groups were established. Furthermore, in some towns the 'central' assemblies decided to organise multiple assemblies in the respective boroughs of the towns.
Reflection and Expansion
Today, in mid-June 2011, most of the square occupations have been finished. On some squares some occupiers still keep their tents erected and the authorities occasionally threaten them with eviction – but by now the rulers have noticed that any repression of the movement has often rekindled its spirit. In Barcelona, for example, the eviction and massive use of police batons on 27th of May 2011 resulted in thousands of people re-occupying the square within hours. An independent withdrawal from the squares has been postponed by the movement, arguing that the movement first had to solidify its organisational structures. Everywhere a strong desire for continuity is in the air. No one is ready to give up or hand over the initiative - people worry about falling back into the vacuum of social isolation. Everyone realised that the virtual space of the 'social networks' can only be a very limited means of communication. This is why on some squares a minimal infrastructure (info-stall, loud-speakers and microphone) is maintained for holding the occasional meeting. Most recently the movement has accompanied the taking of office of the new local governments and a share-holder meeting of the Banco Santander with their protests. The most spectacular action was the blockade of the parliament in Cataluña on 15th of June 2011 during a session which was to decide about a new austerity program. On 19th of June demonstrations started in 60 towns, in Barcelona alone around 80,000 people took to the streets. On 20th of June protest marches started from Valencia, Sevilla, Alicante, Galicia and Barcelona. Most of the protestors are unemployed. On 23rd of June they wanted to converge in the capital Madrid.
Need for clarification
The movement was met with incredibly broad sympathy from all strata of society. According to public surveys 85 per cent of the population supported the movement. It was one of its strong points. Its main strength lies in its ability to be able to voice the wide spread disgust towards the 'professional politicians' of the political parties and unions. Obviously, the movement hit the right moment in time (municipal elections, announcement of further austerity measures and 'labour market reforms'), but what was decisive was the transition from symbolism to direct confrontation with the state. In a peak moment of solidarity the official 'discourse of crisis' [this is the discourse about debts and unsustainabilities of socials services, unproductivity and so] was ruptured and the divisions between sectors and generations pushed into the background. Within a very short time a counter-society was created in the squares and with it the feeling of a historical moment became palpable and the imaginary of an antagonistic force came to live, and which represented general social interests. The experience of the possibility of spontaneous organisation, the feeling of departure and the over-coming of isolation expressed itself in innumerable assemblies with up to thousands of participants. A lot of people found new courage here and new people, found a space for exchange of points of view, thinking and general, personal experience concerning all kinds of crisis-related deteriorating of social environment, services, income... and reflection.
Time is a significant factor for the dynamic of the process. During the moment of highest tension a popular uprising seemed within grasp. The more time passes without palpable progress or new climaxes, the clearer become the differences again and the difficulties to overcome them permanently. "You can recognise a real revolt by its ability to change the space-time-relation", wrote Guillermo Kaejane.
Asambleas – Self-organisation of people in struggle or radical parliamentarism?
Assemblies are seen as the symbol of an authentic, horizontal, 'rank-and-file' democratic form of organisation. In Spain the phase of workers' autonomy during the end of the 1970s is identified with 'organising in form of assemblies'. Back then the general assembly of workers in a factory was the deciding body for all collective initiatives. But if assemblies turn into an end in themselves – into a form which has to bring together individuals who are not or have not been associated in other ways (e.g. by practically working or struggling together) – then they turn into institutions. The assembly will then be determined by attempts not to endanger the original empatic connection between the participants by contributions or decisions which differ from the abstract and tacit consensus. The debates become stultifying and unattractive for new people – they become a form of radical parliamentarism. In this way the search for emancipatory forms of organisation is foiled. In the same way the radical refusal of ideologies which was meant to protect the assemblies from being taken over by 'political forces' contributed to a de-politicisation of the debate.
The essential political contradictions of the movement are founded in its relation to state and democracy. As long as democracy is not understood as a form of capitalist domination, the criticism will remain superficial and populist. If we think that politicians only become corrupt due to their criminal character, we would only have to replace them with decent ones, which could then also control the 'greedy' bankers. According to this perspective it's all about 'the right people' and not about specific social structures. Consequently the criticism of the Euro-treaty and the austerity measures remain rather short-sighted and do not go beyond 'alternative' visions of Keynesian economic policies. In this context it becomes clearer why the movement's fundamentalist pacifism is rather ambivalent. Behind the pacifism is not only the fear of instrumentalisation (i.e. being used by outside political forces), but also a pronounced will of offering oneself as a 'critical, but constructive' partner in a dialogue with the state. These pacifist pretensions are maintained even after sit-down protests having been cleared several times by brute use of police batons. Rather obsessively these apostles of non-violence try to be seen as martyrs in the arena of public opinion, while for politicians and the media it's an easy game to 'prove' the opposite.
Over-qualification and unemployment – On the social composition of the movement
Of course these contradictions have been debated within the movement and there have been some steps towards their productive dissolution. The contradictions hint at the different poles of the movement's social composition. Although the divisions are not always clear-cut we can discern the blogger and 'citizens' initiative'-scene on the one hand and a scene of 'autonomist' groups, squatters, old and new political left on the other. In the former scene there is an astonishingly large share of lawyers amongst the activists and the quest for social recognition is palpable. While this scene was busy with drafting lists of demands and always emphasised not to be 'antisistema', the other scene (squatters, new and old left) partly only got involved in the square occupations after becoming convinced that they represented a broader social unrest; so then they tried to expand them.
The movement is not a youth movement. The average activist will be somewhere between 25 and 40, and those who have been organised activists before will likely be in the older segment of the spectrum. The movement did not originate in the 'educational centres', nor did it have major impacts on them – although a lot of students took part in the square occupations. The category 'youth' does not describe a homogeneous social reality at all. Besides young people who drop out school we find the highest level of youth unemployment in Spain amongst university graduates. According to OECD figures most of the employees in Spain (25 per cent) are over-qualified, meaning that they work in a job which requires a lower degree of professional qualification than they have obtained. Spain is Europe's leading country in terms of over-qualified work-force, amongst the young workers 40 per cent are over-qualified, amongst post-graduates 44 per cent - the average in OECD countries is 23 per cent. In Spain 29 per cent of people go to university, the OECD average is 28 per cent, the EU average 25 per cent, in Germany less than 25 per cent. These figures don't differ too much. But in Spain 31 per cent of people don't start an apprenticeship (or other form of professional qualification) after leaving school (the EU average is 15 per cent) and only 38 per cent actually conclude their professional training (in the EU it's 52 per cent). The under-represented segment of 'medium-level qualification' can historically be explained by the prevailing principle of 'learning on the job'.
With the acceleration of the crisis the demand for 'qualification' increases. Critics warn already that given the structural problems of the labour market this tendency will only result in further 'over-qualification'. At the same time the (school) students form an enormous reservoir of cheap labour for internships and casual jobs. For many of them the apprenticeship or other qualification schemes are only waiting-loops – the longer the crisis lasts, the more the waiting loop turns into a permanent state of being. Various studies indicate that during recent years the 'medium-strata' (in terms of qualification and income) of jobs has shrunk particularly fast. There is an interrelation between the proletarianisation of a fairly qualified and relatively well paid middle-strata and the development of communication and information technology. The former rule that (formal) education increases the national wealth and boosts the individual career does not apply anymore. This leads to, on one hand, people insisting on recognition of their qualification, and on the other, to a radicalisation of the critique of existing social relations. From the perspective of capital the solution is to dissolve the 'rigidity' of the labour market. 'Rigidity' in their sense includes everything which hinders the 'natural' adjustment of conditions of exploitation to the capitalist cycle: inflexible collective contracts, entitlement to inflation compensation, and high redundancy payments for permanent workers.
The reference of the movement in Spain to the movements in Northern Africa is understandable. There, like in Spain, globalisation of market and production has reduced the margins for an export-oriented accumulation model considerably. The demographical pressure there and the burst real estate bubble here in Spain coincided with the global crisis. This process accelerated the proletarianisation of the middle-classes and confined the young generation entering the labour market to informal conditions of exploitation. Here like there the movements have two souls. One is dominated by the threatened middle-strata and the career-oriented, or rather career-able 'young generation' aiming both at modernisation of political structures and nostalgic restoration of the Keynesian welfare state. The other is driven by the proletarian sections and the 'youth' without chance of 'upward mobility'. They look for social power to overturn the existing social relations. They still engage in an alliance – as part of a patriotic or 'real-democratic pacifist' action front. As long as the former keeps in control it will not go beyond a simulated revolution against a simulated democracy.
Conflicts about the debts of the provinces
After the end of the Franco dictatorship the de-centralisation of state power was a major concern. The fact that provinces and municipalities have a significant say in the political decisions concerning the state budget is seen as an expression of democratisation. It is exactly these decentralised administrative structures and their influence which the state currently wants to cut down radically. The debts of the public provincial administrations (Communidades Autonomas) are at 10.2 per cent of Spain's GDP – the highest level since 1990. This year their debts grew by 27 per cent, nearly twice as fast as the debts of the central state – which currently figures at 467 348 million Euro or 44.1 per cent of GDP. The expenditures of the provincial and municipal administrations together account for half of the total state expenditures, they are said to be difficult to keep under control and they grow exorbitantly. After its 'pledge of consolidation' in Brussels in May 2010 the Spanish government had set the provinces an upper-limit for new borrowings of 2.4 per cent and announced that otherwise it would not grant any new credits for the re-financing of the outstanding debts.
Up to that point the construction and real estate business had always provided the state with income. The crisis and slump has caused the provincial and municipal income from business tax and fees to collapse – and the municipal expenditures for welfare service to increase considerably (although the main chunk of welfare spending is paid for by the central state). The players of the capital markets claim that this parallel structure of central and local state leads to non-transparency, inefficiency and wastefulness. The bond issues of the provinces were downgraded and the interest rates increased. The savings banks (cajas de ahorro) which up to now had played a major role in re-financing the municipal and provincial state budgets, are in process of collapse and are being privatised and sold at loss. Now the provinces themselves have started to sell bonds at relatively high interest rates directly to local savers. At the same time they demand more transfer payments from Madrid and Brussels, given that more and more costs for education and health services are being financed by local state budgets.
In May 2010 the central government had already cut the wages of 2.8 million public workers by on average 5 per cent and had drastically reduced public investments. In the public transport companies (railways, local transport, airports), where workers have separate collective contracts, wage cuts were enforced by the state's spending cuts. We find a similar situation in the scores of private service companies (cleaning, maintenance) which are sub-contracted by the municipalities and which are particularly affected by the spending cuts. The same is true for the semi-public (concertados) sectors in education and health, which are particularly predominant in Spain. In Cataluña alone there are 60,000 health workers employed in private institutions and 23,000 teachers in private schools (in most cases owned by the church) , but these enterprises are largely financed and regulated by the state. In all these sectors we have been seeing a tough tug of war over working and wage conditions during the last few months without emergence of a generalising movement.
The budget policy of the provincial administrations, which employ half of the public sector workers, has now become the focus of further austerity programs. They have become the laboratory for representatives of different political parties - where they can test-run new measures which, if successful, can be implemented on larger scale in the rest of the national territory. It has since become obvious that some provinces will exceed their debt limits and that the general indebtedness of the Spanish state will hardly remain within the limits 'promised' to the EU commission. Despite this the central government won't have any other option but to allow the 'debt transgressors' to take out extra loans, although only in exchange for the announcement of 'drastic austerity plans'. These then comprise further cuts for public sector workers, increased public dues and reduced social services for the population. If we consider that the biggest share of total public expenditures of the provinces flow into the health and education sector and that they are supposed to reduce their expenditures from 2.8 per cent to 1.3 per cent of the GDP on average, we can easily imagine the potential for future conflicts.
The movement of public sector workers in Murcia
Murcia – a town of about 440,000 inhabitants - is the capital of the province 'Murcia' (1,460,000 inhabitants) on the Mediterranean coast, south of Valencia. The boom in construction provided Murcia with a record growth rate and caused the unemployment rate to fall to historic low levels of 7.15 per cent until the year 2008 – today the unemployment rate is 23.6 per cent. Murcia was supposed to turn into a Mediterranean Florida; flats and golf courses for 800,000 new residents were planned. The number of kids who dropped out of school increased dramatically due the fact that the boom supplied them with easily earned cash. When the real estate bubble burst the one-sided orientation of the local economy turned into a boomerang. In Murcia there are now 35,000 empty and unsold flats, last year the indebtedness of the province increased by 51.61 per cent to over 2 billion Euro, around 7.4 of the regional GDP. In 2010 the budget deficit stood at 3.4 per cent.
In the provincial parliament the conservative people's party (Partido Popular) holds the majority. During his 15 years in office the party president Valcarcel consulted the trade unions in nearly all major decisions. During the years of the boom the government party wove a tight net of insider deals [of corrupt connections] which dominated all sectors of society. Out of 45 municipalities 23 are entangled in corruption scandals. Until recently there was hardly any social protest at all. Even the call for general strike on 29th of September 2010 hardly found any followers in Murcia at the time. When Valcarcel presented cuts of 300 million Euro for the new budget on 21st of December 2010 it first seemed that this silence would continue. On the same day his party announced that they would pass a law 'for special measures to stabilise the state finance', which would have resulted in further cuts for the public sector workers. This meant that existing collective contracts were changed without even having informed the trade unions.
The law passed on 23rd December 2010 manifests itself in further direct and indirect wage cuts and extension of working hours for 55,000 public sector workers, 22,000 of them teachers. As early as the night of the 22nd some affected workers organised a spontaneous protest demonstration by circulating SMS messages. Around 1,000 people welcomed president Valcarcel in the way he deserved when he arrived at the chamber of commerce for an awards ceremony – until the police intervened. Later on 1,500 people gathered in front of his house in Gran Via and threw eggs at him. During the following months he should get many more chances to prove his skills as a butt on many more, bigger demonstrations.
The trade union members in the affected sectors attempted to organise common protest actions and to form a crisis committee: the UGT (close to the social-democratic party PSOE), the CCOO (former Comisiones Obreras close to the CP), STERM (teachers' union), CSIF (independent union of civil servants), ANPE (teachers' union), SATSE (health workers' union), SIDI (teachers' union) CESM (medical doctors' union), SAE (technicians' union in the health sector) and the CGT (anarcho-syndicalist union). The alliance was extremely heterogeneous, not all unions got involved to the same degree, and soon enough the alliance broke-up into different segments according to their respective different interests.
Spokespeople of the trade unions admit that they themselves had been surprised by the breadth of the movement. Almost every day small assemblies and rallies were organised in hospitals and schools. The trade union 'action alliance' was established on two levels right from the start: parallel to the general coordination, i.e. the 'crisis committee', the union alliance set-up branch committees for the general public administration and service sector, health sector and schools. The branch committees organised or coordinated the protest in their respective sectors independently, while the crisis committee was responsible for the big demonstrations and central rallies. Some organisations close to the ruling Partido Popular took part in the alliance, having been pushed by their rank-and-file. This alliance lasted longer than expected.
From the assemblies at the work-place delegates were elected and were then sent to the national committees to maintain communications. Furthermore, the virtual networks played an important role for communication: around 7,000 people exchanged views and information in three main forums. All public buildings were covered with protest banners and one information or protest rally was followed by the next. It became increasingly easier to address 'citizens' and convince them that the issue was also about the quality of public services. In this way the movement regained ground by countering the common prejudices which were constantly brought up against the protesters: the civil servants are privileged employees with secure jobs, they are permanently off sick and lazy.
The lowering of the wages in the public sector is often presented as the price workers have to pay for having the privilege of 'jobs for life'. But only 60 per cent of the public sector workers are actually civil servants and there is a high degree of time limited contracts. Nevertheless, many see themselves as being privileged and express 'understanding' for the 'seeming' necessity of the cuts – given the shrinking budgets and four million unemployed. It was not only the cuts and the deterioration of working conditions which broke the camel's back – it was the anger about the way the government treated them.
The following is a short chronology of the movement in Murcia which demonstrates the dynamic of the mobilisation:
23rd of December 2010
Over 2,000 workers protest in front of the regional parliament in Cartagena, while politicians inside pass the disputed new law
4th of January
According to trade union sources 20,000 people take part in the fifth demonstration in town centre of Murcia
12th of January
Around 40,000 people follow the call for the sixth demonstration, the movement expands. Family members join the demonstration, concerned citizens, school students, workers from other sectors, unemployed and left organisations.
14th of January
Protest rally in front of the Palacio San Esteban
18th of January
15-minutes of symbolic strike at the schools
20th of January
15-minutes strikes in the health sector
26th of January
The seventh demonstration is attended by 60,000 people – there are hardly any banners. Instead people carry candles and two coffins with the slogan: "We won't let them bury the rights of the public workers"
1st of February
Around three quarters of schools follow the call to organise 10 minutes assemblies in all public schools of the province during official school time. Despite the significant threats of the ministry of schools there are a lot of banners hanging from the school walls: "More cuts in education means less future for the region"
2nd of February
In the secondary school Jimenez de la Espada in Cartagena teachers lock themselves in in protest. During the first week in February similar actions – limited to five hours – take place in nearly 100 other schools. There are still banners hanging from many schools.
6th of February
The fourth round of negotiations between union representatives and ministry ends without results. The teachers threaten to use self-made teaching material instead of the official text books in class next year. They also threaten to withdraw their savings from the regional saving banks, where the pension funds are kept which are currently subjected to cuts.
9th of February
Over 2,500 school students, many of them arriving from other towns of the province, demonstrate in Murcia.
10th of February
Around 40,000 people take part in the eighth demonstration, amongst them a big bloc of school students. After a month the president Valcarcel and the union crisis committee meet again for the first time. Amendments are offered: it is suggested that the weekly working times should rise to 36.5 hours instead of 37.5 hours as planned, and the law is supposed to be limited to the year 2011. Apart from UGT, CCOO, STERM and CGT, all unions vote in favour of the proposal. An ugly polemic starts targeting those unions which disagreed: they are accused of representing party political and union specific interests.
1st of March
The ninth demonstration during 'carnival season' becomes a test-case for what the rank-and-file thinks about the result of the negotiations: 45,000 participants is a clear answer.
3rd of March
During the third school students demonstration people are called to take part in the coordination committee and to build committees at their schools
Struggles in the public sector and in the public space
Surprisingly, the movement in Murcia did not get much attention or feedback from other parts of the country. The media largely ignored the movement – while they covered the uprisings in the Arabic countries extensively. Nationally, many similar conflicts have emerged during the last months, but they did not develop a similar scale.
So far the public sector workers have not been seen as being particularly rebellious. Most of them have only a little experience with industrial disputes. For many of them the mobilisation against the Iraq war in spring 2003 was the first occasion in which they took part in street and workplace protests against a government decision. Teachers are the most numerous professions in the public sector, followed by health workers. The work-force in these two sectors is comparably young. While in 1980 the industrial workers accounted for nearly 78 per cent of union membership, compared to only 17 per cent public sector workers – this ratio has nearly inverted itself today. In relation to the total employment in the sector 20 per cent of workers are union members in the industries, compared to 27 to 30 per cent in the public sector - the general level of unionisation in Spain is about 17 per cent.
The main trade unions have been de-legitimised to a certain degree: since the onset of the crisis they have supported the deterioration of conditions which have been packaged as 'reforms', whilst only offering symbolic protests. Nevertheless, these protests were enough to prevent an open rupture between unions and workers.
The teachers took the initiative themselves without waiting for the trade unions to do so. Both teachers and health workers limited their action to symbolic 15 minutes strikes. This doesn't interrupt any production cycle which would cause losses for a company, rather their strikes impact on the receivers of their services, the school students and parents or the patients. A strike therefore provides a chance to get into discussions with those 'affected people' and to extend the mobilisation - if the struggle is able to make clear that the government policy does not only have an immediate impact on the public sector workers, but in the medium term will worsen the public services for everyone. Here the debate about the character of the crisis and the austerity attacks becomes necessary.
Apart from their original central slogan of 'real democracy now' the 15-M movement now focuses on the policies adopted to deal with the crisis. The main slogan is now 'Stop the Euro-Pact'. The discussion now relates to the class struggles' central lines of demarcation and at the same time emphasises the international dimension. On the demonstrations more and more multi-lingual placards appear, written most of all in Greek and Arabic. Further developments depend less on the internal dynamics of the 15-M movement than on external factors. Many activists are completely aware of the fact that the movement can only continue if it spreads (Desbordar la Plaza). People have started to build networks of 'barrio'-assemblies (decentralised assemblies in parts of the towns) and make contacts with dissident forces within the trade unions. Delegations from the 15-M are organising solidarity actions in front of companies where workers are in struggle. The slogan was raised to extend the movement to the shop-floors. These further developments will mainly depend on the aggravation of the debt crisis and the reaction of the public sector workers. New cuts will force them to continue their mobilisations. And the emergence of the 15-M movement might lead to a completely new constellation.
Cuts inscribed in the 2010 law, partly modified by the agreement of the 10th of February
Affecting all public sector employees:
* Increase of the weekly working-time from 35 to 37.5 hours
* This means redundancies of 1,500 workers
* If people retire or leave the job, these jobs are not turned into vacancies – they are lost
* "General plan to redistribute staff', people have to accept higher degrees of flexibility, they can be more easily shifted within departments and to other locations
* If people are on sick-leave their wages are cut by 25 per cent from the first day of leave (unless the sickness is caused by job accidents and work related disease)
* Until further notice the regional administration cuts the contributions to the 'pension funds of the public administrations of the region Murcia'
Affecting the employees of the regional administration:
* Cancellation of the agreement concerning the equalisation of wage structure in relation to the public health sector
* Reduction of the number of union delegates who are 'on paid leave for union duties' from 300 to 150 (the employer had to pay their wages)
Affecting the health workers:
* The bonus for night-shift and shift-work are cut by 10 per cent
Affecting the teachers:
* Cut in productivity bonus by 75 Euro per month. The total wage cuts including those of the general public sector cuts amount to 350 Euro per month; teachers earn 2,250 Euro before tax on average during the first three years (they are paid 14 monthly wages per year)
Note of the translator: The 'square occupations’ in recent Spanish history are an invention of neither civil rights activists nor students, but of electricians and other manual workers of the electricity company Sintel. From January to August 2001 around 1,800 workers camped in Madrid town centre in protest against redundancies. There is an impressive film documentary on their struggle: El Efecto Iguazu.