Account of the March 29 Spanish general strike from Barcelona

Account of the March 29 Spanish general strike from Barcelona

A short account for libcom.org from a comrade in Barcelona, on Spain's first general strike for 18 months.

Thursday's general strike, called by all of the major unions in the Spanish state, was the backdrop for a contestation not only of the principle of secure, high quality employment and against the exploitation of low wage earners, but also of the control of the streets of Barcelona.

The police, clearly taking their cue from a political leadership that aimed to prioritise the dispersal and intimidation of demonstrators, were tooled up and ready to go from the start, with rubber bullets available immediately. At several points in the day there was firing of rubber bullets into a crowd which contained small children, on the pretext of “troublemakers in the crowd”, however the effect was not the de-escalation of the conflict, but its ramping up, as an increasingly frustrated police force fired more and more rounds as the day went on. More than one head injury was sighted, which seems to point to the fact that the police weren't even aiming at the legs, and could easily have blinded people.

Estimates of the strikes effectiveness have varied, with government sources describing the country as being in a state of, “complete normality”, with this assessment obviously being challenged by strike leaders. However, what this observer found interesting was the manic desperation of the police on the ground to keep the radical feeder marches of the CNT and autonomist groups away from the main demonstration, including a huge number of protesters in Placa Catalunya who spend much of the afternoon being shot at by police while responding in kind.

There was also, according to other media, a large number of plain clothes cops identifying individuals in the crowd for arrest, which is a trend that should be common by now.

Overall, it is likely that much of the information about the effectiveness of the strike (in purely economic terms) will be coming out at a later date, but at first glance it seems that the strike was not aimed around the stoppage of work, as the figures seem to indicate, but instead was a means to a symbolic mass mobilisation. Progress, certainly, but surely the real challenge would be to organise prolonged industrial action against the government, rather than a somewhat token national demonstration that can be passed off as a flash in the pan.

Food for thought, perhaps.

Sergio

More reports and discussion of the strike can be viewed here in our forums.

Posted By

Ramona
Apr 1 2012 19:21

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  • At first glance it seems that the strike was not aimed around the stoppage of work, as the figures seem to indicate, but instead was a means to a symbolic mass mobilisation. Progress, certainly, but surely the real challenge would be to organise prolonged industrial action against the government.

    Sergio, Barcelona

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Comments

soc
Apr 2 2012 10:20

Great stuff, even if it is just a hastened account, I would like to read more about the 29-M. Unfortunately, the English language articles are in sparse, and most of them is just a superficial, mainstream one.

noodlehead
Apr 3 2012 09:11

did the feeder marches manage to join the main demonstration in the end?

Butters
Apr 5 2012 17:02

noth much

Butters
Apr 5 2012 18:29

A few words from Spain

For those interested, here you have some reflections about the “general strike” in Spain that took place last week:

- It's been, basically, a maneuver of the main unions in Spain to, first, pretend they are doing something for the workers and unemployeds, given the growing unrest and the more and more dramatic situation of a growing number of families (mass unemployment; thousands of evictions every year; record numbers of people -formerly called “middle class”...- attending charity organizations in order no to die of starvation) second, to measure that unrest in order to further strategies to contain and stop class struggles. The leiv motiv of the strike was supposed to be to stop a labour reform just passed by the new government that simply says more of the same: worse working and living conditions for the proletariat. It expressed perfect continuity with others laws and reforms passed by previous governments (almost always with the agreement from unions), so it has been a diversion maneuver taking the new right-wing government and the reform as a scapegoats in order to justify further agreements between government-employers-unions, and to cover the real guilty: the ruling class and capitalism as a whole.

-The whole idea of these kind of strikes is wrong: obey the unions without any kind of collective reflection or discussion; absurd picket lines strategies that instead of strengthening solidarity, union and self-confidence within the working class they focuses on that “nobody works” in order to sum up numbers for the union's figures; no room for the millions of unemployeds, students or retired to establish contact and common struggles with those with still a job; etc. In short a “struggle” whose means and goals are far from increasing self-organization, solidarity and reflection within the working class.

-The main unions are little by little regarded as what they really are: mere arms of the capitalist state to prevent, control and take to failure any class struggle. That's why from time to time they have to disguise as a “working class defenders” to keep doing their job. But the “small unions” aren't much better. Whatever their banner o colour, beyond their radical proposals or their denounce of the main unions, at the end the day, they are the necessary “radical” appendix of the “responsible” main unions. They have fully participated in the “strike” without saying a word of the dead-end that these “struggles” are. On the contrary, the only problem they see is that they main union don't call for it more often... They don't propose anything to the working class but the a supposedly “honest” and “radical” version of the big ones.

-The only goal of the riots which have appeared on the media is to identify any kind of class struggle with absurd violence. A chaos to hide the chaos of capitalism, and justify further repression. They don't add any positive aspect to the anticapitalist struggle. No wonder why sometimes they are either provoked or tolerated by the police. http://www.kaosenlared.net/component/k2/item/13166-%C2%BFqui%C3%A9n-inicia-los-disturbios-y-para-qu%C3%A9?-mossos-infiltrados-huelga-29m-paseo-de-gracia.html.

-Having said that, it's also true that facts like the large numbers of people who went to the demonstrations (not only from the “left ghetto” but, say “common people”, including many young people who are realizing of their “bright” future under capitalism), with the chance to establish contact and break the every man for himself of the everyday life under capitalism, are important in the road to fight back, so we must take advantage of every “struggle” called by the unions to try to use for strengthening a class movement against capitalism. In that sense there have been some minorities who tried to use the “general strike” to really contribute to develop and effective movement against capitalism. http://en.internationalism.org/worldrevolution/201204/4789/general-strike-spain-radical-minorities-call-independent-workers-action.

Sorry for my English

Vaga
Apr 6 2012 19:28

A few words from Catalunya

For those interested, I would like to point out some weak points (at least from my point of view) in Butters reflections.

Butters wrote:
It's been, basically, a maneuver of the main unions in Spain to...

The general strike was not a maneuver of the main unions, whereas their active role in the strike fits with Butters description. No revolutionary action to be expected from them anyway, so who cares.
You disregard the fact that the efforts to discredit the main unions have been part of the ongoing mobilization of workers, students and unemployed recently.

Butters wrote:
The leiv motiv of the strike was supposed to be to stop a labour reform...

I think it would be rather difficult to get that much people to participate in a strike under a slogan such as "Smash capitalism, revolution now."
Any oppressive measure from a government should be a reason to fight back.

Butters wrote:
The whole idea of these kind of strikes is wrong: obey the unions without any kind of collective reflection or discussion; absurd picket lines strategies that instead of strengthening solidarity, union and self-confidence within the working class they focuses on that “nobody works” in order to sum up numbers for the union's figures; no room for the millions of unemployeds, students or retired to establish contact and common struggles with those with still a job; etc. In short a “struggle” whose means and goals are far from increasing self-organization, solidarity and reflection within the working class.

Not the strike is wrong, the obedience to the unions is wrong.
It is clear from that the main unions are not propagating self-organization. It should be pointed out that the number of people strengthening solidarity and union of workers, unemployed, students and retired is growing and is being substantiated in various initiatives.

Butters wrote:
But the “small unions” aren't much better. Whatever their banner o colour, beyond their radical proposals or their denounce of the main unions, at the end the day, they are the necessary “radical” appendix of the “responsible” main unions. They have fully participated in the “strike” without saying a word of the dead-end that these “struggles” are. On the contrary, the only problem they see is that they main union don't call for it more often... They don't propose anything to the working class but the a supposedly “honest” and “radical” version of the big ones.

I would say that there are radical small unions that do say a word of the need to extend the struggle, adding to the persons who do so without an affiliation to any union.

Butters wrote:
The only goal of the riots which have appeared on the media is to identify any kind of class struggle with absurd violence. A chaos to hide the chaos of capitalism, and justify further repression. They don't add any positive aspect to the anticapitalist struggle. No wonder why sometimes they are either provoked or tolerated by the police.

The only goal of the mainstream media is to lie. The government, when being attacked, reacts with further repression. Not a surprise really. It is not a reason to not defend yourself though.
I do not think the police need to provoke or tolerate riots. They happen anyway. I think they are undercover in order to identify suspects and furthermore create paranoia about "THOSE hooded criminals who are bringing OUR nice, peaceful rally into disrepute".

Butters wrote:
so we must take advantage of every “struggle” called by the unions to try to use for strengthening a class movement against capitalism. In that sense there have been some minorities who tried to use the “general strike” to really contribute to develop and effective movement against capitalism.

So the whole idea of the strike was not wrong after all?

Butters
Apr 15 2012 18:29

Incomplete reflections about the general strike the last 29th of march in Spain and response to Vaga's points:

-In my view there's no doubt it was kind of “trap-strike”; an strike not to as a first step to initiate the struggle but to prevent it and put it off; not to break isolation and passivity, but to maintain it as longer as possible. Otherwise, how can we explain that after the “great and historic mobilization” (according to unions and the left) of the strike, more than two weeks ago, everything continues “business as usual” on the streets, communities and workplaces? After the grandiloquent speeches and statements of unions bosses they are back in action negotiationg and begging on their knees after government and employers to (suppodsely) change certain aspects of the labour reform; and, in short, collaborating with the ruling class, saying and doing nothing and looking on the other side when the working class is suffering brutal attacks on its living standars.

-Unions are another arm of the capitalist state, such a the mass media, police and army, justice, or the left. To accomplish its goal (prevent, control and ultimately defeat class struggle) they need, like politicians do, play a performance: to say one thing and do another. They pretend that “they do their best”, that if they arent doing more is because workers dont join them in enough numbers, and at the same time they performance a false fight with bosses and government. Let's not forget either that they readily collaborate in feeding regionalist, nationalist or racists positions (“bote, bote, alemán el que no vote” -germans those who dont jump- some of these “workers defenders” chanted in demonstrations in the general strike, taking Merkel and german capital as a scapegoat, something unions are doing in Greece as well).

- If, after all and fortunately, struggles and the will to fight back are little by little reappearing IS NOT THANKS TO UNIONS BUT DESPITE THEM. When they cannot prevent struggles anymore (at the cost of losing the little credibility among workers that unfournatetly they the still have), they devote themselves to channel them, sabotaging and leading them to dead-end and defeat, through inoffensive and useless methods of struggle, such a these kinds of “trap-strikes”. It would take a long article to add some examples of this the last century. If the purpose of the unions wasn't this, if -as Vega says- the strike wasn't a manouvre, do we have to think that, through some kind of Easter miracle, in spite of decades of betrayals and collaboration with the ruling class, the unions became workers defenders overnight?

- There are, no doubt of this, some honest rank and file militants within the unions, but the whole structure, the leaders, the money which supports them, and their methods make unions rotten organizations for working class struggle.

- But the real problem is not unions, but industrial unionism as a ideology and method. The equation “struggle for improving or defending working and living standars = industrial unionism” is false. The general tendency of the great struggles throughout the XX century is to overcome unions' framework and even goes against them: mass assemblies; mass strikes; mass direct action; workers' councils. Again, it'd take a long article to analyses this process, but it can be put in short: unions have been absorbed by the capitalist state. Their methods are an obstacle for the development of a strong and radical anticapitalist movement:
1. They frame the industrial disputes within a particular company or sector, avoiding and blocking that the struggle spreads to the rest of proletarians.
2. They promote a mere economic and individualist mentality within the working-citizens, “forgetting” and weakening reflection about the collective and political dimension of the problems of the proletariat.
3. They promote delegation and individual action, undermining any chance of self-organization and solidarity.

- I don't see that the small or “radical” unions have very different methods: they normally focus themselves on particular conflicts without trying to spread the industrial dispute beyond that framework. They may use more alternative or original methods, but the differences with the big ones are more quantitative rather than qualitative, as we have witnessed in this general strike once again. Vega says that “I would say that there are radical small unions that do say a word of the need to extend the struggle, adding to the persons who do so without an affiliation to any union”. It'd be interesting and encouraging to know more about those experiences.

- The alternative of course is not stay at home. In fact one the “collateral damages” of this kind of “struggles” is that as they don't create the proper conditions for encouraging workers towards the struggle (absurd picket lines, mere obedience to the unions, etc), the result is more division and rejection to any kind of collective action. It was very interesting what one group of workers in Alicante (Spain) said in their leaflet: “We want to take advantage of the “general strike” in order to put forward actions that go beyond what we consider to be an inadequate form of mobilisation. WHETHER STRIKING OR NOT, LET’S GET TOGETHER ON THE 29-M” http://en.internationalism.org/worldrevolution/201204/4789/general-strike-spain-radical-minorities-call-independent-workers-action . There are no perfect struggles, and only through past and present experience we can find the way to fight against the ruling class, and it tells us that following unions and the left we are simply puppets condemned to defeat and powerlessness.

Vaga
Apr 17 2012 11:54

Some incomplete clarifications to my points...

In general, I pretty much agree with what you responded and my conclusion goes along the same line:

Butters wrote:
There are no perfect struggles, and only through past and present experience we can find the way to fight against the ruling class, and it tells us that following unions and the left we are simply puppets condemned to defeat and powerlessness.

I would nevertheless like to know what you mean by "left". Furthermore, I think that no leader should be followed.

I hope this is the lesson learned by many of the less "politically aware" people on the streets that day.

Butters wrote:
everything continues “business as usual” on the streets, communities and workplaces?

Well, if it weren't so, we would have kicked off something really big, which would be awesome. However, I think that quite a few people learned something and thus might begin their "business as unusual" the next time.

Butters wrote:
- If, after all and fortunately, struggles and the will to fight back are little by little reappearing IS NOT THANKS TO UNIONS BUT DESPITE THEM.

And that is why I do not see the strike simply as a manouvre of the unions.

Butters wrote:
When they cannot prevent struggles anymore (at the cost of losing the little credibility among workers that unfournatetly they the still have), they devote themselves to channel them, sabotaging and leading them to dead-end and defeat, through inoffensive and useless methods of struggle, such a these kinds of “trap-strikes”. It would take a long article to add some examples of this the last century. If the purpose of the unions wasn't this, if -as Vega says- the strike wasn't a manouvre, do we have to think that, through some kind of Easter miracle, in spite of decades of betrayals and collaboration with the ruling class, the unions became workers defenders overnight?

I wholeheartedly agree that the unions purpose is to make a manouvre out of the mobilization and I am not expecting that the unions become workers defenders.
The "counter-manouver" consisting in union-critical propaganda, neighbourhood assemblies that initiated self-organized pickets and so on.

Butters wrote:
- There are, no doubt of this, some honest rank and file militants within the unions, but the whole structure, the leaders, the money which supports them, and their methods make unions rotten organizations for working class struggle.

Yes, your anti-unionism has become extremely clear and I support your criticism wholeheartedly.

Butters wrote:
- But the real problem is not unions, but industrial unionism as a ideology and method. The equation “struggle for improving or defending working and living standars = industrial unionism” is false. The general tendency of the great struggles throughout the XX century is to overcome unions' framework and even goes against them: mass assemblies; mass strikes; mass direct action; workers' councils. Again, it'd take a long article to analyses this process, but it can be put in short: unions have been absorbed by the capitalist state. Their methods are an obstacle for the development of a strong and radical anticapitalist movement:
1. They frame the industrial disputes within a particular company or sector, avoiding and blocking that the struggle spreads to the rest of proletarians.
2. They promote a mere economic and individualist mentality within the working-citizens, “forgetting” and weakening reflection about the collective and political dimension of the problems of the proletariat.
3. They promote delegation and individual action, undermining any chance of self-organization and solidarity.

Now it has become abundantly, extremely clear.

Butters wrote:
- I don't see that the small or “radical” unions have very different methods: they normally focus themselves on particular conflicts without trying to spread the industrial dispute beyond that framework. They may use more alternative or original methods, but the differences with the big ones are more quantitative rather than qualitative, as we have witnessed in this general strike once again. Vega says that “I would say that there are radical small unions that do say a word of the need to extend the struggle, adding to the persons who do so without an affiliation to any union”. It'd be interesting and encouraging to know more about those experiences.

I was referring to cnt/cgt who do promote self-organization and solidarity. I should comment that I am nevertheless critical of them, as you can find some individuals in their lines who do express rather dogmatic or reformist positions. The cnt/cgt split is an issue that could be debated more elaborately, but as I do not have that much insight into that, I cannot say more than: I believe in the benefit of anarcho-syndicalism.
I simply think that there is a radical mass which is perfectly aware of the rotten organizations and the need to extend the struggle from demonstrations to more direct action, as seen in the indignados movement.

Butters wrote:
- The alternative of course is not stay at home.

Staying at home is contra-productive in any case, I would say. Thus the need to mobilize.

Butters wrote:
In fact one the “collateral damages” of this kind of “struggles” is that as they don't create the proper conditions for encouraging workers towards the struggle (absurd picket lines, mere obedience to the unions, etc), the result is more division and rejection to any kind of collective action.

What are the proper conditions for encouraging workers towards the struggle?
What do you mean by "absurd picket lines"?
Obedience to the unions is always the problem, not just in "this kind of struggle". It is a condition that needs to be addressed, be it in "this kind of struggle" or in "that kind of struggle". The effectiveness of this approach surely depends on the specific effort undertaken to "liberate" the worker from this condition. If you happen to know an infallible method, please let me know.

Butters
Apr 28 2012 20:44

Well, it seems we agree in the need of self-organization and spreading the struggles. I made quite clear (as you say) my opinion about unions and, at least, how struggles shouldn't be... I don't think we must mobilize at any price... there are mobilizations which are in reality demobilizations... That's why I believe that any tool for the struggle (picket lines, demonstrations, etc) must be means for achieving solidarity, awareness, self-organization and spreading the fight, not ends by themselves, and if they aren't good for that goal or and obstacule, they are absurd, useless and negative. No need to say that things are not always so easy and simple, that everything is a process...but my general point is clear.

Actually, things are not business as usual... but not thanks to this strike, but “thanks”to the capitalist crisis. To talk about the need to overthrow this disoustrous system, the need for a mass struggle, let's say 10, 7 or 5 years ago meant being automatically labelled as radical dreamer, at best. The crisis, until certain point, is the best ally for class struggle. The social scenario is changing. There is a growing acceptance of anticapitalist positions, and nobody can hardly believe we live in the best possible world... The main problem to me is that there isn't a clear mass social movement that could appear as the living contradiction and the alternative to capitalism... Although capitalism is sinking, it needs a revolutionary help to die for good.

My critics were about unions in general, not particulary on this or that organizations. Although as I said, they all share the basics features to me. And I'm including anarchosyndicalism there. The two unions you mention are the ones (together with “Solidarid Obrera”) wich reivindicate of anarchosyindicalism in Spain (the split up in the 80's aprox). On paper, htel.. are that CGT is a more “modern” (according to them) anarchosyindicalism trying to take advantage of the benefits of the rights of democracy, and CNT claims to be the true heir of the tradition of the spanish anarchosyindicalism (according to them too), having the anarchist ideology more weight on the second one. Beyond “philosofical differences”, the CGT has a much wider union activity than CNT, having presence in many conflicts, and in general not going beyond the union framework I described before. The CNT is much smaller than the CGT basically because it lives in a contadiction between its ideology and the reality of the union activity. When they are in a industrial dispute they basically focus on themselves and on “winning the dispute”, not in the general interest of the revolutionary movement. For example, in 2005 aprox there was a dispute on the logistics centre of Mercadona (supermarket chain) in Catalonia (north east region of Spain). After weeks of dispute only a tiny minority (10% or so) of workers wanted keep striking, and the CNT encouraged this minority to keep going til winning the dispute... If you read the CNT papers the focus on what the wheter CNT does this or that, etc... Always self-propaganda. For me, there is a lot of myth arround the CNT. To read and interesting book about the “spanish transition” and the struggles during that time see the articles of the “Los Incontrolados” (in Spanish: http://vivalaanarquia.files.wordpress.com/2010/12/incontrolados.pdf ; in English: http://libcom.org/history/wildcat-spain-encounters-democracy-1976-1978).
For the role of the CNT during the spanish civil war it'd be interesting to see the texts of Bilan (not-stalinist communist group in the 30's) together with others articles in a book by the CCI in spanish:
http://www.enxarxa.com/biblioteca/CCI%20Espana%201936.pdf
in english:
http://www.international-communist-party.org/English/Texts/SpainBil.htm

Others books of the role of the CNT in the spanish civil war in spanish:
http://www.edicionesespartaco.com/libros/barricadas.pdf (Barricadas en Barcelona)
http://www.viruseditorial.net/pdf/Revoluci%F3n%20traicionada_Revoluci%F3n%20traicionada.qxd.pdf (La revolución traicionada)

Saludos