A brief note on the mobilization of thousands of young people in Spain

“We, the unemployed, the underpaid, the subcontracted, the precarious, the young … demand a change towards a future with dignity. We are fed up of reforms, of being laid off, of the banks which have caused the crisis hardening our mortgages or taking away our houses, of laws limiting our freedom in the interest of

We, the unemployed, the underpaid, the subcontracted, the precarious, the young … demand a change towards a future with dignity. We are fed up of reforms, of being laid off, of the banks which have caused the crisis hardening our mortgages or taking away our houses, of laws limiting our freedom in the interest of the powerful. We blame the political and economic powers of our sad situation and we call for a turn. Through this platform we want to coordinate a common and global action with all those groups, associations and movements which are trying to contribute in different ways to this change. We call all citizens to march out in the streets on the 15th of May, at 18.00 hours, after the slogan: ‘Real Democracy, NOW. We are not merchandise in the hands of bankers and politicians’. We encourage you to join this single cry peacefully leaving behind exclusive political symbols.”

(Free translation of the Manifesto of the “Democracia Real, Ahora” Platform)

Tenths of thousands (130,000 is the best guess) marched last Sunday evening (May, 15th) in the Spanish streets following the call of a platform named “Real Democracy Now”. When the night came some 1,000 mostly young people intended to camp in Puerta del Sol the most centric square in Madrid, obviously following Tahrir Sq. example in Cairo. They were beaten up and ultimately evicted by the Police.
Next day dozens of such camps mushroomed in most major Spanish cities gathering several thousands. This time they were allowed to stay in most places except for Granada were they were also expelled by force. More people have begun to join in. They have made public their decision to stay until next Sunday, when administrative (local and regional) elections will take place.
Who are this people? Who is organizing them? What are they for? Both the media and the political parties which are now in the home stretch of the electoral campaign have suddenly noticed their presence and are trying to guess how this will affect the electoral result.
This movement has got roots coming from the groups and social movements connected to the WSF process as well as more recent initiatives launched by young people who protested against the high cost of homes during the real estate boom before the crisis. When the crisis began and the first cuts came to scene there was a period of expectation waiting for the response of the Unions. This came late, as the only general strike up to now was called on September 2010, almost nine months after the first adjustment measures were announced. Ultimately the large Unions failed the people when they signed an agreement on pension cuts last January. Smaller and more militant unions accused them harshly but were unable to call for a significant mobilization.
The most immediate precedent of last Sunday’s marches was a first attempt by a so called “Youth without a Future” platform which called a demonstration in Madrid on April 7th gathering 2,000-3,000 people after the slogan “No House, No Job, No Pension, No Fear”. Not an impressive result at first sight but neither was the outcome of the First of May called by the Unions whose rank and files showed clear signals of demoralization.
Then came the electoral campaign. It unfolded in a bath of mutual accusations of corruption and irresponsibility between the two majority parties, PP and PSOE. It also got entangled with a mess of decisions by the Supreme and Constitutional Courts concerning the possibility of pro-ETA candidates in the Basque Country. Although at last they were allowed to run the elections, which is good news because it signals a better chance of bringing terrorism to an end, it angered large sections of the population which are sensible to the Spanish nationalistic chauvinism preached by the political Right. On the other hand the adjustment policies and the unbearable rate of unemployment have alienated large part of the popular classes support to the PSOE. As a result the polls were forecasting a landslide defeat of the PSOE to the PP. United Left (IU) showed significant advances in the polls but nothing of the kind of a major shift of vote from the PSOE.
Suddenly, the marches last Sunday erupted. They were called mostly by word of mouth and through social networks. The outcome exceeded the wildest expectations of the organizers. Thousands marched crying against the Banks and for real democracy. Botín, CEO of Banco Santander, and other prominent entrepreneurs were pointed out as responsible for the crisis. On the political side, one of the most popular slogans was “PSOE and PP are the same shit”. There is a campaign running in the Internet pleading the people “Don’t vote for them” referred to the large parties. Corruption is also targeted: people cried “no hay pan para tanto chorizo”. ‘Chorizo’ is a Spanish kind of sausage you usually eat in sandwiches but it also means ‘crook’ in popular slang so the saying goes “there is not enough bread for so many sausages”. Some are advocating ‘blank’ vote but in most cases ‘real democracy’ is understood as the need to reform the electoral regulations and, more significantly, the primacy of elected bodies over the ‘markets’ and the accountability of elected officials.
At the time of writing these lines nobody can foresee what will result. The Right will most probably win the elections although a surprise cannot be discarded. If the defeat is large enough, Zapatero will probably be forced to call an early general election, normally due in May 2012. It does not seem realistic to expect a left turn as his government is highly committed to the adjustment policies that are being designed at the EC level. They have been able to tame down the Unions which were the only recognizable opponents, despite all the rhetoric by the ETUC. Only a major disaster after the Portuguese election on June, a default in Greece or some catastrophic derivative of the DSK affair can derail the EC locomotive from its suicidal track.
But the Spanish landscape the day after can be different. There can be new actors in stage. Will this movement survive? A provocation cannot be ruled out as Election Day comes nearer. It could mean a backdrop in what has been gained in these days. But in any case contestation in Spain is gathering momentum and it will recover. Maybe not the way that was expected. For example: the no-global movement which was thought dead has reappeared under a new reincarnation. Any mechanical expectation of an automatic shift of the Unions (and the socialist grass and roots) to the left has been denied but these new circumstances will also have an effect in the labor movement.
Will the political Left be able to ride this new waves? Will it read correctly that this demand for real democracy, now, concerns everything? Or will it remain static expecting to administrate some ‘natural’ outcome? Everything is moving, again. A quotation from the ’18 Brumaire’ suits very well the situation: ” (…) the representatives, who constantly appeal to public opinion, give public opinion the right to speak its real mind in petitions. The parliamentary regime leaves everything to the decision of majorities; how shall the great majorities outside parliament not want to decide? When you play the fiddle at the top of the state, what else is to be expected but that those down below dance?”