Thousands of mainly young people are involved in the new movement in Spain. Young people have suffered from poor employment conditions, poor wages and temporary contracts for years.
But the effects have become more pronounced with this most recent crisis of capitalism.
Some 21 percent of Spain’s population have no job and 40 percent of these are under 30. This doesn’t include students who are looking for work, so really the figure is much higher.
If you’re young here the prospects are bleak. Around 85 percent of people under 30 live with their parents because housing is so expensive.
The movement was partly inspired by events in Egypt. What is now known as the 15 May movement called a demonstration on that day for “real democracy now”. People declared the mainstream system a farce—the voting, the parties, everything.
The main parties have repeatedly broken promises and betrayed the people who voted for them. Many of the movement’s demands have an anti-capitalist nature. There is a general sense that we should not pay for the crisis.
The call for real participatory democracy has revolutionary implications, even if most of those demanding it don’t necessarily see it like this.
No single organisation called the protests—activists came together, face to face and online, to build the day.
Some of them had been involved five years ago in a housing campaign which mobilised tens of thousands across the country. Another section was from a campaign to protect people who couldn’t afford their mortgage repayments from eviction.
But most of the people involved are unorganised. The call to protest inspired tens of thousands. There are now around 120 protests and assemblies across the country.
On the Monday following 15 May the police attacked the spontaneous camp a small number of people had set up in Madrid. This provoked a backlash against the state and spread the protests across Spain.
Once people were in the squares, the influence of the Arab movements became more apparent.
The movement has raised questions of organisation as it has developed.
The trade unions in Spain are very weak. Only 19 percent of workers are unionised.
Workers can be on workplace committees, which bargain over wages, whether they are in a union or not. The majority of delegates are in unions—but that is not true of the workers who vote for them.
Most young people have little work experience and therefore little experience of workplace organisation or positive experience of the unions.
In September the main unions organised a general strike and up to seven million people took action.
But the unions didn’t follow it up with anything and shortly afterwards they signed agreements with the ruling Socialist Party which attacked workers’ rights. These made it easier to sack people, attacked pensions and raised the retirement age.
A third of workers in Spain are on temporary contracts. Many people see the unions as part of the discredited establishment that sells them out.
The mainstream unions have said very little about the recent protests. Their response is very similar to the Socialist Party’s—a lot of hand wringing but no proposals for action.
This is because it is their policies and agreements that people are protesting against.
But the voters haven’t moved to the right. In the recent election the Socialist Party lost over 20 percent of its vote, but the right only gained 3 percent. A few votes went to the electoral left coalition, but not many.
The movement is critical of the economic and political positions taken by those in power. There is no connection between people on the streets and the top of the unions or the Socialist Party.
Autonomist ideas are strong here partly because the main parties are completely subordinated to the banks and financial institutions.
The revolutionary left collapsed in the years after the transition from fascism to democracy following General Franco’s death in 1975, leaving a vacuum that autonomist ideas can fill.
These ideas make sense to people who aren’t organised. The majority are taking action for the first time, and the rejection of parties and unions ties into the idea that this is something new. People want to build something different.
Just what forces make up the camps varies from place to place, though there is a general consensus that no organisations should be allowed.
There are serious discussions about the way forward and revolutionary socialists like us in En Lucha—Socialist Worker’s Spanish sister organisation—are intervening in them.
We’re very active in the camps’ main assemblies. Everywhere we’re involved we work hard to make the assembly and the camp function at every level—shoulder to shoulder with activists.
And although we have our own ideas about how things should develop—and put these forward—it is important to respect the mass direct democracy that runs the camps.
We’ve had stalls with our propaganda on them just outside the camp and have been hugely successful. We made a special issue of our paper which went down really well. We have met dozens of people who have shown an interest in our ideas and some have joined En Lucha.
We have set up a blog—from indignation to revolution—which is a slogan we raise in the camps. We are convinced that we have to tackle anti-union ideas if the movement is going to broaden and deepen. We work with other anti-capitalists and left union militants active in the camps with this aim.
We say the camps have to move out, building assemblies in the neighbourhoods and taking the ideas of the movement into the workplaces.
The organisation of local assemblies and even new camps has been quite successful. Workplace interventions are more difficult. But when some young people from the Barcelona camp went to an engineering factory that is on strike the workers on the picket line were thrilled to meet them.
The depth of feeling of solidarity is impossible to measure but there are signs. At 9pm every evening people bang pots and pans in the camps as part of the protest. After the brutal police attack on the camp last week in Barcelona, people come onto their balconies and do it too.
In Seville there was a demonstration from the camp through a working class neighbourhood. People came out to join the protest.
Last weekend some camps decided to put a date on when they will close, usually coinciding with a local mobilisation.
They all stress that the mass assemblies will continue in the neighbourhoods, and the struggle will go on. This makes sense as the movement must continue and it will be difficult to sustain the camps indefinitely.
The national demonstration on 19 June is a focus for everyone.
As yet the movement has had only a small impact on the fight against austerity. But this could change.
Most importantly, a new generation has entered into struggle, a generation that could provide the basis of a new vibrant moment against the system.
And this, as has been seen in other countries, is increasingly part of the new international youth rebellion.
Andy Durgan is a leading member of the revolutionary socialist group En Lucha, Socialist Worker’s sister organisation in Spain