Millions of people in Catalonia are set to defy the police and the state to vote on independence from Spain today, Sunday.
The Spanish state has banned the referendum and done all it can to stop it—confiscating materials, arresting Catalan government officials and raiding their offices. On Saturday cops went into a Catalan telecommunication centre to deactivate online voting apps.
So activists have formed neighbourhood Committees for the Defence of the Referendum and occupied the schools and clinics where voting is set to take place.
Student Marina Morante spoke to Socialist Worker from an occupied school in Barcelona’s working class Nou Barris neighbourhood on Saturday.
“There are five or six schools occupied in the area,” she said. “Right now there are around 50 people in here—some activists, but mainly local residents.
“They are here for different reasons. There are supporters of independence. There are old people who say they came down because the repression reminds them of the old dictatorship. And there are children who go to school here and came to play because they saw it open.”
In different occupations people have organised activities from yoga and tai chi classes to sports and games tournaments, concerts and film showings.
“We are happy and organised—we are calling it an autumn festival,” said Marina. “We plan to have dinner here and stay the night. Then we have arranged for a lot more people to turn up at 5am to be here before the police arrive at 6am.”
The Catalan police have said that they will allow the occupied buildings to stay open until 6am on voting day. Then they are to close them—unless there are so many people it is unsafe to do so.
So the Spanish government has also sent thousands of officers from its paramilitary Guardia Civil police force. But they have had a hard time, with dockers refusing to handle their ships.
Barcelona docker Albert Gil told Socialist Worker, “Our decision wasn’t about the referendum, but about the violation of citizens’ rights. We are a collective that has always been in struggle and always defending our labour rights.
“When we saw this attack we mobilised and the membership supported this position solidly.”
Ridicule of the Spanish police added to the defiance. Of three ferries they were able to charter, one had giant pictures of cartoon characters including Tweety Pie painted on the side.
The demand to “#FreeTweety” exploded on Catalan social media, and students brandished images of the character on their march on Thursday. The cops hung giant screens over the side of the boat after Tweety Pie’s owner Warner Brothers said it didn’t want to be associated with them.
The dockers aren’t the only workers defying the clampdown. Firefighters demonstrated on Thursday. In at least one fire station they refused bosses’ demand to take down their banners.
Barcelona firefighter Pau Serra told Socialist Worker, “Our union had called an assembly around other issues, and people wanted to talk about what’s happening. So we discussed it and voted on a position.
“We’re neutral on the referendum—some firefighters will vote yes some will vote no, and some won’t vote. But we voted to defend the rights of the people. We don’t want repression, we want to defend the basic right to democracy, a free press and the vote.”
Support for independence is high in Catalonia. But this has always been mixed with other issues—and the repression and the movement to resist it has shifted the faultlines.
Aina Della, international relations officer of the pro-independence anti-capitalist party CUP, told Socialist Worker, “The response of the Spanish government was so horrible, this is now a real popular movement—not just for independence but for democratic rights.”
A monster rally on Friday night, called by the Catalan government but deemed illegal by Spain, gave a sense of the breadth of support.
Occupiers in Miquel Tarradell college in Barcelona spoke to Spanish reporters.
Spokesperson Eugenia Revilla said, “This is the first time that I’ve mobilised myself in this way. For me it’s a chance to be able to decide.”
Another occupier, Silvia, added, “I hope that people come and vote—and what I want is a republic.” Asked whether this republic should be Spanish or Catalan, she replied. “I don’t know. I want all of Spain to join us in making this change.”
Marina explained, “For activists who have campaigned about labour rights and social rights, independence has become a new way of getting those rights.
“For others, it’s more about how the transition out of dictatorship at the end of the 1970s wasn’t real enough. The setup that came out of it, known as the ‘regime of 78’, was a big lie. It doesn’t work and it isn’t open to reform to make it more democratic.”
At the same time, it is independence that the Spanish state is determined to stop—and winning it is a crucial test for the popular movement.
Aina said, “We don’t expect the Spanish state to send armed officers to stop people voting with violence.
“It’s more likely that they will go to a few key places and make sure enough people are unable to vote that it can rule the referendum invalid.”
After voting, the confrontation may only deepen. The Catalan government said it will declare independence on Tuesday if there is a yes vote—something the Spanish state is certain not to recognise.
Four left wing union federations have already called a general strike on Tuesday, though the main unions have yet to join them.
Aina said, “We need people to take to the streets every day, and we need to paralyse the country with Tuesday’s strike. The mobilisations must continue until we have won independence and established a new republic.”