The Spanish state jailed the leaders of Catalonia’s two main independence organisations on Tuesday.
And right wing Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy was threatening to shut down the Catalan government as early as Thursday of this week.
Jordi Sanchez, leader of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), and Jordi Cuixart, leader of Omnium Cultural, were jailed for sedition over their role in Catalonia’s independence referendum.
Voting took place on 1 October in defiance of a Spanish state ban. Only a mass movement occupying and defending polling stations made the referendum possible.
Sanchez and Cuixart had called protests on 20 September. This week a judge in a special court sent them straight to jail pending trial to prevent “further offences”.
The outrageous decision provoked spontaneous protests in Catalan cities. Over 2,000 people demonstrated in Girona.
ANC and Omnium called lunchtime workplace stoppages and a mass evening march on Tuesday, and promised a bigger action on Wednesday.
Solidarity protests were also planned in Britain on Tuesday night.
The arrests broke a tense stand-off. Catalan president Carles Puigdemont had attempted to respond to the Spanish government’s threats with delays, evasions and calls for negotiation.
Puigdemont declared Catalonia an independent republic in a speech to the Catalan parliament last week. Mere seconds later he “suspended” the declaration to pursue “dialogue”.
Crowds of 30,000 people rallied near the Catalan parliament to watch Puigdemont’s speech.
David Karvala of revolutionary socialist group Marx 21 told Socialist Worker, “Puigdemont announced independence and there was a massive cheer.
“People couldn’t really believe it, some people were crying.
“Just seconds later he announced he was suspending it. The feeling in the street was disappointment. People felt betrayed.”
Rajoy gave Puigdemont until Monday of this week to “clarify” whether or not he had declared independence, then until Thursday to withdraw it if he had. Puigdemont responded with more evasion in a letter to Rajoy on Monday—which Rajoy promptly spurned.
Puigdemont’s stalling didn’t appease Rajoy or win any support from his allies in the European Union. But it ran the risk of demobilising the movement and handing Rajoy the initiative.
After Puigdemont’s retreat, unions cancelled their calls for further strikes. The only major demonstrations last week were those for Spanish unity.
Puigdemont is under pressure in the Catalan parliament, where his minority administration relies on the support of the anti-capitalist CUP.
Mireia Boya, head of the CUP group of MPs, warned that it could break with his government if he doesn’t reinstate the declaration of independence.
But parliamentary manoeuvres are no substitute for mass mobilisation. The protests to free the political prisoners must be the start of a new round of strikes and civil disobedience.