The ruling Spanish Socialist Party's (PSOE) idea of holding a cabinet meeting in Catalonia on Friday to make a show of normality has been a spectacular failure.
Thousands of people took to the streets of Barcelona and from early in the morning. Others blocked more than 20 major roads.
The grassroots Republic Defence Committees (CDR) had called to “knock down the regime” and spoken of emulating France's Yellow Vests movement who, on the other side of the border, have been carrying out their own road blockades.
There were columns of marches from different parts of Barcelona, all aiming to get to the site of the cabinet meeting. Roger, a CDR activist from the working class area of Nou Barris, told Socialist Worker, “‘Nobody could say the cabinet meeting has taken place normally and without incident. The Catalan people have taken to the streets and made themselves felt.”
Anna, an activist in the CDR in Girona and member of left pro-independence CUP, described for Socialist Worker her experiences on Friday morning's road block of the main motorway to France. “About 500 of us met at 6am and we barricaded the road with tyres. At midday, 15 police vans arrived. They shoved us and hit us with batons to make us move. People were shouting, ‘The Mossos [Catalan police] are occupation forces too’.”
Marie from the revolutionary group marx21 said that in Barcelona, “Hundreds of us pushed the police cordon to get closer to the venue hosting the cabinet meeting. The police charged against us but we stood our ground. They fired rubber bullets at us.”
A crowd of several thousand people protested near Barcelona's Franca rail station.
The inauguration of new PSOE prime minister Pedro Sanchez in June was supposed to mean a change from the repressive policies of the former conservative PP government of Mariano Rajoy.
Rajoy oversaw the brutal crackdown on voters in the October 2017 independence referendum and the implementation of the Spanish Constitution's Article 155. This dismissed the elected Catalan government, saw scores of arrests and forced fresh elections, which in December last year delivered another pro-independence majority.
While there have been some superficial changes under Sanchez, the main elements of Article 155 remain in place. Nine leading pro-independence figures reman in prison while other political leaders are in exile across Europe.
Most basically, the right of the Catalan people to decide on independence remains blocked.
Sanchez has oscillated between conciliatory gestures and succumbing to pressure from the right. His decision to meet with Catalan president Quim Torra on Thursday, presented by the Catalan parties as a meeting of equals, was viciously criticised.
The PP’s new leader Pablo Casado said, “Sanchez has betrayed the Spanish nation.”
The right wing party Ciudadanos's Albert Rivera said that if Sanchez wasn't willing to implement article 155 to again dismiss the Catalan government “he should call a general election now and clear the way for those who are”.
And Santiago Abascal from the far-right VOX, which made an electoral breakthrough in the Andalusian elections earlier this month, tweeted it was “one of the most infamous days in Spain’s history. Nothing will be unpunished. We will seek accountability.”
In this context, the holding of the Spanish government meeting in the centre of Barcelona was seen by many Catalans as a provocation.
This feeling was reinforced by the announcement that the central government would bring a mass presence of Spanish police for a special security operation. It echoed the deployment 10,000 Spanish police to stop last year's referendum.
Given this background, the protests on Friday went beyond the independence movement, including people from across the left who oppose repression and defend democratic rights.
Barcelona firefighters who were protesting against cuts and groups of them joined the CDR protests and stood between police lines and protesters.
The Catalan movement is recovering after it was thrown into disarray last year in the face of repression and the failure of the left to put forward an alternative strategy to the vacillations of the right.