Socialist Worker

Mass protests and strikes for democracy in Catalonia

by Andrew Nicoll in Catalonia
Issue No. 2677

Catalonia demonstration October 2019

Mass protests have filled the streets (Pic: @cupnacional on Twitter)


Mass strikes and huge street demonstrations have swept Catalonia in response to brutal sentences imposed by the Spanish supreme court on leading pro-independence figures.

These sentences included 13 years in jail for Oriol Jonqueras, the Catalan deputy president, and nine to 12 years for others.

A general strike brought much of Catalonia to a standstill on Friday. Although it was called by two minority trade union federations, large swathes of Catalan workers answered the call. On the same day there were mass demonstrations in the major cities.

In Barcelona, over 500,000 people took part in the demonstration. Feeder marches travelled miles on foot from provincial Catalan towns. They blocked 20 roads before pouring into the capital.

Sizeable contingents of organised workers joined the demonstration including Barcelona dockers and firefighters, workers who had played a significant role during the independence referendum in 2017.

In Girona, which has a population of 100,000, an estimated 45,000 people marched.

Students

The general strike and demonstrations concluded a week of mass protests. Students struck and occupied buildings in numerous universities throughout Catalonia including the University of Barcelona, the Universitat Politecnic de Catalunya and the University of Girona.

Taking a leaf out of the books of the pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong, demonstrators occupied the Barcelona El Prat airport resulting in thousands of cancelled flights.

Many of these protests were met with vicious attacks from the police, not only the Spanish national forces but also the regional Catalan force.

A young protester lost an eye during the airport protest when the police fired rubber bullets. The police also went on the rampage on the streets of Barcelona, lashing out at protesters including people involved in sit-down actions.

Right wing politicians such as Albert Rivera of Ciudadanos and leaders of the Popular Party (PP) have tried to claim that the violence has been caused by the protesters. They have called on the PSOE Labour-type government to reintroduce direct rule in Catalonia.

Scandalously, the interior minister of the Catalan government, Miquel Buch, has been defending the police’s actions.

Barcelona dockworkers joined the strike

Barcelona dockworkers joined the strike (Pic: @CataloniaHelp2 on Twitter)


Pablo Iglesias of the Podemos movement has expressed solidarity with the prisoners, But he insisted, “Everyone will have to respect the law and accept the sentence.”

From his calls to “assault the heavens” when he launched Podemos in 2014, not even a distant memory remains.

The far-right party Vox has tried to mobilise against the movement and there have been several attacks on protesters by Nazi thugs, especially in Barcelona.

The police have done little to stop them and instead focused on attacking the protesters.

But Catalonia has not stood alone. Encouragingly, there have also been mobilisations outside of Catalonia, most notably in the Basque Country, but significantly in Madrid, Valencia, Granada and Seville. Many of these protests also met with brutal police attacks.

The fourth Spanish general election in four years is set for 10 November. PSOE is leading in the polls while the PP is about 5 percentage points behind and Vox on around 10 percent of the vote.

The recent mobilisations have reignited enthusiasm for the struggle after a long lull and involved layers far beyond the traditional independence movement. It’s vital that the left ditches the failed strategy of building cross-class electoral blocks with the Catalan right such as Buch, Instead it needs to forge links between the struggle for independence and fundamental social change from below.

Such a strategy would offer a completely different vision of an independent Catalonia and broaden the movement’s appeal to include sizeable numbers of the Spanish-speaking working class.

For further background see the article by the socialist Marx21 group here

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