Social Rights

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10 de Jul 2014

By Jordi Blanchar (@maqui_tuits), photography by Sergi Bernal | Originally published by The Occupied Times.

“The day after the Can Vies eviction, the neighbours got up as if we were suffering from the amputated limb syndrome. At the moment, the pain deriving from the loss of an essential part of our body is unbearable. They have taken away from us a place where many of us met for the first time and learnt how to self-organise, where we enjoyed small victories and coped with defeat, where we put mutual aid into practice and learnt to become active in politics. Can Vies has been an autonomous space which has transformed us into the heterogeneous community we presently are.”

These are the opening words of the communiqué released on May 27 from La Ciutat Invisible, a cooperative based in the Sants district of Barcelona. Can Vies had been violently evicted the day before by several units of the Mossos d’Escuadra – the Catalan police force – after 17 years of experimenting with autonomy and nurturing practices of self-management.

The CSA Can Vies has been an Autonomous Social Centre (hence the acronym CSA) since it was squatted in 1997. It is situated in Sants, a predominantly working class district away from the cleansed and tourism-centred areas of downtown Barcelona. The building itself and the land where it sits are property of the Metropolitan Transport of Barcelona (TMB), a company owned by the city’s Council. Throughout its existence Can Vies has had a strong link with workers organisations, first as an outpatients clinic for the municipal transport workers, and then as the headquarters of the local branches of the CNT and CGT anarcho-syndicalist unions. In 1997, as a continuation of this historical legacy, the building was taken over by an assembly composed of squatters, activists and local neighbours, with the aim of setting up a self-organised social centre that would have deep roots in the local community.

The Social Centre’s history is not only full of symbolic capital but it is also an example of continuous evolution; from its beginnings with a marked ‘autonomist squat’ identity, to gradually opening up to the local community by forging links with many other groups and platforms active in the area, thus increasingly enjoying widespread social backing and legitimisation. With an antagonistic and confrontational stand against the neoliberal city model, and with a clear commitment to collective action towards positive social change, the project’s primary focus has always been the defence of the local community and struggles for the ‘right to the city’ against gentrification, privatisation and the enclosure of public space.

It is, therefore, not a coincidence that at the time of its eviction the Social Centre played host to over 50 groups and projects. These ranged from the production of a regular local alternative publication called La Burxa to groups engaged in traditional Catalan popular culture, and from language lessons to rehearsing studios for music bands. At the same time, Can Vies has been an active participant in countless campaigns and struggles, as well as organising regular gigs, film-screenings, fund-raising activities, theatre and performances, and a regular popular kitchen. It also offered a home to many groups organising around feminism, LGBT, antifa, anti-repression, anti-gentrification and anti-capitalism struggles, to name just a few.

Given this history and Can Vies’ deep roots in Sants, it is highly surprising that when the City’s government sent the police to attack the Social Centre – at midday on Monday May 26 – they imagined they were ‘only’ evicting an activists’ squatted building. But it is perhaps for this same reason that, in a clear show of complete arrogance and authoritarianism, they did not only storm the building but they also started to demolish it straightaway, as if history itself and years of building autonomy from below could be quickly brushed off at the authorities’ whim.

Can Vies is perhaps a unique example of cohesion and correspondence between the local community and the social movements active in the Sants neighbourhood, and the City Council and police authorities should have known this. Their attitude shown towards the Can Vies project, and their general mode of governance focused on selling off the city to the global tourism industry, city developers and corporate investors clearly shows a great degree of ignorance and disregard towards the City they govern. As Gala Pin, a local activist, stated hours after the eviction: “If the district councillor and the mayor of the city can’t predict what would happen if the centre was attacked, then they clearly don’t know their city and have no capacity nor capability to govern it”.

It is in this context that the popular reaction to the attack on Can Vies’ political and social project, and to the partial demolition of the building, can be viewed. Even the Social Centre’s assembly has admitted that they did not expect such levels of resistance seen in the streets of Sants during the days and nights following the eviction. Solidarity demonstrations and actions also quickly spread to other districts of Barcelona, as well as in many other towns and cities across Spain and beyond.

During that initial week of daily demonstrations and protests that gathered thousands of people, and which often ended with burning barricades and clashes with the police, over 70 people were arrested – two of which were preemptively sent to jail, and around 200 injured. The Sants district effectively became a militarised zone with hundreds of police stationed in the area and a police helicopter continuously hovering over the neighbourhood, thus increasing the tension and the generalised sense of outrage. At the same time, several towns and cities across Catalonia and Spain called for solidarity demonstrations, thus exponentially increasing the #EfecteCanVies (the Can Vies Effect).

On Friday May 30, Barcelona Council suddenly declared that any further demolition of Can Vies would be suspended. This was seen as an initial victory in the collective defence of the Social Centre, and perhaps, the fact that the huge bulldozer that had been brought in to demolish the building was set on fire during the second night of riots has something to do with the Council’s decision?

Can Vies quickly reacted to this new situation by calling for the retake of the building, and for a weekend of active reconstruction that would focus on clearing the rubble left by the partial demolition the building. They called for the neighbourhood to gather on the morning of Saturday 31 to start “collectively rebuilding what the Council had destroyed”. Hundreds of people turned up, and by the end of the day Can Vies had effectively been retaken.

A citywide demonstration was also called for that Saturday evening, which saw columns from several districts of Barcelona marching towards the meeting point in the city centre. This was not only seen as a clear attempt to bring the ‘Can Vies Effect’ into the centre of town (the symbolic site of power) but it also meant allowing some breathing space to the Sants neighbourhood, whose streets had already seen a week full of daily confrontation. Up to 20,000 people answered the call, and, in a clear show of force, they demonstrated through the main tourist areas of downtown Barcelona behind a huge banner reading “Building Alternatives, Defending the Neighbourhoods”, even though the police operation was one of the biggest seen in Barcelona’s recent history.

On Monday June 2, the City Council’s degree of improvisation became apparent once more when they announced that they were prepared to stop the eviction and allow Can Vies to retake the building on a temporary basis (between 24 and 30 months) and under some bureaucratic conditions. In response to the evolving situation, Can Vies called the whole neighbourhood to attend an assembly on Wednesday 4, where hundreds of people discussed the latest developments. The Assembly decided to reject the Council’s ‘offer’ stating that Can Vies had already belonged to the community for many years, and that they did not need the City authorities to legitimise this fact. They stated that, in fact, it was the Council’s actions which brought a long collective process to a standstill and that they should leave and let the project “resume in peace”. At the time of writing, the rubble of the demolished annex has already been cleared, and several groups of people have been working on a daily basis to rebuild the Social Centre. Further assemblies have been called and new working groups are being set up. Even a new issue of La Burxa has already been produced and distributed in the neighbourhood, and a #RefemCanVies (Remake Can Vies) crowdfunding campaign has been launched to fund the reconstruction of the building, and to cover the legal costs resulting from the eviction and the defense of those arrested in the protests.

Only time and people’s resolve will determine what the future holds for Can Vies, but what seems clear is that the political and social project already escapes the four walls of the building that the City Council tried to demolish. Barcelona’s authorities should perhaps ask themselves why a community with such a strong social fabric goes from a long established experience of self-management to the barricades for five consecutive nights. One possible answer might be found in the profound and generalised malcontent that has been taking root in society during the last few years, but probably also in the fact that the collective political subject demands respect and it is not getting any from those in power.

Updates and more information can be found here: #EfecteCanVies / @SomCanVies / @CanViesViu / Can Vies Website / Wikipedia


25 de Mar 2014

By Belén Gopegui / translated by Christine Lewis

The expression “to do the paperwork” used to be common in government departments to describe the process by which an idea is put into practice. For example, if someone proposed opening lending libraries all night, the paperwork would explain how this would be done, the staff necessary and where they would come from, how expenses would be covered, etc. This comes to my mind because political party programmes are more like a list to Father Christmas: wishes, more wishes and debates about the wishes. But not much paperwork gets done any more. And I think what we need today are less debates about what we want and more about how to achieve what we want.

César Rendueles has written “today, the aspirations of ordinary people are profoundly subversive: set up a home, look after our family and friends, learn a trade, be respected by our peers, learn and grow as free (a word I need to see in print) citizens”. Whether we accept this or another programme, we should insist it be universal, at least (a serious “at least”) throughout the country governed. How can this be done? The last time the PSOE came to power, they did so promising the creation of 800,000 jobs, but they did not say how and they did not create them. And here are my specific hows: Is growing as free citizens compatible with having to pay for health (an essential battle has been won in Madrid but the health privatisation war is still being waged) and education which in some cases offer more opportunities? How can you be free if you cannot afford these opportunities? How will a truly public network of instruction and care (including the dentist) be established at all levels? Where does the capital come from? How is it accumulated?

I associate this with a recurring discussion regarding the limits of humour. Perhaps the discussion could be posed another way: What are the actual limits? What is never the object of a joke? We rarely laugh about the surplus value we obtain from others; occasionally we laugh about the surplus value obtained from us by others. What are the political parties going to do with surplus value? How?

[This article was originally published in Spanish on March 5th, 2014]

27 de Mar 2013

by Steve Horn

Like in Spain, the megaphone is loud within U.S. elite circles to ram through austerity measures.

Photo: Steve Rhodes

The strongest example of this is a corporate-funded front group by the name of “Fix the Debt”, run by hedge fund manager and former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury under Republican President Ronald Reagan, Peter Peterson. It’s staffed by a bipartisan cadre of politically-connected flacks who, to quote the late legendary comedian George Carlin, are “coming for your social security!”, as he exclaimed in his diatribe about the false promise of the “American Dream”.

The corporate-funded “Fix the Debt” maintains willing executioners of its agenda on both sides of the political aisle. President Barack Obama, the bulk of the Congressional members of the Democratic Party of which he is the de facto leader and the Republican Party are holding hands in agreement on cuts of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

The Fight-Back

Under this tough set of circumstances and inspired by the work of anthropologist David Graeber, author of the book Debt: The First 5,000 Years, enter Occupy Wall Street’s offshoot, “Strike Debt”, and its sub-campaign, the “Rolling Jubilee”.

“Debt is a tie that binds the 99%...We want an economy where our debts are to our friends, families, and communities — and not to the 1%,” proclaims “Strike Debt”’s website.

Its grievances are listed in a document titled, “The Debt Resistors’ Operations Manual” and a follow-up for the Manual is on the way, according to campaign spokesperson, Laura Hanna.

Targeting the Corporate Health Care System

Strike Debt’s current efforts hone in on the uniquely corporate-controlled U.S. health care system. The campaign’s main message: health care should be a “given” in society, not something people should be coerced into debt to pay for. This has happened under ObamaCare, empowering the for-profit health care industry.

“The for-profit health care industry benefits a few at the expense of the rest of us.The truth is that insurance giants and investors are reaping the profit while the rest of us spend our lives hoping we don’t get sick,” Hanna told Periódico Diagonal.

Cutting to the Heart of How the System Works

More broadly, “Strike Debt” has taken the form of a “Rolling Jubilee.” The Jubilee, defined as “an event in which all debts are cancelled and all those in bondage are set free” - with origins in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam - currently is targeting health care debt, but is also set to target education debt, housing debt and myriad other forms of coercion by way of debt.

In short, Rolling Jubilee has radical demands, cutting to the heart of functionality of the global finance capital itself and screaming “Enough!” in defiance.

“Rolling Jubilee has opened a space for conversation and education, which is very inspiring.” Astra Taylor, a filmmaker and writer involved in Strike Debt and Rolling Jubilee told Periódico Diagonal. “People are now discussing these facts all over. But awareness is nothing without action. So Strike Debt, and everyone else concerned about these issues, must seize the opportunity Rolling Jubilee creates and transform awareness into aggressive political pressure.”

[This article was published also in Spanish on March 26th, 2013]

21 de Mar 2013

Mari Otxandi
Translated by Rob Dyas

Marin Ledun was made redundant from his job as an investigator at France Telecom. He has written the book Perros de Porcelana (Porcelain Dogs) about his time at the company. We talk to him about the modern workplace and its connection to our lives. 


Marin Ledun, 37 years old, worked for seven years as an investigator in France Telecom (Orange). His time with the company ended in 2007 when the privatization of the company, brought into effect in 1998, was beginning to fundamentally change the internal personnel management approach within the organisation. An aggressive cost cutting strategy called the NExT plan was in course during 2006, attempting to deteriorate working conditions to such an extent that workers were psychologically pressured into resigning. Six years after the introduction of NExT, around 60 employees of the company have committed suicide. French public opinion has turned on this "tidal wave of suicides" to condemn modern management practices and the sufferring they cause. In July 2012, the CEO of the company was placed under investigation for "psychological harassment". This is the first time in history that a CEO of a multinational will face such charges in a court of law. Ex-employee, Marin Ledun is now a writer of black novels and in one of his works, Porcelain Dogs, he describes his experiences there with the action set in a call centre. 
In your novel, Porcelain Dogs, the protagonist, a workplace doctor, cures the ailments of the characters but is also in a privileged position to analyze the company world in its entirety.
The characters that can talk about the modern day company are few. To understand a little of the mechanisms of suffering at work, interconnected with the new labour organisations, the new management methods, you need a certain familiarity with medicine, psychology, the psychodynamics at work, the sociology of these organisations, etc. Although it´s very rare for a work doctor to be taught the workings of these subjects, I have tried to construct the character that would know most about such things. Maybe I "over-invest" in her an understanding of the question, but this is so that she can testify as to how it works, relations between people, what is going on in their heads and details about the workings of the company machine.
Medical reports give the story a rhythm. They allow the reader to take breath and characterise, from my point of view, a certain kind of dehumanisation because of their cold and distant nature.
 The idea of these reports was to remind us that the company is not what the protagonist lives, this kind of empathy that she has for the people, the human relations that exist despite everything. What predominates is the clinical manner, really cold, in which men and women are seen as numbers, statistics, like a calculation of "symptoms". And above and beyond a certain number of serious symptoms, it is decided that it is not profitable. Everything must be input into Excel spreadsheets. My intention was to remind that the company was of this type, really cold, very mechanical. The initial idea of Perros de Porcelana could be summarised like this: there exists the fiction characterised by the doctor, and there is exists the reality, the reports. And each time we enter a report, we enter into reality.
 Why the process of dehumanisation of the people in the company? 
 That is due to the dehumanization mechanisms already established in individuals in general society. The corporation is a product of a number of processes; the quality control processes  that appeared in the ´80s and ´90s for example, and, something on which I place much emphasis because of their symbolic quality: the periodic employee evaluation or personal development interview. It is the mechanism par excellence for commodifying the individual, made up of three very important elements to which the individual will be reduced: knowledge (training received), "know-how" (experience acquired) and the personal development / evaluation interview, which entails a new element that consists of the entirely arbitrary measurement of something that does not exist known as "behavioural targets". This can mean anything and is absolutely impossible to measure. 
 There are many things included here that cannot be measured, quantified, but they use them specifically because of this, because this allows them to subjugate the individuals and produce a kind of double mechanism: control of the people - direct control that allows for the "tightening of screws"; if extra pay depends on the interview then the workers are obliged to play the game - and auto-control - the individual internalises all these mechanisms so that they can better anticipate them. They are destructive mechanisms.
Does work still represent an instrument of socialisation?
From the moment work is no longer perceived as something collective. when it is converted into a purely individual act, with individual trajectories and mechanisms, then, necessarily, it will no longer have any socialisation function. But if one considers that work is not limited to the company, which is itself also precisely a mechanism of socialisation and of life, then one may say that the unemployed too work, and much more: when someone does "no work", that is work in the salaried sense of the term, they are still working nevertheless. Someone who decides to detach themselves from the world of work and live simply from their small-holding in self-sufficiency, is working. They are not working in the tripalium sense, a torture instrument, in the salaried sense, exploitation etc., but they are working. And in this sense, work remains an instrument of socialisation. There are those that are militantly opposed to the notion of work but, in the end, they are working. It´s simply that they do not have a salaried job. They have rejected by choice this subjugation, or sometimes because they have no other option.
What is the crux of this subjugation?
The question of subjugation is laid out in the novel and I planned to include it from the outset. Whilst I was contracted to France Telecom in 2004, my purpose was to observe and begin to investigate the mechanisms of subjugation in the workplace. In the end I was caught and was forced to leave, and not on good terms, but once I had time to digest the situation, I remembered that this was however part of my initial objective.
The objective that I had planned was to work under the double mandate made up of the subjugation in work and subjugation in consumption. I set out on the principal that the two were entirely interconnected. It is because we take out loans, because we consume, that we are subjugated in the workplace. This is self evident, but typically the mechanisms of production and the mechanisms of consumption are analysed independently of eachother. Today, when we operate as workers, we are workers in work, in the office or on the production line, but we are also workers permanently situated in everyday life: in our fitted kitchen, with our dishwasher, our food processor, all the things we have bought because they supposedly simplify our lives so that we might work longer hours.
At the end of the novel, there is the sensation that we have assisted in the triumph of Fordism. 
It is exactly that. In fact, in the masterplans, it is predicted that the scientific organisation of labour will coincide with the scientific organisation of consumption. Historically this was not in the end viable because the Eastern societies were not yet prepared for such consumption as they have been since the ´60s. The plan was delayed somewhat but they´ve made up for lost time since then. The designers are somewhat cynical when it comes to these methods - or sometimes sincere which is even worse - they had predicted the use of these mechanisms. Meanwhile, they have gone about adding other things, such as unemployment, which is also organised scientifically and is an integral part of these two entities.
The Spanish press have highlighted a particular phrase of yours: "Rest or be free" 
This in fact is a quote from Cornelius Castoriadis. It is the idea of the somewhat personal aspect of the work of yesteryear: moments to reflect and formulate questions about our mode of being, the way we work, consume, all of this is itself part of work. It is even more than the job: it is essential. I´ll use an example from a case I was told about (maybe the figures are not correct): a study carried out by two psychiatrists on workers in an abattoir who were given three minutes to carve up an animal. Some technicians arrived one day and decided that the animal could be carved up in two minutes. The workers tried this and agreed that yes, it was possible. So from then on they did it in two minutes. And little by little symptoms such as depression, physical problems began to emerge.... Technically and physically, they were able to do the job in two minutes, but they were missing an unquantifiable minute, that corresponded to a minute of humanity, of respect for the animal that they had just killed, the contemplation of death. And, to rest or be free, is exactly that: they needed, at a given moment, that personal part of the job that was not quantifiable and was implicit in the initial calculation.
To rest or be free" is also to prefer not to see things, not intervene so as to avoid problems. 
To rest is to close ones eyes, for the purposes of general comfort, due to cowardice sometimes. In work, we have all experienced one day or another where somebody did not come to our aid when we were suffering an aggression in which they might have helped, but they do not do so because it is not in their interest. This is to rest. It is the antithesis of freedom, of the mechanisms of liberation, of aspirationvtowards collective and individual autonomy, as Castoriadis says. To rest is to allow things to play out by themselves. I do not implicate myself, I do not stir anything up, I do not join a union. In the end it is not worth it, afterwards I will have problems, I won´t receive bonuses. I will not vote because in the end it is pointless, but I don´t look for alternatives either and I don´t want to complicate my life being a militant, reflecting on other means of struggle. The traditional means of struggle, unions, politics, the traditional political parties etc, all this is obsolete, it is dying (and that´s the truth). What is more there are only extremists on the left, radicals, anarchists, libertarians, this thing or the other...So then I rest, I don´t do anything.
When you say that the political world should take on the subject of the world of work, what are you trying to say?
The politicians will not do it. The extreme left itself has not taken up the cause of the suffering that is going on at work which is, for me, a formidable lever to discuss all the themes: capitalism, globalisation, "collateral damage", as they call it. It´s a shame. From the moment there is even a single case of suicide due to working conditions in companies such as Renault or France Telecom, it is already too many. It is not just a private issue, it does not concern only the company, it should become political. We all have something to say. To begin with, the employees themselves that do not have this right over their instrument of work. They should be able to replace the shareholders, the capital, the general directors that are paid millions at a time to put in place whatever marketing strategy they like because there is "only" one person dead and because that falls within the budget of costs and quotas... At the moment of crisis in France Telecom, the director general, Didier Lombard, was only concerned with the deteriorating image of the company. It´s really scandalous.  
The fundamental thing is that employees re-appropriate their instrument of work, whether that be through a union or another route. How they go about this is something that should be collectively decided. And in these companies, the employees are in no position to do so, psychologically. In France Telecom, there are a certain number of deaths by suicide each year and there is no mobilisation, although there should be a revolution in the company. There are colleagues dying!
They rest, in one sense...
Not really. There is a physical consequence for them also: they are physically incapacitated to react. They are in a survival state. It should also be added that the company machine does all it can to ensure they are unable to react. This is why the issue needs to be politicised once more. It is us, the citizens, that should say collectively that there is a problem that concerns us all: this company is part of the society in which we live, we all use telecommunications. And this is related to all companies, large and small: they employ the same organisational models. Maybe France Telecom is a laboratory, but this concerns all companies. The people who are suffering in the workplace today, physically and / or mentally, are of all ages, at the end of their career or at the beginning, they may have very good salaries or might be paid peanuts, they might be experienced or not, generally they have a family life that is more or less happy...The condition of suffering at work is not that of the unionist, of 50 years old, the civil servant, depressive and alcoholic. It can happen to anybody. The mechanisms of suffering are generalised in the workplace. They are then lived out in very different ways: in some cases they translate into what is discussed in the novel, depression, suicides, murders etc. But on the whole, the situation could be summarised with the title of a book by a French work doctor: Not everybody died but all were affected.
By way of conclusion? 
The reply we can give as of today, which is the opposite of what we are told; the world of work is not failing just because the economy is going badly. It is failing because the work practices imposed upon us lead to its failure. This is my conviction. It is not viable on a human level. And, contrary to what some say, sometimes rather moralistically, those that have known work in the ´60s or ´70s, the more ancient ones, that are familiar with the more paternalistic companies, the company has really changed its mode of operating, radically, although we still have difficulty in measuring this.
To work on a production line today is certainly less difficult than in the era of Zola or in the ´20s or 30`s. The duration of work has been reduced, there are protections (that are now being removed in full view). It is ¨better¨ to work today than 100 or 150 years ago. But on the other hand, psychologically, working on a production line today is completely different from working on a production line 30 or 40 years ago. There is not the same solidarity, the same collectivism is not there. Before, these paradoxical orders that are given today did not exist, there was not the same policy of numbers, there was not the commodification of our "mental schedule", at work and in consumption, and all this has catastrophic consequences. It is imperative that we now think of work in another manner. //
Overtime without the log book
“I was talking with a union member from Peugeot who explained to me the moment in which they changed the way bonus payments were paid. Before, it was the same for everyone: the team was the important thing, the collective. Then they introduced the personal evaluations and the bonus payments were decided by what each person did individually. At the beginning this didn´t seem like such a bad thing to the workers because: ´In the end, when someone else isn´t pulling his weight, when I´m working harder, there´s no reason I shouldn´t be paid more than him, it isn´t fair to slow down the whole line´. But after some time, they began to notice the suspicion that had been implanted amongst them: the bonuses became a taboo subject, a kind of competition became prevalent amongst the workers, they suspected so-and-so of earning more bonuses...
And it is with these kind of very simple processes that they can introduce the mechanisms that in the end result in an entirely dehumanised company."
17 de Ene 2013

By Richard Crowbar / Translated by Rob Dyas and Susana Macías Pascua

The recovery of abandoned buildings to be used as social centres soars in Madrid. We talk to some of the activists of these new “free centres”.

Casablanca social centre / Photo: Olmo Calvo.

After the occupation of the Puerta del Sol during June 2011 and the initiatives of the 15M movement focused in the neighbourhoods, the occupation of abandoned buildings to be used as headquarters for social initiatives has soared in Madrid. Despite the continuous evictions, the number of “social buildings” has increased during this time from 10 to 18.

These kind of initiatives have emerged in both humble and affluent neighbourhoods such as Usera and Salamanca. Some time ago activists occupied a building La Osera in Usera, a working class neighbourhood. After 7 months of intense activity the activists were evicted from the building last July. In another example, the Salamanquesa project (which ended last May due to another eviction) developed in the affluent neighbourhood Salamanca. However, the project is still alive since a new building was opened up in Moratalaz in November.

“Now we find that the local people are much more involved in our activities”, said Silvia, one of the occupiers of an abandoned public school. This centre has large sport courts, kitchens and a canteen that has already been used as a conference centre. Such infrastructure is rare in the social centres in Madrid. The local meetings of the 15M assembly take place in this new building, something that was not possible in the former one. “This is a sign of the commitment of the people to the centre. In addition, a lot of kids use it, and I do not believe this is just because it was a school in the past”, Silvia says.

The social centre La Morada opened in Chamberi in late September following an initiative started by the 15M assembly of the neighbourhood. Although some of the activists had a pre-15M militant background (mostly the middle-aged), many of them were young militants who started their activism during the protest in May 2011. Remarkably, Chamberi is an upper middle class neighbourhood which generally follows the most conservative policies. In fact, the Partido Popular (right wing parliamentary party) obtained 62% of the votes in the neighbourhood in the last election. Obviously, this is the first self-managed social centre in the district.

Julia, who used to participate in the assembly at the Casablanca social centre in the Lavapiés neighborhood (evicted last September), states that “social centres existed before the 15M movement made them meeting points for working groups and the various assemblies that grow from such mobilisations”. This has provoked “a change in the profile of those that are now using social centres. Maybe this has opened the way for a new kind of social centre, much more open and inclusive. With less prejudices and less decisions taken a prori, there now exists a peoples movement in which the social centres are trying to participate, leading to a necessity for them to become more flexible and listen more”.

La Morada social centre / Photo: Álvaro Minguito.


With barely five years under its belt, the Patio Maravillas social centre – they call it a Multiuse Self-managed Space – could be considered a veteran. This project can be found in the Calle Pez, near one of the emblematic sites of the urban-politic polemic from Gallardon´s time as mayor of Madrid, the so called Triangulo TriBall (a gentrification experiment in Madrid). Both their sites have to date resisted successive attempted evictions and the transformation of the neighbourhood (the second of the two sites, evicted in 2011, is more a “subsidiary” located in an old local government building). The latter taking the form of the much lauded gentrification process whereby new tenants, with greater buying power, move in to displace the original population. Despite the difficulties, Cristina, one of the participants at the Patio, has noted “a growing legitimacy” of occupying as an activity. “The stigmatisation of these spaces is less than before. A much greater number of people consider the social centres as legitimate political subjects that have something to say and give to the city”, she believes. The Patio Maravillas could be considered a veteran with only 5 years behind it. It has resisted evictions and a transformation of the neighbourhood

Jota, one of those that participated in Hotel Madrid thinks that the opening created by the mobilisations on the 15th October 2011 from the abandoned hotel “served to jump-start multiple occupations which allowed for the establishment of social centres in other neighbourhoods”. In reference to the relation between the 15M movement and the social centres, he comments that both “have influenced each other reciprocally. The camp occupation of Sol (center of Madrid), made many of the principals (of occupied social centres) its own and thereafter the 15M has itself impacted on the dynamic of these centres and in the concept of occupation itself. Due to the movement, a whole sector of society that was not previously familiar with activism and militancy has now assumed these traits”. This activist stresses “an inclusive nature, media potential and the recuperation of public spaces as places of political participations” as the principal contributions of the movement. “With them, the social centres have been converted into an extension of the plaza”, he affirms.

A support network for social centres

Over the last few months a new space has emerged in Madrid called the Support Network for Social Centres. According to one of its participants, Álvaro, it involves“a bringing together of some of the social centres, based upon the acknowledgement of the diversity and autonomy of each social centre through, for example, the rejection of any all-embracing formula, such as a coordinating committee or a single communal positioning on issues”. At the moment, besides sharing experiences to resolve common problems, the network wants to work towards participatory research that highlights the role of the social centres in the transformation of the city.

Being an activity which is categorized as a crime in the Criminal Code since 1995, evictions and maintaining continuity of projects always pose a problem. Alvaro believes that “despite the fact that a social centre is being evicted almost every month, the number of them stays the same as others emerge. We have a double course of action in the network: dealing with the maintenance of the projects beyond the evictions and creating the conditions for the emergence of even more spaces”. He concludes that “there may even come the day when decreeing an eviction will be an unpopular measure and it will have a political cost ”.

Resistance to the Government Delegation drive

Threats from the Government delegate of Madrid have already translated into action on the ground: two social centres have been evicted in the last twenty days. On the 8th November, it was the turn of the Centro Social Okupado (Squat-CSO in the Spanish abbreviation) "16.0" in Malasaña (a neighbourhood in Madrid) and, on the 28th of the same month, CSO La Gotera in Leganés - a southwestern neighbourhood, 11 kilometres from Puerta del Sol, Madrid -  was removed.

Another of the veteran spaces within the social centre community in Madrid, La Traba, opened in 2007, announced at the end of November that had been summoned to appear at civil trial, which would take place the 10th of December. Unable to collect the 60.000 € expenses to appear at court, the assembly decided not to attend and instead to accept the imminent eviction warrant.

On 12th October, in response to the Casablanca Social centre’s eviction, the same building that had hosted the original project was occupied under the name of Magerit Social Centre. Within hours a large crew of riot police appeared to evacuate the building. Gonzalo, a member of the Casablanca’s assembly, commented: “this quick eviction was a heavy blow for those who were intending to continue with the project”. In spite of these events, on the 17th of November, an announcement was made that a new building located in the Calle Mesón de Paredes had been taken (a property of the recently bailed-out entity Bankia). With major restoration works ahead, as Gonzalo also says, on this occasion the project will be carried out under the name of Raíces (Roots).

[This article was originally published in Spanish on December 17th, 2012]

11 de Dic 2012

By Belén Gopegui / Translated by Christine Lewis Carroll

There’s a demo at six pm. It looks like rain, you’re cold, you already went to Thursday’s demo and the ones before that. And what if you don’t go? On the screens you see the world continues, different people talk about what they’re doing; they remind you of the demo but they too carry on with their activity because it’s not easy to balance times, places and plans. If you don’t go, others will go for you and on other occasions you will go for them; the children need to be picked up, work needs to be finished, it’s windy. There are too many fronts to cover, too many days out on the street, but instead of thinking “And what if you don’t go?” you ask yourself “What if the others don’t go? What if nobody goes?” Something stronger than sadness hits you just at the thought of it.

The insurrection of the Commune of Paris took place on the 18th of March 1871. “Marx, who in September 1870 had labelled the insurrection as madness, treated it in April 1871, when he witnessed the popular and massive nature of the movement, with the close attention of someone who is participating in the great events that mark the way forward in the historic revolutionary world movement.” These are Lenin’s words in his introduction to Marx´s letters to Kugelmann. Marx writes in one of those letters “the bourgeois rogues of Versailles proposed the alternative to the Parisians: accept the challenge of the fight or surrender without fighting”.

Someone on your screen is requesting rainproof gear for the people camping outside the Bankia headquarters, victims of mortgage debts. They have decided they will not surrender without fighting. You could retweet the message as others will, but some will take umbrellas, rainwear, plastic covers to make a temporary shelter and thermos flasks with soup and coffee.

You are reminded of Brecht writing about a night shelter: “The snow meant for some men falls on the ground. But the world doesn’t change because of that.” However, marching to Parliament or surrounding a means of production or a financial institution to the dark, fearless rhythm of the batucada (not festive this time) is quite different from seeking shelter for the night: if you don’t go, if others don’t go, if we don’t go, the decisive moment when people in movement shorten the era of exploitation is further and further away.

[This article was originally published in Spanish on November 25th, 2012]

16 de Nov 2012

DIAGONAL Editorial notes / Translation: Rob Dyas

The European economic commissioner has made assurances that there is no need for Rajoy to make more cuts in 2013, this the same day that five countries within the EU executed their first joint general strike. The activities of the day represented a social response to the politics of austerity imposed upon millions of people in the euro zone. The day was brought to a close with the now familiar police harassment of protesters.

Businesses closed, businesses open or with the shutters just half open, empty or nearly empty, people without shopping bags and groups of ten or fifteen people waiting for the next march to link up with. Organised picnics on every open space. Groups of cyclists, of mothers, fathers and grandparents with shopping carts or with small children. Mercamadrid (food retail market) in complete stoppage, the industrial parks half empty and public transport on minimum service. Telemadrid (regional TV channel) “blacked-out” and public hospitals hung with hundreds of hand made signs against privatisation. Classic pickets mixed in with civil disobedience actions such as spontaneous road blocks. And police, lots of police.

These are the images from the morning of the 14N general strike, that together with a hundred other cities and localities (Barcelona, Valencia, Milan, Lisbon etc.) have shown the other side of Europe, a side that rebels against the payment of debt and the austerity measures. The EU felt obliged to make an appearance, in the form of the European Commission (EC) economic vice-president, Olli Rehn, to assure us that they will not be demanding more adjustment measures than those already presented by the government of Mariano Rajoy in the summer. Rehn also announced the delay until February of the next review of the Spanish deficit reduction.

The appearance of normality that the leaders of Europe have presented during this period of permanent shock from the crisis did not undermine the strikes success. Several hundred thousand people in the protests in Madrid, Barcelona, Seville and Valencia, amongst the more populated cities, – 800,000 in total according to the Interior Minister – attended the evening marches that terminated with police baton charges and a heavy riot police presence in several areas in the peninsula. The unions are in agreement that the attendance in Madrid alone was more than a million and in other cities they bypassed the figures of attendance seen in previous strikes.

In Italy, the scene was set in the morning by the massive demonstrations in Trieste, Milan and Rome. In some cases these ended with confrontations between protesters and police. In Portugal, where the strike was characterised by the high level of stoppages in the transport and industrial sectors, thousands of people surrounded the Congress opposite the San Bento Palace in Lisbon.

According to the UGT (union) estimates, of the 14 million people called to the general strike of he 14N, just five million went in to work. Amongst them are included two million people who were required to attend to comply with the minimum services agreed between the unions and the government in the various strategic sectors (administration, transport, health etc.).

As with the strike on 29th September 2010, the government has opted not to present the estimated figures of stoppages and, have instead chosen to publish details of electricity consumption on the day from the Spanish Electricity Network (along with a note to the press with details of the number of arrests). Considered one of the few reliable indicators of the impact of the strike, it showed that 84.2% of the electricity on a normal day was being used at 11am on the day of the strike. The collective Economists Against the Crisis spent the day explaining and qualifying this figure. Regardless of this, the information in the mass media pointed to a massive stoppage in the industrial sector, in schools and in transport.

The police security measures on the day of the 14N, with 4,500 officers in Madrid alone, was in the event overwhelmed by the variety and diversity of actions that took place across the state. From the classic pickets – confrontations led to 142 arrests before 10pm according to the Interior Ministry – to the lock-ins in hospitals (30 in Madrid, according to the Coordinadora Antiprivatización de la Sanidad – Anti-privatisation in Health Collective), bank offices or university faculties, or the road blocks created by bicycle pickets in cities such as Madrid, Seville or Valencia, or the expropriation of food by a feminist group in Barcelona. The general strike again shifted the matrix of power relations between the 1% and the 99%. In addition we are left with images of police attacks on the press and children and indiscriminate police charges against peaceful demonstrations.

[This article was originally published in Spanish on November 14th 2012]

28 de Sep 2012

By Madrilonia / Translated by Lara Hernández

On September 25, tens of thousands of people took the streets disobeying the state of emergency imposed by the Government. This text analyzes the significance of the protest.

Spanish Parliament surrounded by thousands of riot police to prevent the approach demonstrators. / Photo: Diego González.
They said we were going to take part in a coup. They said that behind us there was the far right, they lied in the media again and again, they threatened us, in all possible ways, saying that we would end up in prison, they brought 1400 policemen, and they identified and reported for criminal offence people who just gathered in a public park discussing the action. They tried to create fear as they had never done before… And the result was that tens of thousands of people took the streets disobeying the state of emergency imposed by the government. Today, media all over the world are talking about what happened in Madrid on 25S.

And we know that this is just the beginning.

Mariano Rajoy’s government is weaker than ever. It’s facing a threefold crisis which is getting deeper and deeper. First of all, a hard crisis of legitimacy in relation to citizenship, and not only among the tens of thousands who mobilized on 25S, but also among his own constituency. The government has absolutely no plans beyond insisting on the policy of cuts, always accompanied by a more intense and pointless repressive dynamic. We can easily see the symptoms of this growing lack of legitimacy, in the disproportionate response to the protests yesterday, the clandestine departure of the “honourable members of parliament” or the pathetic statements of most of our politicians. Let’s be clear, a government which is only sustained by the monopoly of violence is a weak government, dying, doomed.

Secondly, there lies a serious crisis of the regional model of State. Trapped between prostration to the troika (EU, ECB, IMF), which turns financial dictates into political impositions, and the dismemberment of the covenants between elites who held the sharing of power that embody the Autonomous Communities, the central government is just a mere scarecrow. It can hardly keep a certain unity of action with regional elites, as now it’s been shown with the “threat” of independence by CIU, who are able to mobilize (in a blatantly neoliberal and oligarchic project) much of the Catalan society. In this case, the weakness is not just that of the government, but that of the institutional arrangement as a whole, which we inherited from the Transition in the seventies, while this is showing us the need to build a new model of political and economic democracy.

Finally, the government has been unable to cope with the Troika and defend, in a much needed alliance with other countries of the periphery, the interests of its own people. In other words, the government has never stopped obeying the orders of the financial powers that constantly require a deepening in the social crisis. Within this framework, the only horizon lies in the imposition of recession and impoverishment on the majority of the population. Here we must remain vigilant, for surely on Friday or Saturday, at the very latest, we will know the cuts and privatizations required by the Troika as counterparts to the new bailout: reduction in unemployment benefits, increase the retirement age, public and common asset sales and new cuts in the rights of public workers. Today the risk premium has soared far above levels these days, in what may well be a reminder of the Troika by suspending the program of bond buying, that the policies imposed by finance are above any “concession” to the demands of the citizenship.

What we have experienced today in the streets of Madrid has been a first proof of the power of collective organization. We are at the beginning of a likely new cycle of demonstrations, which public employees or pensioners are yet to join massively. We must admit that the protest on 25S had a clear generational bias: a younger generation that has no housing, income, employment, hasn’t voted for the current 1978 Constitution, nor concedes any legitimate power to the agreements that have given shape to this model of State. However, it is to be expected that the series of measures that the government will surely approve will encourage many more to Siege the Congress once again. Since this is a political problem, our task remains to bring together the necessary social power to stop a dispossession that affects everyone.

Since this is a political problem, we have to get back to realize the same alliance that we lived in the July Days, where 15M, all kind of people from education and health workers to a crowd that went there with no more adjective that its own name, gathered together to indict the current constitutional system, the prevailing bipartisanship and the obsolete representative bodies. Democracy is something else.

Both in this country and in Europe, this new democracy is yet to be invented. We have finally come to a point where all the so-called Piigs countries find ourselves in pretty similar political, social and economical circumstances and, thus, the time is ripe for an alliance between the populations in these countries in order to reject the hardships imposed on us in the name of financial interests and enforced by an extremely short sighted German government. This way we can, certainly, shape together the future of a continent worthy of living in instead of the self destructive machine we are suffering now. The Madrid government delegation can say there were just 6,000 mobilized people, a ridiculously low figure, can still talk about us putting a coup or compare us with the Tejero coup in 1981, but their reality and ours are walking paths. Networking intelligence has its own ability to self-narrate and requires no mechanisms which “represent” it. This is a good example of the crisis of this form of State, which increasingly looks like a dictatorship. Therefore, we must shout again: we are not spectators, they do not represent us. 25S is finished.

Now the best is coming. The first step, today at 7pm and the next Saturday in Neptuno again, to show them that we go forward.

[This article was originally published in Spanish on September 26th 2012]

20 de Sep 2012

By Beatriz Bonete / Translated by Susana Macías Pascua and Rob Dyas

Unionist from rural Andalusia outlines the reason of the latest actions set up by his union.

DIAGONAL: How were these actions in the supermarkets concocted and what were your goals?

DIEGO CAÑAMERO: From the very moment the crisis was heralded in 2007, the Andalusian Workers Union (SAT in the Spanish abbreviation) decided not to stand aside, but to start a mobilisation to better inform public opinion. In 2008, we began to occupy the first banks: we occupied the Santander Bank’s branch in Seville. And then we went to Granada to take up a property company’s office; in Málaga we occupied the airport. We were in Seville occupying the AVE (high-speed train) and Canal Sur (regional TV channel), too. We went on general strike in the Sierra de Cádiz and Sierra Sur in Seville, and we also organized a few marches, and so on. In the second phase of the struggle we set out to connect with public opinion, unions and social movements in order to set up a struggle and sustain it over time. In addition, we agreed upon some other actions like the permanent appropriation of lands, protests, demonstrations and, among them, the expropriation of foodstuffs, essential items, both in protest and in order to highlight a wide ranging problem in Andalusian society, which is the fact that there are 350.000 families now with no social protection at all.

D.: How have you organized the latest actions?

D.C.: On 4th March, Asomonte was occupied; later on 24th July the lands of Somonte in Palma del Río and Las Turquillas in Osuna were also taken. On 7th August we carried out two actions, one in Mercadona in Écija and another one in Carrefour in Arcos (both of them chains of supermarkets), where some groups of people went in pacifically to expropriate a few trolleys filled with food to be donated to needy people. It was a symbolic gesture, obviously, because 350.000 families cannot be fed with eight trolleys of food: we would have had to come back the following day to fetch some more. The idea was to point out a problem for the Government to take measures, such us the consideration of the basic income as a solution. However, those kilos of lentils, rice, beans and those milk cartons have gone around the world. And now we find ourselves in the middle of the shooting range of the most reactionary bourgeoisie. But, on the other hand, we have also found ourselves surrounded by people who value and support our action; and we are raising a whole collective enthusiasm not only in Andalusia but also in many places within the Spanish state and Europe.

D.: What kind of actions are you considering from now on?

D.C.: Well, the marches are being a total success. The marches have been accused of being violent and people are said to fear them, but we have seen, for example, in Jimena (Jaén), how everyone was waiting for us and encouraged us down the street. The marches are raising the spirits of many people who see in them a public expression of the idea that everybody can join the fight. Every march will entail an action, as the ones in the supermarkets, pointing to the perpetrators of the crisis, be it banks, supermarkets, landowners, and so on. All of them are the true culprits of the backward state and underdevelopment of this land.

D.: The issue appears to be whether one speaks in terms of either ‘theft’ or ‘expropriation’.

D.C.: Of course, they talk about theft, but that is what bankers do. Because bankers steal, extort and then, the PP party or any government legalizes the theft. Four or five kilos of lentils can get us between two to five years in jail: just for 50 Euros in foodstuffs in each trolley. Seven comrades were arrested, charged with aggravated robbery, threatening behaviour and public disorder, which could mean two to five years’ imprisonment. If 50 Euros leads to five years in jail, how long should someone be imprisoned for taking hundreds of millions of Euros? There wouldn’t be jails or number of years for them to be condemned. We are waiting for the trials to come. They have also instituted judicial proceedings against [Juan Manuel] Sánchez Gordillo. He has asked for his parliamentary privilege to be revoked and to be judged as a common citizen. And if disciplinary proceedings are to be brought against him, let them be brought.

D.: You said the foodstuffs ‘expropriated’ were to be donated to needy people. However, it was published in the media that Food Bank did not accept them due to the way in which they had been obtained.

D.C.: We never offered anything to the Food Bank. What happens is that some people in this country manipulate information. We offered them to Corrala in Seville (recent building taken up by evicted people), to several families who had occupied some houses and had nothing to eat. In Sierra de Cádiz, we offered them to the city council of Espera and Puerto Real, to the Social Services and they all accepted them. We did not give them to anybody else. But what happens is that when the Food Bank, or people who are supporters of the PP party or are against our actions are asked about it, they say that they disagree with us.

[This article was published in Spanish on August 30th, 2012]

17 de Sep 2012

By Bernat Costa Reimondez (Sevilla Editorial) / Translated by Robert Dyas

Despite the recent media furore following the action of the Sindicato Andaluz de Trabajadores (Andalusian Workers Union), this is a kind of civil disobedience that is not unusual in Spain.

On 7th August, in a large comemercial building in Écija, Seville, several union members walked in with shopping trolleys and filled them with pasta, rice, chickpeas and other basic products. There were 10 trolleys in total. In Arcos de la Frontera, Cádiz, the same occurred. They passed by the tills; today, they decided, they were not paying. They are here to expropriate food for the families in the town most in need. They are labourers from the Sindicato Andaluz de Trabajadores (SAT - Andalusian Workers Union) that are hoping to bring to light the fact that there are families in Spain going hungry, that there are 1.7 million households with all family members unemployed. In Arcos de la Frontera, the Guardia Civil stopped them leaving with the goods. In Écija, a cashier had a panic attack.

In the latter case the unionists were successful and filled a van with ten trolleys of food thanks to a strategy of distraction. A similar strategy to that followed in another supermarket in the locality; a recognisable face stationed at the front of the store with megaphone in hand, namely Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo, mayor of Marinelda and member of the Andalusian Parliament. The food therefore reached the needy families in the Corrala Utopia, an apartment block in Seville occupied on the first anniversary of the 15M to re-house 32 families whose homes had been repossessed or were in imminent danger of being repossessed.

The day before, the SAT had notified the press that they were preparing a surprise action. As such they ensured the media reaction they were looking for was achieved. The day after the event, the Interior Minister came out “to play sheriff” according to Sánchez Gordillo. He ordered the arrest of the unionists involved and the police followed the orders: three unionists were detained. The mayor of Marinaleda also received a summons which was delivered to him an open space owned by the army that had been occupied by the SAT a couple of weeks before. They were accused of theft with intimidation with possible jail terms of two to five years. “It’s like the times of Franco, there’s no separation of powers”, the SAT claimed in relation to the behaviour of Fernandez Diaz, Interior Minister. The MP of the IU (Izquierda Unida – left wing parliamentary party) and SAT member Sánchez Gordillo has confirmed that the expropriations from large supermarkets will continue “until the Government guarantees by law that food be donated to the most needy families at least five days befote its expiry date.” Currently only 20% of the supermarkets comply with this measure according to members of the SAT.

Expropriation precedents

Six years have passed since the first of May when, as part of the protests organised by the May Day South in Seville, a group carried out a similar action based in the concept of “autoriduzione” (auto-discounts). This is a form of protest common amongst the autonomous movement in Italy that has been replicated in times of crisis in countries such as Argentina during the corralito (measures taken to stop a run on the banks such as freezing bank accounts).

In 2006 it was a group of poor people who expropriated a supermarket in the Andalusian capital. That action led to a trial in which the prosecutors demanded two years in jail for the accused. They were eventually acquitted. Javier Toret, who was charged, remembers that their defence lawyers were themselves from the SAT and the CGT (another union). On that occasion, Toret recalls, they chose a supermarket from the Plus chain that had sacked one of their workers for requesting a reduced timetable due to maternity pressures. The action was characterised by its media relations nature, with a reading of a manifesto by “the virgin of poverty”. The expropriation of a supermarket on May Day in Seville in 2006 concluded with the acquittal of all the accused.

A similar action was also carried out in the area of Nou Barris in Barcelona. On 19th December 2009, the Asamblea d’Aturats de Barcelona (assembly of unemployed peoples) filled up several trolleys in a supermarket of the Caprabo chain. At the tills they attempted to negotiate down the price and the response from the management was to call the Mossos d’ Esquadra (Barcelona police division). Three years after the event, three people remain charged with complicity in the action. The three were those that remained outside the line of the tills in the supermarket, two of which were identified by the Mossos. Their lawyer, Hibai Arbide, stated that the trial would take place in spring of next year despite there being video evidence that clearly shows the accused did not even participate in the action.

We have here then just three of the actions that, in the past six years, in various parts of Spain, have served to highlight the margins, abusive prices and working conditions in the major supermarket chains. The SAT, a union with much influence in Andalusian agriculture, say that they cannot understand that a basic food item that “costs 60 cents when collected from the fields, can be sold for 6 euros in a big supermarket”. They condemn the price of food which they say has been inflated by the great number of intermediaries that now operate between those that work in the fields and those that consume the final product. Meanwhile the actions of the SAT have now been copied in Mérida, where 50 members of the Colectivo la Trastienda y de la Plataforma por la Renta Básica (Backroom Collective and Platform for a Basic Income) attempted to remove several trolleys of basic foods from a Carrefour before being intercepted by the police.

Other actions by the SAT

March of the workers On the 30th August the fourth stage of the workers marches organised by the SAT began in Granada. In September they will take place in Malaga (3rd and 4th September) and Seville (5th, 6th and 7th September).

Eleven detained in La Caixa On the 27th of August, 50 members of the SAT carried out an action in La Caixa (bank) in the Puerto de Santa Maria (Cadiz). This was in protest at the bank’s demands on homeowners that were resulting in repossessions. During the protest, which took place during the union’s third workers march in Cádiz, eleven participants were arrested.

A day at the palace The SAT, the self-proclaimed “most legally persecuted union in Europe”, also occupied the area of land known as Las Turquillas (land owned by the military) for three weeks before being removed by the Guardia Civil. On the 21st Augut two hundred people also occupied a hotel in the palace of Moratalla en Hornachuelos (Córdoba) for several hours.

[This article was published in Spanish on August 30th, 2012]

12 de Ago 2012

By Diego Sanz Paratcha / Translated by Sarah Pilar Lacobucci y Esther Ortiz Vázquez

On April 20th the Spanish Government, with the highest number of seats in the Parliament, passed a law that meant the end of the universal medical assistance in Spain whose National Public Health System was attending freely everybody without regarding its legal situation in the country. Such law stipulated that from September 1st onwards illegal immigrants must be out of the public hedge, seemingly to save € 1,500 million. Previously, there was a Government’s announcement of a budget cut of €10 billion both in health and education to meet the goals on controlling deficit set up in the Eurogroup´s Tax Treaty. A few months later, in the middle of August, the Government made another €5 billion cut more in these areas public as part of a plan proposed to the European Union on Friday August 3rd.

The enforcement of the Royal Decree will leave tens of thousands of people who lack Spanish working papers without health care. This image shows a gathering of domestic workers demanding naturalization. / Photo: Olmo Calvo.
N.O., a resident of the Madrid neighborhood Moratalaz that participates in the community association Apoyo, has just barely been able to maintain her free diabetes treatments. With less than four weeks remaining until all people with irregular legal status lose their free health care, N.O. finally has an appointment to renew her residency card this very week, and thus her access to insulin.

According to what the association Apoyo reported last week, the Spanish administration did not accept the paperwork for the request of a renewal of her residency permit after, in 2011, N.O. made a mistake that cost her papers after 25 legal years of residency in the Spanish state: she filled out the wrong form for the request of her first permanent residency card.

The Royal Decree act, approved on the 20th of April by Mariano Rajoy’s administration, establishes that as of the 1st of September health care coverage will no longer be given to people in Spain who do not have residency permits or work permits given by the state. According to a disclosure given today by the newspaper El País, the ministry ordinance that developed this Royal Decree will in the end approve medical care for those immigrants in an irregular situation who pay €710 (1864.80 for those over 65 years old) by means of the approval of an agreement with their autonomous administration.

Apoyo decided not to wait until the ministry order was published nor until the deadline set by the Royal Decree was met, so they began a campaign to obtain the insulin that would temporarily resolve N.O.’s problem. Actions against the RD 16/2012 are also being taken by the institutional sphere (Asturias, the Basque Country and Andalucía have announced that they will disobey its orders) and even professionals: at least 823 doctors have pledged themselves as conscientious objectors to the RD in the register of the Sociedad Española de Medicina de Familia y Comunitario (the Spanish Society of Family and Community Medicine, or semFyc). The citizen campaign Yo Sí Sanidad Universal, which will present itself in September, has also encouraged initiatives of civil disobedience and mutual support, which can now be accessed on their webpage.

People Party acknowledges that expelling immigrants is the real goal of this measure

The People Party’s deputy spokesperson at the Parliament, Rafael Hernando, has explained during the Tuesday´s evening that the aim of the so-called covenants to give medical assistance to illegal migrants on paying €710 in advance is to prevent Spain of being “the paradise of illegal migration”.

According to El País newspaper, this statement clashes with the goal of the measure proclaimed previously that will be included in a ministry act developed within the Royal Decree 16/2012. This latest, under the title of “Urgent measures to guarantee the National Health System´s sustainability”, was expected for the Government to save €1,500 million due to the limitations to access to public health.

Medical associations as well as immigrant collectives ​have reported the risk for the public health that the measure could mean insomuch as might lead to the emergency department collapse and help to the widespread of contagious diseases. Thus this they consider that in the medium term saving by using these restrictions is not real.

During a press conference held at the People Party’s headquarter Hernando has cleared up any possible doubt since in his opinion “what illegal immigrants have to do is come back to their countries”. The deputy spokesperson wanted to make quite clear that “no person in this country, either an illegal or a legal migrant, is going to be deprived of emergency assistance”. The People Party’s representative also remarked that he agrees on “some of the reflections made by the prior Government” on immigration, possibly referring to the latest Zapatero’s Government Immigration State Secretary, Ana Terrón, about the increasing “exceptionality” of those mechanisms for migrants without legal status in Spain legalization.

[This article was originally published in Spanish on August 7th, 2012]


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