News from the debt crisis in Spain and the rise of a global response
The 14N strike again awakens debt Europe
Por DIAGONAL English

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]




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