PORQUÊ EM ESPANHA? STRUGGLES SOUTH OF THE PYRENEES #archive

Muito se tem falado nestes dias dos recentes confrontos em Madrid. O que une Portugal e Espanha actualmente são os sinais dos tempos económicos, pois as realidades e modelos de contestação social entre os dois países são bem díspares. 

Segue-se um excerto da revista inglesa Do or Die (nº9, Dezembro de 2000) que dá algumas explicações sobre a origem e desenvolvimentos de movimentos autonomos (leia-se sem filiação partidária e de base) no Estado Espanhol.



STRUGGLES SOUTH OF THE PYRENEES 


After decades of fascist dictatorship in the Spanish state, there was a huge upturn in struggle in the 1970´s. Popular movements and autonomous workplace activity, strikes and mass demos were eventually defused by the 'democratic consensus' of the political parties and unions in the transition to constitutional democracy. In recent years the level of struggle has looked tame compared with the upheavals of the 70s, but in some areas Important social and ecological battles are being fought. 

After the transition from fascism to democracy, the Spanish state joined the Common Market; this young democracy becoming integrated into the European and world markets with all the consequent economic restructuring and flexibilisation of the labour market that this entailed. Today the Spanish economy has been transformed into a services economy heavily dependent on tourism and commerce. All the while the dominant ideology of modernization is rammed down peoples throats: "how wonderful it is to live in a modern European country!" 

Against this, the squatted social centers movement (especially in Catalonia and Madrid) is flexing its muscles in the face of repression under the new Penal Code. Struggles are going on in many cities against property and land speculation as neighborhood and environmental groups team  up to fight urban sprawl and huge infrastructure projects. There are the continuing campaigns against the Itoiz dam, industrial wind power plants and the TAV high speed rail link between Madrid and Paris. Also noteworthy are the ongoing campaigns of sabotage against the savage exploitation of the ETT´s (Empresas de Trabajo Temporal-temporary work agencies). And in several Spanish cities there have been "Weeks of Social Struggle" -an attempt to unite the different social movements. But before looking at the contemporary landscape of struggle in the Spanish state it's worth briefly turning the clock back a quarter of a century to set today's movements in a historical context.. 



Autonomous Proletarian Organistion 


In many countries around the world, the 70´s saw a major upswing in class struggle; in the Spanish state, this coincided with and hastened the decay of the Francoist regime which had triumphed in the 1936-39 civil war and its transition to dernocracy. Francoism was no longer the most adequate regime for the management of capitalism in the Spanish state, and democracy was now necessary to guarantee continued bourgeois control over society. 

Capitalism was severely shaken by the outbreak of wildcat strike movements, especially in the years 1976-78, which were organized autonomously by workers outside and against the unions and political parties of the opposition. The assemblies movement threatened to unite the working class and reach beyond demands for wage increases and shorter working hours to the point where the continued existence of wage labour itself might be put in question. Certainly the assemblies contained within themselves this potential: "by adopting as fundamental principles, beyond any possible discussion, 'All power to the assemblies of the working class' and 'Everything within the assembly, nothing outside it', they took the initiative that could lead to the revolution that must leave nothing exterior to it". 

The assemblies were mass meetings of thousands of workers, which then elected recallable delegates to form strike committees and to liase with other workplaces in struggle. In Madrid 320,000 workers primarily in the construction and metal-working industries were involved in struggles galvanized by the autonomous movement of the workers; there were big strike movements in Baix Llobregat, Málaga, Barcelona, the shoe-makers industry in Alacant (Alicante), the ceramics industry in Castelló (Castellón) in Valência, Gava near Barcelona, Valladolid and many other places. The assemblies movement extended beyond the workplace, with neighborhood assemblies forming their own subversive associations, particularly in the Basque Country. 


Given the near-insurrectionary situation that existed, with proletarian mobilizations spreading to the streets and riots in Cádiz, Málaga, Vigo, Gasteiz (Vitoria) in the Basque Country, and elsewhere, and with looting and sabotage attacking the basic element of capitalism-the commodity, who was to save the bourgeois order? It was left to a combination of recuperation of these struggles by the politico-union bureaucracies and repression by the police and army. The opposition parties and unions (who at this time were snuggling up to the neo-Francoist government after Franco's death, hoping to carve out a niche for themselves as Francoism embraced democracy) began to organise against the assemblies movement. When that failed, then there were always the bullets of the police, as in Gasteiz where five workers were killed by police on the 3rd of March 1976 after months of strikes had culminated in a general strike and barricades had gone up across the city. The threat of violent repression was never far off for the assemblies movement, criminalized by the media and attacked by the unions and political parties. The state railway network RENFE was placed under military control (as was the Post Office and the Metro) after a big strike for a collective contract and a series of other demands in January 1976. 

However, for the bourgeoisie, the preferred means of containing and disarming proletarian struggle was to delegate this task to the trade unions and political parties. These, by a range of tactics ranging from manipulation and deceit to intimidation, managed to outmaneuver the assemblies and wangle their way into positions of negotiating with the bosses and the state. Once in these positions, they could usually successfully defuse conflict by negotiating very watered down demands and caving in to management at the earliest opportunity. something the Stalinists were particularly adept at. The parliamentary elections of 1977 and the union elections in 78 marked the waning of the autonomous proletarian movement and the democratic stabilisation of Spanish capitalism. "Francoism definitely had now become completely democratic and the opposition completely Francoist, with their democracy closing the door to the revolution." 



Class Struggle in the 21st Century 

So, more than twenty years after the huge upturn in struggle during the transition, what is the current panorama of class struggle in the Spanish state? At first glance it is not a pretty picture; the transition from a dictatorial model to democratic model of management of capitalism has merely meant the readjustment and strengthening of the system of exploitation and capitalist accumulation. 

With the restructuring of the economy on a global level as a response to rising levels of class struggle in the 60s and 70s in industrialized countries, the Spanish state has been progressively de-industrialised while the services sector and tourism has grown. There have been protracted struggles in industries such as shipbuilding, with striking workers often using forceful tactics such as burning barricades in Cádiz, Puerto Real and Xixón (Gijón) among other places. But too often these are losing battles. 

Old entrenched workforces are outmaneuvered by capital, the new economy, more and more based on services and commerce and casualised workforces are more and more the norm. This tendency has been reinforced by recent legislation by both the Socialist and the Popular Party governments. Under this new model of liberalism, one sector of the economy especially has flourished: the ETT´s (temporary agencies). ETT´s made profits of a billion pesetas in 1998. 

Flexibilisation of the labour market has been a fundamental part of the capitalist strategy to increase profitability, and this has resulted in increased misery and poverty and worse working conditions for those who work. Coupled with this have been drastic cuts in the welfare state and social spending, which were further obstacles to increased profitability for the capitalist class. Another element of the strategy has been the privatization of state owned entities like Correos y Telegrafoos (the Post Office) and Telefónica (Tecommunications). 

The statistics speak for themselves: 3 million people are unemployed and less than a million of these get any unemployment benefit; 7 out of every 10 of those in work are on temporary or part-time contracts often called contratos basura (´rubbish contracts'); 9 million people (almost a third of the population) live on or below the official poverty line. 

What of the role of the trade unions in this continual attack on the working class? The mainstream unions CCOO, UGT, CGT and USO continue to make pacts with the bosses and do their best to contain any vestiges of struggle. The anarcho-syndicalist CNT is much less significant in the workplace after the damaging split with the more reformist CGT. When there has been struggle, results have been mixed, as a quick glance at conflicts up and down the Spanish stat will show us.

In the fast growing telemarketing sector, 90% contracts are temporary; large companies farm out their telephone customer services to new telemarketing companies, which in turn sub­ contract to temp agencies. The vast majority of jobs which used to be on a fixed contract are now using temps ('using' being the operative word), who get 80,000 pesetas a month where the fixed contract workers used to earn 200,000 pesetas. At the end of June 2000 there was a demonstration in Madrid against the crap collective bargain for this sector negotiated by the mainstream unions, with 300 people, some of whom got truncheon by riot cops. 

After a strike all over the Spanish state of temporary workers contracted by the DTG temp agency at telecommunications company Airtel, in which the workers were asking among other things for a raise in their wages of 470 pesetas  an hour (and they were only allowed toilet breaks of 4 minutes!) the company sacked all 700 strikers.


In February 2000 there was open warfare on the streets of Xixón (Gijón) between workers of the shipyard Naval Gijón and riot cops, with workers burning barricades and turning round buses to block the streets in protest at the decision to lay off 99 workers. The shipyard is threatened with closure. At the same time the workers of the other shipyard in Xixón, Juliana Constructora Gijonesa, were working to rule and demonstrating against the proposed privatisation of their yard. Confrontations with the police, sabotage and strikes have also been the order of the day for the past year at RENFE, the state-owned rail network, soon to be privatised.  

In February 2000 there was a strike in the construction industry over accidents at work (4 people are killed at work every day in the Spanish state, that's 9220 deaths in the 90s, with 92420 serious injuries). In the Spanish state there's a song with a very catchy tune which goes: "Me matan si no trabajoj Y si trabajo me matan" ("They kill me if I don't work And if I work they kill me") ... The CNT called a demo of a thousand people in December 99 agaínst "Accidents at Work­ Entrepreneurial Terrorism!" Many temp agencies have been the targets of direct action up and down the Spanish state, frequently suffering occupations, pickets, broken windows, glued locks and the odd molotov cocktail. In tact, while in Britain it was always butcher's shops and McDonald's that were top of the hit­ parade, in the Spanish state the temp agencies are pushing hole in the wall cash dispensers for that number one spot. In fact so bad did it get for the temp agencies in the working-class barrío of Malasana in Madrid that the last one pulled out in May 2000. 

The struggle against the exploitation of temp workers acts as something of an interface between the world of workplace struggle and the subculture of autonomous groups (perhaps the closest equivalent to the 'direct action movement' in the UK). 


 Much activism in the Spanish state is organized through autonomous groups which meet regularly, often in squatted social centres. An example of this in Madrid is the network of twelve autonomous groups called Lucha Autónoma (Autonomous Struggle); most of these groups are based in a particular barrio of the city. Lucha Autónoma has as its main mission "to promote and participate in mobilisations, direct action and any other expressions of struggle which weave a social network of resistance and self-organisation, building a new antagonist subjectivity capable of liberating spaces or territories from the logic of money and its different ramifications". Sounds all right to me (this is typical autonomist-speak, but you get the general drift!). 

Amongst isolated groups of workers and merginal autonomous groups the class struggle briefly flares up, but all too often losing battles are being fought, or there is no struggle at all and the state, bosses and unions enjoy a cosy relationship at the expense of the workers. 

Women Changing the World 

The struggle against patriarchy is particularly arduous in the Mediterranean countries where macho attitudes remain deeply embedded (or perhaps not as disguised as in Northern Europe). This struggle manifests itself in many subtle ways with women confronting sexism daily on an individual basis, but occasionally women come together to make a loud collective noise. 

In Valencia for example there are several active women's groups: Fem*mes and Danes Agridolces, and one of the squatted social centres La Jerónima is powered predominantly by women. Another centre for women's organizing is the worren's squatted social centre La Eskalera Karakola  in Madrid where they regularly have workshops on things like self­ defence, acrobatics, games based on cooperation, fieslas de meiga ('wise women's parties') as well as a women's pub and a whole range of other activities.


Occasionally women take to the streets en masse, such as for the Reclaim the Night demonstrations, and on International Working Women's Day on the 8th March. There was a large and festive demonstration in Valencia on the 8th March 2000 of several thousand women; among the banners was one with the slogan of "Ni tolerància ni resignació, una resposta a cada agressió".
(...)

Alternative Media 

Cultural differences between the UK 'direct action scene' and the autonomous/anarcho scene in the Spanish state abound; one area where activity far surpasses anything seen in Britain is that of alternative media: free radios, magazines, bulletins and the Internet. 

One of the most impressive developments in alternative media is the antagonist Internet project Sindominio.net.  Currently about a hundred different groups from all over the Spanish state have web­ pages or email through the Sindominio  GNU/Linux server, based entirely on free software. Sindominio consists of a domain-Sindominio.net, a server for web pages, a server for electronic mail, mailing lists, news (discussion groups), search engines. archives and documentation centres. 

There are several alternative news agencies (a bit like a cross between SchNEWS and tne IndyMedia Centres), such as UPA and ACP in Madrid. Zitzània (Discord) in Barcelona (which produces the weekly bulletin Contrainfos), Aixeca't (Rise Up) in Valencia, Agencia BCK in Burgos. All these news agencies are now linked through Sindominio. Critics of cyberspace argue that with expanding reliance on the Internet there is a danger of an even more pronounced elitism than ever within social movements, with access to information and decision-making in the hands of a connected minority. However, part of the Sindominio project is to provide free access to the web in social centres to counteract this tendency. 


There are also many small-scale self-produced potitical zines, and there are a few well established magazines and papers such as the monthlies Molotov and El Akratador , and the quarterlies: the Catalan La Letra A  and the Basque Ekintza Zuzena (Direct Action), both of which publish some articles in the local lingo but most in Spanish. 

A visitor from Britain will be surprised at the number of free radio stations able to operate: a few years ago Radio Topo (Mole Radio) and the Centro Social Libertario did a survey of free radios and got replies from 34 in the Spanish state. Many of these free radios transmit 24 hours a day and 7 days a week (typically programmes are repeated at night time) and are self-financing. Quite often they are fairly powerful, being picked up all over a city and the surrounding areas, and content is usually mostly political (some of the free radios like to describe themselves as being the voice of the voiceless). The free radios fulfill a very important function in enabling people to communicate with each other and to spread the word about demos, actions, evictions and also to debate the issues of the day ... they can build up quite impressive listenerships of thousands of people. 

Most of the free radios are not legal, but are tolerated by the state (perhaps as a recognition of the balance of forces-attempts to close down free radios have met with big outcries and accusations of censorship). One notable exception is the long­ standing Radio Klara in Valência, which was legalised after an attempt to shut it down; years later this has had the unfortunate consequence of allowing those whose names went down as president, treasurer, secretary etc. of the legal entity officially running the radio to pull off a coup and abolish the open, horizontal decision-making assembly and expel a number of the most politically outspoken programmes ... a cautionary tale against legalisation if ever there was one.
 
Centres of Struggle 

Another huge difference between the 'scene' in Britain and in the Spanish state is the large number of squatted social centres, typically called CSOA-Centro Social Okupado Autogestionado or just CSO . In the Basque Country they are known as Gaztetxe ('house of tne young') and in e Catalonia. Valencia and the Balearics (all Catalan speaking areas) they are often called Kasals. If you go to Barcelona or Madrid seems like every working class area has one.

Usurpa, the Squat movement´s newspaper, publishes a timetable of weekly activities in all squat social centres around Barcelona available online at www.sindominio.net/usurpa and a similar publication called infousurpa does the same for Madrid. Often the social centres are old abandoned factories. warehouses, schools and even cinemas. There was a squatted laboratory in Madrid and also in some cases militar y and Guardia Civil barracks are occupied (as is the case with the long-standing and renowned Kasa de la Muntanya in Barcelona). Activities range from flamenco classes to debates on how best to organise against temp agencies, from Tai Chi to recycling workshops; most social centres have a bar and a café and some have libraries and games rooms: many have concerts weekly and nearly all are used by local autonomous groups to have their meetings and organise activities. 


While squatted social centres have been a constant feature in Madrid since the late 80s, in Barcelona they mushroomed after the squatting in 1997 of a very high profile social centre in the centre of the city in a disused cinema (El Cine Princessa) attracted mass support (support was sought in quite a high profile way, enlisting various celebrities and intelectuals to try and stop the eviction). When the eviction came many people actively resisted it and the centre of Barcelona resembled a battle zone, with police firing many rounds of bullets and squatters responding with molotov cocktails. In an ensuing demonstration the big police station on Via Layetana where political prisoners were tortured under Franco was attacked by the crowd. As a result of the eviction the police were heavily criticised and the question wa debated in the Catalan regional parliament; for a while it seemed that the possible legalisation of some social centres was on the cards.