Spain: State racism and the struggle for dignity

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 238 April/May 2014

On 5 March, the European Commission released an analysis of the Spanish economy, praising the government’s success in protecting foreign investment and complying with orders from Brussels by cutting the provision of social services. It also requested more structural reforms focused on the labour market and specifically on slashing salaries. While multinational corporations notch up record profits, the majority of businesses are implementing mass redundancies and the poverty rate has soared to unprecedented levels. However, the Spanish working class continues to fight back and on 22 March a wave of about 1.5 million people marched from all over the country to seize the centre of Madrid in a militant protest that ended with severe clashes with the police. JUANJO RIVAS reports from Madrid.

On 17 March, the Spanish Ministry of the Economy hosted a meeting to advance the implementation of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the US and the European Union. Needless to say only lobbyists and entrepreneurs were allowed in, as this neoliberal plan is being formulated secretly to avoid popular opposition (see FRFI 237 ‘When corporations rule the world’). The TTIP is nothing other than organised plunder based on the principles of free trade for corporations and austerity for populations. Its effects can be seen in Spain where the rate of poverty has increased to 21%. 7% of households cannot pay all their bills and 12% have ‘serious difficulties’ surviving on their monthly income. Save the Children reports that there are nearly three million children living below the poverty line in Spain.

State racism

As in Greece, the capitalist crisis involves not just institutional disdain and repression for the national working class, but also the promotion of racism as a way to weaken and divide the struggle against austerity. Waves of immigrants risk their lives to jump over lines of electrified, barbed wire fences, only to confront vicious repression from Spanish police. The mainstream media immediately portrays this as an invasion, slandering the poor and blaming them for the worsening of the crisis.

On 6 February, a large group of people from sub-Saharan Africa tried to reach the beach of Ceuta, a Spanish colony in the north of Morocco. Police threw gas canisters and fired rubber bullets at the immigrants as they swam towards the coast. As a result, 15 of them drowned. Others were beaten, taken to Moroccan territory and left there, knowing they would be exposed to further torture by the Moroccan authorities. Neither police forces nor government officials have apologised or resigned. The Home Office stated that the use of force that left 15 people dead was ‘proportionate to the threat’.

Working class on the march

The dramatic rate of evictions continues, as well as the number of suicides arising from dire economic conditions. The decline in living standards is driving people to anger: the peaceful demonstrations that sparked a movement three years ago are turning into more militant and furious protests. Lately, bus drivers and street cleaners have been on strike in several towns, and also fishermen in the northwest region of Galiza picketed state buildings and clashed with police. The plan for a reactionary law restricting abortion brought huge demonstrations onto the streets of all the main towns on International Women’s Day. Vigils and demonstrations have also been held to protest against the murder and repression of immigrants.

For a month, workers from nine different Spanish regions had been organising ‘Marches for Dignity’ to converge in the capital on 22 March in a show of disgust and rejection of the austerity policies imposed by the Troika and the repayment of the country’s illegal debt. For ten days, columns of workers marched from the northern areas of Asturias and Galiza, western Extremadura, eastern Aragon and Valencia and southern regions of Andalusia and Murcia. Farmers, miners, students, temporary workers and the unemployed walked hundreds of miles to make their voices heard in Madrid, where they received a warm welcome from health care workers, teachers, firefighters and all left-wing organisations and social movements. It was one of the largest demonstrations ever remembered in the city, with blocs of angry workers made redundant from major industries, such as Panrico or Coca-Cola. A militant bloc was formed by youth from all regions of the country and they symbolically burned the Spanish flag and Constitution.

The government was ready and willing to attempt to undermine this solidarity in struggle with provocation: 15,000 police were deployed, including 1,750 riot police. At a square close to the headquarters of the ruling conservative party, speeches were still being made when riot police started attacking people. Hundreds of angry protestors fought back in a long-lasting street battle, throwing firecrackers, rocks and tiles, building barricades and smashing banks and police vans. As a result, 29 people were arrested and dozens were injured; several police officers were sent to hospital with gashes, concussion and broken teeth (

Many of those who had come to Madrid stayed to organise a mass assembly the next day. As they tried to set up a permanent camp, police intervened to dismantle it, harassing everyone present. Later, a new demonstration took place and four more people were detained. An emergency picket of the police station was called to demand the release of the activists under arrest. All were charged and subsequently freed, but one was sent straight to prison without bail, charged with ‘attempted homicide’ without any evidence. Police published photos of weapons allegedly used by rioters, but these have now been proved to be fake, having been confiscated days before in other places and contexts. However, a lawsuit may be filed against the organisers of the march for the riots in Madrid.

As on previous occasions, a witch- hunt could ensue. After the wave of protests in January and February, some anarchists, nationalists and social activists were arrested in a two-day operation. Part of the strategy of Mariano Rajoy’s government is to tackle the spaces where popular resistance is being articulated and campaigns by social movements are gaining strength. That is the reason behind the simultaneous court cases and evictions against squatted social centres and venues for political and cultural activities.

As politicians apply the austerity measures laid down by European imperialists, the level of inequality and poverty is becoming unbearable for many. The toxic cocktail of unemployment, lack of state assistance and blatant, rampant corruption are causing outrage and making sections of the working class more defiant and more determined to prove that the struggle is the only way forward.


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