The Socialist 26 September 2012
Action against austerity
Spain: March on Madrid kicks off a hot autumn of struggle
Socialismo Revolucionario (CWI in Spain) reporters
On Saturday 15 September, workers from all over the Spanish state marched on Madrid to protest against the massive cuts to public services by the right-wing People's Party (PP) government.
This represents the start of this autumn's movement against austerity imposed by the big banks and the European Union (EU) and rubber stamped by prime minister Mariano Rajoy's increasingly unpopular government.
The majority Spanish trade unions, UGT and CCOO, branded the demo as the launching of a campaign to compel the government to call a referendum on the cuts.
Over 200 other civic organisations supported the march. It was a magnificent sight to see the ten feeder marches assemble in the centre of Madrid.
Each section wore their own distinctive t-shirts - red for unions and industrial workers, white for health workers, violet for women's groups, through almost all the colours of the rainbow.
It was almost impossible to reach the end of the demonstration in Plaza Colon as the various marches snaked slowly forward. Columns of marchers had to leave the Plaza to allow others to get in.
Laughably, the Madrid regional government claimed only 65,000 workers had marched. El Pais and other serious newspapers put the figure at 'hundreds of thousands', with union estimates ranging from half a million to more than one million.
The real significance of the March on Madrid is the arrival on the scene of the organised working class.
CCOO/UGT had already organised a 24-hour general strike last March, which the government has tried to ignore and the union leaders did not follow up with an escalation of the struggle as Socialismo Revolucionario (CWI in Spain) argued for.
However, pressure from the unions' ranks, as well as the deepening financial crisis and ever more vicious cuts, have compelled the main trade unions to act again.
The UGT and CCOO leaders, Fernandez Toxo and Candido Mendez, met with King Juan Carlos to put their position.
They also pulled together a 'Social Summit' in which hundreds of civil organisations participated. A petition in favour of the referendum has also been launched.
However, their campaign for a referendum does not match either the needs of the situation or the militancy of workers, as was seen in the miners' strike and spontaneous walkouts of public sector workers against the austerity measures.
Only two days after the march, transport workers took national strike action and had a big impact, despite the scandalous anti-trade union 'minimum services' laws which obliged over 50% of services to operate in some cases.
During the summer, the left-wing United Left (IU) leader, Sanchez Gordillo, in Andalucia and the Andalucian SAT trade union made headlines all over the world with their bank occupations and expropriation of goods from supermarkets to distribute among the poor.
The economic situation in Spain is worsening by the day with unemployment over five million and the spectre of home repossession hanging over thousands of families.
Over half of under-25 year olds have never worked, and students have returned to college and university to attend much bigger classes (and fees) and awful conditions.
It was extremely inspiring to see thousands of workers from all over Spain marching together but it is true to say that the day lacked a certain focus.
The CCOO/UGT leaders are appealing to deaf ears as it is highly unlikely that the PP government will submit their austerity plans to a referendum.
At the rally the union leaders said the ball was in Rajoy's court as to whether there would be another general strike. Unfortunately, vague threats are not enough at this stage.
SR's demand for a 48-hour strike got a good echo from marchers throughout the demonstration. Such a strike would serve to escalate the struggle and build a movement capable of bringing down the increasingly weak Rajoy government, setting our sights on a struggle for a workers' government to implement socialist policies as the only way to break from the spiral of crisis.
It is a time for serious action by the unions. As the one million people taking to the streets of Portugal on the same day against the same austerity policies shows, there is also a pressing need for internationally coordinated action and general strikes on an all-European level.
In Catalonia, we have seen up to two million people take to the streets for independence but also in opposition to the cuts.
And in Euskadi (the Basque country), there will be a general strike called by the majority Basque unions on 26 September.
Spain is entering a decisive phase. The deepening crisis is also opening up national contradictions in Catalonia and Euskadi.
A continuation of austerity will mean economic chaos and a dismantling of the public services and reforms gained over the last 30 years of 'democracy'.
The struggle is on to build a united movement with a genuine socialist and fighting leadership.
In this issue
Fightback against austerity
Socialist Party feature
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party reports and campaigns