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From The Socialist newspaper, 8 March 2017

Historic demonstration in Barcelona in support of refugees

Demo supporting refugees, London, September 2015, photo Paul Mattsson

Demo supporting refugees, London, September 2015, photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge)

Esquerra Revolucionāria (Izquierda Revolucionaria, CWI co-thinkers in the Spanish state)

On 18 February, Barcelona held the biggest demonstration in Europe in support of refugees under the slogan "Volem acollir" (we want to welcome them).

Between 300,000 and 500,000 people flooded the streets to show their solidarity with people who risk their lives every day to escape the barbarism caused by imperialism - as well as calling on governments to welcome them and grant them asylum now.

This historic demonstration reflects the enormous popular anger at the monstrous policies condemning refugees, especially those fleeing the war in Syria.

We took to the streets and said, loud and clear, that we reject being accomplices to the crimes of a system that condemns the greater part of humanity to misery and provokes a mass exodus to the advanced capitalist countries. Here the right whip up hatred against immigrants to divide the working class, while big business and its hired politicians profit from all this despair.

They have profited from the situation emigrants find themselves in by paying them poverty wages, and then accusing them of being criminals; they have profited by selling arms to both sides in the Syrian conflict (including the Islamic militants) and accuse the refugees of being Isis terrorists.

But the demonstration in Barcelona of young people and workers has shown that their plans clash with the conscience and instincts of millions.

The working class gains nothing from the establishment's criminal policies, just the opposite.

The governing Popular Party (PP) did not take part in the demonstration, showing its lack of humanity and having nothing in common with the people who are suffering at the hands of the PP-led government.

However, the criticism expressed on the demonstration was not limited to a rejection of imperialism, xenophobia and the repressive policies against immigrants applied by the Spanish right, represented by the PP. Significantly much criticism was also levelled at politicians who mouth about solidarity with the refugees (and other issues) without going any further.

In 2016 the Spanish government took in 609 of the 17,000 people it had agreed to take. In Catalonia, the parliament unanimously agreed to take 4,500 but the number that has arrived is less than 200. So lots of the groups that called the demonstration added the words "enough excuses" to the central slogan "we want to welcome them".

And, in case there was any doubt, one of the most visible posters among the demonstrators made this criticism even more explicit: "Catalan politicians, enough excuses. We want to welcome them now."

Intolerable

Along the route of the demonstration you could also hear different immigrant groups and individuals speaking from lorries equipped with loudspeakers. They were denouncing the intolerable conditions in the refugee shelters, the existence of internment centres, police harassment (in the case of the manteros - street pedlars - in Barcelona) and the workplace exploitation suffered by immigrant workers.

Besides the element of solidarity with the refugees and rejection of imperialism, racism and the policies of the PP, there was also a clear criticism of the right-wing policies being implemented in practice on this and other issues by the Catalan government (Generalitat). Criticism should also be extended to city councils for inaction and a lack of an adequate response.

This criticism and profound social discontent, very much present on the 18 February demonstration, ties in with other mass demonstrations that Catalonia has experienced recently (the national day demos and others). These mobilisations, which express the demand of millions of people for a profound social change, must not be ignored by left-wing organisations with elected representatives.

Faced with "no we can't" and the policies of demobilisation and social pacts, the youth and workers of Catalonia have shown again "yes we can".

It is vital that the left-wing organisations that took part in the demonstration defend the right of refugees to a decent life in Catalonia, the whole Spanish state, and across Europe.

But this demand must be linked to a programme that can mobilise the masses decisively - a programme that also takes up the problems of austerity, unemployment, the housing crisis, etc.

Such a programme must lead to the transformation of society, eliminating the cause of war, ie the capitalist profit system and the imperialism which it generates.

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