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Mass student strike rocks Spanish state
Further mass action planned to pressure PP government
A tidal wave of protest swept through the streets and squares of Spain on 26 October. Two million, mainly school students, took part in a strike organised by Sindicato de Estudiantes (SE - students union). Claire Laker-Mansfield, national organiser of Socialist Students (England and Wales), was invited to participate by Izquierda Revolucionaria which plays a leading role in SE. Here is her report.
The strike was solid - with over 90% participation. But students did not simply stay at home. More than 200,000 young people joined the demonstrations that had been organised in over 60 towns and cities. This was a mighty day of resistance.
In Madrid alone, 60,000 students swept through the streets. The mood on the protest was an infectious mix of anger, determination and empowerment. For thousands of those taking part, this was their first major demonstration - a first experience of taking collective action.
So, as well as anger, there was also joy and optimism. There was renewed confidence that austerity was not just a fact of life, that it could be fought and defeated.
The strike's most prominent demand was to abolish the 'revalidas' that are being introduced by the government. These first existed under the dictator General Franco and are a series of compulsory exams that students are forced to take at different stages of their schooling.
Under the plans, students who fail to pass the tests will be prevented from progressing to the next stage in their academic study. What's more, qualifications they have already obtained will not be valid.
If rolled out in the way the government intends, these exams will prevent thousands of students, especially those from working class backgrounds, from accessing university. Worse still, thousands more could be forced to leave education early, with almost no formal qualifications. In reality, the intention is to brand young people as 'failures' and to lower their sights and expectations.
But it is capitalism that is the real failure. Spanish youth unemployment currently stands at a staggeringly high 45%. So the student strike was also, in part, a protest against the dire prospects young people are faced with and the doors that are being slammed in their faces.
As well as demanding an end to the Francoist 'revalidas', the strike was also against the 'LOMCE' - a government decree which includes swingeing cuts to education.
One of the chants which rang out most often was 'Si Se Puede' - yes we can. This was the slogan used by the anti-eviction housing movement that has swept Spain. It showed the way the school students taking part in the strike saw themselves as participants in an overall movement against austerity and its effects.
One of the warmest receptions for speakers addressing the crowd was for a striking Coca-Cola worker. "Workers and students unite" was repeatedly chanted as the march went on.
In Madrid, teachers were also on strike that day. Their trade unions had supported and called for a demonstration to take place in the evening. But this was not repeated elsewhere.
The isolated nature of the teachers strike in Madrid was not due to a lack of anger or willingness to take action among education workers. Instead, it was the fear by the trade union leaders of what might be unleashed. So, like in Britain, the right-wing trade union leaderships are attempting to block the development of mass struggle.
But despite the inadequacies of the trade union leaders, tens of thousands of workers joined the demonstration that had been called in Madrid that evening. One of the factors in the huge success of the strike was the support of the national parents association (CEAPA). As well as taking part and jointly calling the evening march, CEAPA also helped organise for thousands of parents to keep their young children off school during the strike day.
This was the first action of its scale for a number of years. And it broke the dam, setting loose the enormous discontent and anger which exists within Spanish society. Just a few days later a mass protest took place in Madrid against the formation of the right-wing Partido Popular (PP) government.
One word that protesters repeatedly chanted was 'traitors'. They were referring to the rotten capitulation of the so-called Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) leaders. A majority of PSOE MPs abstained in a parliamentary vote to elect the prime minister.
The result of this abstention was to hand power to the right-wing PP, despite their failure to win a majority in the election. So on 26 October, the anger at this impending historic betrayal was enormous.
More mass protests have taken place opposing the formation of an unelected PP government. The SE has declared that, unless the government meets its demands, in particular by scrapping the 'revalidas', a further student strike will take place in November. Given the anger that is boiling over, there is every possibility that this could be as big, or even bigger, than the first one.
Throughout the day, the leaders of the SE, including Ana Garcia the general secretary, were interviewed by the main television channels, newspapers and other media. Ana was able to express the intense anger and determination of her members.
This stood in contrast to the leaders of the major trade unions. But Ana was also able to raise the need for a generalised fightback - helping to apply pressure to the tops of the trade unions to do their jobs.
The international solidarity that was organised by socialists and trade unionists around the world played a big part in boosting the confidence and determination of students and workers.
On the demonstration, I was able to mention only a small number of the solidarity actions that had been organised by the Committee for a Workers' International (CWI). But every example I gave generated huge cheers.
The action organised by the CWI in Hong Kong - in which Spain's consul general physically assaulted and attacked a protester - served to demonstrate the establishment's fear of movements like these, as well as the dangerous conditions which socialists work in in many parts of the world.
This action made a particular impression and has since been reported in two major national newspapers in Spain. But it was also the scale and scope of the solidarity effort which helped buoy people. There were protests in more than 20 countries worldwide.
The strike that took place on 26 October has given workers and young people in Spain a fresh taste of struggle. It has broken any fragile social peace that had existed and paved the way for a new phase in the fight against austerity and the capitalist system which demands it.
And this determination to fight will not stop at the borders of Spain. Around the world, on the basis of capitalism, the next generation faces a bleak future.
Some of the biggest cheers at the rallies in Madrid came when speakers raised the need for socialist change. That is a foretaste of the huge movements that are to come, movements that will fight for an end to the rotten capitalist system and fight for a socialist society in the interests of the 99%.
It was not just in Madrid where thousands of students joined protests. These are a few examples of the fantastic protests that took place all over the Spanish state.
In the Basque country, more than 10,000 marched in Bilbao, 5,000 in Donostia and thousands more in Vitoria/Gasteiz and Iruña.
In Catalonia, more than 50,000 filled the streets of Barcelona, with thousands more in Tarragona and Girona and dozens of other towns. Almost 10,000 marched in Valencia, with thousands more in Alicante. In Galicia: 5,000 in A Coruña, 3,000 in Ferrol and thousands more in other towns. 5,000 in Zaragoza.
In Andalucia it was spectacular: 15,000 in Granada, 10,000 in Sevilla, 7,000 in Malaga, 2,000 in Cadiz and over 1,000 in Almeria and Huelva... Thousands also marched in Extremadura, the Canary Islands, and the Balearic Islands, in Murcia, Castilla y León, Castilla La Mancha, and Cantabria.
- Crisis in Spain, Podemos, socialist struggle, with Barbara Areal from Izquierda Revolucionaria (IR), Spain, one of the sessions at Socialism 2016 - and Juan Ignacio Ramos, IR general secretary and activist against austerity and capitalism, will speak on the platform of the Saturday rally.
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