August 2014        

Spain’s grass-roots revolution

Protest goes political!

The huge anti-austerity demonstration by “indignados” (the indignant) in Madrid on 15 May 2011 generated mass protests in all the main Spanish cities, involving millions of workers. Such protests continue, backed by the trade unions, demanding a more participatory democracy and an end to cut-backs and the domination of banks and corporations.
     The demonstrations led to the formation of the 15-M (15th of May) movement, dedicated to the development of political pressure from the streets. Conservatives confidently predicted that with the passing of repressive legislation this movement would lose steam . . . They were never so wrong!
     15-M activists realised that protest needs an effective political cutting edge, and new left political groupings have emerged throughout Spain. The most successful of these is Podemos (“we can”), created in March 2014. Two months later, although ignored by the mainstream media, Podemos entered candidates, some of whom were unemployed, for the EU parliament elections. Skilfully using social media, it obtained 8 per cent of the vote to elect five members to the EU parliament in May, earning fourth place, behind the United Left (IU).
     Its support was mainly youthful: 80 per cent of its voters were between the ages of 18 and 54. The present level of support for Podemos, a bare two months after the EU elections, gives it third place, with 3.65 million votes in a national election, just behind the ruling People’s Party (PP) and Spanish Socialist Labour Party (PSOE) and above the IU.
     The IU announced that it could work with Podemos, as they share the same social aims. Thus the possibility of a left coalition emerges, and alarm bells sound in the corridors of Spanish power.
     Felipe González, head of Spain’s first PSOE government after Franco, suggested an alliance between the PP and PSOE if this “threat” seems like becoming reality. (Consider a coalition of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to stave off the “threat” of a left coalition in Ireland!)
     The de facto leader of Podemos is Pablo Iglesias Turrión (born 1978), a professor of political science and popular television presenter. He cites the Greek “Coalition of the Radical Left” (SYRIZA), headed by Aléxis Tsípras, as an inspiration.
     The organisation of Podemos, based on the structures of the 15-M movement, is still loose, though a considerable tightening up should follow an organisational conference in November. The basic unit of the party is the “circle,” which can have from two to a thousand members and as yet is not subject to party discipline. Members meet regularly to discuss current local and national issues and to develop policies to address them.
     Circles can be based on districts, professions, cultural groups, etc. They exist also in unexpected places—in the army and police, for example. There are approximately three hundred circles; emigrants have also formed such groups. Electoral success galvanised the circles. Membership of the Valencia Circle, for example, jumped from a pre-election 100 to its present 1,000.
     The success of Podemos has been largely due to the ability of its articulate youthful spokespersons to blunt the hostility of the mainstream media and to accurately articulate the concerns of Spain’s increasingly desperate working people. The youthful image of Podemos elicited an amusing generational earthquake in establishment ranks when the EU election results became known. King Juan Carlos (born 1938) abdicated, surrendering the throne to his son, Felipe (born 1968); the PSOE dumped its general secretary, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba (born 1951), electing a youthful basketball player, Pedro Sánchez (born 1972), in his place; while the habitual PP hacks on political discussion panels were replaced by more youthful (though no less conservative) faces.
     PP media adversaries of Pablo Iglesias, now a member of the EU parliament, point to his work for the Venezuelan government of Hugo Chávez and accuse him of importing Bolivarian and Castroist communist ideas into Spain. On the widely watched political debates on Spain’s sixth “Republican” television channel they repeatedly charge him with support for the Venezuelan and Cuban “ dictatorships.” The youthful-looking pony-tailed Iglesias, an accomplished television performer, ignores such bait and, to the delight of viewers, sticks it to his opponents by adroitly enmeshing them in the disastrous failures of their domestic policies: growing poverty, evictions, widespread corruption in the ruling PP, broken electoral promises, and the craven kowtowing to Troika demands and austerity measures that are destroying Spanish working people’s living standards . . .
     In common with IU spokespersons, Podemos calls for an end to interference by the Troika in Spanish affairs, public control of the banks, and a redistribution of socially created wealth. As reconsideration of Spain’s adherence to the euro is also on its table, it isn’t only in Madrid that alarm bells are sounding.

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