Spain, Greece, Portugal, Italy...growing anger about the crisis

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No to austerity-Portugal

On 15 September, 700,000people hit the streets of Lisbon and 30 other towns and cities in Portugal to demonstrate against the austerity policies of the new government of Pedro Coelho. The 7% increase in the TSU – Single Social Tax – for the workers, together with a 5.75% reduction in the contributions of the bosses, was behind this spontaneous outbreak of anger which outflanked the official unions. The demonstration had been organised largely through social networks. Faced with the massive scale of these demonstrations, the government temporarily appeared to retreat. But there should be no illusions: this will only be to come back more effectively tomorrow with the same measures, and more besides, with the assistance of unions like the CGTP (General Confederation of Portuguese Workers), who next time will be better placed to occupy the terrain, as they have been doing for more than a year, and make their own contribution to getting the austerity measures through. The CGTP reacted fast to regain control of the movement. It immediately called for a new demonstration policed by its own stewards and under its own slogans for the 29 September...a demonstration which was much less well attended.

In Greece, following the third general strike called by the unions, the Pame union in particular, there were new demonstrations on 26 September in Salonica and Athens, drawing over 30,000 workers. The anger was such that we once again saw new violent clashes with the police, including between striking policemen and other forces of order!

In Spain, tens of thousands of demonstrators came to express their rage on 25 September in front of a parliament protected by 2000 police officers. There were outbreaks of wild police violence “like in the days of Franco” according to many witnesses. 5 days later, on 29 September, parliament was again surrounded.   

In Italy, 30,000 civil servants were on the streets of Rome on 28 September to protest against a new series of austerity measures dealing with pensions and “re-grading”.

In short, the last week of September has seen rising anger in a number of European countries in response to the brutality of the attacks and the endless succession of austerity plans.

These struggles are OUR struggles

The governments as well as the opposition parties and unions pin responsibility for these measures on the ‘Troika’ composed of the EU, the Central European Bank and the IMF. All these people want us to believe that the problem of the crisis can be solved country by country and try to fill our heads with the illusion that the whole world is not in the same boat, that some countries can avoid the worst, can get their economy going again if they make the necessary effort. The reporting on the economic situation of the PIGS (Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain) has the aim of reinforcing the false idea that things aren’t so bad in Britain or France, who are in fact carrying out the same kinds of attacks on our living and working conditions. And this is the lot of the working class all over the world: increasing exploitation, a growing battle to survive, and the whip of repression if we revolt.

The bourgeoisie does all it can to prevent us becoming aware that workers are under attack everywhere, to block the development of an understanding that we belong to one international class. This is why the media say very little about movements of resistance against austerity, unless they become too big to hide. And then they focus our attention on scary images of violence or on this or that weakness of the movement. And this is why it’s all the more important for us, the exploited, to look beyond the frontiers, to discuss these experiences, these present and past struggles, and draw the lessons for the struggles that lie ahead.   

Who are our enemies?

There is no way out of this crisis. This has to be clear and unambiguous. Although everyone wants a brighter economic future, this capitalist system can offer us only poverty and misery. For 30 years now they have been telling us that things will be better tomorrow, if only we agree to sacrifices today. But then every sacrifice just opens the door to the next one, which is even worse! It’s not simply a matter of the bad intentions of the bosses or the state. It’s the inexorable plunge into bankruptcy which imposes this implacable logic on the entire system[1]

So what can we do, how can we fight?

Despite the growing anger, expressed by increasingly regular confrontations with the police, the official ‘days of action’ have proved to be useless. For decades we have seen that this kind of ‘action’ serves as a means of sterilising and containing the class struggle, lining us up behind union banners, dividing us up into different sectors, trapping us between police lines and union loudspeakers which prevent any real discussion.

The working class more or less knows this, but if it doesn’t affirm consciously and massively a clear understanding that it has to take charge of its own struggles, put forward its own demands, any advances in the movement will come to nothing.

Here the example of Spain is very striking. Last year, the movement of the Indignados was a real and powerful demonstration of the will of the population and of the working class to come together in a collective way, outside the trade unions, to look for and discuss the way to fight against the attacks and express disgust with the miserable conditions being imposed by the Spanish state. The most significant aspect was the creation of spaces for discussion in the street through a whole number of general assemblies, open to everyone, and to all the struggles being waged across the world. In Spain, when a worker from ‘abroad’ took the mic to bring his/her solidarity to the movement and sometimes to describe what was happening in the country they were from, the sympathy was immediate and palpable, the welcome warm and enthusiastic. At that point few national or regional flags were in sight and those who wanted to limit the struggle to the demand for regional independence were not especially welcome; in any case their speeches were not widely supported. And the Indignados movement did not stay locked up inside the borders of Spain. It had children in many countries from Israel to the USA and the UK with the Occupy movement.

The bourgeoisie itself is well aware of the potential danger in the ripening of such preposterous ideas in the minds of the exploited: from its point of view, it’s never a good thing for feelings of solidarity to be born in the course of workers’ struggles, above all when this happens on an international scale. We are now seeing a counter-offensive by the bourgeoisie, aimed at instilling the poison of nationalism and regionalism in the whole working class. Thus during the day of action on 15 September, the ‘social summit’ (CO, UGT[2] and 200 other platforms) was called in Madrid under the slogan “we mustn’t let them steal the country from us”. On 25 September an umbrella of organisations made up of a whole series of groups, from the classical left of capital like the CP to the decomposed remnants of the 15M movement, organised an action to protest “against the sequestration of national sovereignty by the markets” in front of the Chamber of Deputies. All this ended in confrontations with the cops (in which provocations by shady elements was obvious). The day after that, the most radical trade unions (in other words, the CGT and the CNT[3])  called, alongside nationalist unions like ELA, LAB, etc[4], for another general strike in certain parts of the state, and in others a day of struggle. In other words, calling on workers to struggle behind nationalist interests, which are not theirs. The real and serious danger of this kind of recuperation was underlined by the fact that on 15 September we had seen a million people taking part in a Catalan nationalist demonstration.

What was most promising about the Indignados movement and the discussions that took place within it was the hope for a different world. This hope, this self-confidence that the working class needs to develop, are powerful levers to breaking out of the traps set by a desperate bourgeoisie. This will make it possible to go beyond methods which can only end in demoralisation.

This will not come about through the touch of a magic wand but through a profound understanding that the only perspective for humanity is the one offered by a working class that is united internationally and heading towards the overthrow of this decaying social order. The gravity of the crisis brings with it a huge amount of anger, but it also has a terrifying aspect: it makes it clear that it’s not a question of beating this or that boss, kicking out this or that minister, but of a radical change in the system, of struggling for the liberation of the whole of humanity from the chains of exploitation.

Are we capable of doing that? Can we, the working class, carry out such a task? How could it come about? Given that capitalism can offer us nothing but mounting barbarism, all these questions are being raised in our minds, whether consciously or not.  The proletariat does have the ability to unite, to make solidarity something real, but the path is never an even one, as Karl Marx noted in the early years of the workers’ movement:

“proletarian revolutions....constantly criticize themselves, constantly interrupt themselves in their own course, return to the apparently accomplished, in order to begin anew; they deride with cruel thoroughness the half-measures, weaknesses, and paltriness of their first attempts, seem to throw down their opponents only so the latter may draw new strength from the earth and rise before them again more gigantic than ever, recoil constantly from the indefinite colossalness of their own goals – until a situation is created which makes all turning back impossible, and the conditions themselves call out:

Hic Rhodus, hic salta!
 - Here is the rose, here dance!”

Wilma 28/9/12



[1] Under the heading, ‘could you tell a bigger lie?’, we have to put the last editorial of the ‘revolutionary’ paper Lutte Ouvrière, which explains that there is no crisis, it’s all down to the bosses lining their pockets.....

[2] The CO (Workers’ Commisions) and the UGT (General Union of Workers) are the majority unions in Spain. The first is linked to the Communist Party, the second to the Socialists

[3] The CGT in Spain is an anarchist union, a split from the historical anarchist union, the CNT

[4] ELA and LAB are two Basque nationalist unions: the first one is ‘moderate’ (originally created to counter the ‘marxist and anarchist’ unions; the second is part of the abertzale (patriotic) left.