Photo by Flickr user Sergio Rozas
The insistent thrum of the helicopters patrolling overhead began early in the morning. The sound has become familiar in Madrid, a stand-in for the police surveillance and repression that has increased in tandem with the austerity-steeped city's newfound penchant for regular, raucous protests. On this particular morning, though, the government had reason to worry: it was the day of the eighth general strike in Spain’s democratic history, and already the second one under Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, whose conservative government was barely one year old.
The strike was called by the main trade unions of Spain, along with the Cumbre Social, a summit of some 150 organizations including Amnesty International, Red Cross, Save the Children, and Greenpeace. Non-traditional unions, like the anarchist Confederación General de Trabajadores (General Workers' Federation), as well as members of the 15M social movement, joined forces for the day’s demonstrations.
I. HALTING THE CITY
The organizing demand of the strike did not seek specific benefits, but rather an official referendum asking the Spanish population if it agrees with the measures adopted by Rajoy's governing conservative party, the Partido Popular (PP). Do the Spanish people support projects like the so-called “flexibilization” of working conditions and recent deep cuts in social spending? The strikers wanted to put it to a national vote.
The economic steps taken were never part of Rajoy’s election manifesto, they said, which amounted to “an infringement of the electoral contract that was established between the PP and their voters.”
A straight-forward chant began the day: “They leave us without future/There are culprits/There are solutions.” The slogan was clearly borrowed from the rhetoric of another Spanish activist group, Juventud Sin Futuro [Youth without a future], the powerful student platform which turned the punk idea of having 'No Future' into a galvanizing political statement.
From the outset, Rajoy's government dismissed the whole idea, and the main conservative newspapers in Spain printed their headlines to match: “General Coercion” ran at the top of La Razón, and “Strike Against Spain” decked ABC. Streetlamps in Madrid were turned on in bright sunlight, burning needlessly in a blatant effort to increase electricity consumption for the day given that one of the clearest ways to measure a drop in industrial production—a metric of success for the general strike's work stoppage—is to measure electricity use.
According to the Sindicato de Estudiantes [Students’ Union], the strike had a massive following within several high schools. In the universities, the strike's following was inconsistent, but two of the most important centers – the Autónoma and Complutense universities of Madrid – were almost empty on the day of the strike.