Spain

Spanish Protests: The N14 Vaga General in Barcelona

This Wednesday, Barcelona participated in the worldwide November 14 General Strike. It’s been about a year and a half since the indignados movement really took off here and there have been tons of Barcelona protests in 2012, so what’s changed? Well, here’s what happened on Wednesday’s strike. 

The whole city was eerily quiet in the morning, except for the throbbing of the police helicopters monitoring things. Busy Passeig de Gràcia was almost empty. There were no buses, no taxis, no newspaper stands, and only a few scattered workers and tourists wandering around. All the bars and restaurants, which normally have jam-packed terraces, had taken their tables inside and pulled down the metal grates. There weren’t even any trash cans, which the city took away after protestors set them on fire last time.

Spain-Barcelona-protests-2012-Passeig-de-Gracia

Usually, this is a busy café on Passeig de Gracia, one of the biggest streets in Barcelona.

Some of the shops displayed signs reading “Tanquem per vaga general” (we’re closed for the general strike). They’d shut down for a few different reasons, from supporting the strike to fear of getting their shops destroyed to realizing they weren’t going to make money anyway as the strike called for a shopping boycott.

Vaga General #N14” and “Huelga General #N14” signs littered the pavement, and police in riot gear looked on.  There were marches and chanting, but for the most part, things stayed pretty calm (from what I saw, at least).

Spain-Barcelona-protests-2012-Passeig-de-Gracia

What were they striking about? Here’s the official platform as released by the CCOO, UGT, and USOC* (and translated from Catalan by me!):

  1. Rampant unemployment
  2. Alarming poverty levels
  3. Higher levels of poverty among the employed
  4. The PP’s (Partido Popular – the conservative political party in power) labor reforms for workers, which prevent access to cheap housing,  block agreements, and increase work shifts
  5. The youth have no future en Catalonia
  6. Fewer resources for research
  7. More education cuts
  8. More expensive healthcare in worse conditions
  9. Criminalization of people who receive loans or subsidies
  10. The bailout has only exacerbated the current situation brought on by the austerity measures
  11. Greater financial inequality
  12. Thousands of people have lost their houses and savings to the financial system, while the parties responsible for the crisis haven’t paid for anything
  13. Culture is getting smothered by more budget cuts, and creativity is getting commodified
  14. Protests are being repressed and democratic liberties are at risk

*CCOO = Confederación Sindical de Comisiones Obreras/Workers’ Commissions; UGT = Únion General de Trabajadores/General Union of Workers; USOC = Únion Sindical Obrera de Catalunya/Workers’ Trade Union of Catalonia

This time, the strike was pretty different from the other ones I’ve seen. For one thing, I wasn’t afraid that my apartment was going to get burned down. It was also much more subdued. It seems like the movement is changing.

There was an official call for a non-violent protest after things got a little out of hand in the spring (some protestors destroyed, looted, and then burned down an entire Starbucks in the city center, for example), which accounts for the less intense protest. Also, some of the protestors are pretty intent on enjoying the chaos and just making a street party out of the whole thing. The movement seems to be splintering, and some of those splinter groups are growing increasingly extremist.

And finally, other people are just frustrated likely tired of trying the same techniques with little success. Add these things together, and there was a shift in tone for this protest as compared to the earlier ones.

Spain-Barcelona-protests-2012-pamphlets

Some of the pamphlets from this time around.

So what comes next for Catalunya? They’ve having special elections later this month and the movement for independence is getting stronger, and just about everyone is angry about the economic crisis. The Spanish government has finally decided they’ll halt evictions for 2 years due to the high rate of suicide because of them. It’ll be interesting to see how all of this develops.

Readers, did anyone else have big protest in their city for the N14 protests? Any other Spain residents go to the protests on Wednesday? What were they like? 

Besos!

-Jess

14 thoughts on “Spanish Protests: The N14 Vaga General in Barcelona

  1. Honestly, I don’t think Catalonia will ever become independent. I know they are fiercely proud of their language and heritage, but economically, would Catalonia be able to survive on its own? It reminds me of Quebec and how there is also a movement for Quebec to become its own country. I don’t think that’s ever going to happen either!

    • Right, I don’t think it will either, so the most reasonable prediction I heard was that it might become something like a federal state, along with other separatist regions of Spain. I read that the Spanish constitution doesn’t allow for separatism and doesn’t have rules in place for it, so it’s proven an uphill battle for groups like the Basques in the past.

      Having said that, Catalonia is pretty strong economically. It makes up around 20% of the entire Spanish economy on its own.

      Right now, a lot of people feel that the separatism push from the politicians is just being used as a way of diverting attention from the crisis. It’s pretty fascinating to watch as an outsider.

  2. I don’t really hope that the Catalans are going to vote PP! I’m afraid that it’s what’s going to happen since their slogan is: Catalunya si, España también! Actually there are quite a lot of Catalans who are against the independence. And I must say that after been watching the news (I did not participate myself), the police is making the violence. And I guess the independence is more like a question of history since Catalonia no always has been a part of Spain.

  3. I was expecting it to be like the protest in March and was surprised that is was, as you said, more subdued. I think some clashes took place on the fringes, such as Urquinaona, rather than Plaça de Catalunya as we saw last time. The policing was very tight, with access blocked off to roads where I live, close to P. de Gracia and Diagonal.

    Nice coverage Yessica…also, your new wordpress theme looking sharp!

  4. I also was surprised by the way it went, comparing to the previous protests. Particularly because having an office in a University it was expected that the crowd would enter and start “distracting” the people who had decided to come to work that day. I personally don´t think Catalunya gets independence in a sense “catalunya as a new European state”, but eventually they will in economic terms. Thank you for the article!

      • Well…. maybe I wish we here in Brazil could make “better protests” too….. it’s weird… you have to choose between a “too pacific” society, but, to have it, people end up being conformists… or you have a society where some violent protests may happen, but it’s a world where people are fighting for their rights… there’s no easy choice! 🙂

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