Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Flying pickets at midnight: general strike in Madrid

Today's #N14 general strike is a one day strike, beginning not with pickets in place for 9am, the start of the average working day, but at midnight - ie over four hours ago. In fact it started with a rally at 8.30pm last night in Puerta del Sol, called by CC.OO, Spain's largest trade union. After speeches about Rajoy, labour reform, the Troika, capitalism, unemployment, and eviction-prompted suicides;(more on all this later, as it's way past my bedtime), about 4,000 people went to CC.OO headquarters for some rhetorical and actual nourishment - more speeches, plus piles of free bocadillos, coffee, non-alcoholic lager, and coca cola, the necessary fuel for a night of flying pickets.

Everyone piled up on flags, stickers, fire-crackers, horns, whistles and flyers, and at 11.45pm, set off to shut down the capital of Spain.

As I write, I think it's fair to say that every ATM machine and shop window in Madrid now looks like this (although some of them have superglue and spraypaint on, too). The stickers say 'CLOSED: GENERAL STRIKE' and 'WE ARE LEFT WITH NO FUTURE':

After the violent clashes following the attempts to 'occupy congress' in September, the authorities obviously aren't taking any chances this time. Nothing like two layers of fencing and one layer of riot police to demonstrate the health your representative democracy is in:

Congress aside, generally the riot cops shadowed the few thousand marchers at a distance, allowing for plenty of new licks of paint to be added to Madrid's infamous art corridor, the Paseo del Prado:

These two motorcycle cops had been positioned defending a branch of Barclays, and were outnumbered by a ratio of about 1000:1. So they got stickered.

Stopping the traffic on Plaza de Colón. These taxistas were predictably unimpressed - although others had joined the strike, and were driving around waving red flags.

The few businesses who had not got the memo, and not only had their shutters up but were still open after midnight, received very short shrift (it's worth bearing in mind how much of Madrid is normally open after midnight - specifically, large swathes of it). In some cases this involved a bit of stickering, heckling, and a generally friendly inducement for the shoppers/late night pizza eaters to join us, in others it was slightly more intimidating, with shutters being forced down and the remaining employees and customers shut inside.

Positioning anyone still working after midnight as a scab, essentially, is not very fair on the minimum wage McDonalds employees whose chances of unionising are somewhere around nil, if you ask me. But as was becoming abundantly clear by this point (around 1am), those on strike are determined - after the relatively mild intervention of 29 March - that this time, the general strike will be as general as humanly possible. This book shop was one business that dared to still be open after midnight.

It wasn't open by the time the march had passed - nothing was.

A girl of about 16 was pretty clear on her feelings on consumerism. She kept writing NO CONSUMISMO on shop windows. Sadface.

The only thing we couldn't get close to was the Partido Popular headquarters. So some of the youngsters - one with the flag of the Spanish second republic (more of this later, too) - decided to sit down and chant their disdain.

The fascist Nudo Patriota Espanol decided it would be terribly funny to pun on huelga general and swap the huelga (strike) for vuelva (return) - making the imperative RETURN GENERAL. General Franco. Come back, o Fascist dictator. Obviously, they got stickered.


This was the front line around 1.30am, as a thousand or so picketers continued on the path towards the appropriately named Gran Via. At one point the young CC.OO woman at the front with the loud hailer turned to her comrade and asked off mic 'which way shall we go next'? 'Left', he said confidently. She turned the mic back on. 'We're going left - always to the left!'

We kept going for over two hours - I found a friend who'd been with the anarchist bloc earlier, responsible for shutting everything that had still been open in Gran Via. The communists wound back to the iconic home of the 15m, Puerta del Sol, the centre of the city, singing La Internacional and songs telling Rajoy where he could put his hated reforma laboral - labour reforms which are screwing a nation already scuttling upwards of 23% unemployment. As 3am approached, I decided it was time to try and get some sleep, to conserve some energy for tomorrow - and on my way home I stumbled across another substantial flying picket group, a mixture of CC.OO, UGT and anarchists.

They had managed to acquire some followers.

Anyway it's 4am - time for bed.


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