¡Indígnate!: The 2011 Popular Protests and the Limits to Democracy in Spain

Article excerpt

Greig Charnock

University of Manchester, UK

Thomas Purcell

Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Spain

Ramon Ribera-Fumaz

Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Spain

Corresponding author:

Greig Charnock, University of Manchester, UK

Email: greig.charnock@manchester.ac.uk

Abstract

We are the unemployed, the poorly remunerated, the subcontracted, the precarious, the young ... we want change and a dignified future. We are fed up with antisocial reforms, those that leave us unemployed, those with which the bankers that have provoked the crisis raise our mortgages or take our homes, those laws that they impose upon us that limit our liberty for the benefit of the powerful. We blame the political economic and economic powers for our precarious situation and we demand a change of direction. ¡Democracia Real YA! website, 2011

Thus explains one of the principal organisations behind the 'movement of the indignant' that has re-awakened popular political consciousness in Spain since 15 May 2011.1 From its origins in a network of activists utilising new social media to coordinate a series of protest marches in cities across Spain, the '15- M' movement has since staged camp-outs in several main city squares, and in the space of a month mobilised 40,000 protestors in Madrid and 80,000 in Barcelona to march against high unemployment, the policies and conduct of Spain's political class, and to demand 'real democracy NOW!' As an important case of potential interest to Capital & Class readers in its own right, but also as one example of contemporary European mass movements like that of the aganaktismenoi in Greece, this report explains the motives and actions of los indignados, while also contextualising it within a critical materialist analysis of the political economy of Spain since the mid-20th century. It concludes with some open questions about the limits to the movement itself and its demands for real democracy and systemic change.

Keywords

Behind the News, Spain, indignados, protest, political economy

Introduction

The indignados movement in Spain was born out of the action of ¡Democracia real YA!, an internet-based social movement platform created by activists involved in the free culture movement and the struggle over a new Spanish law on intellectual property rights.2 Through this new media network and small local platforms, demonstrations were planned to take place in many of Spain's cities on 15 May 2011. Hundreds of the '15-M' protestors took the initiative to occupy and set up encampments in major urban squares, such as Madrid's Puerta del Sol and Barcelona's Plaça de Catalunya, attracting the attention of the world's media. Days later, tens of thousands joined the 15-M movement in protest marches across Spain against austerity cuts, a high unemployment rate (with youth unemployment then at 41 per cent), and the predicted dominance of the main Spanish political parties in upcoming regional and municipal elections on 19 May (Tremlett, 21 May 2011).

As in Greece, the course of events has sometimes taken a violent turn, despite the pacifist intentions of the vast majority of the movements. In Barcelona, for instance, the Catalonian police were widely criticised for the disproportionate use of force in evicting camping protestors from the Plaça de Catalunya on 27 May, while a small number of los indignados were also denounced by the wider movements for attacks against members of the regional parliament (Generalitat de Catalunya) on 15 June. In Madrid, on 27 July, the police forcibly removed a group of indignados that had descended on the Spanish parliament to deliver a list of demands.3 Clashes between los indignados and the police have since been a regular occurrence.4 Tensions were again high on 15 October 2011, when a further day of mass marches took place across Spain to protest against the 'Euro Plus Pact' (aka 'Pact for the Euro') - a series of crisis management measures that commits all seventeen members of the Euro zone to meeting 'specific deficit, revenue and expenditure targets', and to several areas of 'structural reform' such as labour markets (aimed at lowering unit labour costs and standardising so-called 'flexicurity' in all signatory countries) and pension reforms, including raising the standard age of retirement (European Council, 24-25 March 2011). …