On March 29 Spain held a general strike in protest against the new labour laws being introduced by the centre right Partido Popular government. The major protests throughout the country went off peacefully but this has not stopped the CEOE, Spain’s equivalent to the CBI, questioning whether because of the serious risk of violence such “political strikes” should not be made illegal. Whilst in Barcelona, where there was street violence, the two police unions are demanding those arrested and convicted should face the same anti-terrorism laws as are in force in the Basque country.
It was the president of the CEOE, Joan Rosell, who proposed that after M-29 the right to strike should be regulated. If it is a political strike, which the business organisation and the Partido Popular insist it was, then it should be illegal. Probably not wanting to inflame further the current situation, the minister of employment, Fátima Báñez, said she discounted such a move – for the moment. However it is quite clear that the centre right has been rattled by the shows of public anger and opposition so there is a keen desire to stamp down on dissent. This could soon come to a head as the CC.OO and UGT unions have stated they will make further announcements on action if no meaningful talks with the government have been held by May Day.
The Spanish Government is already proposing changes to the penal code that will see “crimes” of disobedience and resistance to authority carry prison terms of between six months and a year. If it does decide to make political strikes “illegal” then it will be only the second European government to do so. The other is the ultra right government in Hungary- but an extreme right wing Francoist response is in the PP’s DNA.
In the current economic and jobs crisis hitting Europe there have been a total of 36 general strikes. Greece has seen 17, France nine, Italy four, Portugal three, Belgium two and Spain just the one previously on September 29 2010 in protest over the high levels of unemployment. The latter was during the socialist mandate so the strike on March 29 was the first both for 18 months and under the new Mariano Rajoy regime.
The protests in Greece have been marked with street violence and that is what happened in Barcelona on March 29. This has led to the SPC police union demanding the application of anti-terrorist laws to those who provoke such disturbances.
The spokesperson for the union, David Miquel, said the law needed to be changed so these violent demonstrators could be treated in the same way as the ‘kale borroka’ – the street gangs that support the ETA movement in the Basque region.
Miquel stated: “If there is an existing organisation and if they cause this chaotic situation in a city, this is the same as urban terrorism of low intensity that it has produced in the Basque region.”
The Catalan region has its own police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra and it is represented by the SME-CCOO union. It slammed the region’s government for being able to cut everything but street violence. In a press release the SME-CCOO said the demonstrators in the centre of Barcelona has used Molotov cocktails and thrown metal ball bearings against the Mossos adding the level of violence was equal to that of the ‘kale borroka’ or the anarchist groups in Greece.
The union says there are very organised groups who use the techniques from the manual of urban warfare and their presence had been detected by plain clothes police.
Of course Barcelona is not new to such violence. On June 23 of last year I wrote in The Morning Star about the 15-M protest movement – Los Indignados. The PP was still in opposition but had swept to power in regions, provinces and town halls making unprecedented gains. It was then that the party's mood changed.
I wrote: “It wanted the plazas cleared. The protesters became a nuisance, an eye-sore, a blight on business. The PP demanded the government take action. But the Indignant held their position and in Barcelona this resulted in bloody confrontations with the Catalan police - the Mossos d'Esquadra - who were accused of infiltrating the 15-M movement and acting as agent provocateurs.” Indeed the actions of the plain clothes police in causing the violence is well documented in photographs, print and on film.
Hence we have the Spanish business confederation, the CEOE, calling for all “political” strikes to be made illegal and the police in Barcelona, who are not shy in provoking violence, demanding the introduction of anti-terrorism laws to deal with street protests. This in a country were labour relations have traditionally been far more peaceful than elsewhere in Europe as can be seen by the strike statistics. At the end of the day it is the Partido Popular government that will have to choose how to respond – but the PP is the child of Spain’s notorious right: expect the worst.
(The above article was published in The Morning Star on Wednesday April 4 2012)