Sevilla Libera!

Jun 20, 2002

Thanks to the massive success of the Barcelona protests in March this year, coupled with a huge attack from Prime Minister Aznar on unemployment benefit, the week in Seville was marked by a huge protest and a General Strike.

Huelga General! (General Strike!)
Never having experienced a General Strike before, Thursday 20th June in Spain was a real education. The build-up was impressive. Arriving at Madrid, there were signs up all over the airport and the Metro. Ticket booths, banks, shops and stations all had posters announcing the strike many inside the windows pointing out, others pasted on the outside. On Wednesday morning, flicking through the channels on the TV we saw a programme looking something like GMTV. On the desk of the presenter was a sign for the General Strike! Vans covered in posters were touring towns and cities throwing leaflets out of windows.

The establishment press across Europe and America have paid close attention to the strike. It was against the type of attacks we can expect many more of in the coming months and years. The government was eager to dismiss the action as a failure, the press followed suit. The first announcement declaring the strike a flop came from the government at 1am (just one hour after the start of the strike!). For us the strike was very real indeed. Roaming pickets went from bar to bar in Seville forcing closures. Park cleaners in the early morning were stopped from working (significant as they were temporary workers on incredibly low pay, un-unionised and insecure) by anti-capitalists with no union presence.

Mass pickets ensured the local transport system was completely solidly on strike. We had to walk from the campsite to town for the demonstration in the afternoon – in unbelieveable temperatures. We passed a couple of picket lines on the way, big confident and noisy picket lines. At the University Hospital there was singing and chanting by a largely female picket. As we discovered in Barcelona, demos in Spain are not the most punctual affairs. An hour or so after the original start time, we proceeded, many of the national union leaders appeared on the Seville march, it being the centre of attention because of the Summit. Estimates for the numbers on the march vary from around 40 – 100,000.

Walking back through town showed the impact of the strike. C & A was open but easily 95% of stores were closed, streets deserted, not a bus or a taxi to be seen. Reports from across Spain came through. The major department store in Barcelona, El Corte Inglés, was on strike. For the first time since before the Civil War there were a few clashes between strikers and police in Madrid. Protests took place in major cities across the country.

We were told the UK media had an interesting take on the strike – not many participated, but holiday-makers greatly inconvenienced. Not a bit of it – this was a GENERAL strike not a strike in the tourist industry, Spain was in the grip of the strikers. The summit started late as a result, and nobody could ignore it.

Diverse Actions
News broke about an occupation of a university building against the anti-immigrant initiatives of the EU Summit. 300 international activists and immigrants locked themselves into the Salvador University. In the evening two demonstrations were prominent. Reclaim the Streets held an action – heavily policed and cordoned off by the train station – and students marched through the city. Gathering for the student march we were greeted by police in riot gear with teargas guns ready to fire. Despite the intimidatory behaviour of the police a smallish (around 2000) demo grew in confidence and volume and drew a lot of support from residents and passers-by. It ended up at a fiesta in town with much drumming and rock music (!) and plenty of cerveza and sangria – why can’t that happen here?

For those of us staying at the campsite, the days tended to merge into one, thanks to the 24 hour bar! The internationalism and camaraderie was brilliant, plenty of discussions and an endless supply of beer went some way to creating a fantastic atmosphere.

Sevilla on the March
A counter-conference on the Saturday morning was very well attended and the University campus was filled with people from across the continent discussing a huge range of issues and ideas.

The main event that day, however, was the main march against the EU summit. The immigrants occupation ended as the occupiers came out, greeted by a crowd of about 1000 and set off to join the main demonstration. Again, as always, a lot of hanging about at the start of the march, but that gave us a chance to have a look at who was there. Big delegations from the CGT union, the Spanish Communist Party, anti-Debt Campaigners and activists from every part of the resistance. A remarkable feature was the enthusiastic support from non-participants again. Crowds gathered under balconies to get a drenching in water thrown by residents, such was the heat. It was in hindsight quite a long route, but the atmosphere and the noise carried you through.

The size of the protest will be debated for some time. Government ‘estimates’ were 45,000, the police claimed 60,000, organisers said 100 – 150,000 and some newspapers went as high as 300,000. I like the higher end – the organisers’ claims of 150,000 seem fair, but there’s no accurate way of counting such a march.

There was no trouble at all in the sections around us. We’ve since heard of a few scuffles but nothing of any size. One Italian activist told me “Today is beautiful, what was taken from us in Genoa, we took back in Sevilla.” Police helicopters circled over head training its spotlight on the protesters. No, the main feature was the unity, the heat, the noise and the positivity of the whole thing.

The Result
Anyone who was there will not forget Seville. Tony Blair will not forget it, he was slapped down by the Tory-type French president Chirac for being too right-wing on immigration. It was certainly a step forward for anti-capitalism. The impact of the general strike and the anti-capitalist events together was brilliant and those links through activity should be replicated throughout the world. Trade Unions were infected with anti-capitalism and Anti-capitalists benefitted from the power of unions on the move. Certainly strike action against summits and the onslaught of the neo-liberal agenda must be a tool we use in the future, especially as the attacks get sharper.

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