Tens of thousands of protestors took to the streets of Madrid on 25 September and marched on Spain’s parliament building as MPs discussed its 2013 budget.
The demonstrations were called by a coordination originating in the “Indignados” movement, who set up protest camps in Spanish cities in 2011.
Many demonstrators were demanding new elections. The manifesto said: “Winning an election does not give the government the right to act as it wants, betraying the voters who elected it.
“The people, under these conditions, have the right to demand that the government quits. This is the essence of democracy and popular sovereignty.”
Police responded with violence, firing rubber bullets at protesters and arresting 26. At least 60 people are thought to have been injured during the demonstrations. Around 1,300 riot police were deployed to police the protests — over half of Spain’s riot police force and a ratio of one cop to every six protesters, according to some figures. A statement from Izquierda Unida (United Left) MPs said that the criminalisation of protest and the heavy-handed policing of demonstrations was “pouring gasoline on the streets”.
The government’s austerity budget includes a 12% spending cut and a third year of public sector pay freeze. The spending cuts are projected to reduce the deficit by less than 1%.
The political perspective of the demonstrations centres on popular-democratic, rather than class-based, slogans and ideas. Spain’s two main union federations, CCOO and UGT, have both threatened action against the public sector pay freeze in particular; if the dynamism of the protests can be used to energise and galvanise the labour movement, then a working-class movement against austerity with the power to shake the government could be built.
There have also been huge demonstrations in Portugal, with 100,000 marching against austerity on 15 September. Unions were central to the protests, and dock workers have struck against contractual reforms that threaten jobs.