Do or Die

An article from Do or Die Issue 9. In the paper edition, this article appears on page(s) 30-43.

Struggles South of the Pyrenees

Radical Social Movements in the Spanish State


March 2000: Shipyard workers in Gijón get mildly annoyed.

After decades of fascist dictatorship in the Spanish state, there was a huge upturn in struggle in the 1970s. Popular movements and autonomous workplace activity, strikes and mass demos were eventually defused by the 'democratic consensus' of the political parties and unions in the transition to constitutional democracy. In recent years the level of struggle has looked tame compared with the upheavals of the 70s, but in some areas important social and ecological battles are being fought.

After the transition from fascism to democracy, the Spanish state[1] joined the Common Market; this young democracy becoming integrated into the European and world markets with all the consequent economic restructuring and flexibilisation of the labour market that this entailed. Today the Spanish economy has been transformed into a services economy heavily dependent on tourism and commerce. All the while the dominant ideology of modernisation is rammed down people's throats: 'how wonderful it is to live in a modern European country!'

Against this, the squatted social centres movement (especially in Catalonia and Madrid) is flexing its muscles in the face of repression under the new Penal Code. Struggles are going on in many cities against property and land speculation as neighbourhood and environmental groups team up to fight urban sprawl and huge infrastructure projects. There are the continuing campaigns against the Itoiz dam, industrial wind power plants and the TAV high speed rail link between Madrid and Paris. Also noteworthy are the ongoing campaigns of sabotage against the savage exploitation of the ETTs (Empresas de Trabajo Temporal - temporary work agencies). And in several Spanish cities there have been 'Weeks of Social Struggle' - an attempt to unite these different social movements.

But before looking at the contemporary landscape of struggle in the Spanish state, it's worth briefly turning the clock back a quarter of a century to set today's movements in a historical context...

Autonomous Proletarian Organisation

In many countries around the world, the 70s saw a major upswing in class struggle; in the Spanish state, this coincided with and hastened the decay of the Francoist regime which had triumphed in the 1936-39 civil war and its transition to democracy.[2] Francoism was no longer the most adequate regime for the management of capitalism in the Spanish state, and democracy was now necessary to guarantee continued bourgeois control over society.

Capitalism was severely shaken by the outbreak of wildcat strike movements, especially in the years 1976-78, which were organised autonomously by workers outside and against the unions and political parties of the opposition. The assemblies movement threatened to unite the working class and reach beyond demands for wage increases and shorter working hours to the point where the continued existence of wage labour itself might be put in question. Certainly the assemblies contained within themselves this potential: "by adopting as fundamental principles, beyond any possible discussion, 'All power to the assemblies of the working class' and 'Everything within the assembly, nothing outside it', they took the initiative that could lead to the revolution that must leave nothing exterior to it".[3]

The assemblies were mass meetings of thousands of workers, which then elected recallable delegates to form strike committees and to liase with other workplaces in struggle. In Madrid 320,000 workers primarily in the construction and metal-working industries were involved in struggles galvanised by the autonomous movement of the workers; there were big strike movements in Baix Llobregat, Málaga, Barcelona, the shoe-makers industry in Alacant (Alicante),[4] the ceramics industry in Castelló (Castellón) in València, Gava near Barcelona, Valladolid and many other places. The assemblies movement extended beyond the workplace, with neighbourhood assemblies forming their own subversive associations, particularly in the Basque Country.

Given the near-insurrectionary situation that existed, with proletarian mobilisations spreading to the streets and riots in Cádiz, Málaga, Vigo, Gasteiz (Vitoria) in the Basque Country, and elsewhere, and with looting and sabotage attacking the basic element of capitalism - the commodity,[5] who was to save the bourgeois order? It was left to a combination of recuperation of these struggles by the politico-union bureaucracies and repression by the police and army. The opposition parties and unions (who at this time were snuggling up to the neo-Francoist government after Franco's death, hoping to carve out a niche for themselves as Francoism embraced democracy) began to organise against the assemblies movement. When that failed, then there were always the bullets of the police, as in Gasteiz where five workers were killed by police on the 3rd of March 1976 after months of strikes had culminated in a general strike and barricades had gone up across the city. The threat of violent repression was never far off for the assemblies movement, criminalised by the media and attacked by the unions and political parties. The state railway network RENFE was placed under military control (as was the Post Office and the Metro) after a big strike for a collective contract and a series of other demands in January 1976.

However, for the bourgeoisie, the preferred means of containing and disarming proletarian struggle was to delegate this task to the trade unions and political parties. These, by a range of tactics ranging from manipulation and deceit to intimidation, managed to outmanoeuvre the assemblies and wangle their way into positions of negotiating with the bosses and the state. Once in these positions, they could usually successfully defuse conflict by negotiating very watered down demands and caving in to management at the earliest opportunity, something the Stalinists were particularly adept at. The parliamentary elections in 1977 and the union elections in 78 marked the waning of the autonomous proletarian movement and the democratic stabilisation of Spanish capitalism. "Francoism definitely had now become completely democratic and the opposition completely Francoist, with their democracy closing the door to the revolution."

Class Struggle in the 21st Century

So, more than twenty years after the huge upturn in struggle during the transition, what is the current panorama of class struggle in the Spanish state? At first glance it is not a pretty picture; the transition from a dictatorial model to democratic model of management of capitalism has merely meant the readjustment and strengthening of the system of exploitation and capitalist accumulation.

"Tools for workers' self-defence."

With the restructuring of the economy on a global level as a response to rising levels of class struggle in the 60s and 70s in industrialised countries, the Spanish state has been progressively de-industrialised while the services sector and tourism has grown. There have been protracted struggles in industries such as shipbuilding, with striking workers often using forceful tactics such as burning barricades in Cádiz, Puerto Real and Xixón (Gijón) among other places. But too often these are losing battles.

Old entrenched workforces are outmanoeuvred by capital, the new economy is more and more based on services and commerce and casualised workforces are more and more the norm. This tendency has been reinforced by recent legislation from both the Socialist and the Popular Party governments. Under this new model of liberalism, one sector of the economy especially has flourished: the ETTs (temp agencies). ETTs made profits of a billion pesetas in 1998 (£3.6 million).[6] Flexibilisation of the labour market has been a fundamental part of the capitalist strategy to increase profitability, and this has resulted in increased misery and poverty and worse working conditions for those who work. Coupled with this have been drastic cuts in the welfare state and social spending, which were further obstacles to increased profitability for the capitalist class. Another element of the strategy has been the privatisation of state owned entities like Correos y Telegrafos (the Post Office) and Telefónica (Telecommunications).

The statistics speak for themselves: 3 million people are unemployed and less than a million of these get any unemployment benefit; 7 out of every 10 of those in work are on temporary or part-time contracts often called contratos basura ('rubbish contracts'); 9 million people (almost a third of the population) live on or below the official poverty line.

What of the role of the trade unions in this continual attack on the working class? The mainstream unions CCOO, UGT, CGT and USO[7] continue to make pacts with the bosses and do their best to contain any vestiges of struggle. The anarcho-syndicalist CNT[8] is much less significant in the workplace after the damaging split with the more reformist CGT. When there has been struggle, results have been mixed, as a quick glance at conflicts up and down the Spanish state will show us.

In the fast growing telemarketing sector, 90% of contracts are temporary; large companies farm out their telephone customer services to new telemarketing companies, which in turn sub-contract to temp agencies. The vast majority of jobs which used to be on a fixed contract are now using temps ('using' being the operative word), who get 80,000 pesetas (£290) a month where the fixed contract workers used to earn 200,000 pesetas (£725). At the end of June 2000 there was a demonstration in Madrid against the crap collective bargain for this sector negotiated by the mainstream unions, with 300 people, some of whom got truncheoned by riot cops.

After a strike all over the Spanish state of temporary workers contracted by the DTG temp agency at telecommunications company Airtel, in which the workers were asking among other things for a raise in their wages of 470 pesetas (£1.70) an hour (and they were only allowed toilet breaks of 4 minutes!) the company sacked all 700 strikers.

In February 2000 there was open warfare on the streets of Xixón (Gijón) between workers of the shipyard Naval Gijón and riot cops, with workers burning barricades and turning round buses to block the streets in protest at the decision to lay off 99 workers. The shipyard is threatened with closure. At the same time the workers of the other shipyard in Xixón, Juliana Constructora Gijonesa, were working to rule and demonstrating against the proposed privatisation of their yard. Confrontations with the police, sabotage and strikes have also been the order of the day for the past year at RENFE, the state-owned rail network, soon to be privatised.

In February 2000 there was a strike in the construction industry over accidents at work (4 people are killed at work every day in the Spanish state, that's 9,220 deaths in the 90s, with 92,420 serious injuries). In the Spanish state there's a song with a very catchy tune which goes: "Me matan si no trabajo/Y si trabajo me matan" ("They kill me if I don't work/And if I work they kill me")... The CNT called a demo of a thousand people in December 99 against "Accidents at Work - Entrepreneurial Terrorism!"

Many temp agencies have been the targets of direct action up and down the Spanish state, frequently suffering occupations, pickets, broken windows, glued locks and the odd molotov cocktail. In fact, while in Britain it was always butcher's shops and McDonald's that were top of the hit-parade, in the Spanish state the temp agencies are pushing hole in the wall cash dispensers for that number one spot. In fact so bad did it get for the temp agencies in the working-class barrio[9] of Malasaña in Madrid that the last one pulled out in May 2000.

The struggle against the exploitation of temp workers acts as something of an interface between the world of workplace struggle and the subculture of autonomous groups (perhaps the closest equivalent to the 'direct action movement' in the UK). Much activism in the Spanish state is organised through autonomous groups which meet regularly, often in squatted social centres. An example of this in Madrid is the network of twelve autonomous groups called Lucha Autónoma (Autonomous Struggle); most of these groups are based in a particular barrio of the city. Lucha Autónoma has as its main mission "to promote and participate in mobilisations, direct action and any other expressions of struggle which weave a social network of resistance and self-organisation, building a new antagonist subjectivity capable of liberating spaces or territories from the logic of money and its different ramifications". Sounds all right to me (this is typical autonomist-speak, but you get the general drift!).

Amongst isolated groups of workers and marginal autonomous groups the class struggle briefly flares up, but all too often losing battles are being fought, or there is no struggle at all and the state, bosses and unions enjoy a cosy relationship at the expense of the workers.


The CNT is an anarcho-syndicalist union formed in the early years of the last century. After being forced into exile during the years of fascist dictatorship, the CNT got a chance to re-establish itself with the coming of democracy in the 70s. However in the early 80s it suffered a damaging split that resulted in the formation of the breakaway CGT, which wanted to build a bigger union by watering down the politics.

There was a 15 year legal battle over which organisation got to use the name 'CNT', which was given added importance because the CNT has been trying to reclaim by legal means all the property it owned which was seized by Franco. The organisation which got the name 'CNT' would also have a chance of getting the money. Today, the value of the property they are trying to reclaim comes to about 20 billion pesatas (approx £78 million). In the mid 90s the legal battle for the name was resolved in favour of the more radical faction, since when the CNT has begun to recover and grow.

Today the CNT has between 50,000 and 100,000 members across the Spanish state, with maybe 100-150 in each town or city. In contrast to all other unions, the CNT has no paid officials - all positions in the union are filled by volunteers who do their union work in their spare time. All unions in the Spanish state receive funding from the government except the CNT, which refuses it, recognising the state subsidy as a way of keeping the unions in line.

The CNT is involved in lots of different struggles - they have a cop-watch section and do legal help for immigrants, they have also organised RTS-style street parties and co-ops, like co-op bars etc. They will typically use direct action and legal battles together. For example, they have occupied and squatted some of the buildings that now belong to the government that used to belong to the CNT. As they can't use more radical tactics under the banner of the CNT, in a struggle they will for example do black bloc actions by smashing up the boss' car or local offices of the political parties in tandem with legal actions and demonstrations.

Women Changing the World

The struggle against patriarchy is particularly arduous in the Mediterranean countries where macho attitudes remain deeply embedded (or perhaps not as disguised as in Northern Europe). This struggle manifests itself in many subtle ways with women confronting sexism daily on an individual basis, but occasionally women come together to make a loud collective noise.

"Lads look out - women are disobeying."

In València for example there are several active women's groups: Fem*mes and Dones Agridolces, and one of the squatted social centres La Jerónima is powered predominantly by women. Another centre for women's organising is the women's squatted social centre La Eskalera Karakola (The Spiral Staircase) in Madrid where they regularly have workshops on things like self-defence, acrobatics, games based on cooperation, fiestas de meiga ('wise women's parties') as well as a women's pub and a whole range of other activities.

Occasionally women take to the streets en masse, such as for the Reclaim the Night demonstrations, and on International Working Women's Day on the 8th March. There was a large and festive demonstration in València on the 8th March 2000 of several thousand women; among the banners was one with the slogan of "Ni tolerància ni resignació, una resposta a cada agressió" (Neither tolerance nor resignation, a response to every attack) - reflecting a militant attitude towards sexual harassment and attacks, and traditional roles of passiveness. During the march banners were also hung from the cathedral, one saying "Good girls go to heaven, we just squat it instead." Feminist graffiti was also painted on cosmetics and clothes shops.

In Saragossa (Zaragoza) too women were mobilising on the 8th March: here one of the participating groups was La Asamblea de Mujeres de Zaragoza (Saragossa Women's Group), which has been going since Summer 1999 (complementing the work of the most long-standing autonomous women's group, Ruda). It was set up in response to the need for women to organise as women to combat sexist attitudes just as prevalent in the autonomous/anarcho scene as in wider society, and has weekly meetings and a radio programme on the local free radio, Radio Topo. La Asamblea de Mujeres de Zaragoza participated in the global women's strike on the 8th March under the slogan "Let's stop the world so we can change it! If we women stop working, everything stops!"

Alternative Media

Cultural differences between the UK 'direct action scene' and the autonomous/anarcho scene in the Spanish state abound; one area where activity far surpasses anything seen in Britain is that of alternative media - free radios, magazines, bulletins and the internet.

One of the most impressive developments in alternative media is the antagonist internet project ('Sindominio' is a play on words meaning both 'without domain' and 'without domination'.[10]) Currently about a hundred different groups from all over the Spanish state have web-pages or email through the Sindominio GNU/Linux server, based entirely on free software. Sindominio consists of a domain -, a server for web pages, a server for electronic mail, mailing lists, news (discussion groups), search engines, archives and documentation centres.

There are several alternative news agencies (a bit like a cross between SchNEWS and the IndyMedia Centres), such as UPA and ACP in Madrid, Zitzània (Discord) in Barcelona (which produces the weekly bulletin Contrainfos), Aixeca't (Rise Up) in València, Agencia BCK in Burgos. All these news agencies are now linked through Sindominio. Critics of cyberspace argue that with expanding reliance on the internet there is a danger of an even more pronounced elitism than ever within social movements, with access to information and decision-making in the hands of a connected minority. However, part of the Sindominio project is to provide free access to the web in social centres to counteract this tendency.

There are also many small-scale self-produced political zines, and there are a few well established magazines and papers such as the monthlies Molotov and El Akratador (a made up word meaning something like 'The Anarchator'), and the quarterlies: the Catalan La Lletra A (The Letter A) and the Basque Ekintza Zuzena (Direct Action), both of which publish some articles in the local lingo but most in Spanish.

A visitor from Britain will be surprised at the number of free radio stations able to operate: a few years ago Radio Topo (Mole Radio) and the Centro Social Libertario did a survey of free radios and got replies from 34 in the Spanish state. Many of these free radios transmit 24 hours a day and 7 days a week (typically programmes are repeated at night time) and are self-financing. Quite often they are fairly powerful, being picked up all over a city and the surrounding areas, and content is usually mostly political (some of the free radios like to describe themselves as being the voice of the voiceless). The free radios fulfill a very important function in enabling people to communicate with each other and to spread the word about demos, actions, evictions and also to debate the issues of the day... they can build up quite impressive listenerships of thousands of people.

Most of the free radios are not legal, but are tolerated by the state (perhaps as a recognition of the balance of forces - attempts to close down free radios have met with big outcries and accusations of censorship). One notable exception is the long-standing Ràdio Klara in València, which was legalised after an attempt to shut it down; years later this has had the unfortunate consequence of allowing those whose names went down as president, treasurer, secretary etc. of the legal entity officially running the radio to pull off a coup and abolish the open, horizontal decision-making assembly and expel a number of the most politically outspoken programmes... a cautionary tale against legalisation if ever there was one!

Land and Ecology

If one of the most active movements in Britain in the 90s was people taking direct action to stop environmental destruction, then the ecology movement in the Spanish state is small by comparison, with some notable exceptions (particularly in the Basque Country). However, it may be small, but it is perfectly formed!

Ecological campaigns are typically against the building of 'capitalist destructive infrastructure' like the TransEuropean transport links (roads and high speed train links), the dam in Itoiz, the 'superports' in Bilbo (Bilbao) and València, and urban expansion in general.

According to the Asamblea Anti-TAV de Euskal Herria (Anti High Speed Train Assembly of the Basque Country) these projects "correspond to the need to modernise and make the economy competitive, to improve economic links in accordance with the restructuring of capitalism, whereby profit maximisation and competition lead to ever greater concentrations of property and capitals. At the same time international capital is more fluid than ever, and the different phases of the production, storage and distribution process are dispersed in different places and countries according to maximum profitability and minimum cost to entrepreneurs. This process necessitates ever greater movements of population and ever more gigantic infrastructures, as different regions compete to attract investment."

The anti-dam direct action group Solidari@s con Itoiz[11] (see below) say on the same theme: "For many years we have seen how the tendency of capital is to concentrate population in large conurbations to the detriment of rural areas, which have become more and more deserted. Rural areas are transformed into resource-zones for large-scale transport infrastructure, production centres for energy and industrial agriculture, or for the accumulation of raw materials to satisfy the needs of large cities."

In many of the leaflets and agitprop produced by environmental groups in the Spanish state there is the message that the ecological struggle and the anti-capitalist struggle are one and the same, that there is no protecting the environment without a radical change in social relations.

February 6th 1996, the cutting of the cables.

One of the biggest campaigns in recent times, and one which links groups from different parts of the Spanish state, is the campaign against the 2 billion peseta (£7.3 million) high speed train links (called TAV - Tren de Alta Velocidad, or AVE) being built to link Paris and Madrid via both the Basque Country and Catalonia, and Madrid to València and Murcia. In the Basque Country the mountains of the North of Nafarroa (Navarre) and Gipuzkoa and borders of the provinces of Bizkaia and Araba are threatened with 128km of tunnels, and 55 viaducts will have to be built. Thousands of animal and plant species will have their habitats destroyed. According to the Asamblea Anti-TAV de Euskal Herria the effect on the environment will be worse even than the building of motorways. Much of the opposition to these rail links comes from people who live along or near to the routes, who will not benefit from them at all (because the normal trains won't run anymore, the AVE won't stop, and it would be too expensive anyway!). Demonstrations in towns along the proposed routes are frequent, such as the one on 23rd May 2000 on both sides of the French-Spanish border which divides the Basque Country with 2,000 people from Irun meeting up with 500 people from Hendaia at the border under the banner of "Stop Destructive Projects - For Social Change". Also frequent are the Anti-TAV camps, particularly in the Basque Country and Catalonia, where hundreds of people set up camp temporarily in one of the affected areas as a protest, and go off and do actions and have workshops (a bit like an Earth First! Summer gathering, but with more sun).

Another area of campaigning in several cities around the Spanish state is opposition to urban development and expansion. Added to the environmental dimension is the social dimension - many people are being forced from their homes to make way for the expansion of the ports in Bilbo and València, and for other capitalist infrastructure such as new roads. In València there has been much popular protest against both the building of the port and the extension of the big avenue Blasco Ibáñez to serve the port, through the working-class barrio of El Cabanyal, where every second balcony has a banner against the road (which will involve the destruction of 1,651 homes). An empty warehouse was squatted as a protest against the road which has now become the long-standing squatted social centre CSO Pepika La Pilona (named in honour of a local prostitute and much loved resident of the area), one of three squatted social centres in València. Residents have organised in a group called Plataforma Salvem El Cabanyal, and they have had noisy protests of 3,000 people (caceroladas - where everyone bangs on their pots and pans) through the barrio and 6,000 outside the town hall, and hunger strikes lasting 21 days. But the local government won't budge, and the media have joined forces to defend this clear example of (capitalist) progress.

Basque Ecological Struggles

The Basque Country is a part of the Spanish state with a long tradition of ecological struggles; in part these struggles have been interwoven with resistance to the Francoist dictatorship and with the 'national liberation' struggle. Particularly emblematic was the anti-nuclear struggle against the building of the power station in Lemoiz - in part the resistance could be explained by a feeling that an alien Spanish government indistinguishable from the previous dictatorship was riding roughshod over the interests of the Basque people and 'spoiling our beautiful Basque homeland'.

Lemoiz generated huge resistance in the 70s and 80s, from mass demonstrations, campaigns of civil disobedience and strikes to acts of sabotage and bomb attacks by armed left-wing nationalist group ETA.[12] Port workers refused to unload components and materials for the construction of the power station, and tenants' groups refused en masse to pay electricity bills, and reconnected themselves when the electricity company Iberduro disconnected them. Lemoiz was built but was never put into operation, a massive ecological victory...

Another mass campaign was against the building of the road from Iruñea (Pamplona) to Donostia (San Sebastian). However the national liberation movement sold out on this one and supported an alternative route (a Basque alternative of course) which still involved the destruction of forests.

After the massive struggles of the 70s and 80s, how is it that ecological struggle is so fragmented today? Eguzki (meaning 'sun') was the environmental movement that came out of these struggles, but is now a shadow of its former self. Some people explain the decline in activity which has taken place in terms ultimately of the divisive influence of the national liberation movement in many social struggles (feminism, anti-militarism, workplace struggle), which it has sought to dominate and link (even subordinate) to national liberation. Specifically Basque nationalist groups were set up for each of these struggles, which in many cases had the effect of splintering them.

In some areas there has been something of a resurgence in recent years, with opposition to the High Speed Train link and most notably to the building of the dam in Itoiz in the Basque province of Nafarroa.

Solidari@s con Itoiz

For the last 15 years thousands of local people have fought against the Itoiz dam in the Basque Country, arguing that the dam is destructive to nature, a danger to public safety, socially and culturally destructive, and surrounded by a web of governmental corruption. Its construction will flood a 35km long (1,100 hectare) valley in the Basque Country. Not only is this valley an environmentally sensitive area with 5 nature reserves of great ecological value, it also contains nine villages that will all disappear under water. Contrary to government statements, the Itoiz dam will not produce much extra electricity and no serious plans for irrigation exist. Geologists also have doubts about the safety of the dam due to the instability of the surrounding slope. The dam has become a prestige project of the Navarrese government and is riddled with corruption, nepotism and bribery. The excuse of irrigation is used to mask the real reasons for this dam - i.e. the economic interests of tourism and industry far removed from the flooded areas, to which the water would be channelled via super-canals. The case was brought to the Supreme Court of the Spanish state, which ruled that the dam was illegal. However the construction of the dam continues to this day.

Amongst the many demonstrations and actions against the dam, the most publicised was the sabotage carried out in 1996 by 8 members of the group Solidari@s con Itoiz, who used circular saws to cut the steel cables of the concrete transporting system in a publicly accountable action.[13] They entered the construction site at dawn with invited members of the press. Two of the group tied up the security guard and disposed of his gun while the other six cut through the 800-metre long cables. The construction of the dam was paralysed for a whole year because of this action. The Solidari@s then gave themselves up to the Guardia Civil (the police force in rural areas). Their reasons for doing an accountable action (as opposed to attempting to escape) were that the building of the dam had been ruled illegal, so they could argue they were merely preventing illegal activities; also, in the context of an ongoing armed struggle in the Basque Country, the Solidari@s didn't want to bring down military-style repression on the ecological movement.

The 8 activists were arrested, beaten and remanded, but then released on bail after massive demonstrations in Iruñea. They were eventually given 5 year sentences, but in September 1999 they jumped bail before their sentences were due to start, to embark on a European awareness-raising tour. In London they linked up with anti-Narmada dam activists to climb the Millennium Wheel, unfurling banners saying 'Free Narmada, Free Itoiz!' and 'Let the Rivers Run Free!' In Berlin they climbed the Brandenburg Gate and hung banners saying 'SOS Itoiz' and 'Sentenced to 5 Years for Defending Nature'. The following day they were at it again, climbing the Berlin Alexanderplatz TV tower. They also scaled the dome of St. Peter's in the Vatican. They next hit the Hague, doing an action at the International Court of Justice and completely disrupting the opening of the World Water Forum. The tour ended in June 2000 at the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

In September 1998 two women from Solidari@s con Itoiz sabotaged 54 pieces of machinery being used to build the road from Agoitz to Nagore, which is necessary for the construction of the secondary reservoir, without which the Itoiz dam cannot function. Nearly £3 million of damage was caused and work on the dam was stopped for several months. In a campaign of 'feminine self-incrimination' 1,600 women signed statements saying they did the sabotage, which were then handed in to the court. As a solidarity action with these two women, who were sentenced to two years in prison, and against the dam, a group of about 30 people bricked up the door of the Spanish embassy in The Hague on June 20th 2000. In May 2000 there was an international camp against the Itoiz dam, with people coming from different parts of Europe to show solidarity. 2,500 marched in nearby Agoitz and banners were hung from cranes: "Por Itoiz No Pasara'n" ("They Shall Not Pass Through Itoiz").

The actions of sabotage against the Itoiz dam are by no means the only direct action taken by ecologists in the Spanish state. In Juncosa de les Garrigues, Catalonia, the machinery being used to build a toxic waste dump (for waste products such as arsenic, lead, cadmium, cyanide, hydraulic and motor oils, chemical and laboratory waste products) was set on fire, causing 50 million pesetas (£180,000) of damage.

Machinery was trashed at the mountain site of a windpower plant, in an action that might raise a few eyebrows. Environmentalists against windpower? Windpower is being developed industrially in the North of the Spanish state, particularly in Nafarroa and Asturies (Asturias) by electricity companies, devastating beautiful mountains; it is the scale of these wind farms, which are geared to meeting the needs of concentrated capital rather than the needs of people, which is scarring the landscape. Ecologists argue that windpower could easily be developed on a smaller, decentralised scale to meet the needs of local people without the impact on the land.

Anger at environmental destruction occasionally boils over in this way, however for the most part the trashing of the earth continues without mass opposition...

Centres of Struggle

Another huge difference between the 'scene' in Britain and in the Spanish state is the large number of squatted social centres, typically called CSOA - Centro Social Okupado Autogestionado (Self-managed Squatted Social Centre) or just CSO (without the 'Self-managed' bit); in the Basque Country they are known as Gaztetxe (literally 'house of the young') and in Catalonia, València and the Balearics (all Catalan speaking areas) they are often called Kasals. If you go to Barcelona or Madrid it seems like every working-class area has one - at the last count there were 23 in and around Barcelona!

Usurpa, the squat movement's newspaper, publishes a timetable of weekly activities in all the squat social centres around Barcelona available online at and a similar publication called Infousurpa does the same for Madrid. Often the social centres are old abandoned factories, warehouses, schools and even cinemas. There was a squatted laboratory in Madrid and also in some cases military and Guardia Civil barracks are occupied (as is the case with the long-standing and renowned Kasa de la Muntanya in Barcelona). Activities range from flamenco classes to debates on how best to organise against temp agencies, from Tai Chi to recycling workshops; most social centres have a bar and a café and some have libraries and games rooms; many have concerts weekly and nearly all are used by local autonomous groups to have their meetings and organise activities.

While squatted social centres have been a constant feature in Madrid since the late 80s, in Barcelona they mushroomed after the squatting in 1997 of a very high profile social centre in the centre of the city in a disused cinema (El Cine Princessa[14]) attracted mass support (support was sought in quite a high profile way, enlisting various celebrities and intellectuals to try and stop the eviction). When the eviction came many people actively resisted it and the centre of Barcelona resembled a battle zone, with police firing many rounds of rubber bullets and squatters responding with molotov cocktails. In an ensuing demonstration the big police station on Via Layetana where political prisoners were tortured under Franco was attacked by the crowd. As a result of the eviction the police were heavily criticised and the question was debated in the Catalan regional parliament; for a while it seemed that the possible legalisation of some social centres was on the cards (perhaps along the lines of the legalisation of squatted social centres in Germany and Italy, a ploy to divide the squatting movement: those social centres that don't accept legalisation are crushed, while those that do are often re-integrated into the world of rent, regulations and bureaucracy and often lose their antagonistic character).

In fact the state was already sharpening its claws in relation to squatting, with the introduction of a new Penal Code, which, perhaps similarly to the Criminal Justice Act in Britain, was designed to crack down on political protest. The new Penal Code criminalised squatting, or "usurping private property" (hence the name of the Barcelona squat movement newspaper Usurpa), with sentences of weekend arrest or fines to be paid. However, despite many cases being brought, in most instances people are acquitted, such as in the recent case of the social centre CSO Les Naus in Barcelona, where the provincial court decided it was a civil matter because the occupiers had been in the building for more than a year. According to Usurpa this case will now become a precedent.

In recent times there have been what Zitzània describes as an avalanche of evictions. In Madrid, social centres CSO Vendetta, CSO La Galia, La Atalaya y La Bola and CS La Biblio (a squat library in the Lavapies district of Madrid) have all been evicted without prior warning. According to the Asamblea de Kasas Okupadas y Centros Sociales de Madriz,[15] this wave of repression reflects a new strategy on the part of the administration since the massive eviction of CSO La Guindalera 3 years ago, when the squatters were well prepared and resisted, with 158 of them getting arrested and big mobilisations following - there was the feeling that the movement could become powerful enough to have a voice in society and had the potential to successfully stop evictions. Since then the movement has been ground down by surprise evictions and court cases - the 62 people arrested in the street outside La Guindalera are looking at 310 years prison between them if found guilty. In Barcelona 39 people are looking at 11 month sentences if convicted for resisting the eviction of the Cine Princessa. Also facing eviction, by none other than the Archbishop of Madrid, is La Prospe, a people's school that has for the last 26 years been doing popular educational work based on the principles of Paulo Freire's 'liberation pedagogy'; of assembly and self-management, with workshops on literacy, basic knowledge and Spanish for immigrants, and 'collective learning groups' on issues such as gender, popular communication, anti-globalisation, jobs, unemployment and alternatives, interculturalism, and social movements.

There have been attempts over the years to forge links between the different social centres such as the Asamblea de Kasas Okupadas y Centros Sociales de Madriz, to encourage networking in Madrid. However, these networks are often temporary and need to be rebuilt as social centres are evicted and people are dispersed. One recent result of this process was the demonstration networked by social centres all over the Spanish state (coaches came from as far away as CSO Camino de Ronda 190 in Granada) in Barcelona on Saturday the 15th of April, when 4,000 people marched through the centre of the city against property speculation and the threat of eviction hanging over 30 different squatted houses and social centres. During the week leading up to the demo banners advertising it were hung from the Sagrada Familia Cathedral, the empty Las Arenas bullring and the statue of Columbus.

Barcelona 1909

Barcelona in flames during the uprising of July 1909.

Graves opened by workers during the uprising: In defiance of religious taboos and in revolt against the authoritarian and reactionary Church, workers destroyed religious buildings, danced around in ecclesiastical vestments, coffins were opened and the corpses of nuns scattered on the pavement.

The spontaneous revolution Spanish anarchists had long hoped for seemed to have started on Monday 26th July 1909 when Barcelona was shut down by a massive general strike. The revolt started after the government called up military reservists to fight in Morocco. Mindful of a recent history of horrendous military campaigns, workers immediately responsed to the call for a general strike. Those on strike poured into the streets in protest, trams were overturned, communications cut and troop trains held up by women sitting on the rails. The anarchist Anselmo Lorenzo wrote to a friend saying: "What is happening here is amazing. A social revolution has broken out in Barcelona and it has been started by the people. No one has instigated it. No one has led it. Neither Liberals, nor Catalan Nationalists, nor Republicans, nor Socialists, nor Anarchists."

By Tuesday Barcelona was in the hands of the people, by Thursday the army and police had mounted a counter-attack and barricades were thrown up in the streets to stop them. Behind the barricades there was mass looting. However, by the end of the week the government had regained control.

What surprised the Barcelona workers themselves the most about the uprising was the immediate success of the general strike that had started it off, and it was out of this week-long uprising that the CNT was born as an amalgamation of all the already existing anarchist and libertarian unions.

Source: The Anarchists - The Men who Shocked an Era by Roderick Kenward (Macdonald, 1971) pp. 65-71

The agitprop for the demo attacked property speculators such as the bank La Caixa and the mafia-like corruption involved in property speculation (the mayor of Barcelona Joan Clos is at the head of companies Procivesa and Pro-Eixample which make annual profits of more than 5 billion pesetas (£18,000,000) from property speculation). Also given this treatment were those responsible for building the Itoiz dam and evicting the squatted villages of Rala and Artanga, and the press for manipulating news stories and printing word for word police press releases. In the words of the organisers: "The slogan is STOP SPECULATION because we know that we all suffer from evictions as the consequence of brutal speculation. Today's evictions are tomorrow's exorbitant rents, skyrocketing property prices and the inevitable exodus out to the periphery of all those of us who haven't got a before tax income of more than 4 million pesetas (£14,500) a year."

The demonstration was a lively, festive occasion with lots of banners, a truck with a sound system, and groups of drummers. Massive banners were hung along the whole route and anti-capitalist graffiti was painted on banks, estate agencies, temp work agencies and a series of other institutions involved in property speculation. Police cars were also graffitied and undercover cops in the demo had flour poured over them. When the demo reached the Ministry of Finance, a group of people climbed up to take down the Spanish and Catalan flags and replaced them on the flag-poles with puppets of police officers, let off firecrackers and hung a large banner against speculation and the eviction of La Kasa de la Muntanya.

Life at the squatted village of Sasé in Huesca.

Land and Freedom

At the risk of starting a mass stampede of burnt out British activists south of the Pyrenees, it is true to say that there are more than 1,500 abandoned villages in the Spanish state as a result of the rural exodus, usually in remote mountainous areas. The increasing pressures of the capitalist market made life impossible for the majority of those who used to live from small-scale agriculture in the country and they flocked to the cities in search of work adding to the ranks of the urban proletariat.

It is very hard to know exactly, but there might be between thirty and forty squatted villages in the Spanish state, some of them remain virtually undiscovered by the outside world, others have made attempts to organise between them; in the 70s and 80s there was the MAR (Rural Alternative Movement), coordinating between several squatted villages, and today there is the FACC (Anarchist Federation of Collectivities in the Country) which was set up in 1990.

People's reasons for going 'back to the land' vary from village to village, and from individual to individual, but some of these projects are overtly political; the people involved in them consider that they are creating an alternative to the alienated existence of the city and capitalist social relations; however unless they achieve absolute self-sufficiency (a very tall order), this normally means they aspire to some form of self-managed co-operative economy, such as Lakabe in Nafarroa which has quite a well established baking co-operative.

Squatted Villages

(List compiled in 1997. Province comes first, then village.)

Semanas de Lucha Social

A recent initiative were the Semanas de Lucha Social - Rompamos el Silencio ('Weeks of Social Struggle - Let's Break the Silence') in different cities in the Spanish state. The idea behind them is to link different areas of social struggle together, to try to initiate a coming together of social movements.

It has to be said that the message of the accompanying agitprop is at times faintly liberal, with talk of human rights and unemployment and social exclusion and injustice. And it's true as well that the organisers of these weeks of social struggle have gone out of their way to forge a broad alliance, to such an extent that liberal groups such as Cristianos de base (grassroots Christians) were involved.

Each day in the week of social struggle is dedicated to a theme; for example in Madrid, this year (the third year that there has been a week of social struggle), on the first day it was a march to the chemical-military complex at La Marañosa; on the second day it was International Day of Victims of Torture, with 30 people stripping off outside the government penitentiary institutions ministry in protest at the torture, unexplained deaths, strip searches and other degrading treatment meted out to prisoners in Spanish jails; the fountains in Plaza de Colón were dyed red to symbolise the blood spilt in prisons; the third day was dedicated to children in care and in detention, the fourth day to public transport with a tube party and mass fare dodging which ended with partygoers getting beaten up by security and riot cops at Atocha international station where the AVE train goes from; the fifth day was dedicated to economic globalisation and Latin America, the sixth to unemployment, precariousness and social exclusion and the seventh to gender violence. The centre of Madrid was under a state of siege for much of the week as the actions were taking place, with the police taking no chances and swamping all the meeting points. Although all the actions were non-violent, several were dispersed by the heavy baton blows of the Policía Nacional, with lots of minor injuries and some fairly serious ones.

The squatters show their strength: 4,000 people turned out for a demo against speculation in Barcelona on the 15th April.

Last year the week of social struggle coincided with the J18 global anti-capitalist mobilisations, and included an invasion of the Madrid Stock Exchange by 100 people, the occupation of the headquarters of Banco Santander-Central Hispano and several temp agencies, and the squatting of some empty military barracks to turn them into social centres for the neighbourhood (apparently this went down very well with the locals!). Up to a hundred people also ate for free at the restaurant of El Corte Inglés, a big department store, by simply refusing to pay. On June 18th there was a street party (as well as the ones in Barcelona and València on that day), with initially 200 gathering in Lavapies to the sound of drummers and bagpipes, doing a mass bunk on the Metro to Puerta del Sol whilst chanting slogans in favour of free public transport. In Puerta del Sol there was a massive presence of riot cops but this did not stop the group, an enormous multi-coloured dragon at its head, from weaving its way to Plaza de Callao via commercial centres. Traffic was then blocked on the roads into the square; the busiest street was blocked by a friendly bus driver turning his bus around to block both directions, banners were hung with slogans like "Reclaim The Streets: The Car's Killing The City", "Under The Streets, The Beach" (sound familiar?), and a truck duly turned up complete with sound system. A water hydrant was connected to a hosepipe to dowse the crowd which got much bigger as the afternoon wore on (many passers-by just joining in the fun - the music and dancing went on till past midnight), and the fountains became a swimming pool. The organisers had achieved their mission: to break the silence...

Other cities where there have been weeks of social struggle include Córdoba in the South and Barcelona. In Córdoba in November 99, the idea was for "the unemployed, those in precarious conditions,[17] children, prisoners, anti-militarists, young people from the barrios, immigrants and women to join together to express our rejection of the status quo". They would "take to the streets as a means of popular expression and participation"; spaces would be created for these social movements to come together in action and in discussions. A very original space was taken for this purpose in Córdoba, when the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos, a major tourist attraction, was occupied en masse to the consternation of the city authorities, who had to order the riot police (some of whom had been bussed in from Seville) to leave the grounds to avoid a confrontation.

People had come to Córdoba from far and wide, and there was a need to put them up somewhere; many slept in the Alcázar, others in the squatted social centre which by this stage was surrounded by the police and had had its electricity cut off. Other actions during the week included filling dozens of bags of rubbish from the Guadalquivir river and dumping them at a local McDonald's, a 700 hundred-strong march to the local prison, and 500 hundred people occupying offices of the INEM (National Employment Institute - i.e. the dole office) in a protest against the lack of job security and the liberalisation of the labour market, with demands for la renta básica (universal guaranteed income).[18] It is noticeable that these alternatives that the groups involved in the Semanas de Lucha Social propose don't actually involve getting rid of capitalism, but would essentially be a reformed capitalism; another demand was "For the distribution of work! For the distribution of wealth!" and further demands were for the right to work, the right to a home, the right to health. None of this would be out of place in a leftist party programme!

In Barcelona the week had some variations on these themes; actions against social exclusion included a mass free lunch at an expensive vegetarian restaurant; the looting and sharing out of food from a fancy supermarket whilst chanting "Against unemployment, expropriation!", and the handing out of unemployment cards 'entitling' the bearer to free public transport and to pay for housing, gas, electricity, water, food and all other basic needs with IOUs from INEM.

The Future?

"No hay futuro", say the punks on the streets in any big city - "there's no future". Is there any future for struggle in the Spanish state? Class struggle is seemingly on the wane apart from isolated pockets of resistance (during the week of social struggle in Barcelona activists carried a coffin to one of the mainstream union headquarters to symbolise the death of the working class). The (by now not so) new social movements fight their corners, and occasionally try to link up as we have seen. Too often however they are limited to activist ghettos, and are not so much social as sub-cultural movements. Capitalism appears safer than ever, and the wildcat seems an extinct species. Let us hope that the people inhabiting the land south of the Pyrenees will find a way to revive the spirit of 1909, 1936 and 1976 which has been such an inspiration to so many in the rest of the world and that we have more than a mere occasional week of social struggle to look forward to..


The following pages all list links to the movements and groups mentioned in this article (and many more!):

Asamblea Anti-TAV Email:

CNT, Secretariado Permanente, APTD. 282, C.P. 48080 Bilbao, Spain

The magazines La Lletra A and Ekintza Zuzena both publish useful contacts lists:

Ekintza Zuzena, Apartado 235 Posta kutxa, 48080 Bilbo (Bizkaia), Spain

La Lletra A, El Lokal, C/ de la Cera, 1 bis, 08001, Barcelona, Spain


  1. The term 'Spanish state' is widely used instead of 'Spain' by nationalists in the Basque Country, Galiza (Galicia), Catalonia, Asturies (Asturias) etc. and also by radicals in general.
  2. Franco himself died in 1975.
  3. This quote comes from 'A Manuscript Found In Vitoria', a pamphlet signed by 'Los Incontrolados' republished in Wildcat Spain Encounters Democracy 1976-78 (London/Lisbon 1978/79)
  4. Where appropriate, place names are given in the local lingo first and then in Spanish in brackets. Alacant is Catalan for Alicante.
  5. "Visible through the advance of individual and collective proletarian sabotage of the commodity and labour, the economic crisis acted as a gigantic anonymous force for the decolonisation of everyday life. Whether by absenteeism, stealing from supermarkets, defying management, consciously vandalising its own products, negativity towards consumerism, etc., and above all with wildcat strikes, the proletariat criminally appeared as the historical class, affirming its desires to bury this world while continuing to work within it." (from 'Commentaries Around Wildcat Spain In The Run Up To The Second Revolution', republished in Wildcat Spain...)
  6. According to Solidaridad Obrera, organ of the CNT.
  7. Comisiones Obreras (Workers' Commissions), Unión General de los Trabajadores (General Workers' Union), Confederación General del Trabajo (General Labour Confederation), Union Sindical Obrera (Workers' Trade Union).
  8. Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (National Labour Confederation).
  9. 'Barrio' means an area of town.
  10. A domain is a fixed address on the internet, represented by a name which any computer from anywhere in the world can locate in order to send an email or to visualise the content of a web page. Specifically, the name of a domain usually corresponds to words to the right of the @ sign in an email address.
  11. The '@' in 'Solidari@s' denotes masculine and feminine, as opposed to conventional usage which always uses the masculine form to denote men and women.
  12. Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, which means 'Basque Country and Freedom'.
  13. See Do or Die Number 6, p.102.
  14. Not to be confused with Teatro Princesa in València, which was also squatted.
  15. 'Assembly of Squatted Houses and Social Centres of Madrid'. 'Madriz' is a deliberate misspelling.
  16. See Do or Die Number 7, pp.85-87.
  17. In Spanish 'precari@s' means those working without contract or on a short term contract, i.e. in danger of losing their jobs.
  18. i.e. a social wage for absolutely everyone regardless of work done - this demand is quite common amongst many autonomist groups on the continent (and promoted by the Green Party in the UK!)

Do or Die DTP/web team: