Last weekend in Barcelona was lovely, the best time of the year: crisp air, free outdoor music, fireworks and correfocs, castellers and wine tasting. It was great.
The town festival starts with a speech, the pregó, and this year's was from architect and poet Joan Margarit. I hope he will forgive my poor translation of this excerpt of his speech:
Freedom is a strange journey.
It is a bullring with chairs
on the sand at election time.
It is danger, in the morning, on the metro,
newspapers at day's end.
Freedom is making love in parks.
Freedom is dawn's breaking
on a day of general strike.
It is dying free. It is the Persian wars.
The words Republic and Civil.
A king leaving by train in exile.
Freedom is a bookshop.
Going without identification. It is songs
of the civil war.
A form of love, freedom.
The mayor was quite irked, to have his event spoiled by talks of strikes! Indeed, the town's festival only comes once a year, but tomorrow, the 29th of September, we have something even more wonderful: a general strike.
I grew up in the US, in a particularly union-hostile region. I never knew anyone in a union. So, with that perspective, and with the idea that many of my readers might be in the same situation, I'd like to explain a little about what's up with this.
The proximate cause of tomorrow's strike is a piece of legislation making it easier for businesses to fire workers, and generally giving more power to businesses at the time of salary, benefit, and contract negotiations. I recently looked at the Spanish wikipedia page for the 1988 general strike, and to be honest, not much has changed.
The idea is to generally paralyze the country, and force the government into negotiations. It's something of a farce, given the close relationship between the majority unions and the governing party, but I think they couldn't maintain credibility among their members without calling a strike.
Still, there hasn't been a general strike since I last moved to Spain at the beginning of 2005, so this is a big deal. Tomorrow could be quite a mess, for good and for bad.
Things are bad in Spain -- really, really bad. The unemployment rate for 20- to 25-year-olds is something like 40%. The problem is that this strike, as it is conceived of by the majority unions, is only about reform, and reform is not good enough.
A colleague of mine said to me yesterday, regarding the strike, that "the numbers just don't add up!" Like, how can people get all these benefits when the country is so bad off? The problem with statements like these is that they assume the limits imposed by capitalism. Why is there a credit crunch when 40% of young people are out of work, and can be put to work? Why are the banks not making new mortgages, but there are so many vacant flats?
And then economists have the nerve to chide Spain on its profligacy. It is galling.
Unfortunately, this acceptance of capitalist false-scarcity logic applies to the dominant unions' meek requests for reform. On the other hand, I think the people (as usual) have outpaced the majority union leadership, and things could become quite interesting.
I belong to an anarchosyndicalist union, which has been calling for a general strike for years. The idea is that yes, it's fine to strike for reform -- but one must also strike for revolution. The logic of empty flats and tight credit and wildly disparate renumeration, the logic that promises the world that it cannot -- cannot! -- give to all, this logic is crisis. It's not simply that we are in a crisis, it is that capitalism is crisis.
So really, we strike against capitalism, wittingly or not. Of course it's much better to be conscious of the place of things, but we work with what we have. That is the function of the radical trade union -- a bridge between the working people and radicalism.
Maybe tomorrow we'll have the Seattle '99 we deserve. Here's hoping. Until then, happy striking!