E Pluribus Unum?

This is an interesting short comment piece, translated below, by Isaac Rosa, originally published on Público, on relations between the 15-M movement and the main unions in Spain. There was a lot of (often quite uninformed) critical commentary from the far left in English speaking countries during the first flushes of the 15-M movement that the movement was apolitical and failed to appreciate the role of unions in society. Rosa’s article deals with the first joint demonstration –or rather, the first demonstration unions and the 15-M movement attended jointly- held in response to the reformazo – the introduction of a debt ceiling to the Spanish constitution, previously mentioned on this site. It is a bleak enough picture all the same.

15mgolpedeestado

The good news is that the main unions and the 15-M came out onto the streets together. The bad news is that they didn’t come together that much, and when they did it was to argue. And there is even worse news: very few people turned up to the demonstrations, both by comparison with other mobilisations and in relation to the magnitude of the motive for the protest.

The right wing press and the radio and TV debate programmes licked their lips at the images of confrontation, and repeated time and again the banners and shouts against the unions. Some, after trying to drag the 15-M through the mud, have momentarily rehabilitated it to use it for their favourite game: pouring petrol on the union member.

The result was somewhat bitter. Some of those will have lost the inclination to turn up to the next date, especially on the union side, since it is hardly appetising to be called a sell-out while you’re protesting. Others had to spend the demonstration moving from one pavement to the other, since they have a double militancy, belonging equally to their union and their neighbourhood assembly, they struggle in their workplace at the same time as they stop evictions or take to the streets, and I don’t suppose they liked what happened.

I am the first to have criticised time and again, from this column, those unions who indeed bear their part of the blame for the demobilisation of workers, for their continued strategy of making pacts, the lack of continuity after the general strike, and the incomprehensible agreement on pension reform.

That said, I also think that presently, and for a long time in the future, the 15-M does not have the capacity to take the place of unions when it comes to defending labour rights; and without them, without counting on their embedding in firms and their experience, 15-M cannot really seriously plan to call that strike that they have been threatening for months.

In sum: this is the moment to join forces, not to divide and engage in more confrontation. And each one must think what its priority is today, what it considers to be the gravest and urgent problem: the attitude of the unions –in which moreover, it scarcely needs to be said, there are many brave and determined people- or the attack against workers that we are suffering. I, without stopping being critical, am very clear on this, especially after seeing how in the demonstrations on Tuesday we were very few, and very poorly matched.

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