14N: Questions for reading the moment

Translation of an article on the Madrilonia site, thinking through the implications of the ground-breaking strike held in southern European countries on the 14th November last.

14N: Questions for reading the moment

1. A new form of Strike?

The strike of 14N past was very different to the strike of 29M last. And its elements of difference are not in what we understand by ‘traditional strike’. It’s likely that the stoppage in the strictest sense was quite similar to that of the last time. What was not similar was the quality and multiplicity of the mobilisation by citizens. The call to a consumer strike and the idea of the strike as a social mobilisation, and not as a mass stoppage was quickly circulated in society and it took on unprecedented forms. Bank offices were occupied, supermarkets were expropriated of foodstuffs, new social spaces were taken over, evictions were blocked, schools were surrounded and hospitals occupied and, above all, people were out on the streets the whole day.

The pickets at workplaces were of lesser importance to those that moved throughout cities blocking the traffic at nerve centres and checkmating a completely overwhelmed police force which responded with a blind and absolutely disproportionate violence. Stopping circulation is an intelligent approach, given the present system of accumulation –which is no longer industrial but service-based, and is a feasible approach, given the precarity that exists, when not going to work means you are sure not to get re-hired, or when we don’t have a job where we can go on strike.

We know that this change is not appreciable quantitavely, but it marks a clear trend, toward innovation in the forms of conflict, its incorporation in the imagination and collective practices of students, people in precarity, the unemployed, etc. As an important force for social destabilisation it is something completely new which, in probability, will grow and deepen in forthcoming mobilisations.

In this vein of mobilisation one can understand the immensity of the mobilisations at the end of the event. The collective understanding that the meaning of the strike had more to do with sovereignty and the destabilisation of a form of government than with the strict stopping of production. This also explains the police and media response. Beatings were to try and show a situation of order that was absolutely impossible.

2. A new scale for the Strike?

We have seen for the first time images of a joint mobilisation in Greece, Portugal, and Italy. We have seen, with somewhat different forms and practices, a totally shared moment of being out on the streets together: huge demonstrations and the singling out of parliaments as the intermediate centres of a global power.

The scale we are dealing with is therefore new too. A scalability that cannot be understood as simply moving onto a new territory, nor as abandoning specific developments at local or state scales, but as a new layer to the multi-level and interconnected logic that we have been developing of late. Let us say clearly that it is easier to think, propose and communicate proposals for common actions, at least in the south of Europe. 

This, obviously, is not coincidence, but derives from the specific condition of the crisis, rule by Troika and the dynamics of control over territory and wealth extraction on the part of finance capital. Many of us are already conscious of the inter-relatedness of each one of the local attacks by European powers; for example, the labour reform demanded by the Troika, the limits imposed on the reform to the mortgage law (to stop evictions) by the European Union; the end of public healthcare due to the payment of debt interest. We could, however, single out better the key points of European power: each one of the members of the Commission and the President of the Central Bank, and seek their resignation, like we do with Rajoy, and demand a real democracy in Europe too.

Simultaneous mass citizen mobilisations, across various countries of the continent, render visible the potency that we can become. It also entails a major transformation with regard to previous phases, which have now been completely transcended, of activist counter-summits. Blocking a centre of power in another country with a high level of confrontation is an action that only a few can carry out, due to time and travel costs and the agility and physical fitness needed in order not to get arrested. Being the majority is our strength, as has been shown by this first European strike.

3. Some open questions.

With these two points we believe we have to speak of an open conjuncture. Let us say that the centre of attention has moved from Sol to Neptuno [the square nearest to the Spanish parliament] and from there it has built up and dispersed throughout the entire city. Let us say that the movement’s subjectivity cut right through the day of strike, shaped it and made the unions assume a new kind of dynamic in order to guarantee their own legitimacy and survival. However, the situation is still shot through with a certain organisational uncertainty: how to go on? How to impose the will of the majority on the government?
Let us recognise that the intense social mobilisation has not substantially modified the government’s position, though the government shows symptoms of exhaustion that have a direct correlation to the police violence unleashed in the streets as the sole mechanism for maintaining a feeling of order.

Even the unions themselves asume that we are in a situation of institutional blockage for the medium term. For the first time in many months we do not have a date in front of us, an event that allows us to gather together. In this vacuum we can find time to imagine and put the next steps in gear.

It is a matter of thinking up mechanisms that open up the conjuncture once again in terms of conflict and participation. Let them be liveable for anyone and based in a logic of process, with the capacity for growth and sustainability. In the squares one can hear proposals about the constituent process. We know that the present party-based system does not serve us and that new party-based approaches based on the present non-democratic order would simply produce a change of elites. We need a real democracy, one that guarantees that those who are elected lead by obeying and that our political and social rights are untouchable. How do we begin to discuss approaches? How do we conclusively strengthen alliances with specific sectors such as the health sector, on a war footing in Madrid?

(Banners read: Public healthcare is not for sale – it will be defended! (Obviously it rhymes in Spanish)]

The 14N, and also the marea blanca of 18N [health workers’ mobilisation – literally, ‘white tide’] have filled us with new questions and challenges and that is a symptom of their potency. Every new question renders visible the road we have come so far and also the ceiling we have reached. We cannot stop now. Nothing less than our lives depend on it.

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