Victories to show us the way

February 10, 2014

Spanish journalist Esther Vivas describes how the anger expressed in mass protests in 2011 has re-emerged in organizing against privatization, layoffs and evictions.

"RESISTING IS pointless," we hear endlessly repeated. "So many years of protest, but the crisis continues, why bother?" insist others, inoculating us with apathy and resignation. "Protests could lead to something that's even worse," whispers the machinery of fear. They want us submissive, heads bowed. Dreams of change are forbidden.

However, history rebels, indomitable. And it shows us, contrary to the naysayers, that struggle is worth it. The victories against the privatization of Madrid's public health system, of the Gamonal neighborhood standing up to speculators and corruption, of the cleaners in their battle for jobs in the capital, and against evictions and the banks are good examples.

It is not easy to achieve concrete victories when the political class betray our rights and sell out to capital. It's hard to win when the state apparatus defends the haves, and rolls back our democratic rights and freedoms. The task of change is arduous, when the media are hijacked by private interests. Still, there are victories, big and small, showing us the way.

Gamonal residents resist a gentrification project in their working-class neighborhood
Gamonal residents resist a gentrification project in their working-class neighborhood

THE MADRID government's U-turn on its plans to privatize six public hospitals is one of them. The [Popular Party-run] administration in the capital has been forced to revoke the "outsourcing" plan after 15 months of protest and the announcement of the High Court of Justice of Madrid to provisionally suspend the privatization process on the grounds that it could pose "serious and irreparable damage."

There have been months of demonstrations, strikes, a referendum with nearly 1 million votes against such measures, hospital occupations, lawsuits. The triumph swept away its leading promoter, regional health commissioner Javier Fernández-Lasquetty, who has been forced to resign. It's worth the fight.

Gamonal is another great victory. After little more than a week of intense protests, from January 10-17 in Burgos, against the construction of a boulevard in the neighborhood of Gamonal, Mayor Javier Lacalle had no choice but to halt construction indefinitely.

The conflict, however, came from afar. A multimillion-euro project, with huge profits for firms and politicians of the day, in a working-class neighborhood lacking investment and amenities. The "urban" conflict in Gamonal became the spearhead of the fight against corruption, land speculation and crisis. Demonstrations were held across Spain in solidarity with the community. And the attempts to criminalize and spread misinformation failed. It's worth the fight.

Thirteen days of strikes and tons of debris around Madrid were necessary to avoid 1,134 layoffs of street cleaners and gardeners of the city of Madrid. It took an indefinite strike to paint into a corner private contractors that not only wanted to lay off hundreds of workers, but carry out pay cuts of up to 43 percent.

The victory was partial because the staff had to each accept 45 days temporary furloughs (unpaid layoffs) annually over the next four years, and a wage freeze until 2017. Still, this does not detract from the fact that an indefinite strike, unprecedented sadly in this day and age, succeeding in protecting every single job. It's worth the fight.

The fight against evictions has been, without a doubt, the ultimate expression of a collective rebellion against this con-trick of a crisis. In response to the unlimited usury of the banks, people organized at the grassroots. Over a period of more than four years, the Platform of People Affected by Mortgages (PAH) has managed to stop 936 evictions, re-house 712 persons in empty properties owned by financial institutions and today occupied under the Obra Social campaign of the PAH. And it has forced many banks to negotiate hundreds of repossessions and social rent.

Some will say that this is very small progress compared to the overall offensive. That's true. However, I would put that to all those who thanks to the PAH have a roof over their heads. It's worth the fight.

Since the emergence of the indignados, or 15M movement, we have gone from "They do not represent us" to "Yes we can." We have regained confidence in ourselves. The offensive by capital continues, but our indignation and disobedience increases. Victories today are catalysts of the victories of tomorrow. Struggle is imperative to change things. We must take note. And if we do, we can win.

First published at the Esther Vivas website and republished at The Bullet.

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