Robin Burrett writes:
Miguel Sanz from En Lucha, the Spanish section of the International Socialist Tendency, gave a brilliant talk on Friday afternoon about the development of the Indignados movement.
He described how the movement grappled with the limitations of the square occupations and how it had refined its relationship with political parties. What was most interesting, he said, was how the interplay between movement and workplace had revitalised trade unions in different sectors. This gave a real political edge to subsequent general strikes.
Young people have brought the politics of the streets into the workplace, and in the process initiated union organisation in precarious and unorganised sectors. Strikers in health and education used the methods of mass assemblies and direct democracy to reinvigorate public sector unions.
Miguel described the development of a living political movement. Initial hostility to traditional trade unions diminished as the the movement grappled with limitations of occupying squares. Socialists overcame hostility to political parties by being active participants in the movement, gaining the trust and respect of many.
At the same time, the organised working class learned two valuable lessons: that they were part of an anti-austerity majority and that they did not have to wait for the official bureaucracy to move.
Contributions on the floor debated the extent to which the movements in Spain were relevant to the situation in Britain. The Spanish state shares certain similarities with the United Kingdom: a consensus for austerity across the main parties; explosive social struggles; an official trade union movement characterised by bureaucratisation at the top but a willingness to fight at the bottom; and the intertwining of the national question and austerity in some regions.
For these reasons, some argued, we in Britain needed to look closely to Spain as a revival of struggle here may throw up similar problems and similar opportunities.
Against this, some floor speakers argued that there were historical differences between trade unions in Britain and Spain, and that it the crisis has hit different countries in different ways – and so we should be cautious about making cross-country comparisons.
A participant in Occupy London acknowledged these differences, but noted that the experiences of UK Uncut and Occupy had involved some cross fertilization between the trade union movement and the street movement, albeit on a much smaller scale than in Spain.
There was also a debate the role of smaller unions, “red unions”, and the how to relate to traditional movements. Spanish comrades spoke about they had organised in sectors with no traditional trade union organisation, and among workers considered precarious.
It was good to hear these experiences. The way socialists should organise in these areas is clearly a debate at many meetings at Marxism, as is the relationship between political and industrial struggle.
Miguel concluded by warning that the anti-austerity movement had not yet gained political hegemony, despite the Spanish government being thrown into crisis. A key weakness is the fragmentation and small size of the radical left.
If the movement is to achieve victory, he said, it must strengthen rank and file organisation, particularly in the private sector. The Indignados movement has played a key role in beginning this process – but there is a long way yet to go.