Violent actions contradict calm general strike

Isolated picket actions and violent anti-system protests contradicted the generally calm and respectful spirit of the general strike in Catalonia, which respect minimum services agreed on. Trade unions state that 80% of Catalan workers followed the strike. Small and medium-sized business associations quantified 1.2% of the strike’s success. The Catalan Government quantifies 11% of public employees who did not go to work today.

CNA / Gaspar Pericay Coll / Sarah Garrahan

September 29, 2010 11:10 PM

Barcelona (ACN).- A Barcelona city police car was burned at midday in the city centre and anti-system protests created chaos in the Catalan capital’s downtown early this afternoon and evening. This afternoon’s official demonstration organised by trade unions was taken over by anti-system protestors who created barricades, burned containers, broke windows and threw stones around Barcelona’s cathedral. These violent incidents and some picket actions in the early morning were contradictory elements to the generally speaking calm general strike. Minimum services in public transportation were respected in the morning. Private businesses unevenly participated in the strike. Small and medium-sized Catalan business association PIMEC has quantified that 1.2% of businesses shut down, although the feeling when walking down the streets was a bit different. Many shops, especially in Barcelona’s city centre, decided to remain open but with shutters closed in case of pickets. Regarding the public sector, the Catalan Government states that the strike gathered a tiny minority of public employees, around 11%. Education centres were more affected, ranging between 11.5% in private institutions and 20.9%in public institutions. Health services were marginally affected: only 7.1% of public health employees and 5.9% of private employees followed the strike. This morning, trade unions qualified the general strike as a “success”, stating that it was followed by 80% of workers in Catalonia. Industrial areas in Barcelona’s suburbs were the most affected areas. Catalonia was the 3rd most affected Autonomous Community in Spain.

While trade unions called today’s General Strike, anti-system groups are getting most of the attention due to their violent protests in Barcelona’s city centre. They occupied the Banesto bank’s former headquarters in the Catalan capital’s downtown 4 days ago. This afternoon Catalan police entered the building to evacuate it. A chaotic and violent street fight ensued in the middle of Plaça Catalunya in Barcelona’s downtown. The Catalan police made the decision to go into the building after a city police car was burned some blocks away. Press cars were also vandalised and windows were broken. The clash resulted in burned containers and small barricades formed by anti-system groups. By 17:30h, no one remained in the building. Some 20 people were identified and 1 was detained for this incidents.

In fact, the violent incidents caused a delay in the official demonstration organised by trade unions that was scheduled at 18h. The demonstration started 30 minutes behind schedule in a peaceful way, with music and drums. However, the atmosphere was a strange mix of festive drums, happy protestors and angry people shouting against the labour market reform pushed by the Spanish Government and international financial markets. Trade unions condemned the anti-system groups’ violent actions, and so did the Catalan Government coinciding with the second violent clash next to Barcelona’s cathedral.

Violent actions in the evening

The demonstration organised by trade unions gathered thousands of people shouting against the Spanish Government, its labour market reform and international financial markets. They were also singing left-wing anthems, May 68 songs and mottos. However, the festive demonstration ended in a street battle when anti-system groups entered and started throwing stones at the police while forming barricades. They gathered in the Cathedral Square and around Via Laietana, burning containers and breaking glass panels, windows and terrace furniture from the neighbouring bars that were closed. Riot police reacted hardly, shooting rubber bullets at protesters. The incidents are still going on.

These incidents are the most severe of today’s strike. In the early morning, a group of pickets tried to stop the functioning of minimum services of the Barcelona metropolitan transport system. There were some moments of tension, but minimum services were respected. Metro services only functioned between 7:30 and 9:30h this morning, with 25% of its regular frequency. It started up again between 18 and 20h, but remained closed during the rest of the day. Many users were affected by these measures. The minimum services were agreed on between the Catalan Government and the main trade unions.

Different figures

There is no consensus on the figures regarding the strike’s success. Trade unions quantify 80% of workers on strike in Catalonia, a higher figure than the Spanish average. The Catalan Government refused to give a figure for the entire country but it did so for the public sector, claiming some 10.9% of the general staff in the Catalan public administration went on strike. Education centres were a bit more affected, with 20.9% of public centre employees on strike and 11.5% of private. Health services were even less affected according to the Government: 7.1% of public employees and 5.9% of private went on strike.