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Session Overview
RN06_05b_P: Resistance and Subversion in Spain
Thursday, 31/Aug/2017:
11:00am - 12:30pm

Session Chair: David Bailey, University of Birmingham
Location: PC.3.16
PANTEION University of Social & Political Sciences 136 Syggrou Avenue 17671 Athens, Greece Building: C, Level: 3.

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When Corporatism Fails: Trade Union Strategies and Grassroots Resistance to the Spanish Economic Crisis

Olatz Ribera-Almandoz1, Jon Las Heras2

1Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Spain; 2The University of Manchester

The economic crisis that erupted in 2008-2010 in Spain did not only bring to the fore the contradictions of a mode of capital accumulation based on mass housing construction and property speculation, but it also thrust millions of workers and families to unemployment, poverty and precariousness of life. This article builds upon a strategic-relational approach to analyse the multiple forms in which workers and class organizations have struggled against the capitalist crisis in Spain. It does so by focusing, on the one hand, on the reaction of Spanish trade unions to macroeconomic austerity and labour market restructuring and, on the other hand, on the alternative responses from self-organised workers and social movements.

We argue that three major conclusions may be derived from these fragmented class responses to the economic crisis in Spain. First, the subordination of class interests to the stabilisation of the economy and the corporatist strategies developed by the main trade unions –Comisiones Obreras (CCOO) and Union General de Trabajadores (UGT)– resulted in their incapacity to organise an increasing proportion of workers, including unemployed and precarious workers. Second, despite radical and active sections within CCOO and UGT were engaged into the organisation of important mobilisations during the height of social movement reorganisation, the leadership of both trade unions was excluded and marginalised. Third, workers had the need to establish new and more radical forms of resistance based on autonomous self-organisation, pre-figurative practices and direct action in order to contest the new forms of labour disciplining.

Where are the workers? Understanding forms of resistance to the crisis in Spain.

Monica Clua-Losada1, Ramon Alos3, Jordi Guiu2, Albert Jimenez2, Pere Jodar2, Olatz Ribera-Almandoz2

1University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, United States of America; 2Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona; 3Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona

During the cycle of struggles initiated by the 15-M in 2011, there has been a great body of literature devoted to understanding the meaning, characteristics and aims of the different movements that have appeared (Indignados, PAH and Mareas, etc). What has been a common trait to much of this literature has been either the invisibility provided to workers or the highlighting of trade unions’ connivance with the state. In this paper, the claim is that this cycle of struggle cannot be understood without putting labour at the core of the analysis. While traditional trade union actions may have declined during the period, workers’ obstinacy and disruptive actions have actually increased and morphed into a broader set of community based demands.

Working-class resistance to the dominant economic discourses: A case study from northern Spain.

Anna Carrillo Arnal

University of Missouri-Columbia, U.S.

The present study analyses how the inhabitants of a working-class neighborhood contest the dominant economic discourses and develop alternative explanations of their economic situation. Based on in-depth qualitative interviews with thirty working-class men and women of the neighborhood of La Verneda (Barcelona, Spain), participant observation in numerous meetings and activities in the neighborhood, as well as archival research on the past social struggles of the neighborhood, I conclude that the working population of La Verneda does not reproduce the dominant economic discourses, such as the neoliberal and the neoconservative discourses, because there is a counter-discourse that has achieved a certain “hegemony” within the neighborhood. This alternative discourse results from the historical experience of struggle in the neighborhood for the improvement of living conditions, the resistance against the Franco dictatorship, and the fight for workers’ rights. The discourse, which draws importantly from Marxism, stands for workers’ rights and the welfare state, rejects cuts on the budget for social services, and glorifies neighbors’ organizations. At the same time that this counter-hegemonic discourse allows working-class individuals to challenge the dominant economic discourses, it is one of the main elements preventing mobilization. Many of the young and middle-aged workers of the neighborhood reject the traditional communist rhetoric and suggest that the neighbors’ organizations, which are formed by traditional manual workers who militated in communist or socialist parties, are not actually open to them. The study also provides important insights on the socializing role of neighbors’ organizations and workers’ unions and political parties.

A classless revolt? The countermovement against neoliberalism in Spain

Jorge Sola

University of Balearic Islands, Spain

In the last five years, two novel political phenomena have disrupted Spanish politics and waken interest or admiration in other places: the 15M or indignados movement and Podemos party. In spite of their differences, they can be seen as two phases of the same political cycle: the social mobilization around some diffuse demands was followed by the electoral competition of a centralized party with a more articulated program. Despite the attention they both have received, their class dimension has rarely received attention –in contrast to the centrality enjoyed by class in the Left tradition. This paper aims to study this issue from different angles: putting it in historical context, we analyze the elusive presence of class in the Spanish public discourse, the class background of the activists and political cadres leading the 15M movement and Podemos, the relationships they have established with the labour movement, and the strategies that have been put in place. Our thesis is that the apparent absence of a class dimension hides a hegemonic prominence of the middle class throughout this cycle of mobilization. Finally, we discuss the possibilities and limits that this has for the reach and significance of political and social change.

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