How students are playing a key role in the new wave of protests in Spain
By Acontracorrent, a student organisation from the Valencia region.
Saturday 25 February ended with a massive rally of historic proportions in the city of Valencia; a cycle of protests and social responses in recent weeks to a policy of cuts that seems at last to have touched a chord with thousands and thousands of citizens in this community, which many experts define as the Greece of Spain.
More than 350,000 people took to the streets of the three capitals of province. Of these, more than 200,000 did so in the capital Valencia.
This peaceful conquest of the street by the students in the past two weeks appears to have acted as a catalyst for a much more widespread response. Igniting the spark with exemplary civic behaviour – there was hardly any damage to public property in days and days of demonstrations – Valencia’s youth has drawn in the rest of society by their actions and demands in defence of the public sector, its response to cuts, and its demands to respect social rights.
The students of universities and institutes in Valencia feel like the real victims of the crisis, global and state and local. We have had little ability to influence decisions about the worst political and economic management throughout the country. Valencian youth have experienced an endless fall in the quality of education. This has not only lead to us to sink to last place in the country. We have seen the deterioration ininfrastructure and other means – expressed most graphically in the classrooms where students are covered with blankets [because of a lack of heating]. All areas of the system are affected, from the suspension of practical classes in vocational modules to the inability, due to lack of finances, to buy the necessary equipment.
It is our direct experience, our daily experience, which has brought us into the street and made us very quickly adopt very strong demands, and a level of democracy and rights that goes far beyond the right to vote that many many of us have not been able to exercise. Supported by a skillful use of new tools of virtual communication, we overwhelmed the system’s capacity to respond, revealing one of the worst police responses seen in many years.
And what we have been living in Valencia in recent days has been, above all, a student spring. A spontaneous mobilization of thousands of young people outside the traditional circuits of organized popular response to the policies of social and economic cutbacks that often accompany new right-wing governments. Inserted in the traditional cycle of action-reaction typical of these phases, Valencia already saw, in January, two large demonstrations in defense of public services, key targets of the People’s Party.
The collective unrest had increased because of the outrage at the refusal by the former head of the regional government to accept responsibility for the bankruptcy of Valencia, but also the introduction of the labour reforms.
But still everything seemed to be normal. The Government made cuts and the Left responded in the streets, bringing with them many outraged at Valencia’s increasingly precarious social reality.
It was then that 30 [12 to 17 year old] students from the IES Lluis Vives school decided to sit down in Xativa street and say enough!
And they were the first people to be declared the enemy, the one for which you have no consideration, the one over which you must take action, the one that you drag along the ground in front of the respectable members of the public. But the next day the enemy grew. And they came with their parents, and hundreds of colleagues from elsewhere. And the system responded by trying to head it off again and coercing the student movement: two [of our movement] Acontracorrent were detained…
The next day the police returned, increasing the tension. But the enemy did not stop growing. And on Monday, the absent central government representative for the Valencia region and a police chief who has not hesitated to publicly thank the contribution of the private company, Levantina Security, close to the extreme right and xenophobic Spain 2000 party, prepared what they thought would be the final offensive against the enemy.
And everything changed. The brutal police action against minors and college kids was captured by the cameras and splashed across the screens over half the world. In Valencia, in a few hours, there would be the final blooming of the Spring. Late Monday night, as police units continued touring the city centre in search of new arrests, the student mobilization that the Government representative had wanted to turn into a problem of public order, had already taken thousands and thousands of Valencians into the streets to reprimand the police for their brutal actions, actions that would be taken to juvenile prosecution service by MPs of Esquerra Unida of the País Valencià.
The next day all the opposition, along with whole trade union world and most of the platforms and major associations in Valencia, met to give a joint response. There were so many representatives that they had hold the assembly in a theatre. In the afternoon there were no longer just students but thousands and thousands of people took to the streets for hours without police and without disturbances. All Valencian society, from children to seniors, was responding to an inexplicable repression against young people who were simply demanding better conditions and a stop to the decline in the quality of education. A Student Spring had turned into a real Spring that had echoes not only in the Valencia region, not only in Spain, but in many parts of the globe.
And the protests continue. The spontaneous actions of February 21 were followed by protests on February 22, organized by political parties, unions and civil society organisations. Meanwhile, the Popular Party government tried to quickly close down a crisis that they themselves had caused, and that had become international…Practically every education institutes stop their classes at some point to go out and remind everyone how much money the Government owes them.
On February 25, the demonstration called by unions would not have been the same without the Spring of Valencia. Over two hundred thousand people marched through the streets of Valencia, united against the continued cuts and the debts of the Government , yes, but united also by a new spirit that the students have given to the whole movement.
On February 29 we will turn out on the streets again. Coinciding with a European day of demonstrations organized by the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), the student unions have called a general strike [and]… nobody can say when it will end….
Translation by Revolting Europe