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Vol. 81/No. 40      October 30, 2017


Madrid steps up threats, attacks against Catalan national rights

The Spanish government is ratcheting up pressure against the elected government and independence forces in Catalonia with new threats to curtail national and democratic rights for the people there.

On Oct. 16, the Spanish National Court imprisoned Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sànchez, who organized some of the massive pro-referendum demonstrations, while they await trial on charges of sedition. More than 100,000 immediately took to the streets in Barcelona to demand their release. Further protests are planned this weekend.

That same day Madrid issued an ultimatum to Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, giving him a deadline of Oct. 19 to declare clearly that he won’t seek independence. The alternative is for Madrid to revoke major aspects of Catalonia’s self-rule.

Puigdemont had declared independence in a speech to Catalonia’s parliament Oct. 10 only to suspend it a moment later, saying he wants a dialogue with Madrid before enforcing it.

Facing Madrid’s attacks, and with the main capitalist rulers in Europe and the EU bureaucrats backing the Spanish government, major capitalist banks and corporations in Catalonia are relocating their headquarters elsewhere to avoid losing access to markets both in Spain and across the continent.

On Oct. 1 Madrid sent thousands of Civil Guard and National Police to attempt to halt the independence referendum with violence, but failed to stop it. The vote resulted in a sizable majority for independence, but the turnout was cut to some 40 percent. This is consistent both with previous referendums and poll results, showing less than half the population favors splitting away from Spain.

Madrid has said that it will enter talks with Catalonia’s government only after Puigdemont acknowledges that both the referendum and the independence declaration violated the Spanish Constitution.

Xavier García Albiol, leader in Catalonia for Spain’s ruling People’s Party, has called for banning parties that advocate independence from running in coming elections. This would apply to the three main independence groups, which represent a majority in the Catalan parliament.

The Spanish rulers banned the Basque Batasuna party in 2003, because it called for Basque independence.

In addition to jailing the two pro-independence leaders, Madrid has also put the chief of Catalonia’s police force on trial for failing to stop the referendum.

Bourgeois and middle-class advocates of independence had illusions that they would get support from the EU bureaucracy and European governments. But the capitalist rulers have no interest in more divisions in an already splintering union.

“I wouldn’t like a European Union in 15 years that consists of some 98 states,” Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, said in an Oct. 13 speech at Luxembourg University. “It’s already relatively difficult with 28 and with 27 [after Brexit] not easier, but with 98 it would simply be impossible.” The EU bureaucracy in Brussels considers the bloc has 98 major regions.

Both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron have personally asserted their support for “Spain’s unity” to Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

The present showdown in Spain and Catalonia come out of two developments. The first is the effects of the global capitalist crisis of production, trade and employment on working people. The steep 2007-2008 downturn increased the economic and class divisions throughout the imperialist world, but more so in Spain, including Catalonia, than in many other countries.

Unemployment reached 25 percent, and more than 50 percent among youth. Temporary jobs became the norm and some workers had their wages cut in half. Public health care and other social services were cut drastically.

In the midst of this the Spanish Constitutional Court in 2010 revoked major aspects of Catalan autonomy, including parts of a 2006 Autonomy Charter that recognized “Catalonia as a nation” and the Catalan government’s powers over the judiciary. It also ruled unconstitutional preferential use of the Catalan language.

The responses to the crisis conditions reflect social class. Catalonia is one of the most economically developed and industrialized regions in Spain with relatively higher living standards. Substantial sections of urban professionals and middle-class layers, university students and many farmers press for independence with the anti-working-class argument that Catalonia shouldn’t be saddled with having to “subsidize” the central government budget and preferential treatment for regions in Spain where workers face lower wages and worse working and social conditions, and would fare better on their own. They form the social base of the pro-independence organizations.

Support for independence is lower in the working class. A July poll by the regional survey agency put it at 28 percent. Over many decades, workers have moved to Catalonia both from the rest of Spain and other countries in search of jobs and improved living conditions. Some don’t speak Catalan, and see unemployment, wages, health care, pensions and other social protections as more pressing needs than splitting from Spain.

The Socialist Workers Party unconditionally supports the right of the Catalan people to national self-determination, but it takes no position on whether they should separate. A common fight with working people across Spain to defend jobs, wages and social protections against the assaults of the capitalist rulers is the best framework for the toilers in Catalonia to find the best way to effectively defend their national rights and win support.
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