Podemos: ‘We have to rescue the people, not the banks’

Politics
Spain
Activism
Pablo Iglesias

Democracy is the possibility of changing something that does not work said Pablo Iglesias at the Podemos march on 31 January. © Isabelle Merminod

They chanted ‘Yes, it is possible!’ Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators jammed into Madrid’s Puerta del Sol and side streets on Saturday 31 January for the first national rally of Podemos, Spain’s fast-growing mass movement for change.

Why were they there? Well-dressed 30 to 40-year-olds facing unemployment, young people without a future and the older generation who had lived through Franco’s dictatorship responded, ‘We are fed up.’

‘Finish with austerity, finish with the cuts, recover all the rights they have robbed from us... The people have regained the hope that they can reconstruct something,’ says Isabelle Alba, a member of the National Citizens’ Council, the governing body of Podemos. ‘We used to live thinking that nothing depended on what we did.’

In 2011, the Indignados (15M) movement occupied the Puerta del Sol. Young people facing levels of unemployment topping 50 per cent demanded a future from a Spanish élite clinging to neoliberal policies and austerity. When the occupation ended, the emphasis switched to grassroots organizing.

As Occupy movements spread in the West and the Arab spring exploded, the Spanish people formed a lively anti-austerity movement across Spain. Blockading houses to stop evictions, building movements against privatizations and fighting cuts in public services. From this strengthening grassroots movement of resistance Podemos was born in early 2014.

As Miguel Urban of Podemos Madrid, put it bluntly: ‘We had enough political honesty to recognize that everything else we tried had failed.’ He argues that activists were forced to create a clear national political challenge to neoliberal policies. Germán Cano, another member of the National Citizens’ Council, said that for the Spanish Left, 15M was a revelation, which made them rethink their practice and their discourse.

The scramble to organize

Podemos was formally registered on March 2014. As Isabelle Alba explains, there was then a scramble to organize for the European Parliament elections on 25 May 2014.

With no national organization and just three months in which to organize, Podemos won five seats in the European Parliament with nearly 8 per cent of the vote.

‘Finish with austerity, finish with the cuts, recover all the rights they have robbed from us... The people have regained the hope that they can reconstruct something’

Over 2014, people were setting up ‘circles’ in the neighbourhoods, in work, and around the defence of public services. Alba says there are around 800 of them now – self-organized groups ‘of debate and education’ operating in the already rich and strengthening anti-austerity movement across Spain.

At the end of 2014 Podemos had their first national assembly, voting for a 62-member national ‘Citizens Council’ and organizational and political documents. This includes the famous Ethical Code, which requires Podemos representatives to work for ‘the recovery of popular sovereignty and democracy’.

Alba says that Podemos does not have ‘members’ as such. They have the ‘signed up’ – some 200,000. She points out that anyone can vote – you just sign up. It is not like a traditional political party with a membership.

2015 is the year of elections in Spain. Snap elections in the region of Andalucía are due for March. In May there are municipal elections and elections in 13 regions including Madrid. Cataluña has elections in September. National elections are due to be held in November.

Recent polls of voting intentions put Podemos either in front or second after the rightwing Partido Popular (PP).

The people’s demands

Podemos supporters concentrate their deepest contempt on what they call La Casta – the Caste. This means the corrupt bi-party political system of the PP and the Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE) taking turns to implement austerity and neoliberal polices.

'Here is the proof that the people are rising. That lies are no longer acceptable,' heard the crowd in Puerta del Sol.

Isabelle Merminod

Just over a week ago, the ex-treasurer of the PP, Luis Bárcenas, facing serious corruption charges, was surprisingly released on bail, thus delaying his trial. Many people noted that had he not been released, his trial would have taken place during this year of elections, thus embarrassing the PP.

Carlos Fernández Liria, professor of philosophy, says that the people’s demands are hardly revolutionary: ‘They demand, on the one hand, dignity and that [La Casta] doesn’t mock or cheat them, and on the other the basic necessities for a life of dignity...which are now disappearing.’

But he adds: ‘Capitalism has become so cruel that the only way of obtaining things like the right to [support] a family is to do away with capitalism.’

According to the grassroots organization fighting evictions, PAH, there were 23,340 legal actions for repossessions of homes in the final quarter of 2014, a 10-per-cent increase over the same period in 2013. Tens of thousands of evictions take place each year.

Five and half million people are now unemployed – just under 24 per cent of the working-age population, with youth unemployment (those between 15 and 24 years old) at 53 per cent. As one of the speakers at the rally, Jose Luis Monedero, exclaimed: ‘We have to rescue the people, not the banks.’

The Spanish people are working out for themselves how to get rid of a corrupt élite and put an end to neoliberalism and austerity. As Pablo Iglesias, the leader of Podemos, said at the rally on 31 January: ‘Today we dream. And we take our dreams seriously.’

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