A mid-January mass rebellion in one neighborhood of a mid-sized city in north-central Spain beat back a rightist City Hall government and sparked solidarity protests in nearly 50 other cities. This first working-class victory since the capitalist crisis exploded in 2008 has turned the name of the area — Gamonal — into a cry of resistance that could reverberate from Athens to Detroit.
Historically an independent village, Gamonal later developed as the industrial area of the city of Burgos and became its main working-class residential neighborhood, filled with apartment houses. The capitalist collapse of 2008 closed the factories and left 80 percent of Gamonal’s residents unemployed.
Burgos is a city of 180,000 people. Like most of Spain today, the whole city suffers high unemployment. Growing poverty has replaced working-class stability. As in the U.S., many were evicted, their homes turned over to the banks, so that now most people between 30 and 55 years old are living with their parents. In addition, the parents’ pensions have been frozen by the national government, which is enforcing “austerity” on behalf of the biggest European banks.
The right-wing Popular Party — which governs the Spanish state — also heads the city government of Burgos. To fill the coffers of a powerful construction company, this government ordered a large street to be torn down and replaced by an unneeded boulevard.
Besides squandering $11 million and slowing traffic, the new setup eliminated already scarce and inexpensive parking spots. The plan was to replace them with expensive private parking spaces beyond the reach of the unemployed residents. They would cost up to $26,000 for a 40-year lease. (publico.es, Jan. 14)
Many left analysts have said this was the straw that broke the camel’s back, the drop that overflowed the vase. It was one abuse too many.
Gamoral’s community organization said 5,000 residents joined a demonstration on the afternoon of Jan. 13. When it was over, some 2,000 remained and occupied the construction area to prevent machinery from entering. (publico.es, Jan. 13 and 14) The next night, police began to attack and arrest demonstrators at random, with no restraint on their brutality.
Instead of stopping the protests, the police assault just brought out more people, who became furious with the police and with the banks that own the city — much as the banks now own Detroit in the U.S.
Leftist groups called solidarity demonstrations in at least 46 cities in all regions. The state authorities insulted and baited the demonstrators, charging them with planning violent and barbaric acts.
Most of those joining the demonstrations were workers fed up with the rapid impoverishment of a quarter of the population.
Burgos Mayor Javier Lacalle blamed the resistance on “outside agitators” from “ultra-left groups” who came from other parts of the Spanish state. It turned out, however, that all those arrested were from Burgos, and for once the corporate media contradicted the authorities. The mayor finally conceded and said the demolition and construction would stop, as the city could not guarantee safety at the site.
The residents are celebrating the victory, which they know may only be temporary, and are continuing to demand the mayor resign and that the 46 residents still held in prison as of Jan. 19 be released. Those on the left analyzing “the lessons of Gamonal” can’t resist remarking that the street (“la calle”) beat Lacalle.
The group Red Roja, paraphrasing a remark by Argentine/Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara about the Vietnamese liberation struggle, called for “two, three, many Gamonals.” (redroja.net, Jan. 18)
Many of Spain’s 6 million unemployed are undoubtedly hoping that Gamonal is no accident. And given the similar situation throughout Greece and Portugal and in many other European and U.S. cities under the gun of the banks’ austerity, if this is the start of a general rebellion, why should it stop at Spain’s borders?