Here is some footage of yesterday’s European General Strike.
Police aggression against minors in Tarragona:
November 14, 2330 hrs.
‘Intifada’ is how the Portuguese news described the events in Lisbon today. Maybe it was a bit of an overstatement, we’ll have to see. In any case, nobody I spoke to ever witnessed something like this happening in Portugal…
A spectre is haunting Europe. For the first time ever, the proletarians of twenty countries joined together in a general strike. If anything, austerity measures are creating a sense of unity among the European peoples.
I’ve seen brief images from Greece, Italy, Spain and England. But today was too big to get a clear picture of everything. I will just tell you what happened here in Lisbon.
There were two feeder marches. One of the big unions and one of dockworkers, anarchists and social movements. Naturally I joined the latter.
It started off very small. A couple of hundred people gathered at Cais do Sodré near the harbour around one o’ clock. Once we got moving, the march had already swollen considerably. We had music, and we had firecrackers, courtesy of the anarchists. They could hear us coming from afar.
At the monumental Praça do Commercio an undercover police officer made a clumsy attempt to arrest one of the people throwing bombs. He almost got lynched by the mob. His colleagues in uniform stormed in to bring him to safety. The arrest was never made.
At Rossio we joined with the march of the unions. That was when the crowd really got big. Through the narrow streets we walked up to Bairro Alto, ‘high hood’. The firecrackers resounded frighteningly loud between the old buildings.
All the way, there was a clear distinction within the march between the unions at the front, and the movements at the back. At the top, we split. The red flags took the road, the black flags descended a small staircase to reunite at São Bento, the Portuguese parliament.
The building is on a hill, accessible through stairs, and surrounded by lawns. It was all fenced off with barriers. It’s an interesting sight, massive police protection of institutions against the rage of the people. It accentuates the ambiguity of the word ‘democracy’.
In front of the stairs, the union leaders staged their little piece of theatre, they were applauded by their members, and thankfully, they soon left.
But the people stayed. Something was about to happen. You could feel it from the beginning. For the moment, the drum band was drumming, the people were cheering. I was talking to a friend of mine. She said the crowd was actually pretty calm, too calm.
Before she even finished her phrase, it started. All along the line, people tore down the barriers. At the stairs, the front line moved up to face the police, but the crowd fell short of taking the stairs by storm. They could have succeeded, but the moment of hesitation was enough for police to organise and to form a line.
So the bombardment started. It was around four thirty. First came the paint bombs. When they were finished, there came the bottles. When those were finished, there came the stones.
Now, you have to know that the streets in Lisbon are made of typical small stones. They are easy to dig up and they are the perfect size for throwing. The anarchists pulled their scarfs over their faces and they had a ball. Behind them, the entire crowd backed them up. The line of police had orders to stand and resist. It went on for hours. Given the amount of ammunition at hand, it could have gone on for months.
At the start of the assault, there had been some small skirmishes at the stairs in which the anarchists conquered one of the officers’ shields. With spray paint, someone cancelled out the word ‘police’ and replaced it with grand capital letters spelling ‘PEOPLE’. The roar was awesome when they brandished their booty.
And the beat went on. The drummers accompanied the stoning. Another police shield was smashed, a lone molotov was thrown to the delight of the crowd. But after about an hour, some people were growing restless. To them it was of no use to go on. They wanted everyone to stop throwing, and charge. At that moment I witnessed the most amazing demonstration of courage by some unprotected citizens who defied the stones by taking the stairs. Two girls sat down on the steps with their hands folded in meditation. But the assault continued, and they finally had to retreat.
Among the people battering the shields of the police there was an adorable old man throwing pebbles. He was completely relaxed, and he had an excellent aim. With one stone after another he could hit the same police officer on his helmet. He didn’t care to hide his face, he was having the time of his life.
Around six, authorities had enough of it. Via megaphone it was announced that people had to disperse or police would charge. The answer came with firecrackers and an intensification of the bombardment.
So police charged. And after having resisted for so long, they were bloody pissed off. They clubbed people down like savages. I took the space that the first line had left open in their wake, shooting footage of the violence. It was not very smart, I should have counted with the second line coming down behind me. One of the bastards went for my camera, then he went for me, then he got assistance. So now I know what a billy club feels like. It makes you mad. Really really mad. In the heat of the moment, I managed to save my footage, to shout all kinds of bad things about these goons and their mothers, and to get the hell out of there in pretty good shape, all more or less at the same time.
Part of us regrouped in a narrow street. We built up barricades from big plastic containers full of trash, and they were set alight. When police advanced, we retreated and built more barricades. Within minutes there were piles of trash ablaze at every street corner. The stench was disgusting, but the sight was wonderful. There was a sense of liberation in the air. “It’s good this is happening. Things needed to be shook up here in Portugal”, someone said.
Meanwhile police were blocking streets left and right, and advancing. We descended towards the sea and the big avenues. At a certain point, police officers started shooting rubber bullets. That’s when most of the group dispersed.
We reunited again at Cais do Sodré, where the demo had started. Phones were ringing continuously, stories came in about police hunting isolated citizens in the alleys and beating them up. Then they came to the square, in full riot gear. They raided the bar where we had found refuge, they took away the usual suspects. One of them was the streamer from audiovisuals. He hadn’t been able to broadcast today, because they had already confiscated his equipment before it all went down. Now he was taken in for questioning. Unlike another person that was taken away from the bar, I haven’t seen him return.
“This is what democracy looks like”, one of my comrades commented.
By now the images have reached the far corners of Portugal. Tomorrow we will have to see what their influence will be on the Portuguese state of my mind. If it were for me, without a doubt, I’d be back at parliament.
Lisbon, November 14, 1130 hrs.
Yesterday I met up with a comrade from the Communications commission of the Indignados Lisboa. He later took me to an anarchist hide-out where banners were being prepared for the general strike, and where I had the opportunity to meet other people active in local assemblies and working groups. They filled me on the history of our movement in Portugal.
Bear in mind that the scale of the protests here is in no way comparable to what happened in Spain. When it all started, last year in May, there was an acampada of the Indignados Lisboa in the central Rossio square. The people who organised it were not an heterogeneous mix of citizens, they came specifically from anti-militarist groups opposed to NATO. The acampada lasted two weeks, and ended like most camps do, in internal struggle and decay.
In October, when the fall wave rose, there was another encampment, this time in front of parliament, and this time inspired by what was happening in the USA. It was called ‘Occupy Lisbon’, and it was a distinct group from the Indignados Lisboa.
Unlike Spain, where the 15M is kind of an overarching movement of many different struggles, in Portugal the resistance consists of independent movements which loosely collaborate. Among these are not only Occupy and the Indignados, but also the Zeitgeist movement, Anonymous and various unions and semi-political organisations.
In February of this year a nationwide encounter of popular assemblies was held in Coimbra. Later on, in April and May, activists met in Lisbon to exchange ideas and coordinate struggles. But it wasn’t until September 15 that the movement in Portugal really took off.
That day, two months ago, an estimated one million people all over the country took the streets and forced the government to swallow the latest austerity measures. Considering the fact that Portugal only has about ten million inhabitants, the number was enormous.
Since then, the government has disguised the same austerity measures in different ways, and the people have made a habit out of demonstrating and striking. Every week, more or less.
From what I hear, the situation is not as tragic as Spain as far as evictions go, but the privatisation of everything, including health care and water is dangerously looming over the country, here as elsewhere in the South of Europe.
In the anarchist cove I met the two people who form the Lisbon audiovisual team, broadcasting from bambuser.com/ptrevolutiontv. And as they explain to me their way of working I realise how technologically advanced we are in Madrid. We can cover any small event with one or two streamers, who can operate independently without need of a laptop or a generator. In case of big events we can deploy four to eight streamers (‘cells’ or ‘units’), sometimes even more. We can mix everything comfortably from a studio while keeping an eye on the headlines from around the world.
Here in Portugal, our comrades have one laptop and a couple of webcams at their disposal. They use a car to function as generator for the laptop. Still, they make maximum use of the limited means at their disposal, but they need more people. And I wonder, in a few years time, looking back, we will be amazed about how primitive our current technology is. And at the same time we will be happy that we were there to witness the pioneers of this amazing technology called ‘livestream’.
Lisbon, November 13
I took the overnight bus to Lisbon in order to be here for the November 14 general strike. Latest news from Spain before I left: 46 super judges from all over the country have spoken out against the evictions, and self-proclaimed themselves the spearhead of reform. Also, the mayor of Madrid went to La Princesa hospital in support of the struggle against the hospital’s closure.
Now here I am on the estuary of the Tago river. They say that Spain and Portugal live with their backs against each other, and I have a feeling it’s true. In general, they don’t speak each other’s languages. It’s not obligatory in school. The Portuguese speak better English than Spanish.
Maybe this could be explained with the strong bond that has united England and Portugal for all of modern history. The two countries maintain the longest still active alliance in the world, going as far back as the late 14th century. The thing they share is that they face the ocean more than they face the continent.
Another thing you notice is that Portugal is a lot darker skinned than Spain. The country has a long and intricate relationship with Africa. As empire builders, they were the first to go there and the last to leave, over 500 years later. As a result, black blood has merged into the lifeline of Portugal. In Spain on the other hand, most of the blacks you encounter are recent immigrants, mainly from Francophone Africa.
One of Portugal’s most notable former colonies is Angola. The country was ravaged by fifteen years of colonial war followed by over twenty years of civil war. For a decade now, the country is in peace, and it’s finally starting to exploit its huge mineral and oil resources.
This has led to the creation of a super rich elite, Arab style. If you are looking for the most expensive hotels, restaurants, night clubs and casino’s, don’t go to London, New York, Las Vegas or Dubai. Go to Luanda, the Angolese capital. You will live like a satrap. By contrast, the majority of the population in Angola is still among the poorest of the world, with low life expectancy, high infant mortality, etc.
Instead of investing in their own society, the Angolan super elite prefers to invest in the mother country. With Portugal being pushed to privatise, the petrol dollars from Africa are flowing back to Europe to buy up banks, utilities, etc. At the same time, Portuguese engineers are moving to Angola, attracted by the absence of a language barrier and the possibility of becoming super wealthy in a short time.
Understandably, there is also a significant Brazilian community here in Portugal. I don’t have any figures, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this emigratory flow is about to reverse. If it hasn’t already started, we might see many Brazilians returning home, and many Portuguese going with them in the coming years.
Yesterday, Merkel was here to assure herself that German directives were well implemented. A few hundred people protested against the visit, burning a Merkel puppet outside the presidential palace. Tomorrow there is the general strike, and from all the banners and manifesto’s I witness around town, everybody wants to be there.
The city was invaded by German football fans yesterday. The sun was out, and they enjoyed it. In Calle Alcalà they saw a group of people gathered outside an elegant building, shouting slogans and brandishing giant masks.
One of them asked me what it was all about. I tried to be brief.
“There’s a big bank here that was bailed out and nationalised. This banks continues to foreclose on people every day, while millions of appartments are empty as a result of speculation. Today, the president of this bank receives a prize, here in the Madrid casino. The people outside want their houses back.”
I hope he takes this part of the story back with him to Germany.
The action went well. It had a clear goal and message. No doubt the suits and ties inside have heard it. “We have the solution! / The bankers in prison!”
Police were only two. They were in no hurry at all to intervene. As ninety-nine-percenters, I imagine they didn’t really mind to see people protesting against shameless bankers.
Not only Bankia has been under attack these days. Also Banesto, BBVA, La Caixa. It’s spreading everywhere.
Aside from the banks, there are hospitals and universities being occupied. The judges are occupying courts. El País has understood that something is going on in the country. El Mundo keeps filling its pages with the ‘separatist challenge’ of Catalonia day after day.
The hospital of ‘La Princesa’ has been occupied for two days. It comes as a reaction to the government’s plans to push through the complete privatisation of hospitals in Madrid, and to close this one down. Medical personnel has organised spontaneous assemblies to coordinate the protest.
“La Princesa is not for sale” is one of the slogans. And “We want to take care of everyone.” (Check Twitter @noalcierreHULP)
Students on strike have been blocking traffic today. And more news is coming in of actions in hospitals around Madrid. It’s too much to keep up with it. At the moment, we are four people and a cat at the revolutionary news desk. From abroad, we receive eye witness accounts of electoral fraud in Ukraine and subsequent popular protests. They say the story is completely ignored by the press. It turns out it isn’t true. Reuters, The Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune etc. are all over this story. It just seems that Google News filters it all out in Russia and Ukraine.
In Spain, people are now gearing up for the general strike on November 14. It has been called for by the unions, the big ones, but many people here in Spain don’t like the unions. So they started an initiative… Occupy the Strike!
I have been off line for a couple of days, and the moment I log on again I can hardly catch up with all that happened. The usual strikes in Greece, Egyptian laymen protesting in Tahrir against the islamisation of society and in favour of a constituent assembly. Spanish unions calling for a strike on November 14 to coincide with similar actions in the rest of Europe, etc.
In Spain, above all, it has been a week of demonstrations by university and secondary school students. Yesterday, in all major cities they rallied against cutbacks and privatisation of education. In Catalonia students demanded the resignation of the minister of education who had recently stated that he wanted to ‘hispanicise’ Catalan schools.
In Madrid, thousands of students marched from Atocha to Sol in a loud and colourful protest. In Cáceres students were charged by police.
The same day, the director general of Spanish police announced his plan to “prohibit the recording, processing or circulation on the Internet of images showing police officers, if doing so would endanger them or the situation in which they are engaged.”
The proposal is part of an upcoming change of the Spanish penal code. It also includes the prohibition (for protesters, not police) to cover their faces during demonstrations, and a redefinition of the concept of ‘violent attack’ to include “any aggression or threats of violence against security forces and ambulance and fire crews.” This can be interpreted to include verbal violence. So calling an officer a ‘hijo de puta’ will be a violent attack on authorities, maybe even an ‘assault against the higher institutions of the state’, and will be punished as such.
A spokesman for the ‘Judges for Democracy’ said the reform was “extremely ambiguous and in no instance should be used to prevent the circulation of excesses on the part of police.”
El País didn’t fail to add that “during recent protests in Madrid, the actions of police were placed under the spotlight after videos were posted on the internet showing riot officers storming into the Atocha railway station firing smoke pellets and beating bystanders with their batons.”
The second largest Police union SUP, close to the 15M, accused the police chief of trying “to deflect attention from the reality of loss of purchasing power”. It also criticised the chief for failing “to mention how to prevent the recording of images, something that would appear to be impossible in the technological society in which we live.”
At every demonstration where police threaten the use of violence, protesters wave their hands chanting ‘these are our arms!’ The people from Audiovisuals – and not just them – make use of real arms, their camera’s, and they will not give them up.
If the law is illegitimate, we will not obey. We will expose the truth, in word, sound, and image.