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Barcelona in the General Strike

Por: | 30 de marzo de 2012


In Barcelona the General Strike was two parts civilised calm to one part chaotic unease.

As a Briton, the idea of a general strike is - for better or for worse - something from the history books: the last one in the UK was in 1926 and strikes, when they do happen, tend to be localised and short. They’re also pretty bad-tempered affairs:  underground drivers threatening to strike on New Year’s Eve, for example, where disruption to party goers will be at its maximum.

That is the whole point, of course, and I’m certainly not criticising their right to do it. Nevertheless, it was strangely refreshing to see unions sitting down with the Catalonian Generalitat to work out minimum levels of service in the days before the strike. This may be a legal condition of the Strike rather than any sign of largesse but to British eyes it seemed eminently civilised.

Equally, when a friend of mine needed to visit the emergency dentist yesterday on the day of the General Strike he was seen quickly, efficiently and with none of creeping shame of crossing a picket line.

This, however, is not to say that the Strike was a failure: where I live, in the centre of Barcelona, it looked as if around 50% or more of shops were shut and if anyone disagreed with the Strike they kept their views to themselves.


The main demonstration march in Barcelona also took place in an atmosphere of civilised calm. One peculiarity that has always struck me about demonstrations here is how they can encompass thousands of different viewpoints. So, while the target of the demonstration might be budget cuts and labour reform, individual attendees will use the occasion to call for anything from an independent Catalonia to animal rights. The contrast with Britain, where protest marches tend to be about one specific issue (such as the massive anti-Iraq war marches of 2003) is marked.

And such was the march yesterday: thousands of protestors walked from the Placa de Catalunya in good humour, children alongside parents, with banners aloft and voices aloud. The banners in themselves were a lesson in Catalan humour: frequently scatological, full of plays on words and ready to take the piss out of all and sundry. (Rajoy as Marty McFly in a Back To the Future take off was a particular favourite).


But of course, when the public thinks of the General Strike in Barcelona it won’t be these images that come to mind: rather it will be the pictures of agitators burning bins, breaking glass and setting fire to a Starbucks.

I was around Urquinaona, trying to get to the Placa de Catalunya, when the first incidents of the evening took place. Perversely, being so close to the events it was hard to understand what was happening. What seems like a straight narrative from the media reports and YouTube videos unfurled in mini waves of chaos for those on the ground: shots were fired, protestors started to run in all direction and the acrid mix of smoke and gas drifted in the air.

If you strained, you could see fires in the distance and lines of helmeted police, while rumours swept the crowd of shops burned and people arrested. Police vans came and went with the same nervous urgency and fire engines rushed from burning bin to burning bin, adding to the general chaos. Things would then calm down momentarily only for the cycle to repeat itself minutes later, with the disruption coming from a different area this time.

The Catalans are generally a fairly phlegmatic lot, however, and while there was fear among those caught up in the disturbances (particularly from those with children) the general atmosphere was closer to that of unease and disappointment. The march, it appeared, was breaking down into chaos and people didn’t want to lose the chance to make their voices heard.

But, in the end, Catalan pragmatism ruled: after an hour stuck in the Placa de Catalunya organisers struck another route and the march went ahead as planned, banners, drums and all.

One day later and - bar some paint blots and a very closed branch of Starbucks - Urquinaona was back to normal. People were reading papers in the sun and chatting to their neighbours, as if nothing had happened. Civilised calm has returned.

But the question is for how long? With Rajoy today set to announce the most austere Budget in the history of democratic Spain there is a feeling that more unrest is inevitable. The General Strike of Barcelona, then, may be just a taste of what lies ahead.


Photographs Copyright All rights reserved by Teresa Forn.


Hay 6 Comentarios

Romesco sauce consists of toasted almonds and hazelnuts, roasted tomatoes and garlic, olive oil, vinegar, parsley, salt and small nyora red peppers – all blended together with a mortar and pestle. The salvitxada differs from Romesco sauce in that it is thickened with toast that’s been rubbed with roasted garlic and dipped in vinegar.

Estoy totalmente de acuerdo con Iberian. Típico planteamiento inglés de memoria selectiva que se olvida de los ¨problemillas" de Londres hace unos meses. Penoso.

Menuda sarta de tópicos. Catalanes de humor escatológico y, paradójicamente, flemáticos. Típica actitud displicente de un british respecto a los "continentals". Parece olvidar los riots de los tiempos de Ms Thatcher y los recientes de Totenham. Qué nivel, Maribel.

Solidarity with all those fighting against austerity, especially the anarcho-syndicalists whose principles of direct action and working-class self-organisation offer the best chances of defeating the political/economic elites.

Well, up to now the most devastating riots during the current crisis have not taken place in Athens or Barcelona, but in London so do not pretend that this things only happen to continentals and in particular to Southern Europeans. And also you tend to forget that the UK was a chaos of industrial actions during the 70s

NIce blog mate!!!
keep the spirits up and lets not be ruled by economical capitalistic policies but the peoples good being and some common sense!!

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Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area @JuliePybus

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check:

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