Cerrado por Huelga
Wednesday, September 29, 2010 5:31:33 AM
Today, September 29, in Spain, a general strike has been called. That's meant to be a big deal, a strike of everything and everyone. Whether it "succeeds" will be measured in large part by how much is closed. Which makes sense - if those behind it really have the power to close down the country for a day, maybe they can close it for three days, or five days, and it makes sense to offer them what they are asking for instead.
A little after midnight (when I arrived in Leon), I went out for a coffee. Only to discover that a group of picketers were marching around, closing down bars by standing outside and shouting at them. Mostly it seemed effective - the Humedo looked entirely closed down.
Of course that wasn't quite true. A number of places pulled their shutters down and kept on with business as usual (except the extra noise and effort of opening and closing the shutters to let people in or out). And there were a whole lot of the people normally in bars who hadn't clued in to where the open places were, hanging around on the street annoyed.
I wondered about the point of the exercise. Most of the places are small discos, bar/restaurants, or cafes. The biggest one (the only one I know of that is part of a group - the patron owns a few bars) had simply closed their doors already. The few casual workers in bars were unemployed for the night, and the many casual workers who go to them were unentertained (and seemingly not amused). Hardly the way to win people to your side. Especially with a tactic reminiscent of the bully-boy "politics" of an earlier and much nastier era of industrial relations and choosing governments.
Which brought me back to the fact that a general strike is a big deal. They don't happen anywhere very often. Because the stakes are high - perhaps higher than any specific strike, certainly as high as famous long strikes like Britain's miners' strike, the Victorian nurses' strike of the 80s, the pilots' and MWU strikes of the '90s in Australia.
Starting out on such a path, it's important to get momentum, to show early that you're serious, and reinforce your belief that you will win. Much like a sporting team likes to score an early advantage. Or like crusades almost inevitably began with a pogrom (that's a fancy word for killing and looting local people for the sin of being jewish).
It's easy for a couple of hundred people or so to harass a small bar into closing. So you can move around a small area doing it for a while and have the satisfaction that the entire area is closed for the strike. If you're mostly trying to convince yourselves, or those around you, that you're on the winning side, you don't need to look too closely at what you really achieved. Or what it cost.
So I got to wondering.
Once upon a time, as a young fit competitive man (or boy who wanted to be one), I played a lot of team sports. Rugby, rowing, things that placed a heavy premium on very close teamwork and putting all the strength you have on the line. British bulldog was considered a fine game in my primary school. But as I recall, if we were out and about as a team, we swaggered a bit more than normal. And part of that was to give us confidence that we would win.
Later in life I was heavily involved in various groups recreating aspects of medieval life. Although this involved learning to sew, was where I became known as a cook, and involved a lot of time in the library doing research into things like needlework and chemistry, it was also an activity in which groups of people would put on lots of armour and bash each other with weapons. And yes, we may have wandered around some of the rougher suburbs of big Australian towns in fancy clothes looking suspiciously like drag. But we swaggered, knowing anyone who thought they might have a go at us over our oddness would be put off fast by the weapons we carried, and the fact that we were a group who new how to use them.
This thought might have led to reflections about the effect this has on those who are bystanders. The people who are just out with a couple of friends for a drink after work, the guy who is trying to impress a girlfriend and would rather be hurt than look like he was, the kids who are learning how they can grow up, the people who are wondering what kind of people are on the street at night.
But it didn't (well, not as a first line). It led me to wonder who directs the small-minded behaviour. Who is it that convinces a mob big enough to deserve the name but small enough to happily disperse for beers instead, to go around creating divisions between them and their natural allies? Who convinces the little people that a bit of shouting at the other little people is what they should be doing? If the workers, united, can never be defeated, who keeps them looking for enemies amongst themselves, sowing a fear that distracts them from battling for real victories?
Because making sure that I can't have a quiet drink doesn't seem to me consistent with any goal I can imagine being part of the Trade Unions' demands. (These are Spanish unions - something like a general hostility to drinking is simply unthinkable). And now the noise has died down, and the streets are finally silent (at 7.30 am on the day of a general strike), why can't I sleep? Even after writing all of this?