When I first met him a year ago, Pablo Gallego García (@PabGallego) had neither a job nor very much money. Like more than 50% of Spanish youth, he understood only too well the effects of the Eurozone crisis on ordinary people and had almost become accustomed to the indignities and privations of crippling unemployment. One of the original members of Movimiento 15-M, or los indignados, the Spanish protest movement that predated and inspired Occupy Wall Street, he knew exactly what he was fighting for, and against.
He still knows: Gallego may now have a job, but it pays roughly €400 less per month than it would have two years ago, one of countless positions to have seen its previous holder laid off so that it might be refilled by someone else at a lower wage. Gallego’s new gig is with a firm that compiles reports on the actions of the financial industry. He has been able to witness first-hand the selling of Spain: the auctioning off of its assets — high-rises, airports — to the highest bidders (usually Americans, Russians and Chinese). “Some people are making a lot of money off this crisis,” he told Crikey.
Besides finding work, Gallego’s life has changed in other ways since we last spoke. In May, Spain’s non-mainstream leftist party, Podemos, won a surprising 7.97% of the country’s vote in the European parliament elections, gaining five seats. Then, last month, King Juan Carlos abdicated, sending thousands onto the streets to call for a referendum on the monarchy. There is something in the air, Gallego says, that arguably hasn’t been there since the early 1930s.
“The results of the European Parliament elections have caused a total turnaround in our country,” he said. “For the first time, the leftist rupturista — Podemos, Izquierda Unida [United Left], Primavera Europea [European Spring], Bildu [a Basque separatist-leftist political coalition] and the ERC [Republican Left of Catalonia] — had more votes than the Social Democrats. Recent polls have shown that Podemos is now the third most popular political party in Spain overall and the second in certain regions. If the economic and political crises continue, and if the leftist parties can join forces with one another, I think we can come to power in more than ten major cities for the first time since the 1930s,” he said.
Gallego says that the second of these conditions — the coming together of the left’s various groups — is already beginning to happen, with the various groups committed to making a real showing at next year’s local and regional elections. “Most of these rupturist forces have started joining forces under the banner of ‘Ganemos’ — ‘Let’s Win’ — with the plan to take control of a number of town halls in next year’s municipal elections,” he said. “This is the same thing that happened before the proclamation of the Spanish Second Republic.”
The group to which Gallego belongs, Democracia Participativa, is one of ten socialist, regionalist and green parties that comprise Primavera Europea, which has played a significant role in this unification process. But Gallego believes more remains to be done in terms of creating a truly democratic movement.
“Primavera Europea enjoyed great success bringing various leftist groups together,” he said. “But in my view, we were very conservative when drafting our electoral list. Before the elections, I set up a meeting with Podemos and Primavera Europea to propose an alternative list and to suggest that our supporters vote on which list they wanted us to run. But Compromis and Equo, Primavera Europea’s largest constituent groups, rejected that idea. I assure you that they are really disappointed by this decision now. We could have had a far less conservative contingent in the European Parliament! But Democracia Participativa got a lot of positive reinforcement following the elections — our faith in the left’s ability to win was vindicated — and is now talking to Podemos about becoming a part of it.”
None of the circumstances that first drew Gallego into leftist politics have changed, he said. “The economic situation in Spain remains poor, especially in microeconomic terms. Neither families nor SMEs [small and medium enterprises] have noticed any change. But Podemos’s proposals so far — doing away with the privileges enjoyed by politicians, making progressive fiscal reforms, auditing the country’s debt to prevent paying any more interest to banks, as well as other neo-Keynesian proposals — are slowly opening up the debate.”
Risks and challenges remain, however, both in and outside the movement. “As members of the movement gain ever more visibility, we obviously run the risk egos clashing and leaders colliding, which could lead them to reject joining forces, combined primaries and so on,” he said. “We also face the threat of mainstream media media coverage that is trying to divert attention from the movement’s proposals towards the pasts and personal lives of its leaders.”
This is where Gallego believes social media comes in and plays a crucial role. “Twitter is a great tool for reporting political actions and events and for influencing public opinion on policy issues on a daily basis,” Gallego, who tweets primarily in Spanish, said. “Twitter has been very important for Spain’s leftist parties and social movements. There is no doubt that, without social media tools, including Twitter and Facebook, the rise of Movimiento 15-M, los indignados, would have been impossible. The number of tweets that were made during and after the evictions of Puerta del Sol in Madrid and Placa de Catalunya in Barcelona was unbelievable. There is a fantastic video on YouTube where you can see just how much Twitter was being used during the birth of the Movimiento 15-M. It helped us to get the message out.”
Gallego says a crisis of journalism throughout the country is another cause of the rise of use of Twitter in Spain. “The newspapers of the left used to be El Pais, which is now owned by a holding company and has changed its editorial line completely, and Publico, which cancelled its print edition two years ago. People turned to social networks to learn what the newspapers were no longer telling them,” he said.
“Finally, I find it very interesting how Spain’s social movements have succeeded in transforming these social networking tools. They really are being used in this country to enable collective mobilisation and not merely as another way of enlarging people’s egos,” he said.
- Pablo Iglesias (@Pablo_Iglesias): The leader of Podemos and Spain’s most influential politician on Twitter.
- Juan Luis Sanchez (@juanlusanchez): Deputy director of Eldiario.es. He has covered Movimiento 15-M from its inception and understands the issues really well.
- Alberto Garzon (@agarzon): Izquierda Unida’s future leader.
- Ada Colau (@adacolau): By far Movimiento’s best spokeswoman, Ada is now running in Barcelona’s local elections.
- Antonio Maestre (@antoniomaestre): A journalist with La Marea whose tweets are really incisive.