On May 15th, thousands of people answered a call to "take the streets" against neoliberal economic measures that were being implemented in Spain in the aftermath of the financial crisis. To everyone's surprise, including organizers and participants[i], 125,000 people "took the streets" filling popular city squares across Spain. In a matter of days, the "indignant" – as they came to be known – went from making a point to making a camp, and from running the camp to working towards a revolution.
Four weeks later, on June 19th, a second march gathered over 250,000 people, once again exceeding all expectations and, more importantly, doubling the attendance of the first action. An impressive figure, indeed. However, by that time, 15-M was no longer just the date of a protest, but also the name of a very organized movement with immediate demands as well as long-term political ambitions. The movement now has its own institutions, its own proposals and its own history. It even has its own newspaper, its own artwork and even a 4-sign language. This is a movement that frightens a select few because it creates hope for many.
Retrospective: It's always the quiet ones…
On the eve of the 2008 financial crisis, the economy of Spain still appeared strong: GDP had been growing at a steady 4%, consumption was high and real estate prices seemed to reach for the sky. But this would turn out to be merely an illusion. There was a rising inequality between rich and poor, unemployment was already abnormally high and consumption was only facilitated by irresponsible levels of debt. Nevertheless, both growth and the financial health of the Treasury guaranteed a decent level of social protection from the government in the most European way.
During the fourth quarter of 2008, like in the three little Pigs story, the big bad wolf of the US subprime crisis "huffed and puffed" …and blew the Spanish housing bubble down. Ironically, Spanish financial institutions did not hold substantial amounts of toxic American assets, but their roofs were indeed made of straws and the Spanish economy collapsed at the end of 2008. Unemployment soared to 20% nationally, with the youngest citizens hardest hit at over 45% unemployment. Over one-fifth of Spaniards were suddenly living below the poverty line (around $11,250 for a single person).
From that moment on, the social provisions built up under the welfare state were no longer sacred. Politicians from both sides presented social spending as a burden that aggravated the poor economic situation. The public lost trust in the major labor unions, traditional defenders of basic social protections, and saw them as weak, indulgent government collaborators. Corporations were now gifted the privilege of firing workers by the thousands with reduced compensation packages, partly paid with taxpayers money. In the middle of the social and economic devastation of an entire generation, one might expect there to have been a strong, maybe violent, reaction. But no such thing took place.
In fact, on May 1st – a day still celebrated here as Labor Day, unlik