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  • Letter from Catalonia: Starting over


Letter from Catalonia: Starting over

American journalist and Barcelona resident Lynn Baiori returns for our special on-the-ground reports of what's happening on the streets of the Catalan capital. This week: How are the strikes impacting the shopowners next door?

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Photo by Lynn Baiori

In our newest guest column, read our special on-the-ground reports of what’s happening on the streets of Catalonia from American journalist and Barcelona resident-of-two-decades Lynn Baiori. With speaker of Catalan parliament Carme Forcadell released on bail by the Spanish Supreme Court yesterday, turmoil between the Spanish state and the region continues. Baiori reports on this week’s strike and the people’s mood.

Another general strike was called this week by the Intersindical-CSC, a pro-independence, Catalan trade union. The biggest trade unions were not involved in Wednesday’s strike. A list of the general goals set out by the Intersindical-CSC includes “abolish oppression”, support “social and economic democracy”, “the working class”, and “equal opportunity”, “ecological balance” and Catalonia’s language and cultural assets. The union says they organized the strike as a response to low wages and as a call for the repeal of The Royal Decree Law 15/2017 of October 6, which has made it quicker and easier for companies to relocate their registered office. The labor strike attracted members of pro-republican groups and those protesting for the release of political prisoners. The secretary general of the Intersindical-CSC is an ex-member of Terra Lluire, an armed Catalan separatist group formed after Franco’s death. When I asked a group of pro-republican supporters what they knew about the strike’s organizers, I was told by one woman, “The strike has the support of the CUP, ANC, Omnium and others in the self-rule, independence movement. It’s not as important who is behind the strike as who is supporting it.”

Questioning what or who you support and why is important, especially now, when introspection seems to be in short supply. These days the disbanded Catalan government has been discussing what alliances would best serve their goals in the December 21 elections, with major players sitting in Brussels and Catalonia, in prison and in Madrid, all positioning themselves and strategizing. Small coalitions have emerged yet ERC, PDeCAT and the CUP, the three main pro-independence parties, have registered their participation in the December elections independently of one another. According to a survey in this week’s La Vanguardia, 67 percent of respondents felt the Catalan economy has suffered since independence was declared, and 60 percent rate the actual political situation in Catalonia to be poor. When asked how they thought the situation would be in a year’s time, half said better and the other half thought the same or worse. Meanwhile, pro-independence leaders offer promises of a better financial future in an independent Catalonia and those leading the anti-independence movement paint a picture of economic disaster. At this point, there is more speculation than actual economic debate. But even if there were sound economic arguments being made for or against separation, looking at the situation objectively, it is difficult to envision Spain opening the door and letting Catalonia walk away, regardless of the outcome in December.

The big players are moving their financial headquarters out of Catalonia. The wealthy will be able to ride out an economic shitstorm, if it should hit the fan. Those with secure jobs, such as public employees, university professors and those with fixed contracts have some protection should the economy take a dive. Anyone with less job security, less opportunity and financial burdens will be finding themselves in a much more vulnerable position. A shop owner on a busy street in Barcelona told me that she hadn’t seen a customer all week. She and her husband own two mattress stores, a family business established by her grandparents. The past month was the worst they had been through since the crisis of 2008, when they almost lost the business. For nine years, they struggled through a slow recovery. This year, things were finally looking up. But with all the instability, people are afraid to spend money. “The wheels of the plane were just beginning to lift from the runway, and now the plane has come crashing down,” she told me. “I’m 53 years old; I can’t start over again.”

In the meantime, Wednesday’s strike is being hailed a success by organizers for having interrupted the functioning of the economy. The region’s frontiers and main roadways were cut, streets and rail lines around Barcelona were blocked. There is talk of more demonstrations and rumors of more gentle, symbolic gestures. Some smaller towns have decided not to put up a crèche, in solidarity with the parliamentary ministers and the two civic leaders who are still in prison. There is a feeling by some that the time has come to push harder, with an increase of disturbances. In opposition to Wednesday’s crowds, hundreds of thousands marched against separation last week. As separatists and anti-separatist politicians and organizers draw battle lines and bands form behind them there are others, caught in the middle, who are just trying to survive.