Photo by Henry Langston
At midnight, Spanish and Portuguese union workers, students and protest groups were the first to take to the streets in what will probably go down in history books as the first Europe-wide, civil “fuck you”. Given the amount of upset the EU's austerity measures have caused in the last few years, if there's anything surprising about today's joint protests, it's that they haven't happened on this scale sooner.
A few weeks ago, when our Greek friends told us about the European Day of Action and Solidarity, or #14N – the name and social media hashtag used to index today's strike action – we started biting our nails with excitement. 'Holy crap, this is going to be massive,' we thought to ourselves, and mobilised our photographers and film crews in Europe. We were surprised by how little fuss was made in the lead up to this possibly historical event, but it turned out that was just the quiet before the media storm.
The strike was instigated by the European Trade Union Confederation, (AKA pretty much every trade union in Europe) in solidarity with the workers in Southern Europe. After ETUC’s announcement, France’s equivalent of Adbusters, the civil rights journal Actualutte, started the website Europeanstrike.org to prod European protest groups into joining the unions in action. The news of #14N spread like wildfire to the whole gamut of European resistance factions — from leftist Indignados in Spain and Indignés in France, to students groups and even to far-right groups like Casa Pound in Italy. Yup, you read correctly: the radical left, the far-right, students and union workers all striking more or less side by side.
We’re only halfway through the day and protests have broken out in dozens of cities across central and southern Europe, with attendance numbers ranging from between a few hundred, to several hundred thousand. Below is a round-up of the events so far. Please check back tomorrow for a full report and galleries from our photographers across Europe.
Police break up a picket line in Granada.
At midnight, the Catalan public broadcaster Televisió de Catalunya (TVC) in Spain, stopped broadcasting and announced they were joining the #14N strike. Eighty-five percent of the workers in Catalonia are striking today and 80 percent of workers in the rest of Spain are joining them. The earliest reports of protests came at midnight in Madrid, Barcelona and other Spanish cities, where thousands of strikers were blocking roads and occupying universities.
Dan Hancox, the author of Utopia and the Valley of Tears, reports from Madrid:
“The fascist group Nudo Patriota Espanol decided it would be terribly funny to pun on 'huelga general' and swap the 'huelga' (which means 'strike') for vuelva (which means 'return') – making the imperative RETURN GENERAL. General Franco. Come back, o Fascist dictator. Obviously, they got stickered.”
Striking workers in Zaragoza were intimidating scabs who were breaing the picket lines, though pretty sure poking a lorry with a stick wasn't going to make him change his mind.
In Malaga, non-striking workers used pepper spray to disperse a picket line, shooting it through a fire-extinguisher.
The bazooka miners of Asturia were out again, as they took part in a solidarity action by blocking the main highways with flaming barricades.
The largest protests have been taking place in Madrid, where police have been using rubber bullets on the crowds and arresting demonstrators. At the time of writing, the total number of arrests across Spain had reached 82.
Some firemen in France started the day by blocking a tram.
So far, Actualutte have reported that 30,000 union workers and youth are striking in Marseille, between 3,000 to 5,000 in Bordeaux, up to 3,000 in Lille, up to 1,000 in Rennes, Caen and Besançon. The protests in Paris just kicked off, where – aside from angry syndicalists – the French Indignados (les Indignés) have dressed up as vampires (to symbolise bloodsucking bankers, obviously) and are chasing the other protesters. Those French, eh? Even in times of unparalleled strife, their thirst for the theatrical remains intact.
The Paris Rally will go from Montparnasse to the Military School and so far, according to Actualutte, up to 10,000 protesters are taking part.
This is the French Indignés inspiration video for the protest. We’ll show you pics from the actual protest tomorrow.
Italian media reports that, in Milan, a policeman has been seriously injured after being attacked by 20 people with sticks and baseball bats. Throughout Italy, six cops have reportedly been injured. This includes two who were attacked with firecrackers in Padua – an incident which saw two protesters arrested. In Brescia, three students were cuffed for burning some tyres, causing protesters to re-direct their march towards the police station in solidarity.
In Ancona, the vibe has been less "eat the rich" and more tweaking the nose of the powerful, with protesters having a fiesta while egging and paint bombing a bank:
Back in Milan, protesters formed a book bloc as they approached the police lines blocking their path, before charging the police head-on, Braveheart-style.
Meanwhile there were clashes in Rome. And they weren't solely your usual clashes between left-wing students and police, the far-right Blocco Studentesco, the student wing of casa Pound, got involved too.
It will come as no surprise to anyone who’s been following the situation in Greece that the police in Athens set up a blockade to stop protests getting to the parliament building.
But it may shock you to hear that they needn’t have bothered. In what has been the riot capital of the world in recent months, a march of only 5,000 people passed off peacefully. I guess they finally got bored of rioting, or maybe the livelier elements are still drying themselves off after the cops used their shiny, new water cannon on them for the first time last week.
The most dramatic thing to happen was the performance of a puppet show – presumably a ruthlessly satirical one.
Those who were there showed their solidarity with other nations that are also totally fucked by flying the flags of Spain and Portugal.
Things have been relatively tame in Britain which is still bottom of the rioting league. In London, some strikers tried to disrupt everyone’s Christmas shopping by blocking Oxford Street.
The protesters in question were striking Crossrail workers. They're currently entangled in a dispute after all 28 construction staff who belonged to the UNITE union were sacked after someone blew the whistle over health and safety.
Protests are still ongoing across Europe with some expected to continue on into tonight. We'll have a full round up of events from our European correspondents tomorrow, so check back to find out if the revolution is in full swing, or we're all back to banging our heads against our desks.