Thursday 9 June 2011

Catalonia: UAF’s sister organisation stands up against fascism

By David Karvala, UCFR spokesperson

Over the past few weeks, a lot has been happening in the fight against fascism in Catalonia.

The bad news is that the fascists increased their vote substantially in the recent council elections. The good news is that the UAF’s sister organisation Unitat contra el feixisme i el racisme (UCFR, Unity Against Fascism and Racism) has since then mobilised thousands of people and created new local groups in the towns where the fascists have their strongest base.

Catalonia, whose capital is Barcelona, is one of the most economically developed parts of the Spanish state. It has a long history of immigration; in the 1950s and 60s, from the south of Spain; over the last ten years from Latin America, north and central Africa, Eastern Europe and Pakistan.

Around ten years ago, Josep Anglada — a long standing fascist and follower of Franco, the former Spanish dictator — established a new party, Plataforma per Catalunya (PxC). Copying the French fascist, Le Pen, he presented PxC as a “democratic” party.

However Anglada confessed to a hidden camera (a journalist interviewed him pretending to be a fascist) that he was really a Francoist, but that to win votes, he had to pretend to be a democrat; when he got into power, that would change.

Where Franco was well known for repressing the Catalan language and national identity, Anglada tried to woo both Spanish nationalists —many of them part of the previous wave of immigration— and Catalan nationalists, in a joint “defence of European culture” against immigrants, especially Muslims.

The tactic worked. In 2003, Anglada won a council seat in his home town, Vic, in rural central Catalonia. In 2007, PxC won 17 council seats, including four in Vic, where it became the second party, and another four in El Vendrell, where it came third.

Unity Against Fascism and Racism (UCFR) was formally launched last October, following a call signed by a range of activists from different parties, unions and social movements.

This was a complete break from the past; previously, most of the left and the social movements had ignored PxC, preferring “not to give them publicity”, or saying that the other parties were just as bad. What antifascist groups existed were very small and limited to the far left.

On the other hand, while UCFR broke the mould in antifascism here, it drew inspiration from Catalonia’s hugely successful united antiwar movement; another inspiration was clearly UAF, whose logo it adapted.

The newly formed UCFR mobilised against PxC in the November 2010 elections to the Catalan parliament. Anglada had boasted that he would win six to nine seats; his final count of 75,000 votes —2.4% of the total— left the fascists outside parliament, but it was a warning to many people that the threat was real.

The work of building the movement continued. Currently around 200 organisations support UCFR, including most of the trade unions and the left, the Catalan-wide networks of neighbours’ and youth associations, more and more immigrants’ and Roma organisations, and many social movements.

Even more important was the growth at local level. By this spring there were a dozen local groups; some covering just a neighbourhood, others a town or an entire county; some were a handful of activists, while others had the solid support of many local organisations.

In the municipal elections of 22 May, PxC expected a massive breakthrough; in fact they grew compared with 2007, but not as much as they had hoped.

They won 67 council seats (out of more than 9,000 in Catalonia), with 2.3% of the overall vote, five times more than in the previous council elections. They entered councils in several cities around Barcelona, and in their strongholds of Vic and El Vendrell, they rose from 4 to 5 councillors in each city. Again, that’s the bad news; the good news is that UCFR has shown it can make a difference.

One of UCFR’s strongest local groups is in the county of Garraf, which includes the well known holiday town of Sitges. The success of their campaigning, including an antiracist festival with well over a thousand people in Vilanova, the county’s capital, obviously annoyed the PxC candidate.

He let his mask drop, attacking a teenage girl with a metal bar, and taking two carloads of fascists to follow a 60-year-old UCFR member to his home, where they attacked him; luckily the neighbours stopped them and the police arrived to take the fascists’ names; court proceedings are pending.

Such fascist violence is sadly not new; the response was. The local UCFR group organised what turned out to be the biggest and most diverse demonstration in the town’s recent history; over 1,500 people in a lively multicultural rejection of the fascists.

PxC didn’t win a single seat in the whole county, and their vote halved compared to last November.

This helped to inspire people in other towns. Last Tuesday, 31 May, neighbours in El Vendrell, where there was as yet no UCFR group, called an assembly in the main square; the location reflected the growth of the real democracy movement, which had by then established camps and assemblies in town squares across Catalonia, and the whole of Spain. Despite the rain, an incredible 200 people turned up.

That night, they established UCFR in their county, Baix Penedès, and they arranged another assembly for Friday 4 June, when 400 attended! In the few days since then, they have organised a series of protests, against the intention of the conservative Catalan nationalist party, CiU, to do a deal with PxC in order to take control of the council.

Also on Friday 4 June, there had been a call on Facebook for a protest against PxC in the main square of Vic, Anglada’s home town. There was only a small UCFR group in Vic; most activists still thought the best tactic was to ignore the fascists.

Luckily, ordinary people disagreed; an incredible 2,000 people met in the square, and began a spontaneous demonstration —behind a main banner with the UCFR slogan “We don’t want fascists in the council”— ending up in front of the fascist leader’s house, where left their banners and placards as a calling card. They have already called another protest for 21 June.

There is still a lot to be done. Other new groups are appearing, but many more are needed. But, in its nine months of existence, UCFR has shown that it is possible to stop the growth of fascism in Catalonia, that here too it is possible to build a united movement, bringing together people who, despite their many differences, agree that they don’t want to let the fascists grow.


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