Friday, 13 March 2009

Protest is alive and well and lives in Vigo!

On Thursday evening, as we approached the Caixa Nova Centro Social to go to a concert, we were met by a group of people on the steps with a huge UGT (Union General de Trabajadores) banner, handing out leaflets informing us about Caixa Nova's unfair dismissal of workers.

Sunday was International Women's Day; there were marches here and in other parts Galicia. Spanish television news reported marches all over the place. The Guardian's website did not mention any in the UK.

Recently, as I left my yoga class I could hear the sound of distant whistle blasts. It will be a demonstration of some kind, we all agreed. There was no visible sign of anything, but no doubt somewhere at the far end of Rosalia de Castro Street someone was protesting about something.

Now, according to Manuel Rivas, Castelao, Galician writer and politician from the first half of the twentieth century, once said, "El gallego no protesta, emigra". That may have been true at the time and it certainly is true that over the years many gallegos have sought a better (or at least better paid) life in other parts of the world. However, the not protesting part does not seem to be the case nowadays.

Almost as soon as we arrived here in mid-September, I started to see notices calling all and sundry to a march in solidarity with women all over the world. On two consecutive Sundays, there were marches through the city centre, with "pitos", whistle-blasts, announcing their approach.

As autumn approached, students occupied the university buildings in protest at EU rulings about changes in university courses. The journalists sympathised with the poor students spending the night in sleeping bags on the floor of the university. (I wondered if my former students, now at university in the UK, were even aware that the EU was interfering in their studies.)

Then the cleaners' unions called its workers out on strike. I never found out exactly why they were striking, presumably for better pay and conditions, but you could always hear them and, what is more, see where they had been on their demonstrations. They left a trail of shredded newpaper along their route just to let us know how much we needed their limpieza.

It was because of the limpieza workers that I found myself trapped in El Corte Ingles one afternoon. Demonstrators had gathered, whistling, shouting slogans and throwing their shredded paper around outside the main entrances to the store on GranVia. These doors were locked and shoppers inside the store were eventually directed, some grumbling and muttering, to a side entrance where they could exit, running the gauntlet of placard-waving pickets.

Since then, in one of my reading group's discussions one of the ladies deplored the lack of political commitment on the part of the younger generation here. This brought a storm of protest and reminiscence of how young people took a leading role in the protests against the government's apparent lack of action when the Prestige shed its toxic load of crude oil on the beaches of Galicia in 2002. In the summer of 2003 I saw marches by the Nunca Mais organisation and saw white-clothed volunteers still cleaning up the beaches every morning.

It seems that Senor Castelao might need to change his comment if her were still around today!

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