Interview. “It is clear that today the border between the separatists and the outraged is looser. All separatists were outraged, but not all those outraged are separatists.”

Union leader explains ‘civic stop’ in Catalonia

CCOO (Comisiones Obreras) is the main Spanish trade union, and its Catalan branch is part of the so-called “Democratic Roundtable,” created last week after nationwide police abuses in the days preceding the referendum.

Faced with images of police violence during Sunday afternoon’s vote, CCOO Catalonia decided to organize a protest for today: a “civic stop” to coincide with the general strike proclaimed by some minor unions that support independence. To help explain this complicated situation, we talked with Michela Albarello, from Turin, secretary of international and co-operation of Ccoo Catalonia.

“We’re taking part in the ‘civic stop,’ a ‘civic strike,’ not the general strike,” she said. “This is a protest against the repressive, brutal and disproportionate attack of Oct. 1.”

Aren’t you afraid of being pegged as separatists?

CCOO has always defended the “right to decide” and that the Catalan people can express themselves in a referendum with the necessary conditions to be binding. For us, demands for national rights always go hand in hand with those for social rights. It is clear that today the border between the separatists and the outraged is looser. All separatists were outraged, but not all those outraged are separatists.

Sure, but in the square there were mostly independence flags.

There is the danger of confusion. Demands are always mixed. We want to protest firmly about what has happened, how the People’s Party government is acting and its political inability to respond. The only possible way is dialogue — and not that of the police and the judiciary.

Are you on the side of the Catalan government in this situation?

No. We are the primary social organization in Catalonia. We respect the plurality of society; within us there are federalists, separatists and even other positions. We represent only the working class and its rights.

How would you define what happened on Sunday?

We firmly condemn the action of the Spanish government, whose harshness and injustice should fill with indignation any supporter of democracy in the world. It was a flagrant violation of civil rights.

Podemos also attacked the government for “irresponsible” orders given to the police. Do you agree?

Law enforcement cannot join a trade union. So we have not taken a stand on this point. I can only say that in a democratic state, those responsible for violence are those who order it and who exercise it.

If Puigdemont’s government declared independence, how would CCOO react?

We would not support it. We are for a negotiated solution, a consensus that won’t increase the tension in Catalonia.

Why has this “stop,” organized within a few hours, been more successful than your strikes?

In a year and a half we have organized three general strikes against the People’s Party government’s labor reform, which was supported by one of the governing members in Catalonia, Convergència. When the problem involves the world of work, we respond. Right now the problem is wider and involves the whole of society, entrepreneurs, institutions, schools and universities.

Are the trade unionists more independent than you?

Nationalism has been percolating for years. There is an effective political and media machine that foments it. If you talk about the working conditions of people as much as you talk about your homeland and nation there would be a different kind of atmosphere. Improving workers’ conditions is just not as “sexy.”

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