Hundreds attended a meeting packed to overflowing – mainly young people, many Spanish – in London this weekend to hear a three-way debate between Owen Jones, Ken Loach and leaders of the new Spanish organisation Podemos, which took five seats in the European Parliament in May just three months after being formed. One of the new MEPs, Tania González Peñas, spoke from the platform.
Podemos (“We can!”) was inspired by the radical left force in Greece, Syriza. It grew out of the mass protests in Spain of the last three years, the Indignados movement. It fought the European election campaign on a tiny budget, much of it funded by small online donations. To universal surprise, it polled 1.2 million votes, drawing considerable support from younger voters, running on an anti-austerity programme that was produced in a way very different to the opaque processes used by the traditional party elites.
Utilising social networks and online media, large numbers of supporters helped write Podemos’s programme. Amendments were discussed in local party circles and put to online referenda. Candidates were chosen democratically through open primaries. Over 33,000 voters took part, giving those who voted a real sense of ownership of the movement.
Tania spoke about the devastating scale of the crisis in Spain, which has seen over 180 housing evictions a day. Podemos, she said, is trying to reclaim politics from the discredited “caste” – the leaders of the two main parties, the social democratic PSOE and the governing conservative Popular Party (PP) – so that it works for ordinary people. “The European Parliament is designed to absorb and dilute us,” she said. “Our key role in these institutions is to change them.”
Íñigo Errejón, who organised Podemos’s campaign for the European elections and has the same youthful dynamism as Owen Jones, also spoke. “People ask: are we going to unite the left?” he said. “No, we are organising the ordinary people, the 90%. We do this not by talking like Martians.” He continued:
The political caste is now on the defensive. Fear is changing sides. It’s no longer the masses but the minority, the elite, that is worried. We’re going to turn a social movement into a political majority to create a government that acts in the interests of the people. This includes tax reform so the rich have to pay, an end to austerity that wrecks the economy and cancelling the debt which makes up 20% of the budget, a public housing programme, credit to support small and medium enterprises and an end to evictions.”
Since the European elections, Podemos have consistently polled around 20% in opinion polls in Spain. One recent poll in the province of Andalucia, traditionally a heartland of the PSOE, had Podemos on a higher rating than both the PSOE and the PP together. With both national and local elections due next year, the “caste” should be very fearful indeed.
Image credit: photo by Joana Ramiro