Barcelona’s constant state of unrest – everybody strikes!

March 23, 2022

The other day I was at a bar.

When I went to pay, the owner announced she’d raised the price of beer by 10 cents.

“My electric bill has doubled”, she said. “Because of the war.”

Well, I remember everybody losing their minds about the price of electricity several months before the war in Ukraine started. But I didn’t want to debate her.

In any case, fun times here in Barcelona.

And Catalonia, Spain, the world and the universe.

Today, in my neighborhood, we’ve had no less than three strikes… and one public interruption of the session of Parliament.

It kind of reminds me of the months before the last crisis, back in 2008.

Gas prices through the roof, a lot of protests… and a general feeling that things couldn’t possibly get much worse. Of course, they did. That’s what I wrote about in Scenes from the Great Recession.

So what’s going on?

Spain’s transport strike enters day ten

Today is the 10th day of a trucker’s strike that’s threatening to interrupt supply chains.

The government claims the striking truckers are in a minority, and so far haven’t negotiated with them. Apparently they only want to negotiate with the National Committee of trucking companies – el patronal, as they say. That meeting is tomorrow. We’ll see what comes of it.

For now, Twitter and some of the news “papers” are full of pictures of empty supermarket shelves, but here in L’Eixample everything seems normal.

In the meantime, Danone has shut down a couple of factories due to these distribution problems, and other big companies are reportedly thinking of following suit.

Earlier today, in the middle of it all, I ran across a column of striking taxis as well.

(Purists might comment that freelance workers, which include many of the truckers and taxi drivers, are not really “striking” in the classic sense. They’re just refusing to work: la huelga is a right reserved for employees of companies or government organizations.)

Who else is refusing to work? Well, fishermen, for one. El País reports that the entire Spanish fishing fleet has stopped going out, claiming that they lose money if they do so. Once again, gas prices.

And finally…

Teachers and students strike over the Catalan language

The other big protest today was among teachers, who called a strike to protest the Catalan Superior Court’s ruling that public schools should give 25% of their classes in Spanish.

This has already been controversial, but the fact is, more than half of the residents of Catalonia have Spanish as a mother tongue. More than half speak Spanish as their “lengua habitual” – in their day-to-day lives. Actually, according to surveys, it’s almost 58%.

To be honest, here in Barcelona, I really don’t hear a lot of Catalan.

Maybe it’s the places I hang out, but virtually nobody tries to speak it to me. Most people look me up and down and choose either Spanish or English when addressing me – at least in the city.

In small towns, it’s more common for me to walk into a restaurant, be greeted in Catalan, and then have the person switch to Spanish when they see I look confused.

barcelona independence riots
A few years ago, at one of the independence riots.

A lot of people in Catalonia are “more Spanish than Catalan”. A lot of people are bilingual. And a lot of people aren’t from here at all.

When the locals use expressions like “Catalan society”, for example, I immediately assume they’re talking about a group of which I will never be a part. The ethnic nationalists have made that pretty clear.

It’s totally different to how I felt living in Madrid, when the word “madrileño” obviously included you, me, and everybody else living in the city.

In any case, the ethnic nationalists are well-represented among the rich and influential, and they want schools to be all-Catalan. Although apparently, less than 6.5% of teachers actually went on strike today. Take that as you will.

Tomorrow, the students are on strike, for a number of reasons. (Once again, not a “strike”, exactly. But that’s the word they’re using. Huelga. Or, in Catalan, vaga.)

Also tomorrow, a group called Lucha Autónoma, which brings together freelancers of all kinds, is organizing a protest.

Let me tell you, as a freelancer myself: we’re getting screwed on taxes every which way. And the government only wants to make it worse.

It’s pretty hard to make an honest living while paying all that the government wants us too.

Have you ever had a plumber or someone offer you a discount to pay in cash, with no invoice? They’re trying to save some tax money. It’s not legal, but if you saw an autónomo’s tax bill, you’d probably understand why they do it.

En fin…

Catalan people, of course, are no strangers to protesting.

In recent years we’ve had taxi strikes, general strikes, and all-out riots, to name just a few. There were protests about Covid restrictions – remember Covid? – about some jailed rapper, and about mass tourism.

Actually, except for the lockdowns in 2020, it seems like Barcelona is in a state of permanent unrest.

Is this week any different than the other times?

Probably not.

Some people will hit the streets in protest, most won’t. And somehow we’ll all muddle through.

Still, a lot of things are happening at once. It gives one the impression of living in historic times. Or (and this is also a distinct possibility) maybe I just spend too much time on Twitter.

Not much else to say today. Keep it real out there, kids.

Hasta la próxima,

Daniel AKA Mr Chorizo.

P.S. If you liked this, you might like my article about work culture in Spain. Or Women’s Day. Or maybe the one about hot Iberian sex. Either way, have fun!

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About the Author Daniel

How did I end up in Spain? Why am I still here almost 20 years later? Excellent questions. With no good answer... Anyway, at some point I became a blogger, bestselling author and contributor to Lonely Planet. So there's that. Drop me a line, I'm happy to hear from you.

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  1. Hello Daniel
    I don’t remember how I arrived here, but I am Spanish and I find always interesting to know what people from other countries think about Spain.
    I am happy to see that you evaluate correctly the political and social situation in Catalonia. Many “guiris” seem to think that Catalan pro independence movement is absolutely ok, that they need to protest, that they suffer the Spanish “repression” and so on…
    I wish all expats had the common sense to see that there is no tragedy here, no repression, only bad politicians.

    ¡Un saludo!

    1. Hey Isabel, yeah, some guiris seem to be fooled by the whole independence thing. But it’s not like Catalans are particularly welcoming to outsiders, and they haven’t made any attempt to bring me onto their team. I do have people telling me to “go back to my country” though… something that never happened in Madrid.

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