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Road disruptions as Catalan separatists strike against Madrid trial

But walkout has little impact on business, industry or public services due to lack of support from major unions

Huelga 21 febrero
Protesters marching in downtown Barcelona on Thursday. EL PAÍS

Catalonia awoke on Thursday to a new general strike, this time to protest the ongoing trial of separatist leaders at the Supreme Court in Madrid.

The walkout has had little impact on business, industry or public services, as it was called by a minority union called CSC, and rejected by the main workers’ associations in Spain, CCOO and UGT. But the Catalan government and pro-independence groups are backing the strike.

Official statistics

At noon, the Labor Department issued the following statistics on the strike:

Public transportation. The walkout was observed by 67.86% of workers at the Barcelona Metropolitan Transportation Authority, by 2.83% at Renfe and by 9.15% at Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat.

Education. 28.64% of workers went on strike, while 67.45% of students skipped class to support the walkout.

Health. Around 9.08% of health workers backed the stoppage.

Retail. Around 30% of workers supported the strike action.

Civil servants. Despite the Catalan government’s support for the strike, only 18.34% of government workers failed to show up for work.

Around 13,000 people according to local police estimates gathered at Universitat de Barcelona square at noon to protest the trial in Madrid. On Via Layetana, several protesters hurled objects against police vehicles. Another march is scheduled for 6pm.

According to municipal sources, 18% of city employees are striking today. Mayor Ada Colau said on Wednesday that she and other top city officials would cancel their public agenda for today, but that City Hall would not officially be on strike because of the lack of support from the majority unions.

There were early-morning traffic problems due to roadblocks by groups calling themselves the Committees to Defend the Republic (CDR), which have staged similar street protests in the past. The Catalan regional police, the Mossos d’Esquadra, have reportedly made two arrests.

There were morning roadblocks on approximately 15 arteries, including the AP-7 turnpike and the N-II road. At 5pm, the AP-7 turnpike was blocked again in both directions by a protest march near La Ampolla.

No impact on health services

The impact of the strike on public health services is minimal. Major hospitals such as Vall d’Hebron and Clinic have not reprogrammed their activities, a step that is normally taken on strike days to make up for the lack of personnel.

Thousands of pro-independence demonstrators at Universitat de Barcelona square.
Thousands of pro-independence demonstrators at Universitat de Barcelona square. EFE

Some of Catalonia’s largest factories, including the Seat and Nissan auto plants, reported normal working conditions, while stores in downtown Barcelona opened their doors like any other day.

Public transit is working at above minimum service levels. Between 60% and 100% of subway trains are running in Barcelona, while Renfe, the railway company, said that regional services would run at 33% of their usual frequency.

Politically motivated

The CSC union only accounts for 321 of the 50,000 union representatives in Catalonia, but it is backed by pro-independence groups and by Catalonia’s separatist executive, which has cancelled all public events by government officials today.

While CSC alleged labor-related reasons for the strike, it moved the date to make it coincide with the trial of separatist leaders taking place at the Supreme Court in Madrid. This union, which openly defends the right to self-determination and opposes the trial, is ideologically close to the far-left CUP party, which helped appoint a separatist government following the regional election of December 2017.

The secretary general of CSC, Carles Sastre, was convicted in 1985 to 48 years in prison for murder in connection with his activities as a member of the terrorist groups EPOCA and Terra Lliure in the 1970s and 1980s. He served 11 years, and later ran in the 2012 Catalan elections with CUP.

English version by Susana Urra.

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