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The Iberian Horseshoe — A Journey

Part IV. North East

Squirrels & the General Strike

Steve Porter
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Catalonia is virtually closed today. Many people throughout Spain are unhappy about reforms to employment law and the matter of immigrants without papers. José María Aznar and his Partido Popular are unpopular here. In fact, I haven’t met a single student who has anything good to say about them.

Catalonia is famed for its role in the Spanish War and its long resistance to Franco’s dictatorship. Yet, the Catalonia of anarchists and communists, described by George Orwell in his Homage to Catalonia seems a long way off. What many modern Catalans object to is attempts by the Partido Popular to strengthen centralisation rather than any real aversion to the government’s right of centre policies.

Today’s strike is heavily supported in Catalonia, where people are willing to do whatever they can to upset the Madrid government. Josep and Francesc don’t agree with it. They want to go to work but are worried they will be labelled ‘esquirols’. Francesc doesn’t take kindly to being called ‘a squirrel’ and says that in a democracy he should be free to work if he wishes.

In the event, local companies find a way round the strike. They close down for the day and then get their employees to work longer hours for the rest of the week to make up the time. I want to observe the strike and tell my boss I will not merely shift the classes to another day of the week as it defeats the purpose. After some debate she accepts this.

“I just hope they don’t smash all the windows like the last time,” she says.

I try to imagine baying mobs of anarchists reducing Torelló to rubble.

As it turns out some people treat the strike as a holiday. I’m invited out for a meal by some of my students. I would like to see them for a parting meal but won’t agree to meet in a restaurant on the evening of the general strike. What is the point of taking the day off in support of the strike and then expecting waiters to work?

In the evening, Josep takes me out for a spin in his four-wheel drive. He is used to driving in very rough mountain terrain and sees a road as a luxury rather than a necessity. We cruise down a river when the road disappears.

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Copyright ©Steve Porter, 2004
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Date of publicationOctober 2007
Collection RSSGlobal Fiction
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