Max Lui: Protests in Barcelona


Lui recounts his wanderings amid the protesters and police at 3am Magazine.

Hotter than Barcelona was the headline on the front of the Observer a few days before I flew to Catalonia. My brother emailed: “The Spanish love to strike. You might have to wait an hour for a bus from the airport.” I waited an hour, no bus arrived but I hung on, reading Bolaño before a brilliant, Miro-blue sky. The Spanish were on strike because Mariano Rajoy’s government, which came to power last November, want to combat the highest unemployment rate in the European Union by making it easier for businesses to fire staff. ‘But more broadly,’ I told myself, ‘the Spanish are striking so that they don’t end up like us, a cowed, indifferent people, resigned to the dismantling of the welfare state by a government with no mandate.’ Waiting was my gesture of solidarity.

After another hour, I agreed to share a cab with a businessman from Manchester. We talked about the coalition. He’d never voted Conservative, he said, but he found it hard to hate David Cameron. “I almost miss Thatcher. At least then there was somebody you could aim your anger at.” The businessman was not the first person who I have heard say this. There’s a complacency about it which reminds me of Christopher Hitchens remarking that he was glad Thatcher came to power in 1979 because “she made things more interesting.” I remembered the work about the miners’ strike in Jeremy Deller’s Joy In People exhibition at the Hayward Gallery, in particular a haunting self-portrait of a yellow-eyed young offender, titled ‘I Am A Miner’s Son’. I thought too of the descriptions of bones crunching under police brutality and the terrible sense of loss in David Peace’s GB84. If the businessman from Manchester caught a train across the Penines, he would find communities who don’t miss Thatcher because they are still living with the consequences of her policies. It’s a failure, feeling nostalgic for other peoples’ misery.

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