In the midst of a Spanish economic crisis leading to skyrocketing unemployment and widening inequality, the Indignados — as they came to be known — occupied Madrid's Puerta del Sol square on May 15, 2011, in order to protest the economic situation and the failure of the dominant parties to represent their interests.
“Some of us consider ourselves progressive, others conservative. Some of us are believers, some not. Some of us have clearly defined ideologies, others are apolitical, but we are all concerned and angry about the political, economic, and social outlook which we see around us: corruption among politicians, businessmen, bankers, leaving us helpless, without a voice,” proclaimed their manifesto.
The rejection of established political categories and the embrace of a class-based outlook against ruling economic interests defined the movement and set the course for a break-up of the country's two-party dominance. It would also go on to inspire a worldwide movement against the rich known as the Occupy movement.
The resentment toward political and economic elites only became further entrenched in the country when in November 2011 the right-wing Popular Party was elected into power. Its austerity agenda exacerbated already existing inequalities through deep state cuts and tax hikes.
The Unidos Podemos party, formed to run in the 2015 parliamentary elections, won an unprecedented number of seats under the leadership of Pablo Iglesias, which seized on the popular resentment against the dominant parties and the principles set forth by the M-15 movement.
"Podemos ... challenged the hegemony of the PSOE. This has dealt a blow to the party system. Citizens perceived clearly that the political class was subjugated to the interests of the financial oligarchy, which controlled banks and businesses and degraded the living conditions of social majorities,” Podemos member in the Congress of Deputies, Manolo Monereo, said in Il Manifesto.
The disintegration of a once entrenched two-party structure in Spain has changed Spanish politics at its core. The challenge of Podemos to both the right-wing PP and the center-left PSOE is firmly within the legacy of the Indignados of May 15.
No single party holds the majority of seats in Congress. The general election of June 2016 was a setback for Podemos, with the PP taking 137 seats, PSOE 85, Podemos 71, and Ciudadanos 32. At least 176 seats are needed to reach an absolute majority in parliament.
Whereas Greek left coalition party SYRIZA has been attacked for capitulating to a European Union austerity program, Iglesias has said, "We would never prostitute ourselves to their (neoliberal) agenda ... we will not change principles; we know who we are defending."
Six years after the Indignados first took to the streets, the future of Unidos Podemos and the anti-austerity movement in Spain is unclear. The end of the two-party hegemony nonetheless represents an enduring legacy which has permanently changed the face of Spanish politics.