Spanish people have risen up in a new surge of resistance to the government’s relentless austerity reforms.
On 19 July, 800,000 marched in Madrid alone, along with hundreds of thousands more in 80 cities around Spain. Teachers, students, doctors, nurses, firefighters, the unemployed and even police united with the “indignados” movement in an historic display of trade union unity.
Spain’s economy remains mired in deep recession. Unemployment is at record levels with almost one in four people jobless. Fifty three per cent of under 25s are unemployed, prompting an exodus of youth, mostly to northern Europe.
The government recently admitted that the slowdown is expected to continue for the next two years.
The growth of poverty is alarming. More than 400,000 families have been evicted from their houses since 2008. Shanty towns and suicide rates are growing and life expectancy is diminishing for the first time in 35 years.
In June, the government was forced to request an EU bailout of 100 billion euros to rescue its zombie banking sector, sending warning bells ringing across the eurozone. A full scale sovereign debt bailout of Europe’s fourth largest economy would be a massive hit to the unstable monetary union.
Estimates of the potential cost of a Spanish bailout tower at around 300 billion euros. If Spain were to default, it would threaten a domino effect across the Eurozone.
Under pressure from Brussels to meet stringent deficit limits, Spain’s conservative government, led by Mariano Rajoy, has pledged to mete out new austerity reforms “every Friday”.
The crisis is forcing divisions inside the ruling class. They are not yet deep, but expose the growing problems for the ruling Popular Party in enforcing austerity. Arguments about the need for a national unity government, where all parties are brought together to co-operate in pushing through austerity, have started to appear in the mass media.
While billions are thrown at the banks (to the tune of 21 per cent of the GDP), the government continues to make workers and the unemployed pay the bill.
A stinging new austerity package has been announced which will hike Spain’s GST equivalent from 18 to 21 per cent, privatise airports, trains and ports, and launch new cuts to the already minimal unemployment benefit, and to public sector workers’ pay and bonuses.
These add to the barrage of cuts pushed through since the conservative government’s win, including a 66 per cent hike to university fees—as well as the cuts dished out by the previous Socialist Party government in 2010, when public sector workers’ wages were slashed by five per cent.
But public sector workers have responded with magnificent defiance. Mass demonstrations were held for three consecutive days following the announcement. Taking inspiration from the “indignados” movement, workers organised spontaneous occupations, road blocks and pickets of the Popular Party’s local offices.
Firefighters led the charge on the parliament building at the end of one major demonstration. There is a strong feeling of anger and willingness to struggle, despite the main trade union bureaucracies’ failure to mobilise.
In the last few months Asturian miners have given a huge boost to the fight against austerity. Thousands of miners sustained a 67-day strike against a government cut of 63 per cent to industry subsidies.
The miners, who are renowned for their union strength and history of struggle, put up staunch resistance, with occupations of mines, barricades and even homemade firework rockets to defend themselves from the police.
Other workers showed phenomenal solidarity with the miners. Three columns of miners and their families marched from the north of the Spanish state all the way to Madrid in mid-July and were greeted by a crowd of 150,000. Demonstrator Laura Fraile said “the miners have instilled everyone with their courage and strength”.
The end of this strike is bad news. But the struggle is far from over. A general strike is being discussed for September, as well as an indefinite strike in primary and high schools in Madrid, called by the “Marea Verde” (Green Tide) workers movement and some small trade unions.
The “indignados” movement plans to “Take the Congress” by holding the parliament building under siege until a new constitutional process is announced. Local and sectoral strikes are also spreading, like the public transport workers against privatisation.
As one teacher from Madrid said; “it is a very hot summer. Even though the streets aren’t burning, sparks are flying. And we know whose side the firefighters are on”.
Daisy Farnham and Pau Alarcón