Spanish workers are increasingly walking off the job to protest wage reductions and privatizations by the government as it tackles a steep public deficit that last year threatened to bankrupt the country.
Judges, garbage workers,
doctors and bus drivers are among those involved in a wave of disruptive strikes
and demonstrations as workers lose patience with the centre-right government's
spending cuts after four years of economic crisis.
become a daily event in the capital and other major cities in the biggest social
upheaval Spain has seen since the transition to democracy in the
"The government has put the country on the path to ruin. They are
taking away all of our benefits and our purchasing power," said Francisco
Garcia, a cleaner and union leader at the General Hospital of Alicante on the
Garcia and his co-workers went on strike for 17 days
in January to protest two months of not being paid by the Valencia regional
government. The strike - which led to reports of unsanitary conditions - was
just one of many recent walk-outs.
In the southern city of Granada,
garbage haulers were on strike for two weeks in January to protest cuts in their
hours and pay. The strike ended on Sunday, but only a quarter of the accumulated
trash has been picked up.
"It's disgusting, there are rats in the street
and areas you can't even walk because of the piles of garbage," said Jorge, 50,
employee at a bar in Granada, near the famous Moorish palace La
Adding to the outrage is the up-to 100 billion euros in public
funds going to bail out banks that loaned recklessly during the property boom
while tens of thousands of Spaniards have been evicted from their homes after
"They save banks and close hospitals," read a sign at a
weekly protest march by thousands of Madrid region health workers and doctors on
The protests around Spain have almost all been peaceful, in
contrast to the escalating political violence in Greece - another hot spot in
the euro zone debt crisis.
Public outrage over tens of thousands of bank
foreclosures on mortgage defaulters - including a reports of suicides by
desperate homeowners - forced the government to put a moratorium on evictions of
But other than that largely symbolic gesture, public
frustration is not expected to divert Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's from his
drive to cut public spending under deficit cutting targets agreed with the
With his People's Party's absolute majority in Parliament
he can afford to turn a deaf ear to the street despite two general strikes last
"The government's strategy is to dig in, not make any concessions
and hang on with the hope that the economy begins to pick up at the end of 2013
or in 2014," said Miguel Murado, an independent analyst in Madrid.
fiscal front Rajoy has little room to maneuver. Although Spain's borrowing costs
have come down recently and released some immediate pressure on the premier to
seek an international bailout, market volatility could quickly
The government must raise more than 200 billion euros in medium-
and long-term debt this year while recession drags on and jobs continue to be
destroyed. Having made drastic spending cuts last year, he must execute an
additional 20 billion euros in budget savings this year, as well.
knows very well that he has to take the tough decisions now," said Narciso
Michavila, president of GAD3 consulting group, referring to the political
calendar. The PP does not face any regional or local elections this
The recession has hit tax revenue which in turn makes it hard to
slash the deficit. Retail sales have dropped for 29 months in a row as one out
of four workers is unemployed. The economy contracted by more than 1 percent
last year and is expected to shrink again this year.
In his first year in
office Rajoy broke campaign pledges, raising the sales tax and cancelling
inflation raises for state pensions. A recent poll by Metroscopia polling firm
showed 74 percent of Spaniards do not believe the government knows how to
resolve the economic crisis and Rajoy's PP has only 30 percent support, the
lowest since he was elected in November 2011.
SHIFT IN MOOD
in the crisis, Spaniards were largely philosophical about austerity measures,
accepting that they must pay the consequences for a decade of overspending that
glutted the market with a million empty homes and cluttered the landscape with
underused highways, airports and trains.
But forbearance has eroded as
the deep recession drags on, and the government slashes into treasured benefits
such as universal free health care and public pensions.
"In the end we're
going to have to leave the country because there's no work here," said Elina
Rodriguez, a 20-year-old history student who marched recently in a protest in
Madrid against education spending cuts.
Roughly 370,000 people emigrated
from Spain in 2011, 10 times more than before the economy faltered in 2008.
Every week brings news of major layoffs from companies.
beginning of the year Bankia, one of the country's biggest banks and now owned
by the government, announced job cuts; Roca closed a toilet factory in southern
Spain; Madrid's public television station laid off close to 80 percent of
workers; and the local unit of Vodafone mobile telephone company said it would
cut hundreds of jobs.
A plan by the regional government of Madrid to
privatise six hospitals has sparked weeks of strikes. Anyone seeking medical
care at public hospitals and clinics in and around the capital will find the
walls draped with white sheets and banners reading "Public health care,
Workers at money-losing airline Iberia are holding weekly
demonstrations in central Madrid against the company's plan to eliminate 4,500
jobs, a quarter of its workforce.
"We used to talk about where we meet
every week for an afternoon coffee. Now it's which weekly protest you're going
to," said Ana de la Hoz, a flight attendant for Iberia.
prosecutors and court-workers in December joined protests against plans to
charge fees for some court services. And they are threatening a full-on strike
"Something's happening in our country that hadn't happened
before," said Jose Luis Gonzalez Armengol, a top judge in Madrid. "It's strange
to see judges, prosecutors, lawyers, doctors, nurses and teachers in the