by Diana Rosen
Demonstrators crowd Cibeles Sqare in Madrid during Spain’s general strike on March 29. (Photo by Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images)
Workers across Spain yesterday took to the streets today in a 24-hour general strike called by the country’s two main trade unions, General Workers Union and the Workers’ Commissions, over the economic reforms passed by the recently-elected People’s Party under Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. Last month, the Spanish government passed labor reform laws making it cheaper and easier to cut wages and lay off employees, including reducing severance pay from 45 to 33 days.
Today, the government announced that it would not modify the labor reforms–which could still be amended in Parliament–despite the participation of hundreds of thousands in yesterday’s strike.
On Wednesday, economy minister Luís de Guindos had said that regardless of how widespread participation in the strike became, the government would not modify “a single letter” of the labour reform.
Although high unemployment has led to declining support for trade unions in recent years, General Workers Union Secretary General Candido Mendez estimated that the strike had 77 percent participation, and said that this figure was as high as 97 percent in industry and construction. Unions declared the strike a success and threatened further demonstrations if the government did not negotiate changes to the law before May 1.
The Spanish unemployment rate is currently at almost 23% overall, with a 50% unemployment rate for young people.
Yesterday marked Rajoy’s 100th day in office. The vote for the People’s Party dropped from 46% to 41% in an Andalucia regional election last weekend. There is speculation that Rajoy delayed announcing the budget cuts until this week to avoid losing support from Andalucia voters.
The strike enjoyed greatest participation in Madrid and Barcelona, where large marches and other events, including a group siesta, have been taking place all day. Still, workers are striking all over the country. Bus and rail services were severely limited all over and only a small fraction of domestic and international flights operated. As of 9:00 am, electricity consumption was reported as down 25% by Red Eléctrica. According to the General Workers Union, almost all of the Renault, Seat, Volkswagen and Ford car workers participated in the strike. Spanish Twitter users have been using the hashtags #huelga and #enhuelga (“strike” and “in strike,” respectively) to trend the topic and spread the word.
Angel Andrino, a 31-year-old protestor in Madrid, explained his participation in today’s demonstrations to BBC:
“We are going through a really hard time, suffering. The rights that our parents and grandparents fought for are being wiped away without the public being consulted.”
Andrino was laid off in February after the labor reforms were passed.
The strike remained almost entirely nonviolent throughout the morning and afternoon, with the exception of a scuffle between police and protestors early this morning at a Madrid bus depot. Protestors attempted to prevent a bus from leaving for work, leading to 58 people getting detained and nine injured. Several small fires were started in Barcelona mid-afternoon, but no injuries were reported.
At around 7:00 pm, however, police began using rubber bullets and tear gas on protestors in Barcelona. Barcelona protestors have been smashing shop windows and some reports have come in saying that a Starbucks was set on fire.
The last general strike in Spain was held in September 2010 and targeted the labor reforms of the then-Socialist government, which were ultimately upheld.