Millions of Spaniards are walking off their jobs today in a massive general strike and a series of protest marches against the proposed austerity budget and labor reforms of Prime Minister Rajoy’s 4-month old conservative government. As the Spanish debt crisis deepens — at 23 percent, unemployment is the highest in the Western world — financial markets and EU leaders are demanding even more far-reaching reforms and austerity measures than in Greece.
As a result, the Spanish government is set to vote tomorrow on Europe’s most dramatic austerity budget, with another 40 billion euros expected to be cut on top of 15 billion in cuts already announced three months ago. The austerity measures come after a series of radical labor reforms enacted last month that make it much easier for employers to lay off workers, cut wages and modify pre-existing labor agreements.
Owing to the profound unpopularity of these measures, labor unions claim a massive participation of 85-90 percent, with industry and transport most heavily affected. Many large cities ground to a halt as trains and buses only run at 30 percent of capacity, picketers blocked access to stations, and hundreds of protesters occupied a major access road to Madrid. Riot police were deployed in a desperate attempt to allow large main street shops to open.
Nevertheless, the government still claims that the situation in the cities is “normal” and assured that it would not allow the country’s largest strike in years to upset its austerity drive. But with the economy set to contract by 1.7 percent this year, labor unions correctly point out that Spain risks following the fate of Greece, where radical reforms and draconian austerity measures tipped the country into a negative spiral of economic decline and social unrest.
Interestingly, today’s strike — initially called for by the anarcho-syndicalist CNT — is widely supported by members of the decentralized indignados movement. Major marches are planned throughout the country for Thursday night, with the march in Madrid culminating in the capital’s iconic Puerta del Sol, the square that was occupied by hundreds of thousands of outraged protesters last spring.
Katherine Unger was therefore correct to point out that “Spain’s general strike is also a day of action for the 99%.” With financial markets pushing the people to the brink of despair, popular support for radical action is rapidly being ramped up. Now that the indignados are preparing for a spring of discontent, culminating into a global day of action on May 12, a powerful sign is being given to those in power: as their system crumbles, our movement grows ever stronger.