Spain: another day of walk outs against austerity cuts

Friday, July 13, was the second day of widespread walk outs by civil servants and public sector workers against the latest austerity package of the right wing Popular Party government of Mariano Rajoy. More protests are being called for this evening outside PP offices in all regions. 

funcionariosPolice officers, firefighters and others march against cuts - PIC: Madrid Sindical CCOOAs we reported yesterday, on Thursday, July 12, there was a wave of spontaneous walk outs of civil servants and public sector workers as the government annnounced 64 billion euro worth of cuts for the next two years. The cuts include the privatisation of the railway company, harbours and airports, the elimination of the Christmas bonus pay for civil servants, cuts in unemployment benefits as well as an increas in the rate of VAT from 18  to 21%. 

Significant amongst the protests yesterday was a spontaneous demonstration of local and national police officers. This was an illegal demonstration which went to the Parliament building (see VIDEO and VIDEO) and then moved to the Popular Headquarters increasing in size from a few hundred to at least 1500 people (see VIDEO), as off duty police officers were joined by hundreds of others, including teachers, civil servants and fire fighters. They shouted slogans like "el proximo parado, que sea un diputado" ("next one to become unemployed should be a member of parliament), "hands up, this is a hold up", "it's not a crisis, it's daylight robbery" and "Mariano, no llegas al verano" (Mariano Rajoy, you won't reach the summer). 

The latest austerity cuts have managed to provoke the anger of almost every single section in society. The Association of Taxis has called a national strike on August 1st. Some regions ruled by the Popular Party have voted against this package as it brings down the budget deficit ceiling for the regions from 1% of GDP to 0.7%, forcing Autonomous Governments to introduce even harsher cuts. Even the Unified Association of Civil Guards, a militarised police force, has denounced the cuts and announced protest measures, including "work to rule" and a series of regional and national demonstrations.

The way in which the government party members of parliament received the announcement of these cuts by president Rajoy, with a standing ovation and cheers, has further enraged ordinary people. One PP member of parliament, Antonia Fabra, has been singled out as a target of peoples' rage, as she not only cheered "well done, well done", as Rajoy announced cuts in unemployment benefits but added "f**k them" (literally "que se jodan"). Rajoy is now introducing measures which he not only specifically ruled out during the election campaign in November 2011, but some (like the increase in VAT) which the PP even campaigned against when the previous Socialist Party government attempted to introduce them. All of this is like pouring further petrol to the flames. 

After yersteday's outburst of spontaneous anger, the public sector workers' unions were forced to call demonstrations outside the workplaces at noon for today. Well before that ministries, institutions and state owned companies were buzzing with impromptu meetings, banner making and heated discussions. By 11 am many workers had already walked out of their jobs and were blockading the main streets in Madrid and many more provincial capitals across the country. 

This was the scene outside the Ministry of Education in Alcalá street:


Thousands of workers walked towards Sol:


and then back to Cibeles, while some others were still going towards Sol, the whole of the centre of Madrid was a wave of flags and demonstrators:

Towards Cibeles

La Castellana avenue, one of the centres of the walk out yesterday, where a lot of Ministries are based, saw again walk outs and protests today:

Workers at national railway company RENFE blockaded railway tracks near Fuencarral station:


Outside the Ministry of Finance, demonstrators shouted "make the bankers pay, not the workers":



Telemadrid TV workers also walked out and blockaded the streets outside their building:


Hundreds decided to march towards the PP national headquarters in Genova street:


Hospital workers also walked out and cut off roads across Madrid:



as well as the workers at the Higher Institute of Scientific Researh (CSIC) who cut off Serrano street:


Even civil servants at the Moncloa Presidential Palace walked out and rallied in protest.

The movement was not limited to Madrid, but also took place in most provincial capitals. This video is from Barcelona: 

In total, tens of thousands, at the very least, walked out of their jobs and held protests of one sort or another across the country. It is clear that the huge reception given to the striking miners in Madrid on Tuesday night both reflected and amplified an accumulation of anger which had been going on below the surface. The latest austerity package was just the straw which broke the camel's back and unleashed the current wave of protests. The union leaders were forced to call a national day of demonstrations for July 19th, but they were clearly overtaken by the movement from below. Rallies outside the PP offices have been called tonight in all cities and towns in Spain and they could see tens if not hundreds of thousands in protest. 

In these conditions, the response of the trade union leaders falls short of what is required. Evening demonstrations will not stop the government on its tracks. The huge general strike in March did not force Rajoy to retreat. What is needed now, and this idea is clear in the minds of tens of thousands of trade union activists, is a 48 hour general strike as part of a sustained campaign of struggle against cuts, austerity and job losses. 

The Economist, in a short piece entitled "Bad Medicine" explains clearly that these austerity measures will not even work in relation to their stated aims of reducing the deficit and the debt: 

"this is incredibly counterproductive. The Spanish economy is imploding. Without the ability to offset these cuts with a very aggressive monetary policy, the multiplier on this austerity will be substantial. There can't be much confidence that this austerity plan will generate any fiscal improvement given the likely cyclical hit to revenues and the resulting impact on banks, which could well feed back into greater sovereign obligations. It's more economic pain for no fiscal gain."

In other words, this measures will deepen the recession, which will make the situation worse for the banks, which will need an even larger bail out, which will have to be paid by the tax-payer, which will in turn increase the yields on Spanish bonds, etc, etc. in a downward spiral which leads to the collapse of the Spanish economy and default on its debt. 

The Economist finishes with a question: "a quarter of Spanish workers are unemployed, a number that has risen 4 percentage points over the past year. One wonders how much more they'll stand." The answer is being given in the streets today.