Yesterday in Spain there was a huelga general, a general strike. The strike was organized as a protest against the Socialist Prime Minister’s, Zapatero, Labor Reform which cut the cost of firing a worker (only 33 days of severance for every year worked as opposed to 45 days), decreased public investment plans and reduced civil servant wages (by 5%). Zapatero claims that these measure will help bring down the budget deficit and unemployment (which is currently at around 20%), however many people over here believe that Zapatero is punishing the workers for the mistakes that the banks made, while the banks got millions of Euros in bailouts.
The strike came to my front door as I was woken up at about 9:30 by all the noise. I live 2 blocks away from Carrer de Sants, a main street in Barcelona and it was one of the routes they chose to march. I can only imagine how many people were marching down that street on the way to Plaça d’Espanya. Even though my culture classes were cancelled I was still suppose to have my language class at 11 (but I wasn’t planning to go), but then I checked the e-mail my teacher and ISA sent me saying that picketers were blocking the entrance to school. Oh joy.
As I didn’t want to be in the thicket of things, I stayed home and watched the coverage from the news. What I saw really astounded me. There were protests all over the country in all the major cities and a lot of them turned violent, especially the ones in Barcelona (however, the violence wasn't caused by the strikers, it was caused by an anti-establishment fraction). As far as what I saw on the news, there was news footage of them setting the street garbage bins and cop cars on fire. Protestors also threw rocks at SWAT like police cars. Some people harassed storeowners who decided to stay open for the day. Other protestors stopped cars on their way to Barcelona to “inform” them of their right to strike and to get them to do so. In Madrid, there were literally guards with riot gear posted at the entrance of a Corte Inglés (the national department store).
I also noticed that a lot of people were carrying Catalonian independence flags during the protests. I think some people here were using the strike as an excuse to get rowdy with the police and try to “advance” the cause of Catalonian independence. I asked my Spanish teacher about this and she said that basically anytime there is a national protest some Catalonians take to the street to demand independence for Catalunya.
Here are some pictures of the strike, courtesy of El País (the national newspaper) The first three are from Barcelona, the last one is from Madrd:
The labor unions over here are claiming that it was a successful strike. About 70% of the country didn’t go to work and electricity usage was down about 17% for the day. However, a lot of people stayed home for two big reasons:
a) Public transportation: The services were extremely limited. In Barcelona, the metro was only open between 6-9 and then again from 5-8 and even then service was very limited. I walked around a little bit too (at around lunch time, hey even the protesters gotta eat right?) and I didn’t see a single bus in operation.
b) Safety: Why would you go to work if you knew that you would encounter angry protesters? Hell, even if I did have class yesterday I wouldn’t have walked to school, I didn’t want to get caught up in the drama. My host mom decided to stay home too for the exact same reason.
So the big take home message here is that not everyone in Spain was on strike. A lot of them wanted to go to work but they were unable to. Another big take home message: not all protesters were violent. Of course, the violent actions are the most extreme and therefore they make the news.
Do not think for a second that the entire country wanted to or participated in this strike.
P.S. Rhetorical question: Did the people who organized the strike go on strike and if so, from what? Organizing the strike?