Protests multiply against cuts in Spain
A general strike is inevitable if the government maintains its austerity plan – union
Hundreds of Spanish firemen, police officers and nurses marched yelling through the streets yesterday, denouncing as “robbery” the pay cuts enforced under Spain’s latest fiscal emergency plan.
“Hands up, this is a robbery,” cried protesters as they blocked a major thoroughfare in central Madrid in a demonstration organised through messages on social networking sites such as Twitter.
The latest protests erupted after Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy last week announced new pay cuts and tax increases, aiming to save €65 billion in order to lower the public deficit.
Spain’s two main unions, UGT and CCOO, have called for a day of demonstrations on Thursday.
CCOO leader Ignacio Fernandez Toxo said yesterday that a general strike later was “inevitable” if the government maintained the austerity plan. This year has already seen one general strike, in March.
Spain is suffering its second recession in four years, with an unemployment rate of more than 24 per cent.
Cuts to public budgets are already affecting services such as schools and hospitals and critics say Mr Rajoy’s new austerity measures will worsen economic conditions for ordinary people.
Among the latest steps is a cut in the Christmas bonus paid to civil servants, equivalent to a seven-per cent reduction in annual pay.
“It’s intolerable. The problems of the Spanish state don’t stem from civil servants... It’s unfair and shameful,” said nurse Miguel Contreras, 28, who came to protest in the capital yesterday from the central Castilla-La Mancha region.
“There are hospitals with whole floors that are not being used because they are firing and cutting jobs. We have little hope, but staying sat at home would just make it easier for the government to keep on doing what it wants.”
Thousands of people protested on the streets of Madrid on Friday after the government approved the measures, and again on Sunday evening, when they marched to the parliament where access was blocked by riot police.
Introduced by a conservative govern-ment under pressure from the EU to stabilise Spain’s public finances, the latest measures also raised value-added sales tax, with the upper limit rising from 18 to 21 percent.
“These measures will ruin Spain. We don’t consume, we don’t shop anymore. We have to hit the streets, we can’t just sit there,” said regional government worker Angeles Carrasco, 57.
Unions have called for the protests to be peaceful but clashes broke out on the fringes of some demonstrations in Madrid last week, including a major march by striking coal miners on Wednesday.
Small groups of protesters threw stones and police fired rubber bullets, beat some protestors with batons and made several arrests.
Spain will this month become the fourth
eurozone country, after Greece, Ireland and Portugal, to get bailout funds when it receives the first tranche of a 100-billion-euro kitty for its banking sector.
The bailout has annoyed ordinary Spaniards who feel their banks are being rewarded while they endure cuts.
The axing of the bonus for civil servants came on top of an earlier pay cut in 2010, after which their salaries were frozen.
“We can’t buy presents and food at Christmas,” said Maria Garcia, 50, an administrative worker for the regional government who attended yesterday’s demonstration during her half-hour morning coffee break.
“If the vacuum cleaner breaks, you have to clean with a broom.”