Today’s general strike in Spain saw millions take to streets and mass picketing shut down not only workplaces, but towns and cities as well. Unions reported a 77 percent participation rate in the strikes, in industry and construction this figure rose to 97 percent.
The strike came 24 hours before the new government, headed by conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, introduced savage labour ‘reforms’ and further austerity measures. The government, whose roots ultimately lie in the dictatorship of General Franco, have made it easier to sack workers.
One protester, Angel Andrino, 31, said he was laid off the day after this measure was approved by decree last month. He lives with his parents and brother, the latter the only one in the family in employment, with a part-time job. “We are going through a really hard time, suffering,” he said. “The rights that our parents and grandparents fought for are being wiped away without the public being consulted.”
“Food, fuel — all the prices are going up,” explained Carlos Rodriguez, 50, a lift mechanic on strike in Madrid. “Now with this labour reform, they can reduce our pay and increase our hours. We don’t agree with that.”
From the early hours pickets shut down metro stations, bus depots, warehouses and anything they could. This was despite the union leaders agreeing to run minimum levels of public transport on the day. Pickets shut shops, department stores and bars. There was certainly no limit to six on a picket here!
Joining the trade unionists were unemployed workers, students, pensioners and all those who make up Spain’s working class.
The strike had an insurrectionary feel to it as strikers and their supporters battled police in major confrontations. Attitudes towards the security forces and the state are still coloured by folk memories of the Civil War in the late 1930s and the repression which followed the victory of General Franco. The images recalled the huge protests against austerity in Argentina over a decade ago.
Throughout the day there has been nervous coverage in the media suggesting that Spain could become another Greece and that fault lines apparent in the 1970s are now re-emerging. At that time the southern countries of Europe saw mass struggle reach heights where revolution seemed near. Today the fragility of Southern Europe is again a cause for concern for Europe’s ruling classes.
A general strike approaches in Italy, and rising support for the Front de Gauche is causing a palpable apprehension amongst France’s ruling circles. As Cameron and Clegg sink into the mire let’s add to the apprehension amongst our rulers.