Sofia Tipaldou reports from the front lines of Spain’s general strike

Spanish masses hit the streets to protest austerity

The battle in Spain against the government’s austerity measures continues with a new series of massive protests. With the miners’ mobilisation still fresh in people’s minds they have taken over the streets again today saying no to government policies. More than 80 demonstrations have taken place across the country under the banner ‘They want to destroy the country. We have to prevent it, we are the majority’.

As if the already introduced austerity measures were not enough, Mariano Rajoy’s government announced new ones on July 11th. It aims to take a further  €65.000 million from the budget in the next two and a half years.

The measures include a VAT increase of 3 percent (from 18 percent to 21 percent). In the public sector, the second extra wages payment (Christmas pay) will be suspended and the number of free-disposal days will be reduced. Unemployment subsidies will be reduced up to 6 percent from the sixth month on the dole (unemployment subsidies last a total of 24 months) and a big number of bonuses for employing new workers will be reduced.

Social insurance contributions paid by employers are going to be reduced by 1 percent in 2013 and another 1 percent in 2014. State subsidies for political parties, labor unions, and business associations will decrease by 20 percent. Finally, rail, port and airport transportation is going to be privatized.

According to the labor unions, the new austerity measures constitute an unprecedented aggression that aggravates the recession’s effects, creates higher unemployment, and infringes people’s constitutional rights. It seems that, in order to save the banks, the Spanish government is forcing sacrifices on the most disadvantaged.

This time, the cuts affect the unemployed, the public servants, and the whole population through the VAT increase. And this, after a labour reform that makes dismissal cheaper, the increases the price of medicines, increases university fees, and makes massive cuts in the public health and education. The labour unions have called today’s demonstration in response, in order to protest against these ‘reforms’.

At the same time, various civil society associations are calling for a consumer’s boycott, meaning an abstention from any means of generating money, i.e. making purchases and bank transfers, consuming energy and fuelling their cars.

Consumer’s boycotts amplify the results of demonstrations and general strikes by enabling those who could not demonstrate to show their discontent. The last general embargo was called on 29th March 2012, the day of the general strike. The movement 15M called for indefinite consumers’ embargo on the 15th of every month, in order to punish the big transnational corporations and the banks that make a profit from the antidemocratic and antisocial reforms.

It is by now clear that the government turned a blind eye to all demonstrations, even to the general strike of March. It is also true that when president Rajoy was announcing further cut-offs, his MPs were applauding. Perhaps people will find this acceptable in a democracy, no matter what these measures mean. But what crosses the limits of acceptability, though, is the reaction of one MP, Andrea Fabra. When her boss was announcing the cut-offs for the unemployed, MP Fabra screamed in the Parliament: ‘Screw them’ (Que se jodan). Unfortunately, MP Fabra remains in her position having issued a  letter expressing how sorry she feels for the ‘mistake’ she committed and that she did not mean the unemployed but for Socialist Party MPs. This is the sad level of today’s Spanish government. It is on this rotten ground that the Spanish people are called to take back what, not long ago, belonged to them.