Hundreds of thousands march in Spain

2012-02-19 19:01

Madrid - Hundreds of thousands of people protested across Spain on Sunday against reforms to the labour market they fear will destroy workers' rights and spending cuts they say are destroying the welfare state.

Organisers, including the two largest unions Comisiones Obreras and UGT, said as many as half a million people joined the protest in 57 towns and cities, although Spanish police gave no official estimate.

In Madrid, one of the largest protests since the economic crisis began almost five years ago filled the wide boulevards from the Atocha train station up to the central Sol square with loud but peaceful marchers of all ages.

"Contracts are getting worse every year. They say they want to invest in the future while cutting research budgets. They're not looking to the future but to the next election with cuts dictated from Brussels," university researcher Nacho Foche, 27, said.

Spain's new conservative government began its four-year term in December with tax hikes and spending cuts worth around €15bn and must cut another around €40bn to meet tough deficit targets set by the EU.

It has also passed reforms in the financial sector, which force banks to recognise property sector losses, and the labour market, which grant companies greater hiring and firing power, in an effort to appease nervous markets.

The euro zone's fourth largest economy has been in the eye of storm of the debt crisis since the Socialist government racked up one of the bloc's largest budget deficits, leaving investors concerned it had lost control of its finances.

The Socialists, trounced in November's election over their perceived mishandling of the crisis, made sweeping cuts and reforms while the economy reeled from the fallout of a burst property bubble and collapsed domestic demand.

The conservative party says its own labour market reform, passed February 10, will give struggling companies more room to recover from the economic crisis and create jobs in a country where almost half of all young people are unemployed.

The reform has abolished severance pay worth 45 days for each year worked, a legal requirement that companies said made it prohibitively expensive to reduce the workforce in times of economic difficulties.

"When we designed this reform we were thinking in the people who are out of work, who see no future," Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy told a party conference on Sunday.

Spain has the highest unemployment rate in the developed world at 23% and many Spaniards fear granting businesses greater powers to lay off workers will prompt a wave of redundancies and new contracts without rights.

Rajoy was caught on camera in Brussels last month saying to his Finnish counterpart that he believed the labour reform would cause a general strike and, although the unions have not called for industrial action, many at the march in Madrid thought more should be done.

"There has to be a general strike. They said they were cutting workers rights to create more work. They've cut rights, but not said how they plan to create jobs," teacher Alberto Carrillo, 48, said.

"Before we were privileged, but now we're having trouble even paying our gas bills."

  • Smell - 2012-02-19 19:27

    The more well-off should pay their fair share of taxes. Beyond that the over coddled public service in the Western World, pandered to by politicians with ever increasing pay and perks for decades, is in a for a reality shock. Also the Western working class where pay, perks and labour rights are out of wack with the Asian labour force. Whether countries go bankrupt, or whether they just start refusing to pay the banks back, we will see the end of the Western monetary system where there is deficit financing with virtually every budget. Ditto for South Africa. That is why it it will become even more essential to root out corruption and mismanagement as an absolute priority - otherwise there will just not be enough money for what ordinary citizens deserve. Wake up ANC - stop the thieving from state coffers. And do not place undeserving candidates in important management positions - the parastatals come to mind.

  • Vegi - 2012-02-19 19:39

    Collapse is imminent. Its payback time for your atrocities in the Americas.

      Fidel - 2012-02-19 19:59

      That is what happens when your base your economy on enslaving others and living off colonies. It was about time they worked like dogs. Hope this doesn't affect my beloved football team, Barcelona!

      Smell - 2012-02-19 20:17

      Hi Vegi. I do not think I have ever replied to one of your comments. You seem to be angry, and possibly with good reason. Not a good and healthy state of mind though. However, with regards to your swipe at Colonialism: Remember that the transition from the primitive to the advanced is a hard road to travel. The entire human race had to go through that. Some earlier than others. The Colonists were often brutal. The Colonized suffered, but made advances that took the Colonists thousands of years to achieve. We are part of the animal kingdom. The strongest, brightest and most advanced rule, and set the pace. And let me make it clear, I do not believe in ethnic supremacy - success comes from the general rules your society live by (hard work, family planning, avoid intoxicants, relentless pursuit of education). And the Colonists were not all bad - they have had many people like William Wilberforce in their ranks.

  • Vegi - 2012-02-19 20:29

    Africa is no longer available as a cash cow. Your populations will die of hunger and we are unwilling to assist. At least Germany is wiser. They have stopped breeding. They have an elderly population. These will soon die and the country will be depopulated, thus needing no futher financial maintance. A more ghastly fate awaits a black hole by the name of Great Britain. They have pampered civil servants, unemployed youths, hooligans as well as the elderly depending on the public purse. Last year's riots were a rehearsal of what awaits that Island. We are no longer available to sponsor their lazy and indolent way of life. Upheavals of Cromwellian proportions await you Great Britain. Hungry mobs will decimate your cities and country side, and we will be watching in the sidelines unwilling to help

      Smell - 2012-02-19 23:14

      And there I thought it was the West always sending Africa food parcels in times of famine.

  • Vegi - 2012-02-19 20:50

    Smell Even cannibals have their role models i.e. those who have shown their expertise in devouring human flesh. So you are telling me that activists like Granville Sharp, Hannah More and Charles Middleton persuaded your William Wilberforce to be a benevolent cannibal. Why should I rejoice if he persuaded other beasts to stop enslaving our people, thus ushering in a new era in which whole continents were stripped of their resources and local population exterminated or reduced to beasts of burden. You are very stupid if you think anyone should be grateful for the suffering your forefathers spread throughout the world.

      Smell - 2012-02-19 23:18

      Africa and the Americas were not exactly utopias prior to being "discovered by the West", Vegi. Famine, war, disease, cannibalism and many tribal customs did not exactly translate into a tea party. And not so easy fending of lions with a sharp stick.

  • Assis Pontes - 2012-02-19 21:29

    The perception that governments create jobs is so idiotic. It's businesses that create jobs. The saying adapt or die is very appropiate now, Spain will have to look at making it easier to employ people. As in Europe, South Africa's labour policies are also restrictive, I hope they all take heed.

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