In the lead up to local and regional elections this week, it is Spain’s turn for the people to take to the streets in their thousands in mass protests at the state of the economy, spending cuts and a high level of unemployment. There are fears over the nation’s debt and that this may even trigger a collapse of the euro.
People of all ages joined together in Madrid on Wednesday to march from Plaza de Cibeles to the Puerta del Sol carrying banners with slogans such as “there is no democracy when the markets rule” and “violence is a 600 euros per month salary”. Spaniards are looking for accountability from government and hold banners stating, “make the guilty pay for the crisis”…
There is the feeling off a lost generation as many young people (often well qualified) are unable to find meaningful employment or any job at all. Protests are not limited to Madrid but were sparked off across the country in many cities including Barcelona, Valencia and Seville. Opinion polls suggest that the opposition conservative People’s Party will easily defeat Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero’s Socialists, whose support is suffering due to the economic crisis.
In scenes reminiscent of Tahrir Square, Egypt… families and friends with their sheets of
cardboard bed down for the night and seem determined to hang on until Sunday, election day. The protests are largely peaceful though there has been sporadic street violence with M and G news reporting 5 police officers and 2 others individuals injured as protestors clashed with riot police, 24 people were detained.
I interviewed one protestor Teresa Gerdes, an American citizen now living in Spain and doing a PhD at the Universidad Autonoma, Madrid. I put forward a series of questions
and these are her responses:-
1) What has sparked the demonstrations?
The most obvious reason why people are out demonstrating is due to the high level of unemployment; nearly 5 million Spaniards are without jobs, with unemployment climbing rapidly to 50% in the Spanish youth. Other reasons are cutbacks in unemployment benefits, education, as well as pension and labor reforms.
2) Who is leading the protests?
Democracia Real Ya – Read Democracy Now Real Democracy Now is a platform of different social movements which is not associated with any political party. IU -Izquierda Unida (The United Left) is the only major political party that supports this movement, but the platform has made it very clear that they have no ties to any political party; they are concerned citizens, who want to see real change inSpain.
3) What are your grievances?
The youth and working class are conscious of the fact that we have been mandated by politicians and the banks to adopt austere measures in order to pull the country out of the
recession, while the elite receive millions in their dealings. For this reason, one of our slogans has been, “They do not represent us!” The political class is out of touch with reality. They are in government to represent the people, but what is obvious is that
they have turned a deaf ear to what we are saying. Corruption is another
big problem in Spain. Both major political parties, the PP (Popular Party) and PSOE (The Socialists) are currently under investigation. The most publicized case is the Gürtel case in
Valencia where the PP party and the mayor are accused of rampant corruption. (see link below) Again, we are tired of seeing this abuse of power in which some are filling their pockets, while the people have to continue to make more and more sacrifices.
4) What do you hope to achieve?
It is time for change. It is clear that the current political system is totally bankrupt. Democracia Real Ya has initiated this change, we are ordinary citizens and we are empowered. We want more direct participation, a more “hands on” styled democracy that will listen to the youth and the workers. We need jobs with reasonable wages, a quality public education system, a free public health care system, housing that is economically accessible, and alternative economic plans for those who are at risk of losing their homes due to the crisis. This current political system is bankrupt; it benefits no one except the political class and those who they are defending. Now is the time for change and not just in Spain, but in the entire world. We have been inspired by the Arab spring; it is time that we join in solidarity with people from around the world, to share with them that the time has come for us to claim what is ours.
5) What needs to be done for change to occur?
Obviously this is just the beginning. We will continue to protest and gather in Sol until Sunday which coincides with municipal elections. Hopefully everyone will go out and vote so that the political parties can see that we mean business. After Sunday, the platform will be collaborating with other like-minded groups in order to implement new initiatives.
6) What did you personally get out of attending the protest…?
I am a member of the group, Rumbo a Gaza which works in solidarity with Palestine and is part of the international initiative to break the Israeli siege on Gaza. As citizens of the world, we have the right to demand our governments to act democratically in their dealings with countries around the world. International pressure was put on South
Africa to end its policy of apartheid, but it was the people who had to make their voices heard before their government took action. The same situation is happening in Palestine. Israel is committing the crime of apartheid against the Palestinian people. We are now making demands for domestic policies and we have every right to demand that our government represent us internationally. I am convinced that the vast majority of
Spaniards want a foreign policy that promotes diplomacy and peace and not war
Article on PP corruption…
Video of protests…
Carol Grayson is Director Co-ordination
Asia Despatch and a UK researcher /campaigner on global health/human rights
awarded ESRC Michael Young Prize 2009