By Leslie J. López
SPAIN — The social disagreement goes on. Both of the major labor unions in Spain — General Union of Workers (UGT, its Spanish acronym) and the Workers’ Commissions (CC.OO) — have announced a national strike, on March 29, just as Easter vacation begins. It is timed to be the day before the Spanish Congress sees the 2012 state budgets. The objective of both organizations is to stop the job reform measures approved by the new government of Mariano Rajoy. Demonstrations have already been held in the majority of cities in the country on Sunday, March 11.
“They are the harshest reforms in the history of democracy in Spain,” Ignacio Martínez Toxo, chief of CC.OO, said. Cándido Méndez, leader of the UGT, has declared that this strike is “necessary, just and unavoidable”. The job reforms establish, for example, easy dismissal and low severance pay. Labor union spokespersons explained that officials with both unions are looking for the government to sit down and negotiate with them.
The national demonstration could be the sixth 24-hour-work-stoppage in the history of Spain. Trade unions will not wait the 100 days of “common courtesy” that all institutions customarily give to every new national government. Mariano Rajoy, leader of the Spanish conservative party, Partido Popular (PP), and sworn in as Prime Minister of the country on December 21, 2011, declared in a European meeting last January: “Now it is going to be hard. The reforms will trigger a national strike”.
Despite the widespread objections among the two strongest workers’ associations, it was decided to go ahead with the strike because they think it is the best way to amend the unemployment rate in the country. Spain’s unemployment is the highest in Europe — 22.85% among a population of 5,273,600 people, according to an analysis conducted in January 2012.
The country’s leaders say the new law will allow more contracts, and the regeneration of the economy. These changes have been approved by the national employers’ organization known as the Spanish Confederation of Employers’ Organization (CEOE).
Conservatives accuse the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) of organizing the protest, and are asking them to help by not staging a negative demonstration. The PSOE, the country’s main opposition party, has disagreed with the job law. However, Elena Valenciano, PSOE’s deputy secretary general, has declared “they (the PSOE) do not organize demonstrations, only union laborers”.
It is very delicate situation in the country. Spain surfs between its own Homer-inspired Scylla — a market at the bottom — and Charybdis — a storm of revolt produced by a reduction in public spending. With Europe setting a target deficit of 5.3 percent, there is no chance that the Spanish government can reactivate public services.
In the next few days, the likelihood of an agreement being reached to cancel the national strike appears doubtful.
Leslie J. López is founder and managing editor of Insevilla, the first online magazine about Seville and the county. With a Master’s in journalism from the Universidad Complutense de Madrid and a degree in philosophy from the Universidad de Sevilla, López’s work has appeared in newspapers from Mexico to Spain, as well as, on online magazines.