TENS of thousands of Spaniards took to the streets yesterday to protest against austerity measures. soaring unemployment and the handling of the economic crisis.
Protestors calling themselves the “indignados” – the indignants – have been demonstrating since before the regional elections on 22 May, claiming they have been let down by politicians. Yesterday numbers swelled to up to 100,000 across the country, as the message spread by social networking channels, with many now threatening general strikes.
A massive crowd converged near Spain’s parliament in Madrid, but was blocked by police barricades. Despite the numbers, protestors were keen to avoid violence, after a demonstration in Barcelona last week ended in angry clashes.
The protests largely concentrated on the “Euro Pact”, agreed by Euro zone politicians to stimulate competitiveness across the bloc. In Spain this has prompted reforms to give companies greater power to hire and fire.
The political leaders of the Euro zone’s fourth largest economy have worked hard to convince investors the country will not follow Greece, Portugal and Ireland in needing a bailout.
But Spaniards say while this has been happening, their own worries are being ignored.
Unemployment has soared to 14-year highs and almost half of under-25s are out of work. Banks have cut off credit lines, consumer prices are rising faster than the regional average, investment has been slashed and house prices have plummeted.
Meanwhile, the government has spent the last two years passing bills to keep wage rises to a minimum, lengthen working lives, abolish welfare payments and increase taxes.
“I’m here because this is a con,” said Juanjo Montiel, 26, one of four blind protestors in Madrid, who works in Information Technology for around €1,000 a month.
“I’m lucky enough to have a job, but many don’t and have no chance. And on top of that, the politicians want to make more cuts. This is not our fault, it’s the system.”