Protests in Spain against austerity cuts gain wide support

The European Union and European Central bank are forcing European nations saddled with heavy debt loads to cut public services. Spain is among them.

Union-organized work stoppages and demonstrations erupted throughout that country on September 20 -22. Demands varied by region, but most came from marching teachers and students.

Vigorous denunciations centered on the right-wing People’s Party that, although out of power nationally, controls most regional governments. That party and President José Zapatero’s Socialist Party had come together earlier to impose a debt limit on the national government.

Nationally, proposed education cuts approaching $2.6 billion. Particularly aggravating to primary and secondary teachers are moves to increase hours they spend in schools so that an estimated 15,000 interim teachers can be dismissed.

In Madrid and cities elsewhere, a “green wave “of teachers and students – their shirts are green – filled the streets. Estimates of Spain’s teachers staying out of work during a two-day strike ranged from 70 to 80 percent by strike organizers and to 40-50 percent by education officials.

Some 90,000 teachers and students are said to have been involved in Madrid. “This was the biggest strike of secondary school teachers in 25 years,” said CC OO labor federation leader Francisco García, quoted by

They began there by forming a human chain around the Madrid Education Council building. Banners showed off slogans like “Social service cuts = state terrorism” and “Cut military expenses for health care and education.”

Esperanza Aguirre, the Madrid government president and an aspirant to head the People’s Party, came under harsh criticism for policies seen as favoring private education. Recently she publically questioned the entire notion of a free education. Madrid alone is cutting $110 million from public educational services provided there.

The phenomenon of governments selling off profitable health care services to private corporations, “externalization,” as it is called, has been galling especially in Catalonia, where health workers took the lead in strike actions there and formed a big contingent of the 25,000 demonstrators gathered in Barcelona’s Catalunya Plaza.

Opinion surveys show that over 95 percent of Spanish citizens oppose cuts to heath care, education, or pensions and 60-70 percent express satisfaction with services they receive. More than 50 percent favor reduced military spending.

Regional authorities nationwide, however, are on the verge of cutting welfare support and emergency aid by $94 million. Yet in Madrid, to take one example, demands for such services increased almost ten percent in both 2009 and 2010. Some 250, 000 of the half million Spanish people receiving that type of support have experienced delays recently in its arrival. The impact on handicapped individuals and needy immigrants has been considerable.

Cuts in public education at all levels are now standard in Europe. Examples include: Lithuania with almost 70 percent reduced support for public universities; eastern European states averaging 5-10 percent reductions in overall education funding levels, and Italy, recently subjected to $10.8 million in curtailed support for schools and dismissals of 130,000 school and university employees.

Cuts in the educational budgets of Ireland and Portugal come to 9.4 and 8.5 percent, respectively. In Greece public support for university education has dropped 60 percent over two years, while the total of education cuts in the U.K. amounts to $125 million.

Speaking on September 19, secretary general of Spain’s Communist Party, Jose Luis Centalla, called for major “civic protest.” Looking toward nationwide mobilizations set for October 6 and October 15, he called for “a true rebellion joined by people at the bottom.”

They would “come together with those people suffering the consequences of the crisis, those already mobilized, and those demonstrating for more democracy to construct an alternative,” he said.

Urging support for a United Left ticket in Nov. 20 national elections, Centalla declared, “We oppose paying off speculators controlling our nation as a first priority.”

Photo: At a demonstration against education cuts in Madrid, Sept. 20. Arturo Rodriguez/AP



W. T. Whitney Jr.
W. T. Whitney Jr.

W.T. Whitney Jr. is a political journalist whose focus is on Latin America, health care, and anti-racism. A Cuba solidarity activist, he formerly worked as a pediatrician, lives in rural Maine. W.T. Whitney Jr. es un periodista político cuyo enfoque está en América Latina, la atención médica y el antirracismo. Activista solidario con Cuba, anteriormente trabajó como pediatra, vive en la zona rural de Maine.