Feature

Spain: A battered nation takes to the streets

After Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announced labor reforms making it easier to fire people, unions called a general strike and protests.

Spaniards just threw a collective “tantrum in the streets,” said Ángel F. Fermoselle in El Mundo. After Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announced labor reforms making it easier to fire people, unions called a general strike and protests. In Barcelona, vandals ran wild, smashing bank windows and torching tires and mattresses. In Madrid, movie star Willy Toledo, acting the part of the “rebellious brat,” got himself arrested after allegedly urging fellow protesters to trash a bar because the workers there weren’t striking. And yet the general strike was oddly anticlimactic, said M. Dolores García in the Barcelona Vanguardia. Though mildly disruptive for a day, it “didn’t bring the country to a complete halt.” Far more successful were the demonstrations, attended by 800,000 people—many of them, no doubt, unemployed. “Fear has invaded every corner of society,” and it’s growing now that Rajoy is pushing an austerity budget on parliament that will cut deeply into government spending and benefits, and probably make the economy even worse. The sense of insecurity is pervasive. “Hopelessness, deadly as the worst virus, is taking over society.”

Look, we all knew this was coming, said ABC in an editorial. Spain’s economy is on life support. Unemployment is at 23 percent overall, and at a staggering 50 percent among those under 25. Bond yields are soaring. If Spain is to avoid becoming another Greece, we have to lower our deficit to within EU limits. Rajoy received an absolute majority in both houses of parliament “just to make these decisions and deal with these problems.” The same people who are now appalled by the labor reforms and tax increases are those who voted for the Socialist governments that got us into this mess. The Left may complain, but they are offering “no credible alternatives.” If Spain is to recover, it has to take its medicine.

This medicine is more like harsh chemotherapy, said Ignacio Escolar in Público.es. Instead of curing us it could well kill us, by plunging Spain into another brutal recession. The cuts that the EU has demanded Rajoy implement are “unprecedented—even harsher than those required of Greece, Ireland, and Portugal.” That’s why we must all continue to protest. If Spaniards simply “accept this abuse docilely,” Rajoy won’t have any reason to beg Brussels for lenience. “If the citizens don’t apply pressure, who else can save us from this suicidal cutback in public spending?”

It’s true that the EU is to blame for “imposing unnecessary austerity” on Spain, said the Financial Times (U.K.). But Rajoy has hardly risen to the challenge. His budget cuts are uneven—trimming too much from the Labor Ministry, which has to implement the new labor rules, and too little from defense. On the revenue side, he has included a tax amnesty to encourage tax cheats to bring home billions of dollars, “but it’s unclear whether this money will ever find its way to the government’s coffers.” As it stands, the austerity budget is likely to worsen Spain’s social tensions without solving its economic problems. More protests, and more pain, lie ahead.

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