UPDATE 29.03.12 (15.31 hrs)
The general strike in Spain is in now in full progress with transport affected. Some minimal services are being continued but there are many reports of delays, made worse as people have taken to their cars rather than use public transport.
The popularity of the strike is hard to assess at the moment, not least because of the ‘white noise’ produced by both the government and the unions, who are respectively trying to down play or stress the ‘success’ of the strike.
A more prosaic measure of the strike and its ‘take-up’ can be seen from the fact that electricity usage throughout Spain had fallen by some 25% by 09.00 hrs this morning.
In reality, the general strike in Spain today seems to be patchy with big industry and factories particularly badly affected. It is also likely that the strike will have had significant support from state employees (funcionarios). However, in a country of small busnesses (operating in desperate times), it will be surprising if many (if any) small businesses will have gone on strike and the unemployed are unlikely to care, one way or another.
On an anecdotal basis – my own town of Gandia appears to have almost ignored the strike. This morning most banks were open, together with virtually all the shops and bars etc. and my daughter went to school (albeit to a very disrupted day, due to teacher absences). Meanwhile, I have seen one very small demonstration that was notable for more police around (evidently not on strike!) than demonstrators!
In case you have any doubts, the general strike in Spain scheduled for the 29th March 2012 certainly looks set to occur. There are no signs of it being stopped and turnout across Spanish state departments looks as though it will be high – although whether this will be mimicked in the private sector is another thing altogether. As I state below, beware of travelling on the 29th March 2012 and remember that travel arrangements either side of the strike day itself could be impaired.
I feel a sense of déjà vu as I write about the forthcoming general strike in Spain called for the 29th March this year. I say ‘déjà vu’ because the last general strike in Spain was on the 29th September 2010 and was, like the forthcoming one, about austerity measures and proposed government changes to employment rights in Spain.
Perhaps more specifically, before the general strike in 2010 took place, I predicted that it would be a ‘damp squib’ (which it was) and I believe that this year’s strike will be much the same.
This is not to say that there will be no disruption. I am sure there will be, to a limited extent, and certainly sufficient to cause alarm for anyone travelling to, through or from Spain on or around the 29th March. So, beware and, if you can, change your travel plans – appreciating that even minimal travel disruption can cause trouble for several days either side of a general strike.
But why is the general strike in Spain likely to be unimpressive?
Well, I suspect that the majority of people in Spain have little faith that the general strike will change anything. It made no difference in 2010 and is not likely to sway the newly elected conservative government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, which has a firm overall parliamentary majority.
In fact, Rajoy was evidently overheard at a meeting, some time ago, stating that his employment reforms would initiate a general strike in Spain. It has, he expected it and he appears completely unworried by it. There is certainly absolutely no indication that he is going to reverse his employment reforms and his movement, with regard to austerity cuts, is extremely limited.
So, what will the general strike in Spain achieve?
The answer, I fear, is nothing – apart from showing the universal despair and growing anger felt by the Spanish about their economic situation. The latter is tragically grim, with few people now expecting the economy to improve for some years.
That said, it is undeniable that the labour reforms in Spain have created a good deal of upset. Predictably this was not something any employee welcomed and, undoubtedly, the net effect (in the short term), will be to increase the unemployment rate in Spain, as employers take advantage of the reforms to make rapid cuts to their staff.
However, something certainly needed doing, as ‘hiring and firing’ in Spain was an expensive and cumbersome process and badly needed to be brought into line, more or less, with the rest of Northern Europe.
Indeed, there has been a duality in Spain, when it comes to employment security that was absurd and unworkable. So unworkable that the result has been that something like a third of all people working in Spain have traditionally had temporary work contracts, as employers have sought, every which way, not to be constrained by expensive and overly restrictive permanent contracts. This has meant that there has always been a large ‘floating’ population of people in Spain with no job security – whatsoever.
Of course, the real problem at the moment is that all the Spanish population can see are cuts, ‘harsh’ reforms and austerity measures. These are all very well and badly needed but are not, in themselves, regenerative.
Indeed, no-one seems to believe that the present government knows how to get the Spanish economy going again and few people can see any ‘light at the end of the tunnel’. This is dangerous as the Spanish government will lose authority; unless it can ‘sell’ the Spanish people a dream of recovery – that is credible. Presently that does not exist, there is no clear vision and there is a general feeling that the government is probably as clueless as everyone else about how to jump-start the Spanish economy.
So, although the general strike in Spain on the 29th March may not amount to much, in real terms, it may presage other strikes and demonstrations. These will almost certainly get worse unless the Spanish can see positive changes, with a major reduction in unemployment the most telling way of showing success. But how that is achieved, let alone sustained, is anyone’s guess…
RELEVANT INFORMATION ABOUT THE GENERAL STRIKE IN SPAIN