March 29, 2012

Spain Beset by Strikes as Unions Protest Labor Laws

Changes allow easier firing, curtail union strength

Spain was disrupted by labor union strikes on Thursday in protest against labor law changes pushed through by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. The changes dismantle the nationwide collective bargaining system and make it easier to fire workers.

Reuters reported that there was disagreement about how many took part in the general strikes, which came on the heels of unexpected defeats for Rajoy's party in regional elections. Unions claimed 85% turnout for the strikes, while the government called it a normal workday.

With only one in four buses running, trains reduced to a third of normal service and only about 10% of scheduled domestic commercial flights and 20% of foreign ones actually taking off, as well as shutdowns of many department stores, it was hardly normal, but it was not as large a turnout as drawn by the previous strike in September 2010.

While Spaniards have largely allowed Rajoy to proceed in plans to satisfy European-set goals to avoid a bailout, it is apparent that they are now growing concerned over increasingly strict austerity measures. "The labor reform has taken away workers' rights my parents managed to win.," Miguel Paster, a train driver in Madrid, was quoted saying. " This strike is just a starting point for protests and I see things ramping up in the coming months."

The political website eldiario.es theorized that the strike might actually help Rajoy in negotiations with European policymakers, saying, "If we Spaniards accept this abuse with resignation, apathy and docility, the government won't have the will or the arguments to stand up to Brussels and Berlin."

The Spanish government insists that it will not back down from austerity measures, and many are afraid to take part in demonstrations when the unemployment rate is already so high at 23%; among Spaniards under 25 it is nearly 50%.

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