Spanish workers stand up against new government’s cutbacks and attack on rights

The people of Spain have come out in massive numbers, joining the protests organised by the country’s main unions, the CCOO and UGT, to voice their opposition to the labour reform and the huge cutbacks undertaken by Mariano Rajoy’s government. Young people have played a leading role in the various protest actions, such as the general strike of 29 March.

General elections were held in Spain on 20 November 2011, (five months ahead of the normal date) in the midst of a social climate marked by high unemployment (in excess of 20% overall and almost 50% for the under 25s) and the progressive dismantling of basic services. The socialist party PSOE, which had been in power since 2004, was unseated by the neo-liberal conservative Partido Popular, which secured an absolute majority in parliament.

The new government wasted no time in implementing its reform programme and, emboldened by its strong parliamentary majority, embarked on a brutal reform of the labour legislation without consulting the social partners. The new legislation, passed at the beginning of February, gives employers huge powers to dismiss employees at a very low cost, as well as undermining working conditions by removing the obligation to comply with collective agreements.

Young people are the hardest hit by the labour reform, which excludes them from the groups benefiting from subsidised employment schemes and permits highly precarious contractual arrangements for people up to age 33.

The government’s refusals to submit the content of the reform to social dialogue gave rise to a series of protests, such as the mass demonstrations of 19 February and 11 March. The level of social protest reached a peak on 29 March, when the main trade unions CCOO and UGT held the first general strike under the current government. The nationwide strike and demonstrations held on 29 March were hugely successful, with millions of people backing the stoppage and voicing their protest on the streets. The action drew large support from young people.

The government has now been called on to heed the demands of its people and the strength of the workers. Trade union organisations are proposing concrete alternatives to promote economic growth, social justice and employment. We are also determined to keep up the fight until the new government abandons its neoliberal policy focused on cutbacks in public spending and social rights.