A Nation on Strike: Spain’s Labor Problem
One Spanish word that I have become very familiar with during my time in Spain is “huelga,” which means strike. My flight from Madrid to Bilbao was canceled because the pilots were on strike. The city metro has gone on strike every Thursday for the past couple of months and the city bus drivers have been on strike for the past week.
All this is about to seem like a picnic in comparison to the “huelga general,” or “general strike,” that is planned for Thursday, March 29. If the general strike is successful, basically, the entire country will be closed for the day. People from nearly every occupation will stay home. Everything, from bars and grocery stores to lawyers’ offices and travel agencies will stay closed.
Even if anyone wants to go to work, they will find it extremely difficult, since all public transportation will only be operating the minimum services required by the government, which is usually about 30 percent of normal services.
Spain, along with what seems like every other country in the world, is currently facing some serious economic problems. Over five million people are out of work and the unemployment rate is over 20 percent, which is more than twice the average rate of countries in the European Union.
The political party that is currently in power, the Partido Popular, led by the president of Spain Mariano Rajoy, recently passed a labor reform that they hope will improve the situation. Many people worry that the changes that will come as a result of the reform will help big business owners, but hurt the average worker.
The general strike has been organized by several important unions and has been impossible to ignore. Cars with megaphones have driven through the streets calling people to strike. Colorful posters have been plastered everywhere. I even saw graffiti on the wall of a tunnel supporting the strike.
This isn’t just happening in one city. I spent last weekend in the Canary Islands and saw people marching along the beach, chanting and holding posters urging people to join the strike. I’ve heard that cities and towns all over Spain are being equally pressured to participate.
What remains to be seen is whether their bite is as bad as their bark. The only way this general strike can have an impact is if a great majority of workers participate. The unions sometimes seem like the boy who called wolf. In the past, there have been several unsuccessful attempts at a general strike that have only weakened the impact of the threat.
If they continue like this, the government and employers will not take the unions’ threats seriously and no agreements will be made. All these repeated protests and strikes have yet to result in anything but inconvenience for the general population. If this general strike is successful, hopefully the government and employers will finally take the unions seriously and be willing to negotiate. If not, I guess I’ll just have to keep waiting 20 minutes for my bus every morning.