By Caleb T. Maupin
Published Mar 7, 2010 11:02 PM
On Feb. 23, massive demonstrations took place across Spain; 70,000 took to the streets in Madrid, 50,000 marched in Barcelona and tens of thousands more joined in ten other cities. The country’s two leading unions organized these actions to protest Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero’s proposed labor law reforms, especially the plan to raise the retirement age from 65 to 67.
The General Union of Workers (UGT) mobilized across the country. The UGT is tied to the social-democratic Socialist Workers Party of Spain, of which Zapatero is a member, and which dominates the Spanish government. The Workers Commissions (CCOO) also organized; this massive union is influenced by the Communist Party of Spain. The CCOO raised the slogan, “We are going to defend with nails and teeth the labor and social rights of the present and future pensioners,” as a rallying cry to promote and build the protests throughout Spain.
These were the first large-scale union protests to be mounted against Zapatero’s government since the prime minister took office in 2004.
Spain has been hit by the capitalist global financial crisis and has a large deficit and huge unemployment. Zapatero had announced 50 billion euros in budget cuts and many “reforms,” which are assaults on workers’ benefits and protections. The government claims the pension cutback will stimulate the economy and beef up funds in the pension system. Moreover, it is clearly following the dictates of the European Union, whose chief, Jose Manuel Barroso, told all EU member states — before the protests took place — to raise retirement ages on pensions.
A poll conducted by El Pais, a major newspaper in Madrid, showed that 84 percent of Spain’s population did not support raising the retirement age or any of the government’s other proposed austerity measures. Workers are angry at the government’s so-called pension reforms and reject the premise that preventing workers from retiring will help to curb the country’s unemployment rate; it is already nearly 20 percent, with youth unemployment at 40 percent.
Fifty-seven more protests are planned to take place throughout Spain until March 6, to keep up the pressure on the government. Many workers have called for a general strike to push the government to stop assaults on their pensions and other attacks on their livelihoods.
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