By Caleb T. Maupin
Unemployment is a built-in feature of the capitalist system. Driven
by massive unemployment and the new government austerity program, more
than a million workers protested in 80 cities throughout the Spanish
state on July 19.
Even right-wing economists like Milton Friedman speak of a “natural
unemployment rate” during economic good times. Under capitalism, workers
are only hired if their labor power can be transformed into profits.
Unemployment keeps wages lower and profits higher.
During capitalist downturns, unemployment increases. Having an army
of unemployed workers drives the wages of employed workers down by
increasing competition for jobs. Society deteriorates as a greater
amount of human labor power is left idle. Unemployed workers suffer,
desperately trying to find housing, food and other basic human rights.
In Spain, 24.6 percent of the workforce is unemployed. The government
is in the middle of a “debt crisis” and is cutting social services. On
July 11, Spain’s prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, announced to the
National Assembly that the government would be cutting unemployment
Parliamentary deputy, Andrea Fabra, a member of Rajoy’s party, echoed
this attack on unemployed workers, shouting, following Rajoy’s
announcement, “Screw them all!” (“¡Que se jodan!”) Her outrageous
outburst was recorded on videotape and has caused millions to fume with
The Spanish working class is fighting back. The miners of Asturias
have been on strike for several months, and have famously defended
themselves against police attacks with homemade projectile launchers. A
delegation of miners from Asturias marched to Madrid in early July and
was greeted by a huge rally of supporters.
In response to the cuts in the wages and bonuses of public sector
employees, the offices of the ruling Popular Party have become targets
for almost daily demonstrations and disruptions. The common chant is
“Hands up! This is a robbery!”
The Indignados, a movement of Spanish youth that inspired Occupy Wall
Street, have joined with the labor movement, the unemployed and various
other sectors of society in this mass surge of demonstrations.
At the moment, the protests in Spain are focused primarily on the
outrages committed by the ruling center-right Popular Party. However,
mass unemployment is not something any capitalist or social-democratic
party is going to be able to solve. Polls show that workers in Spain are
also growing critical of the reformist Spanish Socialist Workers Party,
which has also presided over austerity.
Police brutality has been on display in full force. Rubber bullets
have flown at these mass rallies without pause, and smoke bombs have
frequently been deployed to confuse and break up the crowds. It is an
interesting contradiction that a small number of police and some
firefighters, who are all public employees, have joined protests against
the cuts to their own salaries.
Thousands of the unemployed marchers came to Madrid in mass marches
from other parts of the country to join the July 19 rally. Like the
Canadian student strikers, they beat pots and pans and did their best to
arouse all whom they passed in these lengthy journeys toward the
As the global crisis of capitalism is unfolding, the workers of Spain
are making clear they will not let themselves be “screwed” over. Their
fighting and resistance show the potential not just for their own
defense, but for the entire oppressive system to become “unscrewed.”