Huelga General – General Strike in Spain

September 23, 2010 By: erik Category: Complaining, Politics, Spain 1,865 views

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Huelga GeneralOn September 29, 2010, there will be a general strike in Spain. This means that most workers in most industries will not go into work that day, and many will be picketing. Perhaps I’m too ignorant in the intricacies of labor economics, but this strike seems to me like a really, really stupid idea.

Strikes by workers in mines or factories make perfect sense to me. The workers are demonstrating how necessary they are, as the foundation of the organization, for the employer to make any money. Typically the workers have some grievances and some demands of their employer. Negotiation takes place, some demands are met, some are compromised, and the employees get back to work. I totally get that. I’m way more lefty than the average American when it comes to workers’ rights.

But what about an entire country going on strike?

Huelga GeneralHuelga General

Some posters around town.

The Manifesto

From the official 2010-09-29 general strike website, translated into English by yours truly. All bolding is theirs, hyperlinking is mine. Yes, there’s a Charlie Chaplin YouTube video embedded in the manifesto.

Manifesto for a General Strike of workers, students and consumers on September 29, 2010

Spontaneous popular initiative…

…against the violation of our fundamental rights.

…against the passivity of the principal workers’ unions and associations.

…against the inefficiency, corruption, and populism of the political parties.

We. Students and workers, the best prepared generation in the history of Spain.

They taught us to get educated, to study hard, to compete and become excellent professionals without anyone giving us anything. Our parents encouraged us to do so. Their calloused hands, absent eyes, and exhausted bodies after each day were the best evidence they could give us to fight for a better life, a life in which being useful to society would reward us. There were many difficulties, many costs to cover, and tremendous time invested in our university studies, masters degrees, language courses, diplomas, unpaid internships, certificates, and driving licenses.

However we have been betrayed. Not by our parents who advised us what they thought best for us. Not by the studying that brought us so much personal satisfaction. But by those who monopolize key positions in the Spanish social pyramid. They treat us like expendable meat, offering us temporary jobs, miserable salaries and endless workdays irreconcilable with family life.

Companies are looking for talented youth, they say there’s a labor shortage, and that the universities don’t educate properly, that we’re not productive. They lie. What there are are people that accept deplorable conditions. In the rest of Europe, they are treated like true professionals, receiving just treatment and salaries. The problem is in the fabric of Spanish business. And in the government that consents and does not regulate the situation.

Any protest filed against the administration and unions goes unheard. “Be entrepreneurs, start your own company,” is the only response received. Yet all any young entrepreneur who does not base his business on the Spanish model of fat cat real estate, sand and sun finds are bureaucratic obstacles. We have no guarantees, the state gets practically half of what we earn and the numbers don’t add up to pay for the place of business, vehicle or suppliers. The current system is designed so that an already established few continue accumulating wealth, instead of promoting the creation of middle classes from poorer families.

In times of economic boom, the profits stay in the pockets of a few, but in times of crisis, losses are socialized. The authorities have given a blank check to banks and large corporations, while the citizens are affected by unemployment, inflation and debt. The managers who have caused this crisis are rewarded and people who most suffer are marginalized. A public quality service is now more necessary than ever.

They call us “well off”, but we can’t buy a house or live by renting.

They call us “mileuristas“, but many of us don’t even make 1000€ gross a month.

They call us “ill prepared”, when they are the ones that occupy posts that exceed their capabilities.

They fear us. They depend on our talent and in the moment we rebel, we’ll have the upper hand.

Demands

The objective of this call is to reclaim the government and the Spanish business network that meets the following conditions:

  • NO to cuts in social spending. The crisis should be paid for by those that caused it: the banks and the speculators.
  • European salaries. The minimum wage in France is 1321.02€ a month. In Spain, it’s 633.30€ a month.
  • Comply with schedules. Overtime should be really voluntary, always mutually agreed, and well paid.
  • Strict control of inflation and speculation on commodities like food and housing.
  • Stop the precarious and temporary. Training contracts are to train, not to exploit grant money.
  • Free, quality public university. Not the Bologna reform that favors classes with more time and money.
  • Income tax reduction for the self-employed. Streamlining and simplification of bureaucracy to encourage self-employment.
  • Increased investment in R&D. Give priority to research to avoid brain drain. Renew our industries.
  • Reconciling work with family life. Negotiable intensive workday and 35-hour work weeks.
  • These demands are perfectly acceptable and necessary for the proper development of the country, so must be met immediately.

For the rights of current and future workers,

General Strike. Now!

Okay, fine. You’re pissed off, I get it. You were promised a better life than you found when you grew up. Welcome to the club.

It turns out that governing entire nations and macro economics are complicated. The banks can’t just “pay for the crisis” without crippling the rest of the industries even more than they are now. Yes, more banking regulation needs to be in place, but I think that’s true of every nation, and rest assured, bankers will always find loopholes.

Your minimum wage demands, however, are quite reasonable. For being as socialist as it is with medicine, pensions, and unemployment, Spain really shits all over the workforce. The same entrepreneurial spirit that causes middle class Americans to support ridiculous legislation favoring mega-corporations is also a boon to those that would prefer to be their own boss.

What the General Strike will accomplish

  • All the shops will be closed.
  • There’d be no food on the shelves anyway with no transport systems.
  • No factories will produce anything.
  • Workers that do choose to go to work may be threatened or have their cars vandalized.
  • A full day’s worth of income tax will not be collected by the government.
  • Millions of people will be inconvenienced in some way because a service they take for granted is unavailable.

That’s about it. It’ll be like an average Sunday, but with more crime. And a government that is already short on funds to provide the services the strikers demand will be even more broke. Good job.

The reason policy makers won’t be affected by this is that, unlike in the case of a factory or mine, the strikers aren’t withholding something (their labor) the authorities need; they are withholding something we all need. Nothing would plummet a first world country into the third world faster than everyone deciding they weren’t going to work anymore. That damages everyone! It’s like getting angry and shooting yourself in the foot in protest; all you’ve done is worsened your condition.

What should be done instead

I’m sorry, but I don’t have an answer for that. As much as I’d like to, I don’t know to how to force sweeping national policy changes at a whim. The best solution, in my opinion, is peaceful demonstrations (which Spaniards already excel at), lots and lots and lots of peaceful demonstrations. Once your numbers get big enough – and there are millions that will swallow your manifesto – politicians will eventually pander to your voting demographic.

Shooting ourselves in the foot just gives us a limp.

UPDATE! Read how the strike really affected my life.

 
  • http://letterstosg.com Lance

    I generally agree, and would add that I think the strike is probably just supposed to draw attention. I don’t think it’s true that a full day’s worth of income tax will be lost. Some people will presumably go to work, some people draw salaries rather than hourly wages, and some jobs will require additional labor before or after the strike to deal with the disruption. It may also be true that the percentage of the Spanish workforce foregoing a day’s wages in favor of striking is disproportionately large compared to their foregone wages as a percent of all daily Spanish wages. (I mean, they’re complaining about how little they make and all.) I don’t know how all of these things net out, though.

    I was going to pick on the strikers for cherry-picking France’s minimum wage as a point of comparison, figuring that there is no way France’s minimum wage is representative. But from what I can tell, it is representative of Northern European countries. (See FedEE and EIRO.) There seems to be a block of states with France on the South, (probably) Germany on the East, and including all points North and West (excluding Iceland) where minimum wage earners can earn more than 1000 euro (or its equivalent) a month. Spain’s minimum wage seems to be pretty much in line for Mediterranean nations and Portugal.

    Is it too late to print up pamphlets urging the strikers to divert their efforts into moving Spain a few hundred km North?

  • Juan

    I am against the strike. And I am against the unions, of course. They are subsidized and a lot of unions’ workers don’t work in their job because they are “liberados” (that is, only working in “labour” questions). Laws allow that situation.
    YEs, there are a lot of injustices (for example, the government support to inefficient banks), but there’s only a solution for a economic crisis: work more and better and receive less salary. It’s hard, it’s not comfortable to hear this, but there is the only exit.
    (apologise my mistakes in english, sorry)

  • http://alotofwind.com Robin

    Not sure I agree on this one – I think one of the key components of a general strike, as opposed to a sector or company specific one, is solidarity. The list of probable material consequences of the action is not really the point.
    It could be that solidarity driven actions are less attractive to the American mindset? Given that the individual is very much the driving force of that country and culture (and feel free to come back to me on that one!).
    We have been told for years now that the “European” model is defunct – that we can’t afford welfare, can’t afford minumum wage, can’t afford to look after each other and treat each other with any kind of regard. I don’t buy it.
    It’s frowned upon of course to disrupt the functioning of capitalism with inconveniences such as strikes and impertinences such as worker’s rights, but it’s fine by me.
    And if the left attracts a certain amount of naive idealism and sloganeering then so be it – it’s a broad church.

  • Juan

    Thank you for your opinion, Robin. But, in my opinion, we should answer this question: who is going to create new jobs? Who is going to create richness? Government can only regulate good conditions to business but they can’t to set up good business, good companies. They can organise the police, the army,a public health service…but all of this need the money paid by taxpayers.

  • birgit

    Thanks for explaining and translating Erik. I have several friends in Spain and I was looking all over the web for information when I found out about the strike. I have been there during some widespread strikes, it always makes me worry. Things are bad. I pray things turn around for everyone there.

  • Mike

    So far almost empty metro.
    Enough space to sit and everybody here in the office :-)