UPDATE: Also see the post about the 29 March 2012 Spain’s General Labor Strike Today against Labor Reform.
Yesterday’s general labor strike in Spain, organized mainly by the country’s biggest labor unions, was the talk not only of the town, but throughout the country. The strike was to protest the government’s labor reform and proposed pension reform, among other hot-button issues.
One Spanish newspaper headline stated, “Patchy support for strike as unions demand government change course,” while another said, “The Government pities the unions after the failure of the 29-S [protest]”. Yet another went with, “The general strike failed to stop Madrid“.
I’m not going to start talkin’ politics here because I generally steer clear of such topics publicly. Suffice to say that the general labor strike DID affect Spain, Madrid, Barcelona, and even my own neighborhood.
There were firebombed cars and riots in Barcelona during yesterday’s protest but things were more peaceful in Madrid. But yes, the strike was notable what with the piles of garbage surrounding the overflowing trash receptacles gone uncollected, some closed pharmacies and bars, and even some of the local convenience stores run by Asian foreigners were presumably (and surprisingly) observing the labor strike. I say presumably/surprisingly because these places are open 365 days a year (although most don’t have licenses to do so) and only close when/if there’s been been a water main break or an overnight break-in.
The strike even affected mobility. Most (or all) trains were stopped throughout the country while the city buses and metro tried to keep to “minimum service” standards. I’d heard that lines were long to get on already full metro cars and buses, causing those non-striking workers to arrive late. Striking workers had to sign a document stating they would observe the strike, knowing part of their salary and pensions would be held back.
YouTube Video: EuropaPress, in Spanish, mobility issues during the Spanish labor strike.
Later in the day a Spaniard saw me carrying my re-usable shopping bag to go to the local supermarket to buy milk and she told me, “Don’t even think about doing any shopping today. While you may not attend the protest, you must observe the strike by not patronizing any commercial establishments.” That was news to me – but I guess it made sense. So I didn’t do any shopping even though I had no milk for this morning’s breakfast. (pssst! I went to the local convenience store and bought ONE brick of milk to tide me over)
I did break the rule, I guess, earlier in the day by going to the gym and then to get my hair cut. The barber, self-employed, was not on strike. I walked through the door and jokingly asked him, “What, you’re not on strike?” And he said, “Yes. I’m on strike. I’m on a Japanese Strike.” (“huelga japonesa“) And since I didn’t know what a Japanese Strike was he had to explain it to me, that when they go on strike in Japan, (sure, this is a terrible generalization about an entire group of people but I’m just repeating what he told me), instead of working 8 hours, they work 18 hours. So we talked about the strike and what it meant to people, etcetera. I told him I decided not to strike against myself since I’m self-employed and can’t demand a higher salary or demand better working conditions or better pension or better job security. Well yeah, I could demand myself of it but who’d be listening?! Me?! Ha! I can’t even demand/command myself to work a straight 8 hour day! It’s always 2 hours here and 2 hours there from morning to night (USUALLY totaling more than 8 hours per day – but not always).
Now all the day-after discussion takes place about what it all meant, was it successful or not, constant debates and long-winded analysis. While somewhat boring for me, I’m really impressed with the seriousness at which the Spanish take their own well-being, their own job security and futures. They really do fight for their rights! Back in Ohio you rarely (or never) heard of anyone going on strike except at the factories maybe, but no one was marching down Main Street carrying signs and chanting slogan. This, we always read about taking place in Washington D.C. – and only on rare occasions. But here they feel empowered to control their own destinies. Interesting. Spaniards (and Europeans in general) seem to fight for their futures while other cultures take for granted they’ll simply get the treasures they deserve by birthright.
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Definition: birthright [ˈbɜːθˌraɪt]
n1. privileges or possessions that a person has or is believed to be entitled to as soon as he is born2. the privileges or possessions of a first-born son3. inheritance; patrimony