Anti-austerity protests ignited again this week in Spain and Greece as the governments of the two countries prepared to implement new austerity measures.
In Spain thousands of people on September 25 surrounded the country’s Congress in Madrid carrying signs reading, “NO” and demanding that the government, which has imposed a series of austerity measures that raised the unemployment rate to 25 percent and increased the poverty rate to 22 percent, resign.
In Greece, about half of the Greek workforce honored a general strike called by the country’s two labor confederations shutting down much of the country while 50,000 people marched in Athens to demand an end to the government austerity program that has raised the nation’s unemployment rate to 25 percent and sent the Greek economy into an endless convulsion of economic contraction.
The Spanish demonstration was organized by some members of the M15 Indignado movement, a social justice movement that inspired the Occupy movement in the US.
The Spanish government tried to discredit the demonstration by describing it as an attempt to incite a coup. According to the government, the protestors planned to occupy the building where the Congress meets, a crime under Spanish law.
The protestors made it clear before the demonstration that it had no intention of occupying Congress, saying that it only wanted to surround the building to show that people had lost faith in the government and wanted it to resign so that new elections can be called.
Protestors accused police of infiltrating their meetings prior to the demonstrations and spying on them, a charge that the government does not deny.
As the protestors gathered to press their demands for an end to austerity measures, they were greeted by about 1,000 police officers including a handful of snipers stationed at high points near the demonstrators.
Video from Democracy Now shows the police charging the demonstrators, wielding riot control clubs, and making arrests as the demonstrators fall back, then move forward as the police give ground.
The battle between the police and demonstrators continued throughout the day and into the night. Police fired rubber bullets and flash-bang grenades. Demonstrators threw stones and other objects at hand.
Thirty-eight demonstrators were arrested and charged with crimes against the nation. They will be tried in a court that tries people for such serious crimes as terrorism.
On Thursday, the Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announced a new budget that raises the value added (sales) tax rate from 18 percent to 21 percent and cuts spending on health, education, and other services by 8.9 percent.
According to Maria Carrion speaking to Democracy Now, these new cuts come on top of cuts to education and health that total 27 billion euros.
The government’s new round of austerity measures are aimed at winning loans from the European Union that will be used to bail out failed banks whose reckless lending led to the economic crisis that has caused two recessions since 2008. An estimate by an independent auditor found that the bank bailout could cost 60 billion euros.
While the new Spanish budget reduces education and health funding, it is more than 5 percent higher than last year’s budget. The budget increase will be used to pay interest on bonds held by Spanish banks and foreign creditors.
“Since the beginning of the crisis, we have protested, but the government has played deaf,” said Feli Velazquez, a pensioner from Madrid to USA Today at the September 25 rally. The government has not listened to us; it is serving the markets. If we don’t [protest] we will lose our public health care and public education.”
In Greece, the people have been equally hard hit by austerity measures, and the Greek government wants to impose more.
The government has put together a budget that cuts government spending by 14.6 billion euros. According to the Greek Reporter, the cuts are “aimed primarily at workers, pensioners and the poor.”
The Greek labor movement responded to the proposed cuts by calling a one-day general strike on September 26.
GSEE and ADEDY, the two labor confederations that called the strike, issued a joint statement condemning the government and the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank, known as the “Troika”:
We reject the new austerity round comprising fresh deep cuts in wages and pensions, welfare slashes, tax hikes, thousands of public sector layoffs, and express privatizations. We reject the pressure exerted by the Troika to further destroy labor and its institutions:
· a leaked ‘confidential’ Troika letter ordains the government to further reduce the minimum wage – slashed only last February to sub-subsistence levels – and establish ‘a single-rate statutory minimum wage on a permanent basis legislated by the government;’ and
· the Troika dictates include a six-day work week, longer working hours with an 11-hour minimum rest period for five days’ pay, a yet shorter notice period and less severance pay. The retirement age is to be raised to 67.
Like the demonstrations in Madrid, the government tried to break up the demonstration in Athens with a show of police force.
Police fired rubber bullets and flash-bang grenades at demonstrators, some of whom fought back with rocks and Molotov cocktails.
While the police broke up this demonstration, the unions promised to continue the fight against austerity. “With this strike we are sending a strong message to the government and the Troika that the measures will not pass even if voted in Parliament, because the government’s days are numbered,” said Yiorgos Harisis, a member of ADEDY, the confederation of public sector unions.