General strike mobilizes 40 million to oppose austerity in Brazil

An estimated 40 million people took part in a general strike in Brazil. The April 28 general strike was called to protest austerity measures proposed by Brazil’s President Michel Temer.

The austerity measures include changes to the country’s labor law that will result in Brazilians working longer hours for less money.

Temer also wants to reduce pension benefits and freeze spending on social programs.

Temer says that his austerity measures are needed to end recession that has lasted more than two years and increased the country’s unemployment rate to 13.7 percent.

But supporters of the general strike had a different take on Temer’s austerity proposals.

“We are demanding our rights, as workers, because the president of the country proposed a law for people to work more and live less, so you will only receive your pension when you die,” said Edgar Fernandes, a Rio de Janeiro dock worker as he explained to the Associated Press why he was on strike.

President Temer came to power one year ago after President Dilma Rousseff was impeached on dubious charges.

Her impeachment was engineered by the country’s financial, commercial, and media elites because Rousseff refused to enact the austerity measures that Temer is now trying to advance.

At the time of Rousseff’s impeachment, Temer was serving as vice-president.

The role of Brazil’s elites and the dubious charges that led to her impeachment caused some observers to call Rousseff’s ouster a coup.

When Temer came to office, he immediately laid out an austerity plan that had the enthusiastic backing of Brazil’s elites.

The plan, which Temer dubbed his Bridge to the Future, would raise the age when people can retire, freeze increases in public spending for 20 years (which would undo some of the social programs that lifted millions of Brazilians out of poverty), and allow employers to increase the number of hours their employees work and pay them less.

It would also remove restrictions that protect workers from having their jobs outsourced and make it easier for employers to hire temporary workers to replace full-time workers.

Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies recently passed Temer’s proposed labor law changes which led Brazil’s largest labor federation, the CUT, to call the April 28 one-day general strike.

CUT Secretary Sérgio Nobre said that the strike was the largest in the nation’s history and called it an unqualified success.

Automobile factories owned by GM, Ford, Toyota, Daimler were shut down because of the strike.

Public transportation throughout the country came to halt.

Schools were closed

Dock workers, miners, oil workers, agriculture workers, bank workers, and retail workers all stayed off the job.

The success for the strike was due in large part to the unpopularity of Temer and his austerity program.

According to one poll,  Temer’s disapproval rate is 87 percent.

In addition to his unpopular austerity plan, Temer’s  astoundingly high disapproval rate is stoked by high levels of corruption in his government.

Eduardo Cuhna, a Temer ally and former speaker of Brazil’s House of Deputies, was recently sentenced to prison for 15 years after being convicted of bribery.

Eight of Temer’s cabinet ministers (that’s one-third of his cabinet) are being investigated for bribery, embezzlement, or money laundering.

In November, Temer himself was accused by one of his cabinet members of pressuring the minister to reverse a decision that hurt one Temer’s lieutenants.

Marcelo Calero, the former Culture Minister, publicly accused Temer and his legislative liaison Geddel Vieira Lima of pressuring Calero to reverse his decision to disallow the construction of a luxury apartment project on the site of a historic district.

As it turns out, Lima was an investor in the project that Calero turned down. He resigned after his role in the project came to light.

Despite his lack of popularity and the corruption charges hanging over his head, Temer was able to get the Chamber of Deputies to pass his changes to the labor law.

The bill now goes to the Senate.

CUT leaders say that the success of the general strike should give pause to lawmakers before they proceed with supporting Temer’s austerity measures.

“Deputies and senators must listen to the voice of the people,” said Nobre. “The strength of the strike is a sign of popular support for the unions and discontent with (Temer’s) labor and welfare changes.”

Vagner Freitas, president of CUT, said that more actions are possible if the government refuses to listen to the people.

If (the strike on the 28th) is not enough, we can repeat another general strike, bigger, maybe 48 hours,” said Freitas. “We can occupy Brasília, go to the National Congress. . . if they if they do not stop voting against labor and social security.”

Korean union mobilizes members to impeach S. Korea’s president

A massive social movement in South Korea is calling for the impeachment of Park Geun-hye, president of South Korea.

The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) has played an important role in this movement leading and helping to lead a number of actions designed to increase pressure for President Park’s impeachment.

The KCTU and allied civic and social movement groups on December 5 staged a sit-in at the Federation of Korean Industries (FKI), the national trade association of manufacturers.

KCTU accuses the federation of paying bribes to President Park and for lobbying the Park regime to take actions that violate worker rights and diminish union power.

On November 30, KCTU, the second largest labor federation in Korea, also conducted a general strike involving 220,000 of its members, university students, and small business owners. The strikers demanded that the National Assembly impeach Park.

On Saturday, December 3, more than 2 million people in South Korea took part in 60 demonstrations across the nation calling for Park’s impeachment. KCTU played a role in helping to organize these massive demonstrations.

The popular calls for Park’s impeachment have come as more details about Park’s alleged corruption have come to light.

Those corruption charges center around Park’s relationship to a close confidant of Park’s named Choi Soon-sil, who leads two foundations that have reportedly received $70 million in donations from businesses and individuals seeking favors from Park.

During the November 30 general strike, workers marched through the city center of Seoul, South Korea’s capital, stopping along the way at the headquarters of Samsung and Hyundai to call out the conglomerates for making bribes disguised as contributions to the foundations headed by Choi.

During its December 5 sit-in at the FKI office, KCTU charged the federation with encouraging its members to make contributions to the foundations.

“(FKI) . . . offered bribes and lobbied the government for union busting, deregulation, and regressive labor reform. Samsung, Hyundai, POSCO, Lotte and LG should be charged for bribery and the FKI should be dissolved!” said KCTU in a post about the sit-in on its Facebook page.

Last year, Park announced that her government would try to change labor laws to make them more employer friendly.

Her attempts to change the laws bogged down in the National Assembly, but in December 2015, her government issued guidelines making it easier for companies to fire workers.

At the time that the guidelines were issued, Lee Jeong-sik, president of South Korea’s largest labor federation, the Federation of Korean Trade Unions, told the Financial Times that, “President Park Geun-hye is very friendly with (the country’s leading corporations). I see her government trying to give favors to Samsung and Hyundai.”

President Park has also cracked down on unions. Her government has imprisoned more than 20 labor leaders and activists including the Han Sang-gyun, president of the KCTU.

Han received a five-year prison sentence for leading demonstrations for workers rights, farmers rights, LGBT rights, and a demonstration to demand justice for victims of the Sewol Ferry disaster, which claimed the lives of more than 300 people, most of whom were secondary school students.

Han and other demonstrators claimed that the government was partially to blame for the disaster because of its lax enforcement of safety regulations.

The demonstrations for which Han was arrested have been dwarfed by the most recent demonstrations that have called for Park’s impeachment.

On December 3, 2.3 million people–1.7 million in Seoul alone–took part in nationwide demonstrations calling for Park’s ouster. According the conservative Korea Herald, the December 3 action was the largest mass demonstration in country’s history.

At one time it looked as if Park might ride out the growing scandal, but the mass demonstrations that KCTU has helped organize have made it impossible for her to do so.

Recently, she offered to resign but said that her resignation wouldn’t become final until April.

When that offer did little to appease the public, she said that she would leave her fate up to the National Assembly.

Her supporters in the Assembly have tried to stall for time before impeachment proceedings could begin, but the massive turnout for the December 3 demonstrations made these stalling tactics untenable, and the impeachment proceedings have been set to begin on Friday, December 9.

As the impeachment process approaches, KCTU and other opponents of Park have been holding around-the-clock vigils in front of the National Assembly.

Civic groups and social movements demanding the resignation of Park also have stepped up their activities. Among other things, activists are calling on people to surround the National Assembly on December 8 and stay there until the impeachment vote is taken.

“Lawmakers don’t impeach the president. All they do is vote on the impeachment. The president is impeached not by lawmakers but by the people,” said Han In-seop, a professor at Seoul National University, on his Facebook page.

General strike opposes coup in Brazil

Unions in Brazil on September 22 held a national general strike to protest what they called a coup against democratically elected president Dilma Rousseff. The unions were also protesting austerity measures proposed by Rousseff”s successor Michel Temer.

Among those participating in the general strike were 60,000 bank employees who have been on strike since September 7.

Rousseff was impeached for allegedly misrepresenting budget items, a charged that has subsequently been refuted by an independent auditor commissioned by Brazil’s Senate.

When Temer spoke to a meeting of corporate representatives in New York, he said that Rousseff was removed from office because she opposed austerity measures that Brazil’s business class was demanding.

During the general strike participants carried banners that read “Fora Temer (Down with Temer). In the city of Belo Horizonte members of the teachers union marched behind banner that read, “Professoras Contra o Golpe” (Teachers Against the Coup).

When Temer assumed office, he announced that he would push for the implementation of austerity measures proposed in a document entitled “Bridge to the Future.”

Among other things, “Bridge to the Future “calls for reduced government spending on health and education, reduced welfare benefits, raising the retirement age, deregulating the economy, privatizing Brazil’s public assets, and eliminating workers’ labor law protections.

Shortly after proposing new austerity measures, Temer traveled to the US where on September 21, he addressed a gathering of the American Society/Council of the Americas.

Council of the Americas counts among its membership “the leading international companies representing a broad spectrum of sectors, including banking and finance, consulting services, consumer products, energy and mining, manufacturing, media, technology, and transportation” doing business in the Americas.

The group says that it promotes “economic and social development, open markets, the rule of law, and democracy throughout the Western Hemisphere.”

Its president emeritus is John Negroponte, a former US ambassador during the Reagan and Bush Administrations, who during his tenure as ambassador to Honduras oversaw a military buildup in the country, was accused of ignoring human rights abuses committed by the military, and participated in clandestine activities aimed at overthrowing Nicaragua’s Sandinista government.

Ignacio Vieira reports that at the New York meeting, Temer told those present that Rousseff “was impeached because of her position on economic policy, rather than any alleged wrongdoing on her part. More to the point, Rousseff opposed “widespread cuts to social programs and privatization” that Brazil’s business class was calling for.

In his report, Vieira provides a lengthy video that recorded Temer’s frank talk.

Temer was vice president until Rousseff was impeached in August. Temer’s party the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party had been in a coalition with Rousseff”s Workers Party, but quit the coalition and joined forces with conservatives to oust Rousseff.

Rousseff’s ouster came at time when Brazil was in a severe recession, which weakened her popularity.

As is the case in every country, the working class has borne the burnt of the worsening conditions caused by the recession.

In response, Brazil has seen a rise in the number of street actions and job actions like the bank workers strike.

The bank workers union, Contec had been in negotiations for a new contract with Fenaban, the national bank federation, which represents Brazil’s banks in labor negotiations. The union demanded a 15 percent raise to help its members keep up with the inflation rate that has reached as high as 10 percent.

The union also proposed changes to the contract that would  fight discrimination against Black people, women, LGBTI people, and people with disabilities and improve working conditions for all.

The union said that Fenaban’s counter proposal did not recognize the significant role bank workers played in the banking business.

“Bank workers are the main ones responsible for immense bank profits every year in Brazil,” said Contec. “And all this commitment and dedication should be reciprocated.”

When Brazil’s labor federations called the general strike to oppose the coup, Contec enthusiastically supported the action.

On the day of the general strike, Contec reported that 13,159 bank branches, or about 55 percent of the country’s bank branches had been closed as a result of its strike and that even some administrative centers had been closed.

“We closed the administrative centers of the top three private banks in Sao Paulo and the main building of Caixa in Brasilia,” said Robert von der Osten, a Contec leader. “It was a historic and necessary move.”

The unions see the coup against Rousseff as an attack on the gains that workers made while the Workers Party was in power.

“The coup was done . . . to take away (our) rights,” said Vagner Freitas, president of CUT, the largest labor federation in Brazil.

“There is an ongoing hit on a structural change in the country, which involves the removal and reduction of basic rights, such as social security, working hours, funds for health and education,” said Rafael Marques leader of the metalworkers union.

The bank workers strike is still ongoing and there may be more actions like the general strike to come.

“If the rights of the working class are still at risk, metalworkers are ready for a general strike,” said Marques.

NYC hardhats join the Fight for $15 movement

Wearing hardhats showing their union stickers, construction workers on April 4 joined the Fight for $15 movement by marching in New York City with fast food and other low-wage workers to demand that the minimum wage be increased to $15 an hour.

Hardhats, fry cooks, wait staff, and others rallied in front of the headquarters of a New York City developer who plans to build New York’s newest skyscraper with non-union labor, then marched to a nearby McDonald’s where they entered the restaurant chanting, “Workers united will never be defeated.”

“All people deserve a living wage,” said Dennis Lee, a member of Laborers International Union of North America Local 79 to the New York Daily News while taking part in the demonstration. “All people deserve dignity and respect.”

McDonald’s, which last year reported net earnings of $4.76 billion, recently announced that it is raising the wages of some of its employees by $1 an hour.

But Fast Food Forward, which organized the April 4 demonstration, said that the raise will be given only to workers at restaurants directly owned by McDonald’s and not to those who work at the thousands of McDonald’s operated under a franchise agreement with the fast food giant.

Fast Food Forward also said that even with the $1 an hour pay increase McDonald’s still isn’t paying a living wage.

In an opinion piece appearing the Guaridan, Kwanza Brooks, a single mother and ten-year McDonald’s employee, said that the pay increase will mean that her wage rate increases from $7.25 an hour to $8.25 an hour.

“Now I’ll be trying to raise my kids on $8.25 on hour, said Brooks. “That’s still impossible! Let me be clear: raising wages only a little – and only for a small fraction of your 1.7 million workers – isn’t change. It’s a PR stunt.”

The April 4 demonstration was held to call attention to a one-day general strike of fast food and other low-wage workers that will be held in 200 US cities on April 15. Strikers will be demanding a minimum wage of $15 an hour.

Organizers of the general strike estimate that 60,000 people will participate in a local actions in 200 cities here in the US and that support demonstrations will take place in 35 other countries.

Fast food workers will be joined in the strike by other low-wage workers including retail clerks, home care and child care providers, university adjunct faculty and graduate students, and others.

The plight of these low-wage workers and the anxiety of construction workers fearing the encroachment of non-union contractors, which could mean the loss of their good paying jobs, is indicative of the reality faced by US workers–low-wage work is becoming the norm.

According to SEIU, another labor union supporting the Fight for $15 and the April 15 general strike, two-thirds of the households in the US earn less today than they did in 2002.

Jim Tankersley writing in the Washington Post says that worker pay in the 21st century isn’t growing like it once did.

“Women and minorities have lost all the progress they made in closing the median income gap with men,” writes Tankersley. “College graduates are doing better than anyone else, but income growth has stalled–or gone backwards–for all but the youngest workers.”

For years, technology has been cited as the main cause of wage stagnation, but Paul Krugman writes that that view no longer dominates the discourse on wage stagnation. Other factors, especially policy decisions, are now being seen as important causes of wage stagnation.

Two policy decisions have had the biggest impact on wages–the decision to keep the federal minimum wage at $7.25 an hour and the decision to weaken labor unions.

A minimum wage increase would raise the floor on wages, helping more than just those making the minimum wage.

Stronger unions with more members would give workers more leverage to bargain for a greater share of the wealth that they create.

Strong unions have made construction work good paying work, but non-union construction work is often low-wage work.

James Krause, an iron worker and a supporter of the Fight for $15, told the Daily News that when  he was a non-union construction worker, he was only making $12 an hour.

Anthony Devarel, another union iron worker supporting the Fight for $15, told the Daily News the same thing and said that when he was a non-union construction worker, he couldn’t afford to pay his rent.

Today he’s ready and able to become a home owner.

The desire to build a bond between low-wage workers and construction workers is one reason that the organizers of the April 4 demonstration decided to start it at the headquarters of JDS Development.

JDS is planning to build an 80-story high rise in mid-Manhattan without union labor.

Union contractors in New York City do almost all of the work on big projects such as the one that JDS is undertaking.

JDS’ decision could be a forewarning of things to come. If big construction projects use less union labor, many union construction workers could end up working for $12 an hour again.

The decision to start the April 4 Fight for $15 demonstration at JDS headquarters and end it at McDonald’s is symbolic.

Both JDS and McDonald’s are players in corporate America’s race to the bottom for paying wages.

Both fast food workers and construction workers have a stake in ending this race to the bottom, and unity between the two groups is the only way to stop it and create more good paying jobs.

As strikes escalate in Columbia, so does government repression of unions

Authorities in Columbia on October 23 arrested another leader of FENSUAGRO, the farmworkers union, which led a national strike to protest government policies that have aggravated the already large gap between the country’s working people and the country’s upper class.

Strikers placed much of the blame for the deterioration of their living standards on the recently adopted US-Columbia trade agreement.

The arrest of Wilmer Madronero came about six weeks after the end of National Agrarian and Popular Strike, known locally as the “paro agrario nacional.” At the height of the strike in late August, the authorities arrested one of its main organizers and vice president of FENSUAGRO Huber Ballesteros.

According to Justice of Columbia, the Columbian government is currently holding 60 members of FENSUAGRO as political prisoners.

The paro agrario began August 19 as farmworkers and small and medium land owners set up barricades on highways connecting rural areas to Bogata, the nation’s capital.

The next day coal miners, coffee workers, health care workers, public school teachers, and other workers came out in support of the strike and made their own demands.

CUT, the country’s national labor federation, supported the strike and issued a statement blaming the strike on the worsening conditions of workers caused by President Juan Manuel Santos’ “terrible, anti-union and dissatisfactory policies.”

The widespread support of the strike was the result of a general sense that only a privileged few have benefited from the recent growth of Columbian economy.

“The economy has improved but the quality of jobs has gone down,” said Jehiz Castrillon, an evangelical pastor who works with striking coal miners in northern Columbia to Bloomberg. “We want a basic monthly salary, health and work security so we can buy a house and send our kids to college.”

The paro agrario was called by three organizations of rural workers. They coordinated their efforts, but each issued its own demands.

FENSUAGRO demands included more government infrastructure investment in rural areas, the creation of Peasant Reserve Zones to protect small farms from the encroachment of large-scale agribusiness farms, lower fuel and fertilizer prices, more government support for small and medium-sized farms, health care and pensions for farmworkers and farmers, and an end the enforcement of the US-Columbia trade pact.

FENSUAGRO also demanded more popular participation in the peace process now underway to end Columbia’s decades-long civil war.

The strike lasted for 18 days despite heavy government repression that included early morning raids in villages where strike leaders and activists lived.

During the strike 12 people were killed, 500 wounded, and 600 were detained.

The government refused to bargain with FENSUAGRO, but agreed to many of the demands raised by the union.

Among other things, the government agreed to give farmers easier access to credit, lower prices on supplies, and limit food imports. The government also agreed not to enforce a part of trade agreement with the US that prohibits farmers from using self-grown seeds.

The paro agrario was not an isolated event. Last spring farmers and farmworkers conducted a similar strike that forced concessions from the government.

The government’s failure to make good on the concessions was one of the reasons that the paro agrario was called.

Furthermore, strikes have become more frequent in other sectors.

Bloomberg reports that so far this year there have been there have been 283 strikes in Columbia making it likely that the number of strike’s this year will exceed last year’s record-breaking number of 290.

Bloomberg reports that the increased strike activity is the result of the government’s more tolerant attitude towards unions and collective action.

But the government’s heavy-handed repression during the paro agrario and the subsequent arrests and detention of labor leaders like Ballesteros, Madronero, and other FENSUAGRO leaders suggest that recent attempts by the government to portray itself as more tolerant of union activity is little more than an empty gesture.

Ballesteros said in video smuggled out of the prison where his now held said that he is “at the mercy of what they say is ‘the justice system’ in Colombia, but which in reality is nothing more than a tool used to repress, persecute and criminalize the work of trade union leaders.”

“To lose our freedom is one of the realities and probably one of the consequences which all of us as social leaders here know we may face,” added Ballesteros.”

But Ballesteros remained defiant. “We, here in our country, in whichever conditions we find ourselves, whether on the streets, whether on strike or in my case from a prison of the Colombian state, will continue to fight tirelessly with our heads held high because we believe that our struggle is not only just but also necessary,” said Ballesteros.

Troika wants more austerity; Greek workers honor general strike; two austerity measures ruled illegal

A committee of the European Council ruled that two Greek austerity measures aimed at curtailing labor rights are illegal. Meanwhile the European Union, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Central Bank, otherwise known as the troika, demanded that the Greek government take further steps to curtail labor rights.

The troika made its demands when its representatives met with the Greek finance minister in Brussels this week to discuss the terms of $17.7 billion loan that the Greek government is seeking to prevent default on loans that are coming due in November.

Among other things, the troika is demanding that the Greek government slash the severance pay that private sector workers receive when they are dismissed from a job, eliminate automatic cost of living raises that private sector workers receive once every three years, and fire 15,000 public sector workers.

The Greek government has already reduced pensions, frozen pay for public sector workers, substantially reduced social spending on services like education, health care, and social insurance. These and other austerity measures have caused misery throughout the country, whose unemployment rate is nearly 24 percent.

While the Greek finance minister was meeting with representatives of the troika, Greek workers on October 18 staged a general strike to protest the government’s willingness to sacrifice the short- and long-term interests of Greek working people to the desires of Europe’s financial elite, which sees the Greek economic crisis as an opportunity to eliminate rights and protections that Greek workers won through hard fought struggle over many years.

“Agreeing to catastrophic measures means driving society to despair and the consequences as well as the protests will then be indefinite,” said Yannis Panagopoulos, leader of GSEE to Reuters.

GSEE, a confederation of private sector unions, along with ADEDY, the confederation of public sector workers, organized  Thursday’s general strike.

The misery brought on by the austerity measures and the demands by the troika for more cuts has created a popular backlash against the government.

A recent poll shows that if an election were held today, the leftist Syriza party, the main opposition to the Greek government would win more than 30.5 percent of the vote, more than three percentage points higher than the 26.9 percent it won during elections last June.

New Democracy, the right wing party that leads the current coalition government had the support of only 27 percent of the people polled.

The fascist Golden Dawn, which opposes the austerity measures but also assaults immigrants and blames them for the economic crisis, increased its support to 14 percent among those polled.

Members of Syriza joined the general strike on Thursday. Speaking about the Greek government, Alex Tsipras, Syriza’s leader told  Reuters as he marched with general strikers in the streets of Athens, “Their time is running out. People are taking matters into their own hands.”

About 70,000 people marched through Athens, and commerce and transportation throughout Greece either ground to a halt or slowed noticeably. Flights were cancelled, public transportation was disrupted, and hospitals, schools and shops shut down.

The general strike and the possibility of more general strikes appears to be shaking the resolve of the government. Members of PASOK and Democratic Left, two minority parties that are part of the coalition government led by New Democracy, said that they wouldn’t accept the new changes to Greek labor laws sought by the troika.

“Further interventions on labor issues don’t help productivity, competitiveness or employment,” said Evangelo Venizelos, leader to PASOK on Greek television. “We must look elsewhere now and the (troika’s) insistence on this is wrong.”

While the troika seeks to curtail more labor rights, European Committee on Social Rights, a standing committee of the European Council, ruled that two austerity measures passed by the Greek government are illegal.

One of the austerity measures lengthens the probationary period when a worker can be fired without notice; the other reduces the minimum wage for workers 25 years old and younger to two-thirds of the minimum wage for those older than 25.

The Committee on Social Rights  serves only in an advisory role and has no power to enforce its decisions, but it is possible that the committee’s ruling could bolster legal action that Greek unions are taking to overturn some of anti-labor austerity measures that the government has implemented at the behest of the troika.

A statement issued by the committee about its ruling said that budgetary readjustments necessitated by the global economic crisis should not lead to an erosion of workers’ rights enshrined in the European Social Charter.

General strike over Spanish austerity cuts possible

Spanish workers took the streets on Sunday, October 7 once again to protest the government’s  proposed austerity cuts and other measures aimed at lowering the living standards of most Spaniards. More than 60,000 demonstrators filled the streets of Madrid; similar demonstrations took place in 56 other Spanish cities.

The unions that called the nationwide demonstrations estimate that hundreds of thousands took part.

“They are taking away the health system,” said Carmen Lopez a demonstrator in Madrid to Euronews. “They are taking away our basic rights, and that’s not fair. They are reclaiming all social benefits. It’s shameful that we are losing everything.”

The overwhelming majority of Spaniards share Lopez’s sentiments. A survey whose results were published the same day as the demonstrations shows that 77 percent of Spaniards support the Sunday protests.

Spaniards are also angry that their standard of living is being cut to bail out the banks whose reckless loans caused the current financial crisis that has left 25 percent of the workforce unemployed, the highest unemployment rate in the industrial world.

Demonstrators at Sunday’s demonstrations carried signs reading, “Their plunder, my crisis,” referring to the terms of the proposed bank bailout. In order for banks to receive billions of euros to help them recover from their bad loans, the Spanish government had to promise lenders, that the government would reduce spending on education, health, pensions, and other services that enhance the quality of life for most people.

In all, the government has proposed cuts totalling 150 billion euros over the next three years.

In addition to investing less in its people, the government also agreed to a demand by lenders that the government change labor laws that protect jobs and make collective bargaining fair.

The unions that called Sunday’s demonstration told the government that the frequent anti-austerity demonstrations like Sunday’s could turn into a general strike unless the government agrees to hold a referendum on the proposed cuts.

“It’s up to the government whether there’s a general strike or not,” said Ignacio Ferndandex Toxo, leader of Spain’s largest labor federation Commisiones Obreras to Reuters. “If they were going to hold a referendum things would be completely different.”