Last Thursday, Spain had a massive strike, the 29M. Barcelona, where we like to do things in style, held the biggest, craziest protest in the country.
I was in Spain for the big October protest, but this time it was different. The tone of the vaga general was much more aggressive, much more violent…and much more desperate. Interestingly, it also seemed like the political parties had taken over the movement. There were lots of party-distributed flags, which was definitely at odds with what I’ve seen from the more serious indignados.
The protestors were so furious by 2 p.m. that “Calle Balmes” was a trending topic on Twitter in Spain because of the mass destruction on the street. Guess who happens to work on Calle Balmes? That’s right, me! My whole office was freaking out about the possibility of trying to go home and running into burning police cars.
Biking home from work, it felt like I was on a movie set of Barcelona for a futuristic post-apocalyptic movie. The streets were blocked off from cars, so the whole place was eerily quiet. Windows were smashed. Smoldering remains of trash bins and maybe cars were smoking on every street. Graffiti was everywhere, and political pamphlets were strewn on the floor. A few scattered groups of protestors were holding meetings in the middle of the street. On top of that, the Mossos (riot police) were at every intersection looking intimidating, and there were police helicopters flying above the city.
Later in the day, the protestors descended upon Plaça Cataluyna to continue. The strikers chose to march down my street, setting things on fire and exploding small, noisy fireworks as they went. A steady stream of thousands of people paraded right under my window for maybe two hours – and that wasn’t all of them. Both corners of my 100-meter block were on fire at one point.
The number of protestors has been reported to be 80,000 (the conservative government) to 800,000 (the protestors). Either way, it’s a lot of people.
What are they protesting about? Well, pretty much everyone knows that the economy in Spain is not going well, to say the least. The general unemployment rate is around 30%, and for young people, it’s near 50%. People in their 20s in Spain want to move out of their parents’ houses, but can’t, no matter how many university degrees they’ve gotten.
This obviously makes people upset – they can’t even make €1,000 a month (which is considered the minimum to live on). On top of that, these mileuristas get told they’re “lucky”. Living at the poverty line and just being able to feed yourself after years of university certainly doesn’t seem very “lucky” to many Spaniards. But that isn’t anything new.
What’s happened lately is that the new conservative prime minister Rajoy has proposed a new series of austerity measures that benefit employers and firms more than employees. For example, his new laws would make it easier to fire employees (as if it wasn’t hard enough to get a job already).
The next day, I was traveling, so I didn’t see the city. But the pictures show a city that looks bruised and battered – which seems to be how the barceloneses feel as well.
- “Vaga General!” – Spain’s national strike and tear gas tourism (azurecow.wordpress.com)
- Spain’s General Strike Shows First Signs of Rebellion Against Austerity (the2012scenario.com)
- Amid National Strike, Hundreds Of Thousands Protest In Spain (npr.org)
- Update from Spain’s 29M Strike and 29M: The Day After (51percentbcn.com)
And more photos: