Protest is Power
April 12, 2012
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Coming from “chill” Southern California, the only protests I’ve ever come into direct contact with have been peace marches or other ideologically-oriented forms of dissent like walk-outs. My past few months in Europe have taught me something about the power of protest as an art, though, as disrupting the lives of all of a country’s citizens certainly captures a government’s attention.
Our orientation trip to Barcelona coincided with Spain’s largest strike of the year, a general protest against the government’s labor market reforms. Shops and museums were closed, streets were blocked off, smoke from small explosives clouded the sky, and police in riot gear ran towards the crowds. Cities and industry grinded to a halt with unions claiming that 80 percent of members participated.
What exactly was it that caused the country effectively to shut down for a day? The Spanish government passed labor reforms in an attempt to ease the effect of the economic crisis and lessen unemployment. One reform, for example, reduces severance pay to a maximum of the salary of 33 days for each year worked from its current level at 45 days’ salary. While this doesn’t seem too severe for the average American (not used to mandatory social protections this generous), the BBC makes a more clear statement on the problems associated with the reforms:
The centre-right government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy will unveil measures on Friday aimed at saving tens of billions of euros and making it easier for businesses to sack employees. (source)
What these austerity measures bring to a population already anxious about employment is a greater fear of what will happen if they too lose their jobs. The savings of 30 billion euros are attractive in theory, and are meant to boost international confidence in the Spanish economy by reducing the deficit, but the wellbeing of the residents of Spain cannot be forgotten.
In Spain, though, these fears are translated to working individuals, the unemployed, and visitors alike. Unlike company-specific reforms in the United States, this across-the-board legislation was the most important news of the week. Regardless one’s opinion on the matter, it is clear that this kind of public awareness makes the Spanish population much more educated about labor and economic relations than we can claim in the United States.