Today marks the second general strike in Spain of the year incited by Cumbre Social (Social Summit) comprised of over 150 groups nationwide including trade unions (police, Guardia Civil and military) as well as the Confederación Sindical de Comisiones Obreras (CCOO), the Spanish Worker's Commission, and Unión General de Trabajadores (UGT), the General Union of Workers. The European Union attempted to coordinate all austerity protests across Europe for this Wednesday to voice the overwhelming sentiments that the governments are shafting their citizens.
It is no secret that the European Union, and more specifically the southern EU countries such as Spain and Greece, are in an economic crisis. Spain has seen a substantial rise in unemployment rates, a recent increase in taxes that simultaneously coincided with a decrease in pensions and benefits all to lower the public debt. In Cataluña it is not only about the injustices against the new living standards and personal rights but also a way to take a stance against political figures in the farthest northeastern autonomy of the country where regional elections are to be held in less than two weeks on November 25.
With almost 100 percent of workers in the energy, construction, automobile and shipbuilding industry heading the efforts and taking part of the nationwide halt there have been severe disruptions in travel. In a recent email from the Marquette University program director for Marquette en Madrid, it was stated that Iberia, Air Nostrum and Vueling have cancelled a combined 473 flights, while Air Europa cancelled 92 flights; and EasyJet has cancelled 26. The numbers are only to rise.
Local transportation in Madrid, as well as in other cities in the country, are running on minimal service and citizens are being urged to pre-book taxis or rental cars and leave time on either side of your commute if you are embarking on an important journey.
In addition to travel strikes, universities have also closed for the day as professors and faculty are protesting their drop in wages and lack of compensation with the rise in taxes. Dani, my intercambio, said he would not have come to school anyhow if it was mandated because with the general strikes he would have to leave at 6:00 a.m. to get to his 8:30 a.m. class, a trip that usually takes no more than 45 minutes. He also said he and other Madrileños avoid the metro because extremist are likely to act out. One method is putting glue on door handles to the metro and other transportation services, while riots and invasions in commercial city centers and malls is not uncommon.
In Madrid alone there have been 32 arrests and 15 people treated for injuries, according to an Associated Press report, and are likely to rise as the day goes on with protests planned outside prominent buildings and plazas such as Puerta del Sol and Plaza de Atocha. Currently, the wait between metro rides is 20 minutes, which is not terrible, but because of the length in lines and number of people waiting to get on, the norm is to wait for three or four trains total until you can squeeze your way on.
With Spain's unemployment standing around 24 percent of the workforce, or 5 million citizens, and the projected plan by the government to further cut spending in the coming year the country can expect several more of these strikes in the near future. For now I will have to cherish my mornings with the hairdryer, creaky floorboards and swirling of the coffee spoon and wear earplugs when the days for the general strikes arrive.