Spanish workers on Thursday plan the biggest protests yet against what they call "robbery" under the latest pay cuts and tax hikes imposed to tackle Spain's financial emergency.
MADRID – Spanish workers on Thursday plan the biggest protests yet against what they call "robbery" under the latest pay cuts and tax hikes imposed to tackle Spain's financial emergency.
The two main labour unions UGT and CCOO said they planned more than 80 demonstrations by public sector workers across the country on Thursday evening, with the flagship Madrid march due to start at 1830 GMT.
Smaller protests, organised largely via online social networks, have occurred daily since the latest measures were announced on July 11, with some workers coming into the street during their morning coffee break.
Hundreds of Spanish firemen, police officers and nurses have marched through the streets of Madrid, blocking traffic and yelling "Hands up, this is a robbery," with their arms in the air. The sustained string of protests erupted after Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy last week announced new pay cuts and tax increases, aiming to save 65 billion euros ($80 billion) in order to lower the public deficit. Spain is suffering its second recession in four years, with an unemployment rate of more than 24 per cent. Critics say Rajoy's new austerity measures will worsen economic conditions for ordinary people.
"The new cuts harm the weakest sectors of society without one single measure that involves any effort by companies and the highest earners," the CCOO said in a statement.
Among the latest steps is a cut in the Christmas bonus paid to civil servants, equivalent to a seven-per cent reduction in annual pay. This came on top of an earlier pay cut in 2010, after which their salaries were frozen.
"They have already lowered and frozen our salary and this is the final blow," said Ines Cornide, 44, a worker in the justice sector, protesting in Madrid on Tuesday. Under pressure from the European Union to stabilise Spain's public finances, the conservative government also cut unemployment benefits and raised sales tax, with the upper limit rising from 18 to 21 per cent.
"These measures they are taking will not stimulate consumption and will not create jobs," said Cornide.
"They want to ruin the country," reads the official slogan announced by the unions for Thursday's protests. "We have to stop them – there are more of us." Unions have called for the protests to be peaceful but clashes broke out on the fringes of some demonstrations in Madrid last week, including one major march by striking coal miners.
Spain is due this month to become the fourth eurozone country, after Greece, Ireland and Portugal, to get bailout funds in the current crisis when it receives the first loan from a 100-billion-euro credit line for its banks.
Eurozone leaders are expected to finalise that deal in a telephone conference on Friday.
"I'll be in the street tomorrow, because it's unjust," said one 55-year-old woman demonstrating in Madrid on Wednesday, Angeles, an employee in the culture sector.
"The government isn't going to back down," she added. "More people are going to come out into the street." -- AFP