A lone photojournalist exposes the madness.

Spanish Unions Revolt Against Labor and Fiscal Reform

Madrid protests fail to intimidate retail sector.

Madrid, March 31, 2012, by El Marco

Thursday’s general srike in Madrid, unlike Barcelona’s, was largely a pacific affair. Two communist unions, the CCOO and the UGT, did their best to shut down the capital of Spain, and were met with solid resistance from the retail sector. The two unions, which represent a majority of unionized Spanish workers, failed to paralyze the retail sector, with approximately 80 percent of businesses remaining open. 17% of Spanish workers belong to unions with membership being voluntary. Huge mobs of union-led protesters attempted to force the closure of retail shops in the streets adjacent to the Puerta del Sol Plaza in Madrid’s city center.

Above, Spanish riot police guard a shop after a mob of thousands move down the street to their next target. A few minutes later the gates were reopened for business, but the riot police remained.

Union vandals have covered an entire city with stickers and graffiti in opposition to the new Spanish government’s proposed fiscal and labor reforms. Store windows, ATMs, and government ministry signs were targeted. Even stoplights and walk signals were covered with union stickers.

I arrived late on the Gran Via, after the mobs moved down to the Puerta del Sol around noon. Anarcho-syndicalist flags dominated the scene. The Occupy Movement in the States claims their inspiration came from these anarcho-syndicalists when they occupied plazas across Spain in the spring and summer of 2011.

Like the Occupy Movement in the U.S., many young people have joined the old guard communists. These sixteen year olds shared a joint while nearby thousands besieged the many businesses that defied the strike.

The A on his necklace stands for anarchy and the V on the partially obscured shirt on left stands for Vendetta the anarchist slasher movie. Add to that a Clockwork Orange T-shirt and a faux Jew-killer scarf, and your statement is made. The kid in green sports a totalitarian message on his shirt. PUBLIC SCHOOL –  OF ALL –  FOR ALL. Note the environmentalist watermelon green. Green has been the new red for years now.

Above is a CGT union flag. The CGT is one of a number of powerful anarcho-syndicalist unions in Spain. The CCOO union along with the UGT and CGT claim to represent more than 75 percent of Spanish union workers.

The Communist Party played the dominant role in creating the CCOO. In recent years it operates in a pact with the UGT which is the official union of the PSOE, the social democratic party in Spain, which acts much like the Democrats in the USA.

CGT derives from the anarcho-syndicalist tradition, but members include Trotskyites and Maoists along with anarchists. CGT has approximately 70,000 members whereas CCOO and UGT are much larger…around 1,000,000 and 750,000 members respectively.

Unions direct special attention to attracting young people and converting them to the cause.

Proud communists in Puerta del Sol Plaza, Madrid. Note that this thirty-something’s T-shirt is also Clockwork Orange.

Clockwork Orange is an ultra-violent cult movie by Stanley Kubrick. It seems to carry as much weight here as V for Vendetta does among young Occupy anarchists in the U.S..

Here, a shoe store is besieged by thousands of chanting protesters. Unlike American protesters from the left or the right, Spanish leftists carry very few signs. The one above says “Labor reform, legal violence.” A cordon of riot police protects the shoe store as protesters rail against the owner and employees inside.

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After throwing a few eggs into the shoe store, and besieging it for thirty minutes, the mob moved down the street to a store specializing in traditional Spanish clothing and adornments for women. The store being protested is on the left, under the awning on the corner, above.

Employees of the store and police can be seen on the left, facing the unionists at the front door of the store.

Here, the store owner and two staff join the police to face a mob of thousands.

This woman led the chanting and haranguing in front of the store. This store was targeted for approximately thirty minutes before the eggs were thrown and the mob moved on to the next shop. Each time the mob moved, a new group of police would intercede with a cordon at the front door of their next target. They would leave several officers to protect each targeted shop after the mob left.

The sign above reads: Combative Strikes against Aggressive Reforms.

Nearby, a crowd formed around this man. He insisted that he had a right to work, and would not be deterred by the strike.

I did not hear the entire conversation, but I do know that he was called a “bag of garbage” and “a fascist.” He was calm, well spoken, and even tempered, and they were not.

This poster is from the Juventudes Comunistas (Communist Youth) and the PCE (Communist Party of Spain.) It shows a young foot with a skateboarder’s shoe about to stomp on a capitalist rat with a Jewish head.

This image is indistinguishable from Nazi images printed in Der Stürmer in the 1930s and 1940s.

Much of the demonstration dissipated for Siesta. The plazas and streets emptied as protesters observed the time-honored tradition of “Spanish yoga” which is practiced between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. every day. It should be noted here that only half of Spaniards take their siestas lying down, while the other half do it standing up, drinking wine or beer at the tapas taverns which are ubiquitous in every Spanish city and town.

Protesters reappeared at 4:30 in the afternoon for a “Siesta Strike” in front of Madrid’s City Hall, where they lay in the street and blocked traffic. The ”Siesta Strike” and march were organized by 15-M, which is the Spanish “ingidnados” movement. This is the movement that inspired the Occupy Wall Street movement in the U.S.

Approximately 40,000 Siesta strikers marched from City Hall to the Puerta del Sol plaza, which is the birthplace of Spain’s Occupy movement.

The 15M march was composed of mostly young bohemians and anarchists. They carried very few signs, and were much more pleasant than their famously naughty U.S. counterparts. I saw no American style leftist tantrums or nastiness. I didn’t even hear an angry word. No one spit on the police, or hurled abuse at them. Although earlier in the day police were instrumental in protecting retail outlets, this crowd seemed entirely too relaxed to seek confrontation.

This was all the force needed to protect the Ministry of Education and Sports. In New York, many more police are needed to protect the city from the Occupy movement. The people of Madrid should be very proud of the degree of civility displayed during this general strike.

Vandalism was a different matter. Almost every ATM in central Madrid was rendered inoperable by cement-like stickers, and I saw two machines that had their screens smashed. I saw the woman, above, attempting unsuccessfully  to scrape stickers off the ATM screen using her CCOO union card.

AFTERMATH: I cannot exaggerate the amount of graffiti and sticker damage done in Madrid’s general strike. These stickers are like cement, and cannot be ripped off. They have to be removed with special tools and solvents.

After the strike, the scraping begins, on a bank building in this case.


The translation of this clever sticker: Don’t have a job? Take advantage of your free time!

There was violence in Barcelona, and other parts of Spain during this general strike, but very little in the center of Madrid. The responsible people of Spain, including those in the new center-right government, are deeply concerned that this radical protest movement will get out of control and damage Spain’s image internationally, a la Greece.

Spain’s unemployment rate is already 22.8pc, rising to more than 51pc for youths, the highest since records began. That being said, I must say that visiting Spain, from Extremadura to Valencia, Barcelona and Madrid recently, I felt much safer than in many American cities. The Spanish people conduct themselves in such a friendly and civil manner that I am left with deep admiration for their society. If it weren’t for the statistics I read, it would be difficult to perceive that Spain is experiencing such a disastrous economic crisis.

One policeman’s perspective. That’s the Ministry of Education and Sports sign above his head.

Here is the shoe store in the afternoon open for business, but look at all the garbage left by protesters.

It seems that many people in Madrid enjoy ripping these posters and stickers, which requires quite a bit of effort. All over the city it seems as if an army of citizens were each doing their part in removing the posters and stickers. The Madrid strikers failed to intimidate the retail sector, with the vast majority of stores remaining open for business. The overburdened business sector of Spain is praying for fiscal and labor reform.

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9 comments to Spanish Unions Revolt Against Labor and Fiscal Reform

  • fernando

    “tradition of “Spanish yoga” which is practiced between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. every day” You must be joking.

  • Brit in Spain

    The labour laws in SPain make it so punitive to hire employees that of course unemployment is high here. One of the main issues in the strike this article covers is that the government wants to make it possible for employers to make workers redundant within their first year of employment. Right now, an employee can be useless, or your business can be losing money, but you cannot let them go without paying them a fortune (45 days pay) even when they’ve just started working for you. Proving that they have been fired for a valid reason is just about impossible. The labour law reforms these idiots are striking against would CREATE employment.

  • Suzana T

    Anarchist T-shirt: 20 Euros, Lost productivity for general strike: 4 million euros, clean up cost: 2 million euros, irony of strikers taking a siesta: priceless.

  • Cathy Cloud

    Wonderful photo essay. As always, you make me feel as though I were seeing it live. Be safe.

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