The pain in Spain: On May Day, nearly 1 in 5 are jobless, but few seem angry
In Madrid, the workers' day was marked by samba dances, not brick-throwing.
As most of the world observes May Day amid the worst recession since the Great Depression, perhaps Spanish workers have the most to protest and worry about.Skip to next paragraph
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Unemployment here has nearly doubled over the past year to 17 percent – the highest in the European Union and double that of the United States. The economy is shrinking at its fastest rate in 50 years.
The governments of Hungary, Latvia, and Iceland have already collapsed after angry protests over the handling of the economy; France has thrice been disrupted as millions staged nationwide strikes. And demonstrations – sometimes turning to riots – in Greece, Ireland, Britain, and several Eastern European countries have reminded the continent of the violent class struggles of past century.
The Spanish government, however, remains strong. No national strikes or protests have taken place, and the mood in the street is somber, but not angry. Indeed, the 65,000 people who organizers say partook in the traditional May 1 demonstration in Madrid danced and cheered to a samba beat as they chanted slogans demanding more jobs.
Judging from the festive mood, it's tough to imagine that unemployment is the most pressing concern for three of every four Spaniards, according to the government's statistic agency. So, why has Spain remained so calm?
"They are cowards," offers Santos Alonso, a retiree. For decades, he has marched each year in the May 1 parade. "Young people need to react, or else we're not going anywhere." [Editor's note: The original version misspelled Mr. Alonso's surname.]
Another man playing the anthem of the Second Republic on his harmonica – a tune that dates to the days when Spain was ruled by a coalition of anarchists and communists before the Civil War – suggests the relaxed atmosphere is inherent in Spanish culture. "It's our idiosyncrasy," he says.
Many jobless are immigrants or elderly
Spaniards might not be throwing bricks, but there is a growing impatience here to see changes made to provide more economic security down the road.
Currently, 4 million in Spain are unemployed Spaniards – with nearly half losing their jobs in the past year. Almost two-thirds of Europe's job losses in the last year has come from Spain.
By 2010, some forecasters expect 5 million people to be jobless. One million families have no source of income. And unemployment benefits are small and short-lasting, compared with other European countries.