Anti-austerity strikes roil Europe, but many see cutbacks as inevitable
In Spain, anti-austerity strikes led to minor violence and arrests, but many Spaniards appear to have begrudgingly accepted austerity measures to help cope with crippling debt.
Spaniards on Wednesday largely shunned the country’s first general strike this decade against the government’s austerity measures, despite coping with Europe’s worst unemployment rates and one of the deepest and longest recessions.Skip to next paragraph
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The 24-hour stoppage – called to protest labor and pension reforms as well as deep cuts in government spending to reduce a ballooning public deficit – appeared to be confined to large industries, some public services, and the transit sector.
But most private businesses were open, and many of the employees who showed up for work appeared split in their view of the austerity reforms, in a sign that while Spaniards don't like the idea of cutting social benefits, many are accepting it as inevitable.
Spain is not the only country facing public frustration over austerity measures. France has had several strikes this year, as has Greece. On Wednesday, tens of thousands marched in a dozen European capitals to protest reforms throughout the Continent. In Brussels, police said some 56,000 had marched.
Unions pledge to press on
Many employee unions have pledged that Wednesday's strikes were only the beginning of their resistance to the changes, but European Union Commission President José Manual Barroso said there was little option to the austerity measures, despite the “social knock-on effect.”
“A strike now doesn’t make any sense to me,” said Esperanza Sanz, a saleswoman working in the high-end women's apparel section of El Corte Ingles, the country’s biggest department store. Riot police protected the entrances, while protesters chanted slogans a few feet away in Madrid’s main square, Puerta del Sol.
Ms. Sanz joined in all previous general strikes, including the last one in 2002, but not this time. “Unions should have done this earlier when the government announced the reforms," she declared, "but what good is striking going to do now?”
There was scattered violence, especially in Barcelona, and several minor injuries reported throughout the country. A few dozen people were arrested and released. But a heavy police presence and public indifference appear to have thwarted any real challenge to the government’s unrelenting drive to cut its deficit, which was Europe's third-largest in 2009.
“I think Spanish society understands that it will be hard to overcome this crisis and that more sacrifices will have to be made, and that explains why there is so little enthusiasm for this strike,” says Josep Oliver, an applied economics professor in the Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona that specializes in fiscal policy.