Already saddled with 20 percent unemployment (even higher in the southern region of Andalucia), Spain is now dealing with one of the ugliest realities of the global financial crisis: when it comes time to make tough choices and ask people to make sacrifices, it is always the lower and middle classes who take the hit. This past week, Spanish President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero announced a package of drastic public sector cuts including a five percent pay cut for civil servants and other budget reductions that will affect ordinary Spaniards much more than they will affect the bankers.
This is hardly surprising, given what we know about how easily the global financial elites are able to pressure governments these days and how quickly governments are falling into line.
El País reported today that Zapatero's austerity package immediately and predictably led to a drop in support for the PSOE (the centrist political party that he leads) and an increase in support for the opposition Partido Popular. For its part, the cynical, right-wing PP, led by the insufferable Mariano Rajoy, is not missing the opportunity to take advantage of the crisis. Despite an abysmal track record when it comes to actually serving the interests of Spain's workers, the PP is suddenly pretending to be the defender of the poor and vulnerable in the hope of reaping an electoral victory in the near future. All in all, it's a pathetic and depressing spectacle.
Meanwhile, to their credit, some of Spain's workers are taking to the streets. I took this picture from my apartment window in Madrid this morning as workers marched, appropriately enough, past a bank:
This particular demonstration, coordinated by the Confederación General del Trabajo (CGT) and calling for a general strike, represents an important shot across the bow and an indication that while some of Spain's workers are represented by unions that have been relatively neutered, others aren't going to take the ongoing bankers' coup lying down.
Yesterday was a holiday in Madrid, part of the annual Fiestas de San Isidro. While making my way through the thick crowds that clogged the center of the city last evening, I had an interesting conversation with one 40-something Spaniard whose wife is a civil servant. The new austerity measures, he told me, prove that Spain's political class is totally subservient to the demands of the private banks and investors. "Before this is all over," he predicted, "the streets here will be in flames."