General Strike: irregular support, massive demonstrations, isolated violence and no changes in the Labour Reform Law

The General Strike on March 29th ended without significant changes in the Spanish Government’s Labour Reform, but with a clear acknowledgement that there is growing social anger. The strike was unevenly supported in Catalonia. Unions talked about sector strike participation ranging between 97% and 57% and the Catalan Government about strike participations ranging between 24% and 10%. Minimum services worked as planned, without any significant incidents. Demonstrations took place in the main Catalan cities, with the largest in Barcelona. Isolated violent incidents were the only negative parts of what was a relatively calm day.

CNA / Gaspar Pericay Coll

March 30, 2012 04:38 PM

Barcelona (ACN).- The day after the General Strike organised throughout Spain on March 29th the situation is relatively calm. The General Strike had irregular support in Catalonia, but with massive and noisy demonstrations. Strike support figures considerably differ depending on the source and the sector. The Catalan Government issued figures ranging between 24% and 10% and the unions between 97% and 57%. Electricity consumption dropped between 10% and 15% compared to a normal day. However, the afternoon demonstrations organised in Catalonia’s main cities were crowded, in particular Barcelona. The Catalan capital’s Passeig de Gràcia was packed, with 80,000 people according to the Catalan Police and between 800,000 and 900,000 according to trade unions. However, as in other demonstrations, the peaceful and civic demonstration, attended by people of all ages, including families, ended with isolated violent episodes. Around 500 people created a mess in downtown Barcelona, with garbage containers burned, shop windows broken and clashes with riot police. 74 people were arrested during the day in Barcelona. All the political parties and the main unions have criticised those violent actions for not respecting everybody’s rights and bringing a negative element to an otherwise calm day. Minimum services functioned as planned. Transport services in Greater Barcelona only worked during rush hours at 30% of their regular frequency. This created, as expected, significant traffic jams. Barcelona El Prat Airport had 58% of scheduled flights. Furthermore, health centres treated all emergencies. All schools opened and functioned with some 75% of their staff, while universities were almost deserted. The strike affected both private and public media, in particular the Catalan Public Television Broadcaster, which only offered jazz concerts, documentaries, and flash news related to the strike throughout the 24 hours of strike. Left-Wing political parties supported the strike while conservative parties and business-owner associations considered it as counterproductive. Unions warned the Spanish Government that if the reform were not radically changed, there would be further protests. However, the Spanish Government stated that the main aspects of the reform would remain unchanged.

Political reactions

The Centre-Right Catalan Nationalist Coalition, Convergència i Unió (CiU), which runs the Catalan Government, did not support the strike. However, the Spokesperson for the Catalan Government, Francesc Homs, said he understood the citizen’s protests and that, in the current context, it was maybe “even healthy” to protest. In addition, he stated that the Government neither is happy implementing budget cuts, but that “room is very limited”. However, CiU’s ‘number two’, Josep Antoni Duran i Lleida, the leader of the Christian-Democrat party in the coalition, said that the strike was counterproductive.

The Spanish Government, run by the People’s Party (PP), also considered the strike as counterproductive, in addition to be a potential threat to Spain’s image abroad. After the strike, the Spanish Labour Minister, Fátima Bañez, said that the main aspects of the reform would not be modified, although she is open to dialogue to “improve the final text”.

The Left-Wing parties asked the Spanish Government to listen to citizens and supported the strike. Furthermore, they also participated in Barcelona’s massive demonstrations. Jaume Collboni, the Spokesperson for the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC), the main opposition party in Catalonia, said that they “hope that Rajoy will listen to the street, will cancel the reform and will start negotiating”. The Secretary General of the Catalan Green Socialist Party (ICV), Joan Herrera, said that both the Catalan and Spanish Government should “take note” of the “massive strike”, “with electricity consumption below the 2002 strike”. Finally, the President of the Left-Wing Catalan Independence Party (ERC), Oriol Junqueras, justified the social discontent: “in a country [Catalonia] with more than 750,000 people without a job, which will probably reach 900,000, in a country with a production recession with a likely GDP fall of 1.5% by the end of the year. It is natural and legitimate that the citizens take to the streets and make their voices heard”.

Different figures

As in previous strikes and demonstrations, there is a significant divergence between the official figures released by the Government and those issued by the protest organisers. The Catalan Government stated that the economic sector with the largest support for the General Strike was industry, with 23.7% of workers failing to turn up for work. Furthermore, 20.5% of Catalan public employees went on strike. However, in the service sector the figure dropped to 12.5%, 10.9% in construction, and just 10.5% in retail. On the contrary, the two main unions –the General Workers Union (UGT) and the Workers Commissions (CCOO)– issued much higher figures. According to the unions between 97% (industry) and 57% (public sector) of workers, depending on the sector, did not work on Thursday. On average, unions said that 77% of workers supported the strike during the day; while in the morning they had stated 82% support.