General Strike on the 29th September

The two main trade unions have announced a general strike against the job market reform planned by the Spanish Government. This reform has been discussed among the trade unions, business associations and the Spanish Government for more than 2 years.

CNA / Gaspar Pericay

June 16, 2010 11:35 PM

Barcelona (CNA).- The General Workers’ Union (UGT) and Workers’ Commissions Union (CCOO) both oppose the labour market reform’s main axes. The Spanish Government has set tomorrow as the day to approve the reform, with or without the social agents’ support. For more than 2 years the social agents have been discussing this reform without reaching any agreement and with a labour market that has reached more than 20% of unemployment. Now, colossal international pressure is obliging the Spanish Government to act on this matter that it has been postponing. There will be an increase in flexibility for firing employees and the trade unions will ask for more social protection. The 29th of September will coincide with a trade union demonstration on a European level.

The two main trade unions have finally decided to schedule the general strike on the 29th of September, coinciding with the mobilisation of other European trade unions. During this time the Spanish Government will also release its budget guidelines for 2011. The General Workers’ Union (UGT) and Workers’ Commissions Union’s (CCOO) general secretaries decided on the date in a meeting held in Madrid.
The threat of a general strike paralysing Spain has been on the table for weeks. A predecessor of this strike was held last week, only affecting the public sector. However, few public employees followed the unions’ intentions and the public administration was far from being paralysed. This strike was a response to the wage cuts for public employees as a means to immediately reduce public expenditure in order to decrease public deficit.

International pressure is incredibly high against Spanish Primer Minister Zapatero and his government. The imposition to drastically cut public expenditure is now followed by the demand to reform the Spanish labour market. The Spanish Government plans to reform collective negotiation agreements, facilitate the firing process in companies that are in trouble and foster indefinite contracts.

At the end of March, Spain had more than 4.6 million unemployed, 20.05% of the active population. In addition, it has a dual labour market with, on one hand, very protected employees in the public sector and in private companies who have put in many years of service, and, on the other, unprotected temporary workers, who usually are young and have poor salaries. The labour market in Spain has always been characterised for overreacting to market flows and having very high unemployment even in the times of high economic growth. When the world was talking about the Spanish economic miracle some four years ago and Spain was growing at rates far superior to other European countries, unemployment was at 8.5-9%. The structural unemployment has thus been a characteristic of the Spanish labour market. Some light reforms have been introduced in the last 3 decades, none of which have been very deep. The reform introduced by Aznar’s government in 1997 marks the current labour market, together with an agreement that the Zapatero Government reached in 2006 with the main trade unions and business associations. However, many experts were still demanding a deeper reform. In the last two years there has been a general consensus that a deeper reform is needed but that neither the main political parties nor the social agents could agree on its guidelines.

Prime Minister Zapatero had a good relation with trade unions. However, in the last months and especially in the last weeks with the drastic reforms introduced, a divorce between the Spanish Government and the trade unions is unquestionable. Two days before the deadline to issue the executive order reforming the labour market, the UGT and the CCOO announced a general strike. The following day, the two main trade unions agreed on the date: the 29th of September. Tomorrow, the Spanish Government will issue an executive order that will come into force immediately, although it will not be discussed until next week in Parliament. The political groups will then have the opportunity to modify or reject it. If the later is the case, the Zapatero Government will be in an extremely fragile position and could even fall.