On Thursday in Spain, there is a general strike. I already know that some of the teachers will not be coming to school and many students will be missing as well. This is not the first time we’ve had a strike in Spain since I arrived. Nor the second time. Or third. Or more….the Spaniards are really trying to throw a fit about the current state of affairs in their country. The effort is quite understandable. Spain has a current unemployment rate of 23%.1 Did you hear that? 23%!!! Nearly 1 out of every 4 people don’t have a job. I have heard from a few of my students that neither of their parents have jobs, or often just one does (I learned quite a bit about my students’ lives doing one-on-one oral exams with them!) Perhaps the situation here in my village and Galicia isn’t as dire as other parts of Spain. Nevertheless, I see the effects of the crisis in this country much more so than in the USA, where many people continue living at the same standard of life.
Want to hear another crazy statistic? Over 50% of young people under the age of 25 don’t have a job.2 Nothing. This includes the waitressing, heavy labor, and other generally ‘undesirable’ jobs in the US that young people can get. I can’t even imagine not being able to ANYthing when I look for mediocre jobs to get me through the summer…
So who is participating in the strike? Well, the two main unions in Spain have called it, but it’ll be interesting to see how many in the private sector also go along with it. The “civil workers” are especially angry about the current reforms made by Rajoy, the new president, of the conservative PP (Partido Popular, or rather “Popular Party”). He has been making huge cuts across the board of the civil workers, or people who work for the government. Teachers are included in this group, as the government has complete control over their jobs, including where they are placed and for how long. Any year up until a teacher receives a permanent position, which is obtained through a points and testing system, the government can tell you, “Go teach at this school. Now you must go to this one.” etc. What blows my mind is that you can live in Vigo, a southern city in the Galicia region and if the government (“Xunta” in Galicia) tells you to change to a school in Coruña in the north, you have to go. Teachers will have an apartment in one city for during the week and return to their home on the weekends. Even people with families sometimes have to do this!
Anyways, with the reforms come big cuts in the salaries, which is what angers the teachers so much. Furthermore, there have been big cuts in social welfare and laws changed to make it easier for companies to get rid of employees. If you didn’t know, the healthcare system in Spain is free. That’s right. Completely free. You get hurt in a car accident, you go to the doctor, they treat you and you don’t pay a dime (except for perhaps prescriptions, but those are 1/3 of the cost in the USA). Some people do choose to purchase private insurance regardless so they have the choice of which doctors or offices they use, but it depends from person to person. For example, my grant program here provided me with insurance. So when I hurt my foot, I found out which doctor in Pobra that my insurance covered, went there, and even had a x-ray. I gave the doctor my insurance card, signed a paper, and that was that. I picked up my prescription anti-inflammatories, and they only cost €10. I went back last Friday for a check-up and didn’t pay a dime again. Wild for those of us in the USA, huh?
Another company that has a passion for strikes is Iberia. Since December, there have been 12 days of strikes. Then when I was returning to Spain, there was a strike with Iberia that day as well. I was on one of the lucky few flights from Madrid to Santiago de Compostela that was actually running, little did I know at the time. The pilots are protesting the introduction of a new, low-budget airline under the ownership of Iberia, called Iberia Express. It was set to kick off this past Sunday, March 25th. The pilots have announced a calendar of 24 days of strikes between March 16th and May 28th .3 Just now, I went to go look up the exact details of these strikes and saw a new article, only a few hours old. Turns out the pilots called off these previous strikes, but now have planned new ones….30 days from April until July…every Monday and Friday. Thus far, these strikes have caused Iberia to cancel around 1400 flights, costing them €36 million …equivalent to about $47 million!!!4
So what do I think about this strike? Well, in my opinion, I don’t think it will do much good. Spain has been having so many strikes that it’s become a half-hearted effort. Some people even feel it’s become a joke, though naturally there are also those die-hard participants. Yes, something needs to change…Spain is still sliding down that deep dark abyss labeled “Crisis” and has the highest unemployment rate in the European Union. Is this the answer? Will this cause the government to take a second look at the reforms they are proposing? I don’t think so and nor do many critics. As stated in an article I was reading online, it appears that Rajoy has “expected it and appears completely unworried by it. There is certainly absolutely no indication that he is going to reverse his employment reforms and his movement, with regard to austerity cuts, is extremely limited.” 1
Interesting, isn’t it, how we have the same things happening in countries all over the world? There’s always going to be problems and people who think they know how to solve them better than the government. And perhaps they do. But right now, it all seems to be a waiting game as we go along for the ride, trying to adapt and make the best of what we have.
Articles to read if you’re interested to know more:
About the Iberia strikes: