Today there was a general strike here in Spain, called by the two main trade unions, the CCOO and CGT, to protest against the new PP government’s labour reforms.
I wanted to go on the march here in Seville, which was leaving from various points in the centre and converging on Parque Maria Luisa, but my son was sick so he stayed home from school (they had a minimal staff working).
However I did manage to slip away for a few hours in the afternoon (thanks, suegra) to see the last part of the day’s events. I didn’t take my camera, to be more discreet, as some people can be self-conscious when they see a lens. The iPhone did the job fine.
As usual, the press quoted widely varying estimates of turnout in Seville, ranging from 10,000 (according to the police) to 100,000 (say the unions). In terms of participation, the national average was 77%, with administration 57% and construction and industry 97%. For full details from the two main unions, see here.
When I arrived (by metro, uncrowded) lots of people were walking up Calle San Fernando from the park, so I thought I’d missed the whole thing. They were still carrying their flags, and I could see more in the distance, so I walked against the flow of people towards the Prado.
There were still many sitting and standing around in Plaza San Juan de Austria (next to the Jardines de Murillo), with plenty of wacky backy smells in the air. As usual, there were all ages, from tiny babies to the elderly, with plenty of beards and bikes…
and some great slogans…
and some great slogans on bikes.
All colours of flags, too – as well as the red of the trade unions, the Republican and the Andalucian. The man’s tabard says “Quieren acabar con todo”, a snappier version of the strike’s slogan – “Quieren acabar con los derechos sociales y laborales” – “They want to destroy our social and labour rights”.
I could hear some noise coming from the Prado, a park with iron railings around it, so I went to investigate. Speakers on a platform covered with trade union flags were blaring out music, and a huge bar had been set up, serving drinks and paella to protestors.
The atmosphere was very cordial – friends chatting in groups, a few discussions with raised voices, but mostly in excitement rather than anger. (I know not to worry about people shouting at each other in Spain any more – it doesn’t mean they’re about to hit each other, it just means they’re having animated discussion.)
Then a heavy rock band started up, singing about the pigs (police, not jamon), death and destruction. They told the audience this was the first time they’d played to so many people, and it was pretty obvious why. They were shit.
This friendly atmosphere – there was a children’s playground right next to the bar, and flag-waving mixed happily with swings and slides – was a welcome contrast to what my husband had told me when I was heading to the metro station to come into town. Someone had thrown a stone through the window of a restaurant in the city centre, narrowly missing him and others.
The man had then run off towards Avenida de la Constitution, hotly pursued by a group including said husband. This was where the marchers were, so the vandal ran straight into the hands of the police, who were present in numbers to keep watch over the protestors. He was one of the five arrested in Seville today.
It remains to be seen whether President Rajoy will change his plans - his austerity budget, with 30-40bn euros of cuts, will be announced tomorrow - because of today’s marches attended by nearly a million people in 111 towns all over Spain. Half a million people were said to have packed into Puerta del Sol in Madrid.
What did seem clear from what I saw and heard, is that for most people the strike wasn’t a one-off. It was just the beginning of popular protest against widely unpopular reforms.