Tens of thousands of Spaniards hit the streets in Madrid on Saturday against brutal cuts and tax hikes imposed by the Spanish government.
Spain’s ruling party, the PP (People’s Party or Partido Popular) has created a new wave of public anger, over unpopular cuts to the country's public sector services. On top of the brutal cuts, everyday living expenses like electricity, water, phone bills, clothing and haircuts all became more expensive at the start of the month after a hike in value-added tax.
Activists are accusing Spain's leaders of "destroying" the country with the austerity measures and cuts, which are aimed at avoiding an EU bailout.
In Madrid, around 50,000 protesters converged in the center of the city, waving banners reading, “they are destroying the country, we must stop them,” and calling for a referendum to decide whether the draconian public sector cuts, initiated by Mariano Rajoy's government, should continue. Others carried banners decrying "Bankia" and "Fraud", relating to the recent scandal with that banking group.
So far, the government's austerity measures will cut around 102 billion euros from the budget, and are aimed to be introduced before 2014, to reduce the country's deficit and avoid an EU bailout.
Among the crowds were representatives from over 230 civic and professional organizations in the country, angry at the new austerity measures, and crying “lies!” and “enough!” Civil servants were ferried into Madrid in almost 1,000 buses from surrounding provinces.
The groups were divided by "color coding", with those wearing red representing the syndicates, those wearing green stood for education. People wearing purple stood for the women's rights groups, orange stood for social services. Protesters in white were standing for healthcare, and in black for public services.
A spokesperson from the Social Summit (the organizing body of the protests), said, “The rally represents a protest from all of our society against this unprecedented social fracture,” adding that the “ideological regression of the conservatives bore worrying symptoms of political authoritarianism.”
Spokesperson for the Social Platform for the Defense of State Welfare said, “The pressure on our citizens is becoming more and more unbearable, they are reducing our incomes even more thanks to the new labor reform and the removal of overtime pay.”
Roberto Saldana, a 44-year-old fireman, who traveled from the southern city of Huelva to take part in the rally, said “They have cut salaries, raised taxes, we have gone backwards 20 or 30 years.”
Rafael Navas, a 52-year-old receptionist at a hotel in Cordoba, said, “The austerity measures are very bad for the leisure sector, people don’t have money and consumption has dropped greatly.” Navas traveled from Cordoba at 4 am by bus along with several co-workers to attend the rally. “A protest like this, with people from across the country, has a greater impact than several protests in provincial capitals,” he added.
Jorge, a 52-year-old doctor from Valencia was quoted by Reuters as saying, "There is no area of my work which has not been affected by the cuts."
"It's a drastic reduction in the quality of service for patients, it's terrible," he said, also adding that his own salary had decreased by around 30% because of the austerity measures.
A 50-year-old teacher, Adelaida Liviano, told Reuters that half of her pupils had started the year without school books due to the scrapping of subsidies. She said, "Spain has gone back to the 1950s, when the Spanish had to go to Germany in search of work."
Economy Minister Luis de Guindos, speaking at a European finance minister meeting in Cyprus on Saturday, said, "The government is aware that is it asking for sacrifices from Spaniards, but these sacrifices are absolutely unavoidable."
The protest was mainly peaceful, although police arrested four people at the beginning of the rally for refusing to present identification, who were taken into custody on charges of "resisting the authorities."