MADRID – On Sunday tens of thousands of Spaniards demonstrated in Madrid and in major cities of the country against the austerity policies of the Conservative government, providing for reductions in spending on health and education.
Protesters took to the streets including Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and Bilbao. “Do not gamble with the health and education” could be read among others on the banners. In Madrid, Cayo Lara, Member of United Left, a coalition of opposition parties, said the government of Mariano Rajoy (Popular Party) drew the pretext of the financial crisis to sell off large parts of the private sector.
Colomo Ruth, a teacher of 39 years, emphasized that public education and health have been built over the years with taxpayer money. “These services belong to us and we have the right to fight for them,” she said.
Mariano Rajoy justified Sunday’s new austerity measures. There is “no alternative” to reduce deficits and deal with the crisis, he said, adding that it must operate “major structural changes”.
Spain, once again in recession, has the unemployment rate the highest of 17 countries in the euro area. According to figures released Friday by the National Institute of Statistics, 365,900 Spaniards have lost their jobs during the first three months of 2012 and the number of unemployed now stands at 5.6 million. The unemployment rate reached 24.4% of the labor force, rising to 52 percent for under 25.
“These are terrible numbers for everyone and terrible for the government,” said Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo on Spanish national radio on Friday.
Earlier this week, the Bank of Spain announced that the country was in recession for the second time in three years, after two quarters of negative growth. The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) fell by Spanish 0.4 percent in the first quarter of 2012, after -0.3 per cent in the last quarter of last year, according to preliminary estimates from the Spanish central bank.
This return of the recession, commonly defined as two consecutive quarters of negative growth, is not a surprise, the government has already planned for this year down 1.7% percent of GDP.