HUGE PROTESTS against crisis pay cuts and tax hikes filled the streets of Spanish cities this evening, as workers yelled in anger branding the crisis measures “robbery”.
Unions called more than 80 demonstrations across the country, the latest and biggest in an almost daily series of protests this month.
“Hands up, this is a robbery!” protesters bellowed in Madrid, where a sea of demonstrators crammed the avenues of the city centre.
A sustained string of protests erupted after prime minister Mariano Rajoy last week announced the new measures, aiming to save €65 billion in order to slash the public deficit.
Among the steps is a cut to the Christmas bonus paid to civil servants, equivalent to a seven-per-cent reduction in annual pay. This came on top of a pay cut in 2010, which was followed by a salary freeze.
“There’s nothing we can do but take to the street. We have lost between 10 and 15 per cent of our pay in the past four years,” said Sara Alvera, 51, a worker in the justice sector, demonstrating in Madrid.
“These measures won’t help end the crisis.”
An economy under pressure
Under pressure from the European Union to stabilise Spain’s public finances, the conservative government also cut unemployment benefits and raised sales tax, with the upper limit rising from 18 to 21 percent.
Budget minister Cristobal Montoro defended the measures today, saying they were needed to lower Spain’s borrowing costs.
“There is no money in the coffers to pay for public services. We are making reforms that will allow us to better finance ourselves,” he said.
Protestors angrily rejected this claim. ”There isn’t a shortage of money — there are too many thieves,” read one sign hoisted in the crowd.
Critics say the government’s new austerity measures will worsen economic conditions for ordinary people.
Cristina Blesa, a 55-year-old teacher, said she and her husband would struggle to pay their son’s university tuition fees because of the cuts and tax hikes.
“We’re earning less and less and at the same time the price of everything is going up — the metro, the lighting bill,” she said.
“Now with the rise in VAT everything is going to be even more expensive. It’s more and more difficult at the end of the month.”
Unions have called for the protests to be peaceful but clashes broke out between demonstrators and police on the fringes of some marches in Madrid last week, including one by striking coal miners.
Spain is due this month to become the fourth eurozone country, after Greece, Ireland and Portugal, to get bailout funds in the current crisis when it receives the first loan from a €100 billion credit line for its banks.
Eurozone leaders are expected to finalise the deal in a telephone conference tomorrow.