SOCIAL UNREST

Thousands take to streets in protest over government cuts

Unions demand a referendum over austerity measures

Protestors at Sunday's march in Madrid. / ULY MARTÍN (EL PAÍS)

Thousands of people spilled onto the streets of 57 Spanish cities on Sunday to protest against the government’s spending cuts and anti-crisis policies, which were described by union representatives as “anti-economic and anti-social.”

The simultaneous marches were organized by Spain’s two main labor unions, UGT and CCOO, and around 150 other organizations, who warned that “if the government does not significantly change its policies and attitude,” the next step will be a general strike. Today’s was the second mass protest sponsored by the unions, following a rally on September 15.

But before this hypothetical general strike, whose likely date would be November 14, the unions are first demanding a referendum. “There is no question that we are dealing with electoral fraud,” said a statement read out at the end of Sunday’s march. The logic behind this statement is that the Popular Party (PP), which won last November’s elections with an absolute majority, did not include the present austerity measures in its campaign promises. What’s more, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has taken decisions he promised not to, such as raising taxes.

In Madrid, where organizers claim 72,000 people showed up for the march, union leaders Ignacio Fernández Toxo of CCOO and Cándido Méndez of UGT criticized the government’s budget for next year, saying that “it will only bring more recession and more unemployment.” The projected jobless rate for 2013 is 25 percent, while the economy expected to contract 1.5 percent by the year’s end. Meanwhile, Spain continues to struggle to rein in the public deficit to meet Brussels’ target of 4.5 percent of GDP this year.

Demonstrators also complained about the government’s alleged attempts to turn public protests into a “public order problem,” and expressed concern at “the authoritarian attitude it is adopting” following the Surround Congress rally of September 25.

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