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Protests against budget cuts intensify in Catalonia

Health professionals, university professors, students and civil servants protested in Barcelona Thursday

Health workers protest in Barcelona.
Health workers protest in Barcelona.

Students and workers from across the public service sector marched in Barcelona on Thursday to demand a reversal of budget cuts and improved working conditions to reflect the economic upturn in the wake of a long economic crisis.

Around 8,000 people demonstrated in the Catalan capital, according to local police estimates. First a group of students blocked off the Diagonal, a major city thoroughfare; university faculty and students gathered for a public protest at noon, and an hour before that doctors congregated in front of the Catalan public health agency, ICS.

University students and professors march during a demonstration against cuts and academic fees.
University students and professors march during a demonstration against cuts and academic fees. Getty Images

The government of Quim Torra has remained mostly silent during the days-long protests, which climaxed on Wednesday when protesters surrounded the Catalan parliament and were prevented by riot police from storming the grounds. On Thursday the pro-independence Torra tweeted that he was meeting with members of his cabinet to “continue working to reach the necessary agreements for the good of our citizens.”

Fourth day of strikes

For a fourth day in a row, more than 60% of family doctors in Catalonia walked off the job to protest the “precariousness” of the sector, which lost nearly a thousand doctors during the cutbacks. Doctors say they cannot cope with the number of patients. This is the first time the health sector has gone on strike in 10 years, when the crisis began.

Health workers at the demonstration.
Health workers at the demonstration.

Under Spain’s system of devolved powers, public health and education are managed by regional governments. The Catalan Health Institute (ICS), the public entity that manages 80% of primary healthcare services in the region, has offered a series of measures worth over €100,000 to address the problem. Striking health workers want a minimum of 12 minutes to be guaranteed for each patient visit and no more than 28 visits a day – demands that the ICS has not accepted.

Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau has backed the protests and called on the regional government to take action. “Public services in Catalonia are at bare minimum levels after years of cutbacks and an abrogation of responsibility by the government of the Generalitat, which has completely abandoned our local leaders … Catalonia needs a government that governs. Now, no more excuses,” Colau wrote in a message on Twitter.

Protesters in Barcelona on Thursday.
Protesters in Barcelona on Thursday. EL PAÍS

On Thursday, university, primary and secondary school students and teachers joined the demonstration to demand more resources and better conditions. They say the education sector has not recovered from the effects of the austerity measures introduced by former Catalan premier Artur Mas in 2011.

The teachers are asking for a return to the previous school schedule and smaller class numbers. Ramón Font, spokesman for the IAC-Ustec·Stes union, criticized the €5 billion budget allotment for education made by the Catalan government, and noted that the amount should be closer to €16 billion to cover existing needs.

Protesters in the march.
Protesters in the march.

University students protested alongside professors to call for tuition – which rose by 67% during the financial crisis – to be reduced by 30%. The average cost of a university credit in Catalonia is €41.17, while the national average is €17.7. On Wednesday, university students set up barricades with chairs, tables and trash cans at each of the entry points of the campuses at Pompeu Fabra University (UPF) and Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB).

Regional government workers also stopped for two hours to join the demonstration in Barcelona. The Catalan government still owes public sector workers extra wages that were slashed in 2013 and 2014 as part of Mas’ austerity measures. The 160,000 civil servants in the regional government and other workers affected by the cutbacks will go on strike on December 12 if an agreement is not reached.

English version by Melissa Kitson and Susana Urra.

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