MADRID – Thousands of people took to the streets in more than 50 Spanish cities on Sunday on the urging of the Cumbre Social, which groups more than 150 organizations, among them the country’s main unions, the CCO and UGT, to protest against the social cuts approved by the conservative government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.
The protesters said that it is up to the government whether or not a general strike is called in November to demand that the adopted adjustment measures be submitted to a popular referendum.
The marches were held all over the country to protest against the conservative government’s economic policy and against the state’s general budget for 2013, which – the organization says – “is in the service of banking.”
The Madrid demonstration was attended by some 72,000 people, according to the protesters, but the government did not provide an estimate as to the number of people who turned out.
At a press conference before the march, the general secretaries of the CCOO and UGT, Ignacio Fernandez Toxo and Candido Mendez, respectively, emphasized that the calling of a general strike would depend on the government’s response.
Mendez said that the unions “will insist ad nauseum” that the citizenry be consulted about the path chosen to get out of the current crisis which, in his opinion, is “a road to perdition.”
Meanwhile, Toxo demanded that a referendum be held regarding the cuts before the social situation becomes “explosive and unsustainable.”
The demonstrations on Sunday coincided with the World Day for Decent Work, which this year had the theme “Youth without employment, society without a future.”
Spain is suffering from an unemployment rate of more than 23 percent of the active population, although youth unemployment exceeds 50 percent.
In Barcelona, 1,500 people – police said – and some 20,000, according to organizers, demonstrated throughout the city against the government’s austerity policies.
In Castile and Leon, thousands of people mobilized in the province’s eight district capitals against the government cutbacks, and in Murcia some 5,000 people hit the streets to make their sentiments known.
In Vitoria and Bilbao in the Basque Country, hundreds of people marched chanting slogans such as “General strike against the cutbacks” and “Where are they? You don’t see the Popular Party’s (promised) jobs.”
In Palma de Mallorca, in the Balearic Islands, some 400 people marched through the center of town denouncing “unfair” budgets that contribute to “more ... cuts and less social protection,” while in the Canary Islands some 800 people demonstrated.
There were also marches in Gijon and Galicia in the north, and in Andalusia, in the far southern part of the country.
The government has said that it is not planning to modify the law and that the Penal Code includes increased sanctions against those who display violent attitudes in popular protests.
The Spanish Penal Code sets forth prison terms of from six months to a year for those found guilty of promoting, leading or presiding over demonstrations or other gatherings before Parliament, the Senate or the regional parliaments when such protests disrupt the normal functioning of those bodies.