Reports over the past few weeks have shown record high unemployment for the 17 eurozone countries, with youth unemployment rates now reaching 21.4%. In Greece and Spain, the crisis is particularly severe, with youth unemployment hitting 50% and school leavers being encouraged to go abroad to look for jobs. These latest catastrophic figures have increased calls for Europe’s leaders to move away from austerity measures towards a pro-growth strategy to stop the region from falling deeper into recession. Sony Kapoor, managing director of economic think-tank, Re-Define, said: “the question is how long EU leaders will continue to pursue a deeply flawed strategy in the face of mounting evidence that this is leading us to social, economic and political disaster”.
Ordinary citizens are also calling for a change of direction. In Spain, people are standing up against what they see as unfair austerity measures that disproportionately hurt the poor and deny opportunities to the younger generation. They are also expressing outrage at a political system that they feel is corrupt and no longer represents the interest of the people. Since May last year, people have taken to the streets in their thousands to protest against spending cuts and high unemployment, as part of a movement known as 15-M or “Indignados”. They have also been calling for electoral reform, an end to political corruption and restrictions on the excesses of financial institutions.
…is calling for citizens all over the world to unite in protest.
The Spanish government has reacted aggressively to the protests and has used a number of hostile tactics to forcibly remove protesters and tents from public spaces. Police violently evicted protesters from Madrid’s Puerta del Sol on 2 August 2011 and tried to prevent further protest by blocking access to the square through the night. Spain’s 24-hour general strike on 29 March also saw violent clashes between police and protesters, with police firing rubber bullets and using tear gas as shops and businesses were vandalised and set alight. Last month the Spanish interior minister, Jorge Fernandez Diaz, announced subsequent plans to reform the penal code to criminalise those involved in organising street protests that “seriously disturb the public peace”. These plans were described by protest groups as “draconian” and were compared to measures imposed by the former Spanish fascist dictatorship of General Franco.
But despite this heavy-handed government response, the Spanish people are determined to continue their fight. To mark the one-year anniversary of the 15-M movement, Spanish citizens are once again going to take to the streets on 12 May. This time they will be part of an international day of action as the global Occupy movement, which was inspired by the protests in Spain and the Middle East, is calling for citizens all over the world to unite in protest. People in cities across the globe (including London and Manchester) are planning to come together on 12 May to march against their own governments’ austerity measures and rising levels of unemployment. It is yet to be seen whether governments will listen to these calls for change, but it looks increasingly difficult for leaders to ignore them.
Image courtesy of Osvaldo Gago