Teachers and students from every level of Spain's education system went on strike Tuesday to protest wide-ranging government spending cuts, erecting makeshift tombs at university campuses to symbolize what they claim will be the death of the country's schooling system.
Union officials said on average 80 percent of the country's teachers took part. All but three of Spain's 17 regions participated in the stoppage, the biggest in a series of strikes so far this year that had until now been scattered around the country.
The Education Ministry, however, claimed participation was much lower, at 19 percent, and praised teachers that did show up for work.
Spain's government is pushing through painful austerity measures to heal public finances, which risk being overwhelmed by the costs of helping a troubled banking sector. Investors fear Spain might eventually need a bailout like Greece, Ireland and Portugal.
The impact of the budget cuts has been brutal, however, and unemployment has swelled to nearly 25 percent. Among people under age 25 it is a staggering 52 percent. The situation is likely to get worse before it improves, with the economy in its second recession in three years and the full impact of new austerity measures yet to hit the country.
For education, the (EURO)3 billion in cuts to government spending translate into fewer teachers, more students per class, fewer extra-curricular activities and higher university tuition.
Andreu Vela, a 21-year-old journalism student at Madrid's Complutense University, dressed up as the Grim Reaper as he marched around campus with other protesters chanting against the higher fees and the spending cuts.
"For us, the university so far has been a place of knowledge, that's our idea of the university. Now it's becoming a place of recruiting armies of workers," he said.
Virginia Fernandez, a representative of the Madrid branch of the teachers union FETE, said a lot of parents even at the primary school level had kept their kids home in a show of support for the strike.
"Families are really getting involved," she said. "There is major involvement in all of the education community."
Barbara Bass, 17, said hardly any students or teachers showed up at her high school. "I came to class because my parents forced me. But I support this strike," she said. "My parents, for instance, cannot afford the new university fees. We are all going to end up leaving to work in Germany, but without an education."
Earlier in the day, the government tapped capital markets to raise money and, as often before in recent weeks, saw its borrowing rates rise.
The Treasury sold (EURO)1.51 billion in 3-month notes at an average interest rate of 0.85, up from 0.63 at the last such auction on April 24. It sold (EURO)1.02 billion in 6-month notes at an average rate of 1.74 percent, up from 1.58 percent last time.
The amount sold slightly exceeded the (EURO)2.5 billion Spain had hoped to raise. For both maturities, demand was 4 times the amount on offer.
Jorge Sainz in Madrid contributed to this report.
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