Anti-austerity protesters join forces in Spanish capital

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 22, 2014 2:50 PM

By Inmaculada Sanz

MADRID (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of protesters from across Spain converged in Madrid on Saturday calling for an end to EU-imposed austerity which has deepened poverty amongst the worst-off.

The so-called "Dignity Marches" brought tens of thousands to the capital, Reuters witnesses calculated, in support of more than 160 different causes - employment, housing, health and education and an end to poverty amongst them.

Banners urged the conservative government not to pay its international debts and to tackle unemployment of 26 percent.

The OECD says the economic crisis has hit Spain's poor more than in any other country in the group.

"I'm here to fight for my children's future," said Michael Nadeau, a 44-year-old entrepreneur, among the throng of protesters.

"For those who are in power we're just numbers. They value money more than they value people," he said, shouting to be heard above the din of chanting, singing, whistling and drumming.

A housing bubble burst more than five years ago, forcing a 41-billion euro ($56 billion) bailout of the country's banks, squeezing homeowners and throwing millions out of work.

The government introduced public sector austerity to whittle down the deficit, provoking widespread anger amongst middle- and low-income families as dozens of cases of corruption in the ruling class are investigated by judges.

Police presence was heavy among groups carrying republican and communist flags, banners calling for an end to cuts in the health service, education and affordable housing.

"Bread, jobs and housing for everyone", read one banner, "Corruption and robbery, Spain's trademark," said another.

"(I'm here because) I'm sick of this system they call democracy," said Jose Luis Arteaga, a 58-year-old teacher whose wage has been cut 20 percent. "I want things to change."

Several groups had walked hundreds of kilometers from regions such as Asturias in the north of Spain or Andalusia, in the south.

Official estimates of participants were not yet available, a police spokesman said, although the organizers earlier this week said they were expecting around 65,000 people.

Spain tentatively exited a recession in the second half of 2013 but unemployment soared with a labor reform which reduced the cost of hiring and firing. The hoped-for boost in jobs has yet to materialize.

"Employment difficulties are highly concentrated in the most disadvantaged households, with 1 out of 6 working-age adults living in jobless households - twice as many as before the crisis," the OECD said in a report published earlier this week.

"Overall, the poorest 10 percent faced income losses at a rate of 14 percent per year, resulting in a fall of more than one third during 2007-2010. This is by far the largest drop in the OECD," it added.

(Additional reporting by Raquel Castillo and Elisabeth O'Leary; Writing by Elisabeth O'Leary; Editing by Eric Walsh)