Spain is struggling with a 22% unemployment rate. The country as a whole is facing critical decisions, growing concern, and bleak economic forecasts. The demographic group that usually carries the most hope and optimism, creativity and energy is succumbing to a sense of hopelessness and despair and doing the one thing that youth can do: speak out.
The unemployment rate of young Spaniards is 45%. A generation affected by a shared problem, united by frustration and desperation, leads to protests; large ones.
Protests began four weeks ago, at the tail end of the campaign season for regional and municipal elections. Similar to some of the protests in the Middle East during the “Arab Spring”, Spanish youth communicated through social media to express ideas, vent frustrations, and eventually organized. Beyond the poor economy, protestors expressed frustrations over the inability of their government to find solutions, cut through political blockades, and deal with the increasing national debt.
The protests and gatherings cropped up in public squares, and have evolved into tent cities including food stands, computer ports, and generators. Known as “Los Indignados”, or “The Indignant Ones”, the movement has settled in over 60 central squares of cities across Spain. The hub of the movement has been based from the Puerta del Sol square in central Madrid.
Although the group of 25,000 was ordered to leave the Madrid square for the May 22 elections, the protestors refused and have held out until Thursday, when the group announced they will be removing the tent city from Puerta del Sol. “Los Indignados” attest the square will continue to be used as a gathering place for the movement, just not a permanent camp. Some in the group, however, are strongly opposed to moving.
“The agreement was to remove the camp but keep coming back into the square for our assemblies and debates,” said Nicolás, a Puerta del Sol spokesman. “Those who want to stay must decide how they want to do that and put their proposals to an assembly. If there is no consensus backing them, then they won’t represent the movement.”
Meanwhile, the Spanish government pushed ahead with labor market reforms that succeeded in upsetting both labor union and business leaders attending the negation talks. Unions were opposed to reforms allowing business owners to ask employees to work longer or shorter hours depending on the workload. Spanish union leader Ignacio Fernandez Toxo insisted such reforms will not create jobs.
Joining the “Los Indignados’” cause are the French and Greeks, as well as the Spanish public. A poll conducted in Spain found nearly 70% of the Spanish population feels sympathy for the group. French youth also discontent with the status quo organized a corresponding gathering during the Spanish elections to show support, and have continued to gather outside the Place de la Bastille: symbolic of the French Revolution.
Also gaining momentum are the protests in Greece, which has not experienced a steady political environment since the debt crisis and subsequent bailouts. However, unlike previous protests which have been organized by union and political leaders, these new protests are led by unaffiliated Greek citizens. 50 tents were on Syntagma square in Athens during the week.
Looking ahead, “Los Indignados” has scheduled a nationwide demonstration for June 19 and a global protest for October 15, with most likely France and Greece joining.