Broken jobs promise fuels Spain's protests: analysts

2nd June 2011, Comments 0 comments

The "indignant" protesters taking over Spain's city squares have a deep grudge shared by millions of Spaniards: they see no prospect whatsover of getting a decent job.

Many are young and highly qualified yet the outlook is bleak: the unemployed account for 21.9 percent of the entire Spanish workforce -- the highest in the industrialized world -- and 43.4 percent of under 25s.

"Education is no longer enough to assure a place in the middle class or to climb higher," University of Alicante sociologist Antonio Alaminos said.

"The blockage of the traditional mechanism for social mobility because of the lack of qualified work is behind a lot of the dissatisfaction we are seeing."

In a sprawling encampment sheltered beneath blue plastic sheets across Madrid's Puerta del Sol square, activists have erected up myriad signs of discontent: "Right to a roof"; "Spain is not a business, we are not slaves", and "We are not products."

"At our age, our parents had a job, a house, children. When will we have all that?" asked Paula Mendez Sana, a 24-year-old qualified architect with no work who came to the square to protest.

She is one of tens of thousands who joined in after Spain's demonstrations began May 15 and fanned out to city squares nationwide as word spread by Twitter and Facebook.

Known as "the indignant", "M-15" and "Spanish Revolution", the rallies peaked with tens of thouisands protesting on the eve of Spain's May 22 local elections, in which the ruling Socialists were crushed by the conservative Popular Party.

Most protesters don't support either of the major parties, however.

"Overall, there is a crisis of political legitimacy - the politicians are not resolving their citizens' problems," Alaminos said.

And on the economy, competitivity was being achieved through low-paid jobs and not innovation," he added. "It is the betrayal of the new European capitalism, the result of competing with salaries in China, for example, which is behind the protests."

Low-paying, low-grade jobs for young people who have two or even three university degrees are a recurring complaint among the "indignant".

Spain's social security net and family support -- it is common for children to stay at home until they marry -- tempered the impact of the economic crisis.

But finally the discontent "had to come out," said Jose Felix Tezanos, professor at the distance education university UNED.

Tezanos saw some similarities with the popular Arab revolts.

"There, we are also dealing with young generations, well educated, who communicate by social networks and see their future prospects unfulfilled," he said.

But the economic hardship suffered by Spaniards was not comparable to that of young Arabs living under authoritarian regimes, he added.

Fermin Bouza of Madrid's Complutense University said the movement in Spain had become "a bit like a union for the unemployed, and that is what gives it strength."

In Puerta del Sol, the level of outside support for the demonstrators is striking: housewives and retirees arrive regularly with food and other provisions and words of encouragement.

Many of the unemployed were jumping on to small anti-political organizations, some with anarchist or libertarian beliefs but without much broad support, Bouza said. "But now with the crisis they have won the support of the unemployed."

It is hard to see where the movement will end up, said UNED's Tezanos.

"It is like the Green Party: when it was created we did not know too well what would happen and now in some countries it is taking on great importance," he said.

© 2011 AFP

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