Spain's 'indignant' rally at parliament

22nd June 2011, Comments 0 comments

About 200 of Spain's "indignant" activists rallied near the Spanish parliament Wednesday after camping out overnight to protest plans to overhaul workers' collective bargaining rights.

Two rows of police vans and uniformed officers blocked access to the square in front of the central Madrid assembly.

Many of the demonstrators, who are protesting the country's economic crisis, high unemployment, benefit cuts and political corruption, spent the night in the street in sleeping bags stretched out on cardboard or in tents.

Elsa Tobeno, a 45-year-old single mother who has been unemployed since she lost her job at a nursery four years ago, said she joined the rally in the morning because the government's labour reforms were "unjust".

"Everything the government does is against us. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer," she said, holding up a banner that read "Enough!".

Parliament on Wednesday debated a proposed reform of the collective bargaining system, which was approved by Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's cabinet on June 10.

The reform to the system, which includes industry-wide agreements that cannot be modified, reduces the period that a contract remains valid once it has expired.

The International Monetary Fund and the Bank of Spain believe the existing system is too rigid. Businesses have criticised the reform, saying it does not go far enough.

On Tuesday, the IMF issued a report calling for collective bargaining agreements to be changed to apply only to specific firms instead of entire industries.

The "indignant" protests started in Madrid on May 15 and fanned out as word spread by Twitter and Facebook, bringing tens of thousands of people into city squares around Spain ahead of May 22 local elections.

The protesters had set up a camp in Madrid's Puerta del Sol square, which was dismantled on June 12 although the group said that did not signal the end of their movement.

An estimated 200,000 people took to the streets on Sunday to vent their anger, targeting in particular a European Union pact to implement greater austerity.

The activists are also planning at least three nationwide marches that will culminate at a major Madrid rally on July 23.

About 20 "indignant" activists set off on Monday on foot and bicycle from the eastern Mediterranean city of Valencia for the Spanish capital, a route that will cover 500 kilometres (300 miles) over 35 days.

Other "indignant" marches were scheduled to leave Cadiz in Spain's south on Thursday and Barcelona in the northeast two days later.

Polls show protesters enjoy broad support and several Spanish celebrities, such as film director Pedro Almodovar and actress Penelope Cruz, have expressed sympathy for them.

Icelandic singer Hordur Torfason, a key organiser of protests that toppled Iceland's government in 2008 after the country's main banks collapsed, visited the Spanish activists.

At a wooden information booth set up by the protesters in the Puerta del Sol, he wrote and taped to the wall a sign saying "Don't give up people" to applause from activists.

"This is the most important thing," the 65-year-old said. "I wanted to understand and learn how you work. I am very impressed, it is very well organised and the spirit of the people is very positive."

© 2011 AFP

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