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Spain’s ‘indignant’ rally at parliament

Published on 22/06/2011

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 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 is set to debate Wednesday 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, targetting in particular a European Union pact to implement greater austerity.