Spain’s ‘youth without a future’ take to the streets
Published on 23/05/2011
Madrid — For the past week young Spaniards have fuelled nightly demonstrations in Madrid and dozens of other towns and cities as part of a grass-roots protest movement organised on the Internet that has tapped into long-simmering grievances which have worsened with Spain’s economic crisis.
The demonstrations ahead of local elections on Sunday have drawn tens of thousands, including unemployed of all ages and pensioners angry over the government’s economic policies. But young people make up the vast majority.
Paula Mendez Sena, a 24-year-old architect by training, said she was taking part because she has been unemployed since graduating. Her 25-year-old partner who has an engineering degree is also out of work.
"At our ages our parents had jobs, a house and children. When are we going to have work and everything our parents had? If I think about it I feel like crying" she said at Madrid’s central Puerta del Sol square as some of the dozens of demonstrators who camped out there overnight rested on sleeping bags nearby.
Handmade signs posted on the walls of stores in the square reflect the anger felt by many youths.
"If you don’t let us dream, we won’t let you sleep," read one prominent cardboard sign.
Inspired partly by the youth uprisings in North Africa, the movement is organised on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter where it has tens of thousands of followers.
"The revolutions in Arab nations demonstrated that collective action can crystallize change," said Pablo Padilla, a 22-year-old anthropology student who is a leading activist with "Youth Without a Future", one of the groups convening the demonstrations.
"What doesn’t lead to change is sitting on the sofa," add Padilla, who began a three-month internship at a website in April that pays just 300 euros ($424) a month after spending a year and a half out of work.
Jose Feliz Tezanos, a sociologist at Madrid’s UNED university, said the Internet has provided disgruntled youths with a "meeting place" where they can organise that did not exist before.
"Social networking sites are the breeding ground for the movement. The environment is not explosive, but it is flammable. A spark would be all it takes to set off signficant conflicts," he said.
Police detained 19 people for disorderly conduct and damage to public property early on Tuesday when they cleared the roughly 150 youths who had camped out at Madrid’s Puerta de Sol square.
The nightly protests have since grown in size and police have not moved to clear the square. The demonstrators say they plan to stay in the square until Sunday when Spain holds municipal and regional elections.
While Spain’s youth unemployment rate has long been much higher than that for the general population, it has soared since the Spanish economy went into a tailspin following the collapse of a property bubble in 2008.
The jobless rate for those under 25 stood at 44.6 percent in February, more than twice the average for the country and the highest youth unemployment rate in the European Union.
Tezano estimates that two-thirds of those with a job find themselves in a "precarious work situation" — on temporary contracts or low-paid internships.
Government spending cuts to slash the public deficit and reforms intended to revive the economy, such as changes to the labour code that makes it easier to fire workers and the decision to raise the retirement age to 67 from 65, have added to young people’s anxiety about their future.
"They are cutting all the rights which cost our parents and grandparents blood and sweat to earn," said 32-year-old Claudia Ayala, who is working part-time at a shop while she looks for a job related to her degree.
"Spain has been putting up with this situation but it reaches the point where you have to say ‘enough’. And that moment has come."
Daniel Silva / AFP / Expatica