Protesters from several European Union cities have begun to follow the example of hundreds of demonstrators from Spain who are marching from Madrid to Brussels, the bloc's de facto capital, in a growing protest against the effects of the economic crisis and the fiscal adjustment policies adopted to combat it.
The march – literally, on foot – began Tuesday Jul. 26 with half a dozen people at the Puerta del Sol, in Madrid, the “kilometre zero” point from which all distances in the country are measured. The “'Indignant' People's March” aims to cover the 1,550 km to Brussels by Oct. 8, one week ahead of the global demonstration planned for Oct. 15 by Democracia Real YA (Real Democracy Now!)
Marchers from other European cities will stop in Paris on the way to Brussels, to support the Occupy Wall Street initiative, aimed at occupying and disrupting what they call the “financial Gomorrah” of the United States.
Adbusters, a counter-cultural Canadian magazine, quoted Professor Raimundo Viejo of the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona as saying: “The anti-globalisation movement was the first step. Back then our model was to attack the system like a pack of wolves. There was an alpha male, a wolf leading the pack, and others who followed behind. Now the model has evolved. Today we are one big swarm of people.”
The Adbusters article calls on U.S. President Barack Obama to set up a presidential commission tasked with “ending the influence money has over (the country's) representatives in Washington.”
It also proposes “dismantling half the 1,000 military bases (the United States) has around the world,” among other pro-democracy measures.
But the May 15 Movement (15M), which emerged on that date with large demonstrations in the main squares of cities across Spain held to protest the political, economic and social system, is also drawing attention to issues not prominently covered by the international press, such as repossessions of the homes of those who fall behind on their mortgage payments.
The evictions have come in for a great deal of criticism because creditors not only seize the property, but also institute lawsuits to claim the outstanding debt on the mortgages.
The 15M demonstrators, also known as the “indignant” protesters, have managed to prevent low-income families from being thrown out on the street by holding flash protests when court officials and police show up to evict the residents. However, the law remains in place and continues to be enforced.
A document from the 15M movement was delivered to the Spanish parliament early this week, and the as yet unofficial indications are that lawmakers will debate the document in early September, after the August summer recess.
Socialist Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero announced Friday that early elections will be held in November, and that he will not be standing as a candidate. Thus, one of his last official duties will be to tackle the challenges posed by the 15M movement.
Leftwing legislators from the governing Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) as well as the United Left (IU) coalition believe that addressing the demands of the movement is a task too urgent to be postponed.
One lawmaker told IPS that, in the event that the centre-right People's Party (PP) wins the November elections, the issue would be dealt with by the new, PP-dominated, legislature, “which would be terrible for the 'indignant' movement,” he said.
The 2010 and 2011 polls have consistently put the PP in first place, well ahead of the PSOE.
The 15M movement document delivered to parliament details broken electoral promises, apathy in the face of speculation, and unsolved problems in agriculture, public services and the environment.
Among the failed promises, it says that in the last three parliamentary terms the candidates promised to build a hospital in the district of Alcañiz, in the northeastern rural province of Teruel, but construction work has not even started.
Pledges were also made to freeze the pay of high-level officials as a show of austerity in the midst of the crisis. But the document points out, for example, that in Nava del Rey, in the north-central province of Valladolid, the mayor granted himself a salary hike of 238 percent, and in La Gineta, in the southeastern province of Albacete, the local councillor draws 1,500 euros (2,160 dollars) a month for working just eight hours a week.
With regard to speculation, the document mentions the city of Calafell, in the eastern province of Tarragona, where the largest housing development in Europe was built; the population has grown from 24,000 to over 120,000 in only two years. It also says that in the southern city of Jaén, publicly owned land was granted for the site of a hospital, but here, too, building has not even begun.
Another issue, which the document describes as “fraudulent speculation”, involves the Guadarrama tunnel under the Sierras de Madrid mountains, which carries northbound traffic. Politicians promised to make the tunnel toll-free in 2012, but now this is not set to happen for another 50 years.
In agriculture, the “indignant” protesters are adding their voice to what farmers have been demanding for decades: to rein in price increases imposed by middlemen and product distribution chains, because if the present situation continues farmers will have difficulty selling their produce on the international market.
For example, in Teruel small farmers selling almonds are paid two euros (2.90 dollars) per kilo, while in the big supermarkets almonds are sold to consumers at 20 euros (nearly 29 dollars) per kilo.
With regard to public services, the document mentions problems like ambulances taking more than three hours to respond to calls, the lack of paediatricians in villages, schools being closed because they lack the minimum number of students, the privatisation of schools, budget cuts for cultural events, and outages of telephone and internet services in small towns.
Among environmental issues, the 15M movement complains of inefficient waste management and lack of conservation in green areas, and the government support for the construction of nuclear power plants and nuclear waste dumps. For instance in Zarra, in the eastern province of Valencia, there are plans to build a nuclear waste dump in an area prone to earthquakes.
Another heated environmental issue mentioned in the document is the plans by the conservative governor of the province of Madrid, Esperanza Aguirre, to privatise Canal de Isabel II, the company that supplies water to the capital.
The “indignant” movement also criticises the lack of job protection, citing the example of Castel de Cabra, in Teruel, where mines employing 1,000 workers have been closed. The workers were merely laid off, and have been offered no employment alternative.
(At 21.3 percent, Spain's unemployment rate is the highest in the European Union.)
Against this backdrop, there appears to be little chance for socialist Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba's bid to succeed Zapatero as prime minister by beating PP leader Mariano Rajoy in November.