There were massive demonstrations against austerity in Spain and Portugal today (Saturday).
Protesters from across the Spanish state converged in the capital, Madrid, in a national mobilisation against the government’s cuts. It was called by a coalition of trade unions and other organisations.
Ten “tides” of feeder marches in different colours assembled around the city, representing different sectors and regions.
Students and education workers marched together. Civil service workers dressed in black to mourn their lost wages, while the tide of teachers wore green t-shirts and the social workers wore orange.
Blocs of women marching to defend abortion rights and migrant workers also joined the protest.
Sam Robson, from the socialist organisation En Lucha, was on the “critical” block formed by the left wing CGT union and anti-capitalist organisations.
“Our slogan was, we owe nothing so we’ll pay nothing,” he told Socialist Worker. “There was a really combative atmosphere.
“The whole city centre was swarming with people with placards and in political t-shirts.”
They all poured into the central Plaza Colon, more than filling the square. Government officials faced ridicule when they said there were only 65,000 people protesting. When a church-led demonstration against abortion filled the square three years ago they counted more than a million. Unions say today's demo was more than twice as big.
The march was fed by fury at an increase in VAT earlier this month—part of £50 billion worth of spending cuts announced in July.
It follows a demonstration of more than a million in Barcelona last week calling for the independence of Catalonia from Spain and a summer of marches in the south by the Andalusian Workers Union (SAT). These hit the headlines last month by occupying supermarkets and redistributing the food to the poor.
The march was called to demand a referendum on the cuts, but many blocks of protesters were demanding more: a general strike.
“A referendum is much too passive a strategy,” said Sam. “The welfare state is being dismantled, there are over five million people out of work and almost 2,000 evictions every week.
“The question isn't whether we support that, but what we are going to do about it. And what's needed is a coherent plan of strikes and mobilisations.”
Four protesters were arrested for holding up a banner promoting the next key mobilisation in Spain's “hot autumn”—a call-out from the Indignados movement to surround the parliament building on 25 September.
More protests erupted in more than 30 cities across Portugal, as well as a number of Portuguese embassies in countries around the world.
Their slogan was “fuck the troika”, in defiance of the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund. These three have imposed drastic conditions on the country in return for a “bailout” package.
There has been uproar since Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho announced new austerity measures on Friday of last week, including a hike in “social security” charges (similar to national insurance in Britain). These are equivalent to the loss of a month’s wages every year.
The numbers on the streets of the largest cities Lisbon and Porto was still growing by late afternoon.