Spanish workers could be the next group marching onto Europe’s battleground as public sector unions plan to strike against austerity measures on 8 June.
Workers in Spain have been among the hardest hit by the economic crisis.
Over a million and a half have lost their jobs in the last few years – leaving one in five people on the dole.
In response to the crisis, the Labour-like PSOE government initially took a different approach to most governments.
Prime minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said he would “never make workers pay for the crisis”.
He invested in public works projects to employ half a million unemployed builders.
But his party has often taken sides with the bosses against workers. The PSOE created a more “flexible” workforce when it was in office in the 1980s and 1990s.
Now four out of five young workers are on fixed term contracts, leading to a life of insecurity.
Zapatero came to office on a wave of protests against the previous right wing government. Until now he has avoided open confrontation with the working class.
This has changed.
Spain was the last major economy to escape recession, and its public debt is mushrooming under the weight of unemployment.
International investors have been betting on a debt default in Spain as well as in Greece and Portugal.
They have joined Spanish bosses in demanding savage spending cuts and the ability to sack people more cheaply. One banker compared the situation to a “war”.
These unelected people caused the crisis and they are now telling governments to make ordinary people pay.
US president Barack Obama has added his voice to theirs, telephoning Zapatero to call for “resolute action”.
An hour later, Zapatero announced a sweeping cuts package of billions of euros.
This includes slashing public sector pay by 5 percent, and reducing pensions and disability benefits.
His government had already raised VAT, which hits the poorest hardest.
In contrast, the rich are being left alone. Despite the crisis, the earnings of the top executives rose to record levels last year.
The situation requires a serious response from the union movement. But until now the major federations have done little.
Their leaders have treated Zapatero as an ally, saying the right wing would be worse.
The only serious strike action had been by regional unions.
Now the union leaders have reacted angrily, calling a public sector strike in June, though it has been put back six days from its original date.
There is pressure, including from the left wing United Left party, to make it a general strike.
This will be necessary for workers to stand a real chance of beating back the attacks.
But the unions are continuing negotiations with employers over lessening the cost of sacking people, which shows they cannot be trusted to go all the way.
Two out of three Spaniards oppose the cuts package – meaning Zapatero’s popularity has plunged.
In surveys people identify “politicians” as one of “the country’s biggest problems”.
The hope is that the widening divorce between the people and their rulers will lead to even bigger struggles.