A matter of opinion

So, was it a success, or wasn't it? Yesterday's huelga general, that is. Well, as ever with these things, it depends on who you talk to, as estimates of everything from attendance at demonstrations and support of the strike, to involvement by different sectors, vary with a typically Spanish wildness. And anyway, how do you judge a strike's effectiveness? By the amount of people taking part, or by whether it achieves its goal - to change President Zapatero's mind about his highly controversial employment reforms, salary cuts and pension freezes. The former is a matter of debate, the latter not - he's not going to budge an inch. For the trade unions leaders and politicians, it was, naturally, clear cut. The UGT and CCOO said it was an "undoubtable and undeniable success", while the government claimed that it had a "moderate effect" and was "unevenly supported". For example, the manifestacion in Madrid, the largest in the country, had, according to whom you believe, either a) 500,000 people (said the organisers), b) 95,000 (El Pais) or c) 40,000 (the police). That is a very, very major discrepancy. In Seville, it was either 50,000 or 12-15,000. Being new to the concept of a general strike (this was the seventh of the democracy, and my first ever), I wasn't sure how it would work. Would shops be open? What about banks? Would my son's school be operating? I assumed not, and only called to check at the last minute, to be told that yes, it was functioning as normal. In the end, as it is up to each person to decide - an employer can't force an employee to work if they want to strike, while those who work are free to do so - about half of the teachers at my son's school turned up, but only about 20% of the students. Another parent told me that some didn't bring their children because they were scared of pickets (apparently the main reason for people not working yesterday, rather than for ideological motives), although in theory these are allowed to be outside workplaces, but can't stop people going in. These are the national figures, from the trade unions (and management, where available): In total, ten million workers took part, 71% of workers. Agriculture and fishing: 83% Banking: 30% (4%) Construction: 90% (10%) Industry: 95% - 17 car factories were closed Public education: 60% Health: 60% in the morning and 40% in the afternoon Retail: 62% (10%) Services: 65% (3%) Transport: 82% (21%) Cleaning and rubbish collection: 96% Postal services: 90% In terms of Andalucia as opposed to the rest of the country, management claimed that 15% of construction supported the strike, while the unions said 90%. The majority of shops in my village were closed, while the bars and restaurants did a booming business (only 3% of Andalucia's hosteleria industry took part). In terms of the health service, 4.4% of staff stayed away, and 3.5% of education. Of Junta employees, the UGT union claimed that 44% supported the day of action (7.5% according to Junta itself). The situation in the centre of Seville was an interesting barometer. Many shops in calles Tetuan, Sierpes, Rioja and Velazquez opened as normal, though with more staff, at 10am. At 10.15am they were forced to close by the presence of pickets. Once these supporters of the action had left, the establishments opened their doors again, at about 12.15pm (although customers were scarce). So the participation of these shops in the strike was not voluntary; they were forced to close, due to intimidation and inconvience caused by, rather than agreement with and support of, the unions. The final figure was that 90% of shops in the Andalucian capital were open yesterday (apart from their enforced morning break). Other locales which were brought to a halt pickets and strike participation were Mercasevilla, industrial estates and the Renault factory. More buses than expected ran in Seville - the agreement was for 84 to run, but 31 operated voluntarily, greeted by shouts of "scabs!" from the picket line. Damas buses, which serve local towns, had no service at all due to picketing. As for the rest of Andalucia, as expected Cadiz saw a high turn-out for its demonstration, as did Jerez. Parts of Cordoba was brought to a halt - again, industrial estates and shopping centres, with El Corte Ingles always a popular target. Transport was widely affected in Malaga. In Huelva, many shops were closed, as well as accesses to the city and the Odiel and Tinto bridges. Participation in Almeria was not as high, although transport was limited by the strike action. So, in all, it depends what you read, and what your opinion is of the main parties involved; I suppose the truth is probably somewhere in between. It certainly wasn't universally supported; people aren't as keen to get out onto the streets as they used to be. As someone I know put it, "Ya no hay consciencia colectiva".
Blog published on 30 September 2010