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Strike in the near future

The government and the unions must take a responsible line with the upcoming budget cutbacks

On Sunday the Spanish labor unions came out on the streets of the country’s major cities to protest against the reform of the labor market. The intention was to force the government to negotiate on some of the more controversial points of the reforms, and also to gauge the strength of the unions in view of the general strike planned for March 29.

With these moves, the unions have taken the initiative, after several weeks of a campaign to discredit them waged by certain figures from the Popular Party (PP) and the government. The unions have acted in a gradual manner, belying any accusation of radicalism, and leaving the door open for negotiation.

The harsh adjustment programs that lie ahead for Spain need to have as much support as possible from the sectors most affected, and that of the workers is certainly one of these. The government, in a spirit of firmness, is refusing to revise its decisions, but in so doing runs the risk that its attitude will be perceived as a sign of how it conceives the exercise of power at a time of difficulty.

The temptation to utilize people’s fears about the future, in carrying out an economic program that the PP already advocated before the crisis, is a risky course, which may prove costly to the country as a whole. Like any government in democracy, the administration headed by Mariano Rajoy has a responsibility not only to implement the necessary measures, but also to do so within the best possible climate of social peace. To do otherwise would be to deny the value of politics, and to assign an invariable role to each and every institution, whether public or of civil society.

Independently of whether or not Sunday’s demonstrations constitute a reliable indicator with which to gauge the probable result of the upcoming general strike, the fact is that the unions are betting heavily on the March 29 strike as a means of influencing the fate of Spanish workers for the duration of the crisis. Their leaders are aware of this, and are therefore attempting to find a delicate balance between the need to give a voice to the growing malaise in society, and the risk of demanding too much of the government and thus isolating themselves. The margin is narrow, especially when what prevails in most people is the fear of losing their jobs, and when polls show that the majority of citizens does not support a general strike.

It seems unlikely that the harsh cutbacks that, according to the indications offered by the government, will be included in this year’s budget, can be implemented without social tensions. Political skill will be required to keep these differences within the channels of negotiation, by sharing the belt-tightening more equitably.

For this it is necessary that the unions perform their function, rather than further exacerbate the tensions. But it is also necessary that the government do its share, setting aside the idea that it is better to govern with labor unions that are broken and defeated, or even without any unions at all.


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