Rajoy braces for general strike against draconian labor reform

Minimum services not guaranteed in many regions Madrid march wins right to congregate in Sol

Mariano Rajoy predicted in Brussels that his government’s labor reform plan would “cost me a general strike,” and it has taken fewer than 100 days in power for his forecast to become reality. Spanish workers will down tools on Thursday in the eighth general strike the country has witnessed since the transition to democracy, and one that the main labor unions CCOO and UGT have called “the most justified of them all.”

The aim of the strike is to force the government into a volte-face over its reform, which is widely seen as draconian in content and skewed toward benefiting companies at the expense of workers, who can be sacked with more ease and at less cost under the new regulations.

Despite unemployment standing at around 5.3 million people, and a surprise failure to win a majority in the Andalusia regional elections last Sunday, Rajoy plans to stand firm on the reform. The prime minister on Friday will announce the budget, which he has already stated will be “the most austere of the democratic period.”

Unlike the general strike of September 2010, in response to José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero’s previous adjustment of the labor law, the Socialists are actively supporting this stoppage. If Rajoy is not swayed by the masses, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba’s party has promised to pursue the matter in the Constitutional Court. The Popular Party’s decision to toughen the reform has been called “the biggest regression since democracy,” by CCOO and UGT.

The unions have offered to cover 25 to 30 percent of public transport services in Madrid, but in eight other regions – Asturias, Castilla-La Mancha, Castilla y León, the Basque Country, Extremadura, the Balearics, Galicia and Murcia – no agreements have been reached to meet any minimum service requirements.

One battle has already been won by the labor unions: the Madrid regional High Court overturned a government attempt to prevent the march ending in the emblematic Sol square in the center of the city. The court also extended to 11pm the time the protest could go on until after the government had tried to shorten it by an hour.

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