PROTESTS

Union leaders use May Day parade to call for plan to jumpstart economy

"Today must represent a before and an after,” says UGT head Cándido Méndez

CCOO union leader Ignacio Férnandez Toxo (l) and his UGT counterpart Cándido Méndez lead a May Day march in Madrid on Wednesday.
CCOO union leader Ignacio Férnandez Toxo (l) and his UGT counterpart Cándido Méndez lead a May Day march in Madrid on Wednesday.DOMINIQUE FAGET (AFP)

Thousands of people marched in Spanish cities on May Day to protest what labor unions are calling a “national emergency.”

Citing the more than 6.2 million people without jobs, representing a record unemployment rate of 27 percent, CCOO labor leader Ignacio Fernández Toxo called for a “broad agreement to change the economic model, for jobs and for protection,” including a shock plan to jumpstart the Spanish economy.

“This May Day must represent a before and an after,” added Cándido Méndez, head of the other major union, UGT. “Jobs must come first.”

Méndez demanded that the EU earmark between one and two percent of its GDP to fight unemployment. It is a lie that there are no alternatives to austerity, said both leaders, who were highly critical of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and his Popular Party for doing things “even worse” than the previous Socialist administration of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.

Although Méndez had talked about a “great turnout” for May Day this year, figures appeared similar to last year’s. In Madrid, organizers talked about 50,000 demonstrators. Toxo said that no matter what the turnout, it will not change the “majority rejection” of spending cuts.

“Today we are not asking for support for the unions, but for people to take to the streets for their rights, for the jobless, for the owners of preferential shares, for the workers in precarious jobs,” Toxo said.

Predictably, the government had a different take on the “modest” turnout on Wednesday. “There are not more demonstrations because people are sensible and they know that the things that are being done needed to be done,” said Rafael Hernando, deputy speaker of the ruling Popular Party in Congress. “Everyone knew this would not be easy and we said it from the start. I understand why some people are getting impatient.”

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