Madrid - Protesters massed in May Day street rallies across Spain on Tuesday, venting anger over austerity, job reforms and an unemployment rate topping 24 percent.
Unions, infuriated by a string of reforms introduced by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's conservative government since taking power in December last year, called protests in some 80 cities.
Tens of thousands marched to Madrid's central square Puerta del Sol, cradle of the “indignant” uprising against unemployment, financial and political corruption and a popular perception of powerlessness.
Rallying behind a banner reading: “They want to end it all: Work, Dignity, Rights”, the protesters poured through the capital in bigger numbers than in previous May Day rallies.
At the culmination of the march in the Puerta del Sol, Ignacio Fernandez Toxo, secretary-general of the major Workers Commissions union, decried the labour reforms making it easier and cheaper to lay off workers.
“Nearly a million workers across Spain are in the streets saying 'No' to this way of understanding labour relations,” the union leader said. His numbers could not be verified.
“This is an expression of peaceful, firm, democratic rebellion against an attack on public services, employment, and social rights,” said Candido Mendez, secretary-general of the General Workers Union.
Many in the street told stories of hardship that lie behind Spain's stark statistics: a 24.44 percent unemployment rate, the highest in the industrialised world, 52.0 percent of the young out of work, and 5.6 million people jobless overall.
“My daughters have no work,” said 51-year-old Josefa Martinez Fernandez. “The young who had work have been thrown out.”
Protesters marched across the country from Seville, to Valencia and Spain's second-largest city Barcelona where unions claimed some 100 000 participants but police estimated 15 000.
“This May 1 is stained by the ridiculous austerity policies and the excessive cuts, but they will have to reckon with the people who are indignant and ready to come into the street when necessary,” said Beatriz Casaus, an unemployed 35-year-old nurse in Barcelona.
In Barcelona, protesters marched to the main Plaza de la Catedral, where union leaders vowed to fight the labour reforms.
In Madrid, too, unions vowed not to give up.
“May 1 is not the end,” said Toxo.
“We will take to the streets even if they don't like it, and with right on our side, until the state of matters in our country changes.” - Sapa-AFP