Unemployment is a built-in feature of the capitalist system. Driven by massive unemployment and the new government austerity program, more than a million workers protested in 80 cities throughout the Spanish state on July 19.
Even right-wing economists like Milton Friedman speak of a “natural unemployment rate” during economic good times. Under capitalism, workers are only hired if their labor power can be transformed into profits. Unemployment keeps wages lower and profits higher.
During capitalist downturns, unemployment increases. Having an army of unemployed workers drives the wages of employed workers down by increasing competition for jobs. Society deteriorates as a greater amount of human labor power is left idle. Unemployed workers suffer, desperately trying to find housing, food and other basic human rights.
In Spain, 24.6 percent of the workforce is unemployed. The government is in the middle of a “debt crisis” and is cutting social services. On July 11, Spain’s prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, announced to the National Assembly that the government would be cutting unemployment benefits.
Parliamentary deputy, Andrea Fabra, a member of Rajoy’s party, echoed this attack on unemployed workers, shouting, following Rajoy’s announcement, “Screw them all!” (“¡Que se jodan!”) Her outrageous outburst was recorded on videotape and has caused millions to fume with rage.
The Spanish working class is fighting back. The miners of Asturias have been on strike for several months, and have famously defended themselves against police attacks with homemade projectile launchers. A delegation of miners from Asturias marched to Madrid in early July and was greeted by a huge rally of supporters.
In response to the cuts in the wages and bonuses of public sector employees, the offices of the ruling Popular Party have become targets for almost daily demonstrations and disruptions. The common chant is “Hands up! This is a robbery!”
The Indignados, a movement of Spanish youth that inspired Occupy Wall Street, have joined with the labor movement, the unemployed and various other sectors of society in this mass surge of demonstrations.
At the moment, the protests in Spain are focused primarily on the outrages committed by the ruling center-right Popular Party. However, mass unemployment is not something any capitalist or social-democratic party is going to be able to solve. Polls show that workers in Spain are also growing critical of the reformist Spanish Socialist Workers Party, which has also presided over austerity.
Police brutality has been on display in full force. Rubber bullets have flown at these mass rallies without pause, and smoke bombs have frequently been deployed to confuse and break up the crowds. It is an interesting contradiction that a small number of police and some firefighters, who are all public employees, have joined protests against the cuts to their own salaries.
Thousands of the unemployed marchers came to Madrid in mass marches from other parts of the country to join the July 19 rally. Like the Canadian student strikers, they beat pots and pans and did their best to arouse all whom they passed in these lengthy journeys toward the capital city.
As the global crisis of capitalism is unfolding, the workers of Spain are making clear they will not let themselves be “screwed” over. Their fighting and resistance show the potential not just for their own defense, but for the entire oppressive system to become “unscrewed.”