Clashes in Madrid, where austerity still hurts

“Los indignados” was the name given to the protesters gathered in the Spanish capital Madrid May 15, 2011. That name has been accompanying for years every spontaneous movement arisen in order to protest the austerity policies imposed by governments and bureaucracies to respond to the economic crisis. 2011 e 2012 appeared to be years in which people have tried to take over the role of influential actor on the political scene, both nationally and globally.

Instances like economic redistribution, employment for all and refusal to pay the debts accumulated during the previous decades have grouped in with especially the younger generation in a cry of ‘rebellion’ that seemed to echo that of the contemporary Arab spring, and which also involved the United States with the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Up to now, the sort of ethical revolution advocated against the excessive power of finance and the subordination of politics to the economy seems not to have realized. The economic crisis is still gripping Europe and the way out to the social disaster that it has caused seems to be that of market and finance. The momentum of the movement for the abolition of the privileges of the political class, against unemployment, for the right to housing, for quality public services, in favor of a greater control of the banks, for fair tax authorities, for civil liberties, participatory democracy and the reduction of military expenditure has weakened for some time.

At the same time, even the political elites, after years of negative GDP growth rate, became sure of the fact that the economic policies taken so far are ineffective, even counterproductive. Now they should convert those beliefs into practice, focusing especially on the fight against unemployment, the real tragedy of the crisis we are still facing. In fact, the Eurostat data confirm that the average unemployment rate is 10.8% in the European Union, with a peak of 25.8% in Spain and 28.0% in Greece[1]. These figures, even more unmerciful if referred to young people, represent a negative escalation in place since 2009. When compared with the data on employment in countries such as Japan and the United States, it’s clear that Europe is moving in the opposite direction than the rest of the world[2].

Spain in particular has paid a heavy price in this crisis and resulted one of the economies most affected, first at the financial level and then in the most important economic indicators[3]. The measures taken by the government of the Popular Party led by the Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who took office in December 2011, were inspired by the ideology of austerity, an ideology that some of the most important economists like Krugman and Stiglitz have defined a real trap, because it reduces the purchasing power and consumption, just like investment and hiring. At the end of all that, GDP does not grow and consequently the debt increases its specific weight.

March 22 about fifty thousand people marched in Madrid to demonstrate a strong dissent against huge cuts to the social expense, thousands of foreclosures and unemployment[4]. The demonstration, named ‘Marcha de la Dignidad’ (March for dignity) by the organizes, was peaceful until the evening, but then led to some clashes between protesters and police. At the end of these fights there were about a hundred of people wounded both among protesters and police and 24 protesters were arrested. Furthermore the organizers, who had announced plans to gather a million people, have reported that Spanish police have blocked hundreds of buses preventing them from entering the capital[5].

Although the government has labeled the event as a demonstration of the extreme left[6], the manifesto drawn up by the organizers has some themes that are strongly shared by the Spanish public opinion. This manifesto[7], whose motto is “Bread, Job and Roof for all”, is launching a cry of alarm for what appears to be the most devastating result of unemployment, that is, the waste of human capital with the negative effects on the dignity of the person. Once again the main focus of this social anger is the ‘troika’, composed by the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission, accused of trampling on the fundamental rights of citizens and to facilitate impoverishment.

If it is true that every indication let us foresee that this unrest will remain unanswered, it seems also evident that the forthcoming elections for the European Parliament could be a turning point in the policies pursued by the European Union and, as a result, by the national governments. Maybe, one day someone will have to take responsibility for taking certain decisions or for not having been able to counteract.


Francesco Angelone

Master’s degree in International Relations (LUISS “Guido Carli”)



[3] The debt/GDP ratio in Spain is 92.3%. In the period 2007-2012 labor costs decreased by 5.9% and the employment rate has declined by 6.0%. Source of data Eurostat.

[4] Andreu J., Kadner M., Galvez J. J. (2014), « La Marcha de la Dignidad toma el centro de Madrid con miles de personas”, in El Pais, 23rd March,

[5] Rai News (2014), “Madrid: scontri al corteo contro l’austerity, oltre 70 feriti”, 22nd March,

[6] Andreu J., Kadner M., Galvez J. J., Hierro L. (2014), “Asì te hemos contado la Marcha de la Dignidad”, in El Pais, 22nd March,

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