Monday, June 27, 2011

Spanish protesters are indignant about the wrong things

Anti-Crisis protesters, indignados ("indignants"), have been marching across Spain to express their frustration and outrage at the country's economic situation - and the measures being taken to tackle it.

You can understand why people are out on the streets, particularly the young, with even a university education proving almost useless in the face of 20% unemployment. On top of that there are public spending cuts biting and laws being passed to erode pension and employment rights. People feel they are being punished with austerity and economic misery for the sins of others, mainly bankers and politicians.

Do the indignados have a point? What are their arguments and do they stack up?

Protesting “against” the crisis is pretty pointless because you can’t protest against an economic state, but that’s what a lot of the indignation seems to boil down to – a need to let off steam and vent frustration. Some protesters though have articulated anger against specific policies, people or institutions they hold responsible for causing the crisis or worsening its effects. From what I have read these are the main grievances:

- Unemployment

- Reduced pensions

- Reduced employment protection

- Austerity in the form of tax increases and spending cuts

- Corruption

In terms of who they are angry with, apart from the politicians and banks, it is chiefly Europe because of a "Euro Pact" made in the spring forcing deficit countries to reform and enforce fiscal discipline (as one Spanish paper sees it The European Pact punishes workers and social spending)

My problem with these protests is that they protest against the problem and the most likely solutions at the same time. By all means be angry about unemployment but don't then complain about changes to worker protection laws because these are desperately needed to increase employment. Similarly it is dubious to protest about public spending cuts when it should be quite obvious from the Greece situation that things could be much worse for Spain without some short term pain now. Also attacking Europe as if it is some kind of Thatcherite institution administering harsh economic medicine is ridiculous - they should not be attacking the Euro Pact, which is just what Spain needs, but challenging the Euro which is at the root of a lot of the misery.

Reading one website's description of the protests (Indignation against the crisis and for a general strike) I was struck by the truth of one reader's comment in reply-

"The indignation is against a lot of things And for that they are? What specific solutions do you propose? What will you do to feel represented? The solutions are not free rain from the sky"

I quite agree. At this stage the protests merely look like a disorganised and contradictory series of gripes. I too feel the politicians of Spain have let the country down (although the country was happy to play along during the boom), but actually now they need to be more radical and stick with a reform agenda rather than cave into these woolly headed indignados.

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