Friday, March 30, 2012

Striking Out - Vaga 2012

Today was the day that we've been "waiting" for, the General Strike in Spain.  In an attempt to give notice to the citizens of Spain, this is a strike that had been planned well in advance, coincidentally timed for the day before meetings scheduled to approve the latest budget to help reduce the debt here, which is also a part of why they are striking.  Unions are being tasked with labor reforms and austerity cuts to which the workers are protesting. 

Currently, Spain tops the European unemployment list with 23% of the country currently jobless.  Of those under 30, the rate is actually 50% which is just downright scary.  So my question, which is probably based on lack of knowledge, is if you have this many people without jobs, can you really protest changes to the hiring/firing process or do you just take whatever job you can in order to provide for your family??  My thought would be the latter, but then as I said, I haven't done a whole lot of research on this and am really just reacting with my gut. 

So anyways, back to the strike today.  It wasn't just in Catalunya, but all of Spain.  But from what I've read, the majority of Spain was pretty peaceful as far as their protests went.  Not so much here in Barcelona.  In fact, I just spoke to my mom to reassure her that we are alive and fine and have responded to several emails with the same concerns.  Aside from the protests, the strike significantly impacted transportation - all transportation - taxis, buses, metro, commuter rail and airlines.  Josh had to take the kids to school today via taxi because there was no school bus. 

In addition, Josh was supposed to fly to Amsterdam today.  According to, his flight wasn't cancelled, BUT when he searched for the flight, it didn't exist either.  So what to do?  He went to the airport (to the tune of 30 euros for the cab each way) to find out that in fact, no flight.  And hence, took yet another cab back home.  So when the school called at 12:30 to say Liam wasn't feeling well, I took one for the team and went to pick them up.  I took a cab up there but since it was a beautiful day and as we all know, Liam is a puker in the car, I decided we would walk the 6 or so kilometers home.  Armed with Liam's stroller and Aidan's scooter, we hit the road which thankfully (given Liam weighs 45 lbs and has only been in the stroller now 2x in the last year) was downhill the majority of the way. 

I expected to see more going on related to the strike as we walked.  Earlier in the morning I had noticed many shops with their metal gates either all the way down, partially down or down only over windows.  It was as though they were prepared for something really bad to happen just because they had opened their doors.  There is a shop across the street from us, I have no idea what they do.  But I saw people in and out of the door and yet, unless you saw someone walk in or out, you would never know they were open because all their gates were closed.  So work, but be discreet if possible.  I went to the seamstress to get a pair of jeans hemmed, but no, her gates were 3/4 of the way down and so therefore I took that to mean, yes, I'm working, but I'm not taking on any new business today for fear of the consequences. 
Our grocery store with the front door open but the gates over their larger windows

The lights were off inside the pharmacy and the light outside was also off, gate partially down... as if they were ready to close up at the drop of a hat

Business across the street from me.  They were open for business believe it or not - people were walking in and out of the door on the left on a regular basis

What most of the graffiti we saw looked like (29-M for Mar 29)

So on the way home from school, we saw that most shops were completely closed, but then, it was also siesta.  So were they closed for siesta or were they closed for the strike?  I saw some graffiti here and there but nothing major.  And you definitely saw less traffic on the streets, noticable enough that Aidan, at age 7, pointed it out to me.  We saw a few motorcycle cops closing down traffic to a major street but that was about the scope of it. 

But it's what we didn't see that's more concerning to me.  We stayed away from Placa Catalunya today.  We didn't even attempt the metro or FGC (commuter rail) knowing that there was the possibility of protesters and violence.  I know that it's the minority of protesters that affect the majority and give them a bad rap.  Most of these people were protesting peacefully and that's well within their rights.  While I might not completely agree with their reasoning for the protests, I'm also not fully educated on them, nor is it my place to judge them.  But if they are peaceful then they are well within their right to protest. 
However, I'm totally cool with judging those who think that violence is the way to solve problems.  Because it's not.  From having spoken with friends that live in different parts of the city, it makes me sad to see the damage that was caused by few that will affect so many.  Not to mention the peaceful protesters who were outshined by those who seemed to feel violence was the way to get their point across.  Instead I think it instilled fear rather than unity. 

From a friend who was trapped inside Starbucks because protesters were trying to break in, to one who saw entire intersections being lit on fire and then police vans (mossos) driving by spraying rubber bullets at people to clear the way, this was far from a peaceful day.  And it's a day that will take some time to recover from and given the state of the economy here and the reasoning for the protests, it's not money that is readily available.

I didn't experience much of the protests first hand which I'm thankful for.  When my friend called me from the thick of it and then yelled into the phone that she literally had to run, I realized how precarious a situtation she was in down there and while curious, didn't envy her either given how violent things became.  But I do appreciate the photos she took and then gave me permission to share.  These were all close to the city center of Placa Catalunya but not in the actual center.

Insurance company who will need to replace a window or two

Road block that at one point was on fire spanning the width of the street

Dumpsters were on fire all over the place

Barcelona Stock Exchange - paint balled and egged

Today, things are back to normal.  The streets are full of people, storefronts are open.  It's as if a light switch was turned on/off and yesterday was just that and today is a new day.  I spoke to my friend who lives in the city center and she said with the exception of the sounds of plywood being nailed to cover broken windows, it's business as usual.  It's amazing to me that you can have riots like that and then normalcy all within a matter of hours.  Surreal even. 

Regardless, it's all over (for now) and we're safe and sound and getting ready for our trip to Italy tomorrow so all is good :)



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