Spain: Mass protests to defend pensions

Issue 

The article below is abridged from the British Morning Star.

Organised workers took over cities across Spain on February 23 to press the government to abandon plans to raise the retirement age from 65 to 67.

Some 70,000 marched in Madrid, while 50,000 rallied in Barcelona. Thousands more took to the streets in other cities across the country.

Addressing a massive crowd in Madrid's central Puerta del Sol square, Comisiones Obreras union confederation general secretary Ignacio Fernandez Toxo urged Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero "not to play around with pensions, with the future of millions and millions of people in our country".

The Spanish government is seeking to satisfy the European Union's diktat that "sovereign" eurozone governments cannot allow public deficits to exceed 3% of Gross Domestic Products.

The economic crisis has resulted in Spain's deficit exploding to 11.4% and unemployment is at 19% — Europe's highest.

Zapatero appears deaf to union demands for more government measures to stimulate the economy.

He has announced more than 50 billion euros in public spending cuts to be phased in over three years and a freeze on civil service recruitment.

Polls indicate 84% of the population oppose the austerity measures.

Zapatero has also hinted that he intends to water down hard-won labour laws.

Before the protests, European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso backed Zapatero and called on all EU member states to raise retirement ages.

Bank of Spain governor Miguel Angel Fernandez Ordonez said forcing people to work longer "will provide a major boost to the financial balance of the public pension system".

Portuguese unions have also announced a general strike for March 4 to protest their government's attacks on workers' living standards at the behest of the EU and international financiers.

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