This month's flavour – and probably for several months to come – is the strike in one form or another. At least that's what the unions are planning. However, the poor turnout for Sunday's protest marches – which were seen as a trial run for the March 29th general strike – may have taken the wind out of their sails. The CC.OO (Workers Commissions) and the UGT (General Workers Union) claimed 400,000 to 500,000 people had turned out in both Madrid and Barcelona – figures the police knocked down to 30,000 and 14,000 respectively. You would have thought the unions might dispute such a huge knock down, but their silence on this score has been deafening. So maybe the police got it right. I checked out the Guardian and the BBC – always quick to crow about any left-wing victory in Spain – and found nothing, which means the police figures are the ones closest to the real turnout, give or take a thousand or two. I'm not knocking either the Guardian or the Beeb, having worked for both of them in my time, but they do tend to look at the Left anywhere in the world through rose-tinted glasses.
On the other hand, pro-government pundits here are claiming that all the hullabaloo about a general strike is a ploy to divert attention from the The unions think that by concentrating on the iniquities of Mariano Rajoy's labour reform they'll frighten people into voting to keep the Socialist Party in power in Sevilla, as it has been since Andalucia became a decentralised region or autonomy on February 28th 1980. If they succeed, the Socialist dominance of Andalucia will then seriously rival the Franco dictatorship for longevity. But let's not count our chickens before they're hatched – although I'm already working on two different columns for the March 28th edition of The News.
Meanwhile, the decidedly pro-monarchy ABC newspaper is putting the unions under a microscope and releases interesting titbits every few days. A recent one was called “VIP trade union leaders” which tells how some former union leaders went on to sit on the boards of big companies, on which they had formerly represented their respective unions, and are now earning €366,000 a year before tax. Another little ABC snippet tells how the unions had been taking advantage of idealistic young people to get them to work for nothing, long before the current government came up with the idea. The difference is that the government will keep up the youngsters' Social Security payments and let them keep collecting their dole payments or any other financial assistance they might have been receiving in lieu of dole.
As for that ultra right-wing rag La Razon, it's seeing wild-eyed revolutionaries behind every bush and under every stone all over Spain. We'll soon be in the throes of another civil war, if this newspaper's warnings turn out to be right. I think it's fairly safe to say that small, radical anti-system groups are always quick to infiltrate peaceful protests anywhere in the world but at least here, I suspect, the students and the M-15 movement are much warier now that they've experienced the mayhem these groups can unleash.
If the general strike goes ahead – as it probably will because the unions seem convinced they can force the government to drop or radically change the labour reform – I predict it will be an abysmal flop, especially if the PP wins in Andalucia. The Socialists will be in such a state of shock that they won't have the energy to protest about anything, let along a labour reform that they didn't have the guts to carry out when they should have.
A protest of my own
I've been battling for months to cancel my contract with Vodafone and go over to the pay-as-you-go system, to no avail. One of their operators promised me about seven weeks ago to switch me over, then three weeks later another bill arrived. Enough is enough, I cried. I have since written a letter to their complaints’ department in Madrid telling them I have no intention of paying them a cent. By this time next week, they may have had me arrested but Kym says she'll ask the prison authorities to let me have a computer so I can carry on writing my column. (That will no doubt disappoint a few people out there!) However, seriously folks, our Help Line would be interested in hearing about any problems you may be having with this company with a view to taking the matter further (read that in an ominous tone of voice).
By Muriel Pilkington, the local voice.