Civil Society, Economy & Trade, Europe, Financial Crisis, Headlines, Human Rights, Labour

Spain’s Jobless Unite for Solutions and Survival

Inés Benítez

MÁLAGA, Spain, Mar 16 2012 (IPS) - Unemployed people’s movements and associations in Spain are proposing alternatives to official job seeking channels, in the midst of an economic crisis that so far has left more than five million people out of work.

“Everything has come to nothing and I’m setting out on a fresh path,” José del Moral, a telecommunications engineer who has been out of work for a year and who joined the Movimiento Desempleados (MOVIDES – Unemployed Movement), a not-for-profit organisation that encourages self-employment, told IPS.

MOVIDES “is not a protest movement, but a search for alternatives,” the movement’s main organiser, Fernando Matas, told IPS.

The organisation based in this southern Spanish city encourages the unemployed to team up in groups to create and run business projects.

In Spain the unemployment rate is a record 24.3 percent, the highest in the European Union. But among young people, the jobless rate is almost 50 percent.

The rightwing government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, in office since December, approved a decree Feb. 10 introducing a radical labour reform that is highly praised by employers but rejected by trade unions and the two largest opposition groups, the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) and Izquierda Unida (United Left).

Critics complain that the reform will not create jobs, but instead will permanently destroy many of the labour rights won by workers since the return to democracy after the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco (1939-1975).

However, the reform will be approved without difficulty by parliament, where the governing People’s Party has an absolute majority.

“I’m looking for work everywhere,” Víctor García, a 36-year-old father of two, told IPS. He used to work in construction, a sector that is now depressed. He and his wife are both unemployed now, and face a 30-year mortgage on their home.

García, who attended meetings organised by MOVIDES in Málaga Monday Mar. 12, recalled how, before the outbreak of the crisis in 2008, construction companies would actively seek him out, to hire him, and he could basically write his own ticket. Now he survives on the help provided by family and friends, and he relies on social assistance. “I have no money for food,” he said.

Eighteen percent of social assistance beneficiaries in Spain are under 35, and are either not entitled to unemployment benefits, or these have run out, according to the Tuesday Mar. 13 issue of the newspaper El País.

Poverty is extreme in households where all working-age members are unemployed, says the report “Exclusión y Desarrollo Social en España 2012” (Exclusion and Social Development in Spain 2012) by the Foundation for Social Studies and Applied Sociology (FOESSA), presented by the Catholic charity Caritas Spain..

Before the crisis, just 2.5 percent of families did not have any member in formal employment, but the proportion is now 10 percent, and is “growing at an even faster pace than the unemployment rate itself,” the document says.

The country is seeing “an erosion of middle and lower income families who are sliding into an abyss, and who end up losing everything,” the secretary general of Caritas, Sebastián Mora, said this month.

“This madness must be stopped,” said Luis Fernández, a former construction worker and head of the National Association of the Unemployed (ADESORG), created in 2009, which has over 15,000 members.

The government’s labour reform “leads nowhere, does not generate employment and only ensures the precariousness of jobs created in future when the economy gets moving again,” he told IPS.

“Alternatives must be found,” Fernández emphasised, while recognising that organisations formed by unemployed people, like ADESORG, also function as “group therapy.”

“It’s an anti-depressant,” said Matas about MOVIDES, which is based in his home.

The associations also try to lift the spirits of unemployed people and help them “break out of the rut of staying at home feeling frustrated” because they cannot find work, said Manuel Clayseed, a member of the Marea Roja (Red Tide) social movement.

Clayseed, who is unemployed and lives in Tenerife, one of the Canary Islands off the northwest coast of Africa, told IPS that Marea Roja arose from the social networking web sites, in response to the lack of prospects for the unemployed.

The group began to call on unemployed people to gather at job centres all over Spain on the 9th of each month, “to put forward and receive new and different ideas and suggestions.” After the encouraging response achieved Mar. 9 in 35 cities, they now intend to operate as a meeting point for other local groups of jobless people.

Marea Roja proposes ideas like creating consumer cooperatives, re-peopling abandoned towns or villages, and alternative banking.

In Madrid, three plots of land have been donated for growing crops, said Fernández of ADESORG, which is part of the platform Real Democracy Now! (DRY) that promoted the demonstrations on May 15, 2011, creating the 15-M movement.

In Tenerife, Parados Unidos (Jobless United) advocates community soup kitchens for unemployed people and a “labour counter-reform,” and is protesting against the multimillion-dollar bailout package provided for private banks by the Spanish government, Clayseed said.

Sonia González, a self-employment adviser at a vocational guidance association in Málaga, told IPS that citizens’ initiatives are valuable because they “propose solutions.”

In the view of Maricel Baliani, an Argentine mother of five who has lived in this southern city for a decade, one must “find a way around the problem, in spite of the crisis.”

Baliani and her husband, Juan González, are members of MOVIDES. She works half the year as a restaurant chef, and the other half promoting a children’s cookery workshop project.

González, who distributes newspapers in the van he owns, said MOVIDES is “a movement created in response to the passivity of (central, regional and municipal) governments and trade unions.”

“I have been denied my right to get ahead and build my own future,” complained Rando Roca Mursuli, a 35-year-old Cuban who has been unemployed since he arrived in Spain Apr. 8, 2011 on the plane that brought over the last 37 political prisoners released by Havana, under an agreement with Madrid.

Celeste Núñez from the Dominican Republic told IPS she has lived in Spain for six years and has had several jobs. But now she cannot find work, and is thinking of returning to her own country where her three children live.

“The fundamental crisis is lack of hope,” said Mora of Caritas. He also highlighted the new phenomenon of the “working poor,” who work full-time but cannot support their families because their wages are so low.

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in dozens of Spanish cities on Sundays Mar. 4 and 11 in protests against the labour reform, organised by the trade unions as part of demonstrations leading up to the general strike planned for Mar. 29.

“Spain has the highest unemployment rate in the EU, and this is due to the present regulation of the labour market,” said Rajoy in defence of his labour reform, which the government has told the trade unions may be discussed but is not negotiable.

Business owners praise the reform because it makes it cheaper to fire workers, makes contracts more flexible, and includes other measures such as limiting collective bargaining, which Spanish employers have been demanding for years.

The general secretary of PSOE, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, has repeatedly stated that his party is “radically opposed to this labour reform,” now and in the future, while Employment Minister Fátima Báñez says the government will carry on with its reforms to save the country from the crisis.

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