In Spain, rising prices ignite social anger

Strikes by road hauliers and fishermen, grumbling by taxis, ambulances and farmers … In Spain, record inflation is fueling anger at the government, which is busy acting as quickly as possible in the face of rising fuel prices.

“Include prices, protect jobs”: around this slogan, thousands of people marched on Wednesday in about sixty Spanish cities at the urging of consumer unions and the two main unions, the Workers’ Commission (CCOO) and the CGU.

The purpose of these rallies, which add to a long list of 10-day strikes: to call for “urgent action” in the face of inflation, which in February reached its highest level in 35 years (7.6%), mainly due to of rising energy prices.

This situation “directly affects the workers’ wallets” and “puts the country in a situation of great economic difficulty”, stressed Unai Sordo, Secretary General of the CCOO. “The government must be brave” and act “effectively”, he added.

A message backed by several protesters, such as Eduardo Martin Bejarano, a 71-year-old pensioner present at the demonstration in Madrid. “Heat and electricity have become prohibitive (…) But at the moment there is a lot of talk, but few concrete measures”, he regrets.

– “Yellow vests” –

Spain has been facing an indefinite strike by truck drivers since March 14, launched by a platform of independent carriers. This movement seriously disrupts the supply of supermarkets and puts many businesses in difficulty.

The government is also facing a strike by fishermen, who stopped work on Monday for three days at the urging of an association of nearly 9,000 boats, and taxi drivers, who organized snail operations on Wednesday, particularly in Barcelona.

Anger also extended to breeders and farmers, hard hit by rising fertilizer and fuel costs: Nearly 150,000 of them demonstrated Sunday in Madrid, many dressed in fluorescent chasubles reminiscent of the “yellow vests” movement.

This movement of social discontent, the most important since Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez ‘came to power in 2018, has received support from opposition parties, and in particular Vox (far right), which organized its own rallies.

This ultranationalist formation is in full swing surfing the discontent of a section of the population, especially in rural areas, and accusing the government of “destroying the middle class”.

An unpleasant situation for the executive, which has taken several measures in recent months to increase low wages and limit energy prices, but which sees its efforts reduced to nothing by the inflation spiral.

– “Acting in unity” –

Pedro Sanchez was eager to fend off criticism and ten days ago promised a “national plan” on the consequences of the war in Ukraine with significant tax cuts. An envelope of 500 million euros has also been proposed to compensate for the increase in the price of diesel for carriers.

“We are living in an extraordinarily complex moment,” Mr Sanchez said during a press briefing on Wednesday, saying he wanted to do his utmost to “absorb” the impact of the price increase. The prime minister said he was “convinced” to reach an agreement “this week” with the airlines.

However, the executive is still elusive about the contours and overall scope of its plan, with Mr Sanchez seeking a joint EU response to the energy crisis in advance at Thursday’s summit in Brussels: the EU must “act in a unified way” to “reduce energy prices,” he insisted Tuesday.

Madrid has for several months called on the EU to change the mechanism that links electricity prices with the gas market. This call has so far been in vain, but Pedro Sanchez – who has multiplied meetings with his European counterparts since mid-March – is hoping for a turnaround in favor of the Ukrainian context.

What will happen if there is no agreement? In recent days, the executive has assured that it will act independently and adopt measures through a legislative decree on March 29. A date considered too late by some protesters, who remember that other countries, such as France and Italy, have already adopted emergency measures.

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