It’s the economy, stupid
You study hard, you get a university degree and that, you would think, should put you in good stead to land a decent job. Right? No. In Spain, unless you are one of a lucky few, at best you can look forward to years of underpaid work in a sector that has nothing to do with your chosen career, at worst unemployment. Oh, and living with your parents throughout.
The young protestors who have converged on Madrid’s Puerta del Sol square – and, increasingly, on squares in cities across Spain – under the banner of the 15-M Movement have myriad demands. They want political change, a more open participative democracy, corrupt politicians out of office, the repeal of “unjust” laws, a reform of benefits for the political class, tax reform, a referendum on the monarchy, a higher minimum wage, the full separation of Church and state… the list goes on. But although the protestors’ demands are heartfelt and sweep across many socio-political areas, it is ultimately – and understandably – the protestors’ wallets that have driven them to camp out in Madrid and other cities.
What is surprising is not the fact that they are demonstrating, but the fact that they did not protest sooner.
Unemployment across Spain exceeds 20 percent but among the under-30s it is running at 45 percent and has been stuck at around that level since the global economic crisis erupted and Spain’s property bubble burst more than three years ago. But even before then, youth unemployment in Spain was tragically high; the result of an inflexible labor market that even during the country’s boom years over the better part of the first decade of the 21st century kept many young people from finding decent jobs and trapped millions in low-paying, temporary contracts.
As Iberosphere pointed out more than a year ago, given that half of all workers on temporary contracts are under the age of 30, even in good times, they are forced to live with a debilitating sense of job insecurity, which prevents many from moving out of their parents house, renting or buying their own home and puts them off starting a family – a major cause of Spain’s low birth rate.
Temporary workers can expect to receive little, if any, training from their employers, who don’t want to spend the money on building up the skills of someone who will be the first out the door should the business situation change. And, because of that, workers on temporary contracts find it hard to secure pay rises and progress in their careers, hence a large number of Spaniards in their 20s or 30s – many of them with university degrees – regularly find themselves jumping from job to job and earning €1,000 a month or less. Six out of 10 Spanish university graduates are not doing the jobs they studied to do, the highest rate in the EU.
The Spanish language even has its own word for them, coined, notably, not during the economic crisis but at the height of Spain’s boom years in 2005 in a letter to daily El País by Carolina Alguacil titled: “Yo soy mileurista” (“I am a mileurista”). The word caught on and mileurista came to encapsulate the problems and fears of a large part of an entire generation of workers.
As James Badcock notes on Trans-Iberian: “When I first moved here I was taken aback by the general acceptance among Spain’s middle-class youth of a kind of social contract whereby a period of exploitation was considered part of the rites of passage… It was like being an intern – but for a whole decade until you reached your early or mid-thirties.”
No wonder then that young people, led largely by mileuristas and the unemployed who if they could find work would all but certainly become part of that group, have taken to the streets. In their belated protest, coinciding with the run-up to local elections on Sunday, they are demanding long-overdue change. Spain’s entrenched political elite have no option but to listen – it remains to be seen whether they will act on what they hear.
Next: 15-M: Spain’s lost generation finds a voice
Previous: Bombing the road to democracy
Published: May 20 2011
Category: Featured, Iberoblog
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
Short URL: http://iberosphere.com/?p=2880
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Tags: 15-m, demonstration, demonstrations madrid, jobs, labor market, madrid protests, mileurista, puerta del sol, spain economy, spain labor laws, spain labor reform, spain politics, spain protests, unemployed