Saturday, May 02, 2009

THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR looks in awe at how the unprecendented unemployment level in Spain is not giving way to social unrest:
As most of the world observes May Day amid the worst recession since the Great Depression, perhaps Spanish workers have the most to protest and worry about.

Unemployment here has nearly doubled over the past year to 17 percent – the highest in the European Union and double that of the United States. The economy is shrinking at its fastest rate in 50 years.

Conditions are expected to worsen, yet there's little indication that Spain will be plagued by the social unrest that's heating up elsewhere in Europe.

The governments of Hungary, Latvia, and Iceland have already collapsed after angry protests over the handling of the economy; France has thrice been disrupted as millions staged nationwide strikes. And demonstrations – sometimes turning to riots – in Greece, Ireland, Britain, and several Eastern European countries have reminded the continent of the violent class struggles of past century.

The Spanish government, however, remains strong. No national strikes or protests have taken place, and the mood in the street is somber, but not angry. Indeed, the 65,000 people who organizers say partook in the traditional May 1 demonstration in Madrid danced and cheered to a samba beat as they chanted slogans demanding more jobs.

Judging from the festive mood, it's tough to imagine that unemployment is the most pressing concern for three of every four Spaniards, according to the government's statistic agency. So, why has Spain remained so calm?
The reason is very simple, and it's not listed in the piece: Zapatero has 'bribed' the unions, increasing the subsidies by a whopping 50% since 2006 (link in Spanish). Not only the unions are much more keen to 'forgive' the sins of their ideological cousins, the Socialist party (Zapatero's). It's also because, to loosely paraphrase Anderson Cooper, it's difficult to open your mouth to complain when your mouth is full...

Want proof? Well, there has actually been union-backed demonstrations against the government. But not against Zapatero's -- against the regional governments that are in the hands of the conservative Popular Party, in the opposition nationwide. Never mind that regions (autonomous communities, as they're called in Spain) have hardly any role to play in the econoomic policies. Need to say more?