BARCELONA, Nov 30 — Doctors, nurses, students, teachers and civil servants went on strike in Catalonia yesterday, asking the Spanish region’s government to end spending cuts imposed during the crisis after years of seeking independence.
Thousands protested in Barcelona — 8,000 according to police and 25,000 according to unions — against the government led by Quim Torra, whom many regard as giving priority to splitting from Spain rather than day-to-day management of the region.
“We have a government that doesn’t govern, which only focuses on independence and does nothing to resolve the social situation,” said Josep Lluis Casamitjana, a 62-year-old doctor, in the protest.
“The independence process has been a big smoke screen, but bad management and spending cuts are still here,” said Rafael Castillo, a 67-year-old retiree.
In 2010 during the country’s economic crisis, Catalonia was a pioneer in implementing drastic austerity measures which were later extended to the rest of Spain.
For two years, people took to the streets to protest but in 2012 the issue took a back seat when then regional president Artur Mas took on the pro-independence cause.
This week austerity protests returned with a five-day strike by doctors, another two-day stoppage by students and teachers, partial strikes by civil servants and a firefighters’ protest on Wednesday that ended with police charges.
Protesters want an increase in the number of health and education workers and a drop in university fees — the highest in Spain.
They also want authorities to give back bonuses for civil servants that were suspended between 2012 and 2014, which has already been done in other regions.
But this week, a spokesman for Torra’s pro-independence party Together for Catalonia played down the importance of the protests and said the solution lay in “fleeing the (Spanish) state.”
“We’re distracting ourselves with things that aren’t essential,” Eduard Pujol said Tuesday in comments that drew criticism.
Torra yesterday gathered much of his executive to discuss the strikes which come at a time when the regional budget for 2019 is being drawn up.
After that, he recognised that “the demands expressed on the streets” were “just, logical, necessary and opportune. And above all, legitimate,” according to a regional government statement.
But he largely blamed the central government for the situation, pointing out for instance that Catalonia paid a lot in taxes.
One of the major complaints among separatists is that Catalonia pays more to the central government than it receives in central spending.
He added the only solution was “an independent republic that takes responsibility for its acts and can serve with efficiency and quality the citizens who have created it”. — AFP