When it’s hard to distinguish between flight attendants and anti-capitalist protesters, it’s a sign labour relations have sunk to a new low.
Spanish police kicked demonstrating airline workers and hit them with batons at Madrid’s Barajas airport on Feb. 18. It was just the first day of a scheduled five-day walkout to protest the impending loss of 3,800 unionized jobs at the country’s Iberia airline. Eight flights were cancelled—a revenue loss that neither the carrier nor the country can afford.
This is what things have come to in Spain, an EU member struggling with deeply unpopular austerity measures. With rising poverty and an unemployment rate of more than 26%—more than 55% for those under 25—it’s no surprise Madrid has become known as the “city of protests.” There are now so many protesters that they colour-code themselves to keep their respective issues straight—health-care workers in white, trade unions in red and so forth. Teachers, health-care workers, homeowners and tenants have all taken to the streets in recent months. With all the chaos in the air, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy sounded oddly optimistic in his first state-of-the-nation debate the same week. “We’ve left behind us the threat of disaster, we’re starting to see the clear road to the future,” he said, while presenting tax breaks and other stimulus measures. The upbeat tone was likely a bid to convince EU officials that the nation’s finances are rosy enough to warrant granting him more time to cut the budget deficit. Winning over Spanish flight attendants may be a bigger priority, however, if Rajoy is to keep the planes running on time.