The economic crisis has been tough for many people in Spain. However, whilst there is much discussion about how the country will be able to support future generations of pensioners, little attention has been paid to a severe problem facing those who are already past retirement age.
As you wandered around any Spanish city in the last few years, you would frequently have to navigate around the fences and the trenches that were part of the often astounding number of construction projects taking place. If you paused to take a look at one of these sites you would usually find that you were not alone. It is quite likely that there would be other spectators, usually male and retired. They would not be silent bystanders either, normally there would be a running commentary on how the work was being done, and only rarely would these comments be uncritical.
Then came the crash. Suddenly there was a dramatic decline in the quantity of obras that blocked up so many city streets during so many years. This decline has had a direct knock on effect on those whose mornings often depended on watching other men at work. Government estimates put the current number of pensioners to each obra at a depressing, and unsustainable, 8:1. At the height of the construction boom this figure fell as low as 1.32 "jubilaos" to each site. Now at some sites only the early risers are able to claim a good place.
South of Watford spoke to an anonymous member of a new civic association called No Sabemos Que Hacer Con Ellos, set up by the wives of these pensioners. "You can't imagine what it's like to be woken up every night by someone shouting '¡Hombre, esto no se hace asi!', or '¡Vaya chapuza!'. Before, my husband was happy because he could find 5 or 6 construction projects to watch in a single morning. Now he even travels to the centre of the city looking for one, and sometimes comes back without having criticised a single worker. Things got a bit better with Plan E, but it didn't last".
The members of this association call for drastic measures, the more conservative want a dramatic increase in the male retirement age to 95. The progressive sector is calling for a crash programme of public works which would relieve the pressure as new generations of retired men face a bleak future of hardly any projects to stand around and watch. It's the hidden reality of a crisis which shows no sign of ending soon.