There was a noisy and brightly coloured demonstration in Madrid's Puerta del Sol yesterday morning. Most of the colour was a mixture of yellow and green, and came from the uniforms of those who collect the rubbish and clean the streets in the Spanish capital. They were protesting at a proposal by the company which has the contract for doing this job to reduce the size of the workforce, and there was going to be a rubbish collection strike starting today although it now seems there has been a late settlement avoiding dismissals.
The conflict was provoked by a decision taken by Madrid's mayor to stop rubbish collection on Sundays and public holidays as part of a drastic cuts package now that Spain's town halls are going to be prevented from going further into debt. As the unions pointed out quite reasonably, such a measure doesn't actually reduce at all the amount of rubbish they have to collect; it just means that in many cases it spends a day or two longer sitting in the bins. The odd thing about the measure is that rubbish collection in Madrid is supposedly financed by a specific tax dedicated for that purpose, and it is now being argued that the tax should have to be reduced by the same proportion. Gallardon's cuts have also led to yet another indefinite postponement for the bicycle rental scheme in Madrid that was supposed to start next year.
The cancellation of the rubbish strike doesn't mean an end to conflict over the cuts. Next week we are scheduled to have a strike by Metro workers protesting over pay cuts. This strike could turn nasty as the unions are threatening not to respect levels of minimum services which often make it seem there is no strike at all. The Metro workers were not affected by the national wage cuts imposed by Zapatero's government, their wages have instead been slashed by Esperanza Aguirre's administration. Some argue that the measure is illegal, as the workers affected are not funcionarios and their salaries are not controlled by the same legislation. As I pointed out the other day Aguirre is riding on the back of the government's wage cuts, which her party have opposed, to claw back money off other groups of public employees that she can then use as she chooses.