The Occupy Wall Street movement celebrated its first anniversary today without much to cheer. After a strong start, the whole effort sputtered out. There was not enough anger and determination to carry the protests forward. But now, efforts not entirely different have arisen in Spain. Media reports indicate that tens of thousands of people marched to protest austerity measures. And the Spanish government must contend with is whether the resistance will gain momentum. Perhaps it will, because much more is at stake in the southern European nation than there ever was in the U.S. movement.
Spanish street protests, particularly by the country’s large unions, are not new. They parallel similar actions in Greece and Portugal. Citizens believe that bailout programs have and will force so much austerity that tens of thousands of jobs will be lost, including those of some of the protestors. The contest between the will of governments to curtail spending and the will of protestors to disrupt GDP advances and vote out current leaders may continue to grow. If that happens, the European Union and International Monetary Fund will have to decide at what point financial aid provisions will be severely hurt by people whose livelihoods could be permanently damaged.
It has been supposed that the leaders of Spain will be slow to ask for aid because of the control that would give its neighbors over specific government financial plans. However, many experts believe Spain cannot hold out much longer due to the extreme weakness of the balance sheets of many of its banks. Spain does not have the wherewithal to handle that crisis on its own. It cannot wait for what may be new provisions for an EU-wide bank regulator that might offer aid directly to the region’s financial firms.
The protests in Spain may die out the way they mostly have in Greece. The Greeks at some point very grudgingly accepted the decision of their government to knuckle under as the means to remain in the European Union. The government in Spain may not be so fortunate. After all, about 25% of the people in Spain are out of work. Among the young, that figure is much higher. Those less than 30 years old have reason to camp out in major cities indefinitely. They really have very little else to do, and their entire futures are at stake if Spain continues to accept austerity during a deep and seemingly endless recession.
Occupy Spain could be much more effective than Occupy Wall Street ever was.
Douglas A. McIntyre