As a college student I have become somewhat familiar with the idea of strikes. Every now and then students will protest tuition or things such as social equality. However, though I have seen plenty of small-scale strikes at Indiana University or protests on the news, it had in no way prepared me for what I would experience in Madrid.
Spain has a long history of strikes and protest. After years of political unrest, economic turmoil and dictatorship holding strikes and protests has become a fairly normal part of Spanish culture. On any average day it is normal to see groups walking through downtown Madrid protesting about wages, politics or equality among a number of things. In addition, strikes are not seen in a negative manner as the media in the US often portrays them. Protesters and people on strike are often left alone to voice their opinion and police rarely intervene unless things get out of hand. Protests and strikes are in fact a normal aspect of life for many Spaniards.
My very first day in Madrid I witnessed a political protest in the downtown area of the city. Due to the unstable political history of Spain and presence of multiple different political parties, political protests occur often and on a large-scale. On this particular day a group of older citizens protested Anti-fascism. After the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, a fascist militant dictator, many Spaniards have started to protest against the roots of fascism in Spain and against the political history of Franco. However, while a large percent of the population is antifascist there is also a descent percent of the Spanish population that still favors a fascist government. Divides such as these call for frequent political expression.
Strikes are also very common within the educational system in Spain. Last year at IU a school-wide strike was held to express concern over salaries and tuition prices, however only a very small percent of the student population actually participated. I remember thinking that holding a strike seems like a silly approach to deal with the situation, however this strike seemed relatively sane compared to those I have experienced at my university in Madrid. About a month ago students and professors participated in a large strike against tuition costs and salaries. However, unlike our small strikes at IU this was large-scale. Nearly all of the university students participated in the strike and even a reasonable number of professors. In addition, the strike was not a simple demonstration with signs and chants, rather a somewhat dangerous outcry of concern on the campus. In fact, students had actually blocked off the entrance to the school, prohibiting students who were not on strike and foreigners such as I from entering the building and going class. In addition, glass and other objects were shattered and dumpsters and trash were even lit on fire. To my surprise I was actually contacted by the emergency phone line of my program and told to not attend class or go to the university. Educational strikes such as these are very common and in the past have lasted for entire semesters.
In addition to political and educations strikes, workers also go on strike in Spain. For the past few weeks the company that picks up all the trash in the city of Madrid has gone on strike. While somewhat funny at first the loads of trash have started filling the streets and the smell has become somewhat unbearable. I cannot help but to think that something such as this would never occur in the United States. While my friends and I are absolutely shocked by the present state of the city it seems to have no affect on the locals of Madrid.
While experiencing strikes in Spain has been an uneasy and somewhat scary experience during my time abroad I am quickly learning about many aspects of Spanish society. Strike and protest are taken extremely seriously in Spain. I have come to understand the drive and true concern that Spaniards have to improve the state of their country. The Spanish are not afraid to truly stand up for what they believe in and will fight to get what they want. I appreciate the ambition of the Spanish people and the true importance that things such as politics and education have. The idea of strikes and protests seem less and less foreign to me each day and I am beginning to understand the true influence and importance they can have.