Let them eat garbage
Spain erupted today. And this is why:
On a recent evening, a hip-looking young woman was sorting through a stack of crates outside a fruit and vegetable store here in the working-class neighborhood of Vallecas as it shut down for the night.
At first glance, she looked as if she might be a store employee. But no. The young woman was looking through the day’s trash for her next meal. Already, she had found a dozen aging potatoes she deemed edible and loaded them onto a luggage cart parked nearby.
“When you don’t have enough money,” she said, declining to give her name, “this is what there is.”
The woman, 33, said that she had once worked at the post office but that her unemployment benefits had run out and she was living now on 400 euros a month, about $520. She was squatting with some friends in a building that still had water and electricity, while collecting “a little of everything” from the garbage after stores closed and the streets were dark and quiet.
Such survival tactics are becoming increasingly commonplace here, with an unemployment rate over 50 percent among young people and more and more households having adults without jobs. So pervasive is the problem of scavenging that one Spanish city has resorted to installing locks on supermarket trash bins as a public health precaution.
A report this year by a Catholic charity, Caritas, said that it had fed nearly one million hungry Spaniards in 2010, more than twice as many as in 2007. That number rose again in 2011 by 65,000.
As Spain tries desperately to meet its budget targets, it has been forced to embark on the same path as Greece, introducing one austerity measure after another, cutting jobs, salaries, pensions and benefits, even as the economy continues to shrink.
Most recently, the government raised the value-added tax three percentage points, to 21 percent, on most goods, and two percentage points on many food items, making life just that much harder for those on the edge. Little relief is in sight as the country’s regional governments, facing their own budget crisis, are chipping away at a range of previously free services, including school lunches for low-income families.
For a growing number, the food in garbage bins helps make ends meet.
At the huge wholesale fruit and vegetable market on the outskirts of this city recently, workers bustled, loading crates onto trucks. But in virtually every bay, there were men and women furtively collecting items that had rolled into the gutter.
“It’s against the dignity of these people to have to look for food in this manner,” said Eduardo Berloso, an official in Girona, the city that padlocked its supermarket trash bins.
Mr. Berloso proposed the measure last month after hearing from social workers and seeing for himself one evening “the humiliating gesture of a mother with children looking around before digging into the bins.”
The Caritas report also found that 22 percent of Spanish households were living in poverty and that about 600,000 had no income whatsoever. All these numbers are expected to continue to get worse in the coming months.
Now the plutocrats will all insist that this is because all these people have been living high on the hog for far too long and it's time for them to pay the piper. But that isn't true. (Certainly Americans shouldn't feel that when politicians say they are the hardest workers in the world that it means this won't happen to them. These Europeans work too -- when there's work to be had.)
It's starting to unravel:
Police used batons to push back some protesters at the front of the march as tempers flared.
The demonstration, organized with an "Occupy Congress" slogan, drew protesters weary of nine straight months of painful measures imposed by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.
Thousands of angry marchers yelled toward parliament, 250 meters (yards) away, "Get out!, Get out! They don't represent us! Fire them!"
"The only solution is that we should put everyone in Parliament out on the street so they know what it's like," said one of the protesters, civil servant Maria Pilar Lopez.
Lopez and others are calling for fresh elections, claiming the government's hard-hitting austerity measures are proof that the ruling Popular Party misled voters to get elected last November.
While Rajoy has said he has no plans to cut pensions for Spaniards, Lopez fears her retirement age could be raised from 65 to as much as 70. Three of her seven nieces and nephews have been laid off since Rajoy took office, and she said the prospect of them finding jobs "is very bleak."
The US has escaped this level of desperation but only because of its different circumstances. You can be sure that if we were in the same position our rulers would have made the same decisions. In fact, if they have it their way, they will do their best to make sure that we get ourselves a good taste of it. The 47% is getting just a little bit too uppity.
I think this spells out what's happening quite succinctly:
Mr. Rajoy has been debating whether to tap into a new bond-buying program proposed by the European Central Bank on Sept. 6. While such additional European help would considerably alleviate Spain’s debt financing problems, Mr. Rajoy finds himself in an increasingly tight bind between Spanish voters who oppose further austerity cuts and investors and European finance officials demanding reassurance that Spain can meet budget deficit targets.