A year later, the so-called M-15 protest movement is back in Spain. But was it ever gone? The M-15 movement, also known as ‘Los Indignados’ (The Outraged), started on May 15th 2011 to demand a radical change in Spanish politics. Chanting “They don’t represent us”, this youth movement voiced their disapproval of representative democracy. The fragile economic situation worsened by corruption and political bi-partidism led to tens of thousands of citizens who were up in arms over the political scenario.
The origin of these ongoing demonstrations can be traced to online activism in social networks. Several associations but also many individual civilians joined forces and decided to vent their anger one week before the local and regional Spanish elections, held on May 22nd 2011. At that time Spain had one of the highest unemployment rates in Europe and was undergoing welfare cuts. The question now is: Is the situation any better?
At the moment Spain has slipped back into recession. The nation has eight regions in the Top 10 of the European regions with highest unemployment rates. Historically, women have been more affected by unemployment than men and even when this gender gap has been narrowed considerably in the last decade, the female unemployment rate is still noticeably higher than the male one. Besides, the youth unemployment rate (around 50%) is twice as high as the rate for the total population (around 24%).
Regarding welfare cuts, Education and the Health Care System, which had remained untouched to date, will endure budget cuts of around 15% of current expenditure. Just to give one example, this means that teachers and doctors will have to work longer hours and those who had a temporary contract will be made redundant. University fees will increase (Master’s can soar up to 197%) and grants will be reduced. At the same time, the student-teacher ratio will rise at all educational levels. Some hospitals and health care centres will be closed and some others will shorten their opening hours.
Of course the recent hike in taxes, public transport fares and petrol prices should also be mentioned, together with the labour market reform. Under these circumstances, the only surprising aspect is that Spain’s austerity protests have been predominantly peaceful so far. Demonstrations, sit-ins, protest camps and online activism have been the main strategy to make their voices heard.
As the Spanish welfare state decays, the M-15 movement presents practical solutions. Sadly, there has been little change in the big picture. Politicians have turned a blind eye to the protest and the government has not changed the direction of any course of action. It would appear that the M-15 movement did not serve its purpose, but nothing could be further from the truth. Beyond concrete changes, the M-15 protest movement is a significant milestone in Spanish history. For the first time since the death of Spanish dictator Franco in 1975, there is a grassroots political movement which has awoken a consciousness that individuals can take action to make historic change possible. The ‘Indignados’ have raised their voice to remind citizens of their responsibility to fight for a legitimate cause. The M-15 has united very diverse people, transcending Spanish borders, for a common ideal: the urgent need to reform democracy as we know it.