Wave of strikes in Spain on energy prices

ANothing worked on many Spanish city highways on Monday. In the middle of rush hour, long convoys of trucks passed through Madrid, Seville, Valencia and many other cities at a snail’s pace. Tens of thousands of self-employed drivers in Spain have been on strike for a week. The milk is no longer in the dairies, the fish is no longer in the wholesale markets and in Andalusia there is already a shortage of petrol in some petrol stations. Supermarket chains like Carrefour and clothing stores like Zara warn their customers of bottlenecks and delivery problems.

And all of this could be just the beginning. On Monday, major trucker unions presented an ultimatum to the left-wing minority government: if there is no immediate relief from fuel prices, members will have the freedom to give up their jobs. Previous campaigns had been organized by a coalition of over 70,000 self-employed drivers.

“The price of diesel is the straw that breaks the camel’s back,” said a spokesperson for the new “Transport Defense Platform”. The economic damage of the first week of the strike is estimated at 600 million euros. The government has already deployed thousands of police officers to prevent violence: previously there had been attacks on truck drivers who did not take part in the strikes.

Vague promises are no longer enough

The intolerance towards the government of the Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez is growing day by day. Unlike other European countries, Spain has not yet come to the aid of its citizens to alleviate the economic consequences of the war in Ukraine. Sánchez has been hectic in Europe for days. At the time of this week’s EU summit, he wants to convince European partners of a common line to fight the worst consequences of the war. Monday was in Paris and Brussels, Friday in Berlin and Rome. Together with Portugal, Spain had initially advocated a maximum price for electricity of 180 euros per kilowatt hour, but on Monday it turned away from this proposal.

Vague promises are no longer enough for many Spaniards: for a year they have suffered from the inexorable rise in energy prices. The “yellow vests” as in France have not yet appeared in Spain. But on Sunday hundreds of thousands of people wore orange vests and caps on Castellana Boulevard as farmers, hunters, fishermen and bull herders protested in Madrid. According to the organizers, which include the largest agricultural associations in the country, there were over 400,000. It was one of the largest demonstrations by the rural population, the situation of which further aggravated the consequences of the war in Ukraine.

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Fuel, feed and fertilizer are becoming more and more expensive. In Castile, the first shepherds are taking their flocks to slaughterhouses because they can no longer cover the cost of the feed. Piglets and pigs are trading well below that of a year ago, while production costs have increased by 80%.

Agriculture is practically the only branch of industry that has kept structurally weak areas alive – and structurally weak are over 60 percent of Spain. Furthermore, the dairies suffered the effects of the truck strike: they had to throw away three million liters of milk because it could no longer reach the dairies.

More and more fishermen, especially in the north of the country, have refrained from leaving with their boats in recent days. This is due to fuel prices, which have almost tripled in just a few weeks, and truck drivers’ lockdowns, as a result of which fishermen had not gotten rid of the fish earlier. On Monday, the entire Andalusian fishing fleet joined the strike called by one of the largest fishermen’s associations to finally convince the government and the EU to take emergency measures.

The fronts are hardened

Despite the escalation, there is no quick fix in sight in Madrid. Prime Minister Sánchez wants to mitigate the consequences of the war with a “state pact” together with the Conservative People’s Party (PP). But even in his own coalition, the fronts have hardened. With his solo diplomatic effort in Morocco, he alienated coalition partners from the Podemos party. Not only them, but all parties are shocked that it abandoned Spain’s neutrality in the Western Sahara conflict and recognized Morocco’s claims on the territory without involving them. This made it difficult to reach agreement on the envisaged pact.

The effects of the crisis could soon be felt in Germany as well, especially in the fish and strawberries that are being harvested near Huelva. Truckloads of fruit are stranded in southern Spain.

On the coasts there are also fears that the war could dampen the desire to travel of many Europeans. Bookings for the British, who make up the largest group, have fallen by a third compared to 2021. However, for the Spanish economy to recover properly after the pandemic subsides, many holidaymakers should come.

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