In pictures: Two Spanish crises in one - anti-austerity protests and separatist strife

As protestors surround Madrid, Catalonia ponders independence.

Austerity in Spain has led to political strife which shows no sign of slowing down.

In Madrid, protests on Tuesday night turned violent, as police fired rubber bullets at demonstrators and charged crowds. 32 people, including some police officers, were injured by the clashes, and many were arrested.

The protest had been planning to physically surround the parliament, but when it overran its 9:30pm deadline, police moved in. The demonstrators are demanding the resignation of the government and the king – who has historically stayed less clear of Spanish politics than our monarchy has of British – and want the constitution to be rewritten.

The actions of the police came under fire, with protesters complaining that police officers hid their badges, as well as using excessive force. But the protesters weren't exactly non-violent themselves, as this widely shared video of a police-officer getting a rather savage beating shows (from 1:10):

The anti-austerity protests are unlikely to go away any time soon. Rajoy shortly has to present his budget to the legislature, and while the protesters have a strong idea of what they want to see, the international community demands a different sort of "credibility" – and Rajoy can't please both at once.

Mariano Rajoy

At the same time, a second crisis is erupting in Catalonia, the independently-minded region in the North-East of Spain. The regional government has announced snap elections on 25 November, two weeks earlier than expected, and is also planning on holding a referendum on independence.

Catalonia's regional president Artur Mas

The Telegraph's Ambrose Evans-Pritchard reports on the very concerning comments made by the Spanish army in response to the Catalonian nationalism:

First we have the robust comments of Colonel Francisco Alaman comparing the crisis to 1936 and vowing to crush Catalan nationalists, described as "vultures".

"Independence for Catalonia? Over my dead body. Spain is not Yugoslavia or Belgium. Even if the lion is sleeping, don’t provoke the lion, because he will show the ferocity proven over centuries," he said. . .

Is case you think he is an isolated case, former army chief Lt-Gen Pedro Pitarch said his views reflect "deeply-rooted thinking in large parts of the armed forces".

Gen Pitarch said Catalan independence is out of the question, though he also said Madrid had bungled the crisis of the regions disastrously. "Are we looking at a failed state?" he asked.

Now we have an explicit threat from the Asociación de Militares Españoles (AME), an organisation of retired army officers, warning that anybody promoting the break-up of Spain ("fractura de España") will face treason trials in military courts.

El Pais reports that the anti-independence movement is also being pursued through more conventional political routes. Like scaremongering about the business implications:

"Uncertainty has an adverse effect on money and the business world; and that is what we have at the moment," said one businessman, who, despite his support for independence, admitted the current process has veered off a path of cogency.

Spain shows no sign of settling down any time soon.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Our trade unions are doing more for women than ever before

You don’t have to look far to find examples of unions not just “noisily fighting for”, but actually winning better pay, terms and conditions for women.

Reading Carole Easton’s article on women and unions was puzzling and disappointing in equal measure. Puzzling because it paints a picture of trade unions which bears little resemblance to the movement I know and love. Disappointing because it presents a false image of trade unions to women readers just at a time when women need strong trade unions more than ever.

While it is right to say that too little progress has been made in closing the gender pay gap or tackling the scourge of zero hour contracts, it is wrong to suggest that trade unions have been twiddling their thumbs.

Like our friends at the Young Women’s Trust, equality is at the heart of what unions do. This work isn’t measured in the number of high-profile women we have at the forefront of our movement – although we’re not doing too badly there, as anyone will attest who has seen Frances O’Grady, the first female general secretary of the TUC, speaking out for ordinary women workers.  

Trade unions contribute to equality for our 3 million women members every day. For us, that’s about the thousands of workplace reps supporting individual women facing discrimination or harassment. It’s about health and safety reps negotiating for protective clothing and better workplace policies on the menopause, terminal illness and many more issues. Our work is unions taking employment tribunal cases on behalf of women who could never afford the tribunal fees without us. And always, at the heart of everything, our work is about the collective power of workers joining together to bargain for fair pay and decent work.

You don’t have to look far to find examples of unions not just “noisily fighting for”, but actually winning better pay, terms and conditions for women. Several unions have successfully organised cleaners, supported them to take strike action for better pay, and won. The RMT is just one example of many. Unite is busy organising London’s low-paid and often exploited hotel workers. Unison organises teaching assistants, fights for better pay and conditions, and even runs a Skills for Schools project to help TAs develop in their careers. Unison and the National Union of Teachers – both unions with over 75% female membership – organise childcare workers and fight not just for better pay but also for training and development opportunities. Over in the retail sector, Usdaw and GMB are fighting the good fight for their women members in supermarkets and shops, not just on pay but on pensions, health and safety, carers’ leave and protection from violence at work.

Women have much to gain from trade union membership. Male union members are paid 7.8 per cent more than men who aren’t in a union – but women union members are paid 30 per cent more than non-members. A recent EHRC report on pregnancy discrimination found that employers who recognised unions were less likely to discriminate against their pregnant employees.

Yes, it’s true that too few young women are union members. This summer, the TUC and our member unions will launch a new organising and campaigning effort to spread the benefits of union membership and attract a new generation of women (and men).

But starting new women-only unions is no form of progress. That’s where we started out over 100 years ago. Now women workers are at the heart of all our unions, across all sectors. Women’s concerns at work are trade union concerns. And every day we make practical progress towards women’s equality at work through patient representation and negotiation and active campaigning to challenge bad bosses. Young Women’s Trust should work with us to get more women the benefit of union membership.  

Scarlet Harris is women's equality policy officer at the TUC