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Spain Teacher Strike May Provide Foretaste of 2012 Protests

Spanish teachers went on strike against budget cuts today as labor unions prepare to fight austerity measures that opposition leader Mariano Rajoy has pledged to implement if he wins the general election.

Teachers are protesting longer classroom hours in Madrid, a region already governed by the People’s Party that is in opposition nationally and leading Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero’s Socialists in polls before the Nov. 20 vote. Forty-three percent of teachers participated in the strike, according to estimates from the regional education department. Jose Campos, head of education at union Comisiones Obreras, said 85 percent joined in.

The walkout may foreshadow a surge in unrest that Rajoy would have to face down to push through the austerity measures and labor-market overhaul he has pledged, said Antonio Barroso, a London-based analyst at Eurasia Group, which monitors political risk. Rajoy, 56, says he will implement similar policies to his party’s regional leaders, who have slashed spending and reduced union subsidies since winning local elections in May.

“It’s creating the mood for what’s going to happen in the first two quarters of next year,” Barroso said in a telephone interview from London. “Trade unions will mobilize against Rajoy’s government more than they did against Zapatero as they tend to react more to rightwing governments.”

Teaching Hours

Teachers in the region of Madrid plan to strike for three days to protest a two-hour increase in their weekly classroom time and cuts to temporary staff. Walkouts are also planned in Galicia, where the PP is increasing teaching hours, while demonstrations are programmed across the country.

Teachers are set to march in Castilla-La Mancha, the region that PP deputy leader Maria Dolores de Cospedal won in May after three decades of Socialist rule. Cospedal is also making teachers spend a larger proportion of their working week in the classroom and axing subsidies for unions as she aims to slash the region’s deficit to 1.3 percent of its output next year, from 6.5 percent in 2010, without raising taxes.

Rajoy will cut tax for companies and reduce “superfluous” spending by the administration “rather like the regions run by the PP are doing,” he said yesterday in an interview with Cadena Ser.

Provocation Risk

That risks provoking the unions, which tolerated public-wage cuts and a freeze on pensions implemented by Zapatero, who boasted of being a union member as recently as 2005.

Unions’ patience wore out when Zapatero reneged on a pledge not to cut firing costs and only then did they call the first general strike against him on Sept. 29, 2010. The walkout received scant support and the government pressed ahead with its plans. By contrast, the previous general strike against a PP government in 2002 was strong enough to force the government to backtrack on changes to labor rules.

“If the PP wins and it applies the same measures everywhere,” as it has in the regions it governs, “there will be much stronger mobilization still,” Campos said in a telephone interview yesterday. His union is one of the two biggest in Spain.

Opinion polls suggest Rajoy will clinch enough votes to gain an outright majority in Parliament. His PP would win 44.8 percent if elections were held now, daily El Pais reported on Sept. 12, citing a poll. The Socialists, who have run minority governments since 2004, would take 30.7 percent, according to the survey, which had a margin of error of 3.2 percentage points.

Conflict ‘Inevitable’

Rajoy will inherit an unemployment rate of 21 percent, the highest in Europe, and public accounts that showed the euro region’s largest budget deficit after Greece and Ireland last year. His challenge is to convince investors he can prevent Spain needing a bailout while keeping voters and unions onside.

“Conflict is inevitable,” Javier Del Rey Morato, a political communication professor at Madrid’s Complutense University, said in a phone interview. “There’ll be popular resistance to any rightwing policies put forward by the right: they’re more forgiving when it’s a politician who says he’s a leftist.”

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