Sunday Blog: May Day in Spain. Time for a rally, a jolly or a selfie?








(AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

Monday 5th May is ‘Early May Bank Holiday’ in the UK. Whether you regard that as a May Day or an International Workers’ Day celebration is very important in other countries – especially as to what day you take off work (if you have a job), or protest about the job you don’t have, or do both, or protest about the job you do have, or get legless, or do all four. Or even take a selfie watching others protest.

There’s an excellent photo (above) taken by Associated Press photographer Manu Fernandez causing a commotion on social media right now. The photo is credited as ‘Tourists take a selfie picture as demonstrators burn a trash container during a May Day rally in Barcelona, Spain, Thursday, May 1, 2014’. “Selfies reach a new low” is the comment on one Twitter feed, whilst others question whether the two women really are tourists: “Look like they might be Spanish to me,” says one comment – although the remark that follows surely clarifies things: “Spanish women don’t generally wear grey (or any) sweatshirts. Teeth are also American.” Yeah, right … (but why question Spanish dentistry?)

I’ve lived in Spain, a country that I love, on and off for nearly 18 years, 7 of those in Barcelona, and not only am I convinced that the AP wouldn’t have credited the photo as ‘tourists’ if they weren’t totally sure, but also that two Catalan women would never, ever take a selfie whilst trash containers burned in their city in a protest – grey sweatshirts and American teeth or not. But … and it’s a big but … I’m sorry to say that sometimes Spain just doesn’t do itself any favours ….

International Workers’ Day is officially 1st May. If the UK ‘Early May Bank Holiday’ is a celebration of that, then (as always) bank holidays in the UK are set to the nearest Monday following the date of celebration – hence Monday 5th May.

Not here in Spain.

1st May is 1st May, whatever day of the week it falls – a national holiday in more than 80 countries, too – a celebration of the international labour movement, and a focal point for demonstrations by many socialist, communist and anarchist groups. In the UK, 1st May was made a bank holiday by the labour government in 1978, just three years after it was celebrated again in Spain, having been outlawed by Franco until his downfall in 1975.

But as 1st May conveniently fell on a Thursday this year, the marvellous Spanish invention of puentes – ‘bridges’ – came in to its own. When an official holiday falls on a Tuesday or Thursday, many Spaniards ‘bridge’ their weekends by taking off the Monday or Friday, too. Most of Spain, therefore, has been off on a little jolly since Thursday. As the UK is then on holiday on Monday … not a lot of business will be done between the two countries for 5 days. Just sayin’.

It’s not that some didn’t get together and celebrate in solidarity for the hard won rights in the workplace. In Madrid, the workers’ union UGT, kicked off May Day rallies in about 70 cities across Spain, waving placards demanding an end to austerity and criticizing the government for its lack of job creation. How to celebrate Labour Day in Spain this year, ‘el Día del Trabajador’, was always going to be a tricky one, not least because it fell on a Thursday. In a week where unemployment figures came in for the first quarter of this year to show that 184,600 more Spaniards lost their job (now 25.93%; 6m people), youth unemployment is back above 55%, and 1.98 million Spanish families now have no family member at all with a job … things are tough to say the least. Whilst the government had promised 600,000 new jobs in 2014 and 2015, thousands clearly did march across the country in protest, with many carrying banners such as ‘No Job, No Hope’. Figures claim that 600,000 people participated in the 70 rallies across Spain; about 75,000 in Barcelona, according to the trade unions – or 10,000 according to the local police, the Guardia Urbana.

But whilst thousands protested, millions enjoyed the ‘bridge’. And sometimes, like it or not, that is the image of Spain overseas. A holiday.

The Spanish traffic authorities, DGT (Direction General de Tráfico) estimated that 5.5 million vehicles set out between 3pm on Wednesday for the ‘May bridge’ (puente de mayo), and which will continue until midnight on Sunday 4th May, all heading (in their own words) towards the ‘coast, mountains and second residences’.

If we estimate an average of 3 passengers per car, over 15 million set off to enjoy the ‘bridge’. 1.5 millions cars would be leaving from the Madrid area alone – bearing in mind that Friday 2nd May was also an official holiday in Madrid (great timing, as most Madrileños are still basking in their Champions League semi-final victories). By lunchtime on Thursday, El País and El Mundo newspapers were already reporting ‘40km traffic jams on the Madrid-Valencia motorway for the ‘May bridge’ – although I’m unsure if it was those with or without jobs who took advantage of the long weekend … or maybe both.

There’s only one thing more picturesque than a bridge, of course … and Spain has one of those, too.

There are two dates in the first week of December when Spaniards happily celebrate their Constitution (Día de la Constitución) on 6th December, swiftly followed by an Immaculate Conception (La Immaculada) on 8th December. But what happens when the Constitution falls on a Tuesday and the Immaculate Conception a Thursday? Do they take two puentes, going to work only on the Wednesday?

Cojones, do they.

Many take the week off as a viaducto … a viaduct.

As a result of the last ‘viaduct’, the Spanish government debated the policy of ‘puentes v productivity’, but the Directorate General of Employment confirmed and published nine national holidays that were ‘non replaceable’, whatever day of the week they fell – with 1st May certainly being one of them.

So, happy ‘Early May Bank Holiday’, ‘May Day’ weekend, or ‘May bridge’ – wherever you live – but please, please, please don’t take any more selfies whilst others are trying to protest for the right to work …

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