Spanish workers general strike against new labor laws, 1994

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Time Period:  
27 January
Location and Goals
Location City/State/Province: 
Change or remove the labor reform laws that made it easier for employers to fire and hire.

Spain experienced an economic downturn in the early 1990s due to the global recession that affected it and many other countries. In 1993, the Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE, Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party) won the national elections for the fourth straight time, having begun its rule with the 1982 election. However, the party, led by Felipe Gonzalez, lost more popularity with each of the elections and alienated a substantial part of the working class. Gonzalez was accused of moving to the right, failing to create jobs, and putting business interests ahead of the workers.

With the 1993 election he was able to form a government only with the help of two other parties. The new coalition began to govern at a time when the country was very divided between the PSOE and its opponent, the Partido Popular (PP, the People’s Party) which championed conservative ideology.

In the midst of economic recession, the government issued some controversial labor reforms. These reforms were designed to aid employers and companies that were part of the Confederación Española de Organizaciones Empresariales (CEOE), the employers association. Employers previously had a very hard time firing employees and getting new help but these laws allowed them to fire and hire much more easily.

At a time when the unemployment rate was estimated around 23%, this legalized deregulation of contracts was seen as very threatening and unfair by many labor unions.

On January 27, 1994, two of the major national trade unions, the Comisiones Obreras and the Unión General de Trabajadores (UGT, General Union of Workers) began a general strike they had announced the previous week. Work was interrupted in many cities and the unions significantly disrupted activity in the capital.

The unions, which had previously supported the socialist government, successfully drew thousands of protesters, including transportation officials, store owners, teachers and health care workers into the streets to protest these measures, calling them unfair methods of securing cheap, young and temporary labor and firing older, more expensive employees. The unions wanted laws to ensure contracts would be honored and employee rights protected.

Early in the day store owners and other business owners supported the movement by shutting down their shops and even succeeding in shutting down mass transit in Madrid and Barcelona. Some opened up later in the day. Teachers completely shut down many schools by protesting, but private institutions and rich tourist areas remained open.

The protesters took a variety of measures to shut down the country, even gluing door locks in banks and department stores shut and picketing shops to urge them to remain closed.

During demonstrations of about 200,000 people in Madrid protesters had minor clashes with the police and burnt barricades around the country. One picketer died after being run over and thirty people were arrested.

The strike lasted only one day and the employment reform laws were not altered. The reporting on the protests was very mixed, with unions claiming 90% member participation and the government and CEOE estimating it at 30% or less. Following the strike the CEOE and unions met and agreed upon labor regulations that ultimately led to improved and more collaborative negotiation processes. These were not their exact demands but unions found that they could ultimately better negotiate with individual businesses than the government thanks to the new regulations and attitudes.

Research Notes
Peter Strafford. "The economic pain in Spain." Times [London, England] 14 Feb. 1994: 31. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 30 Sep. 2012.

"Spain Gives Varied Support To Strike Over Labor Reform." The New York Times. (January 28, 1994 ,Friday, Late Edition - Final ): 142 words. LexisNexis Academic. Web. Date Accessed: 2012/09/30.

"Workers Solidarity Movement." Account of January 1994 General Strike in Spain. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Sept. 2012. <>.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Christopher Capron, 30/09/2012