American in Spain

The Effect of the General Strike on Daily Life in Spain

September 29, 2010
Huelga General

Today the entire country, in theory, was on strike, the General Strike of September 29, 2010. The news in the morning showed police trying to push demonstrators out of the way so that the "minimal services" buses could leave the station in Madrid. The government and the organization managing the strike agreed last week to provide minimal transport and health services across Spain. They interviewed one of the protestors who said, "Requiring minimal services is denying our right to strike!" That's both true and stupid.

The main factor that influenced life in the small town where I live was: Bread.

Bread in Spain

More than in any of the other countries where I have lived (USA, Denmark, and England), the Spanish value their fresh bread. No Spaniard eats lunch or dinner without bread, almost always freshly baked that day. Bread comes with every meal at all restaurants. If the weather is terrible and a Spaniard has no reason to leave the house one day, they will leave to go buy a fresh baguette. Bread is absolutely integral to Spanish life. I've lived here for five years, and I can't imagine eating a meal without fresh bread.

Because of this demand for 1-3 baguettes per household per day, there is a thriving industry in Spain based on baking and delivering bread very early in the morning to all the shops and restaurants and bars, almost none of which make their own bread because the bakery delivery industry is so strong and efficient. It was through the bakery industry that the strike was most felt today. None of the local bakery delivery companies operated today.

Some Closings

On my morning walk today, I noted which businesses were closed and which were not. The hardware store and all the clothing stores were open. These are all self-owned businesses with no need for daily deliveries to stock their shelves.

A few grocery stores were closed. The one I usually go to cited the lack of meat, vegetable, and bread deliveries as the reason they weren't going to be open today. But all the butcher shops around town, the ones that aren't just a section of a larger store, were open and fully stocked. The dedicated fruit and vegetable stores were open too.

Almost all the restaurants were closed. This is because they require fresh bread delivery to operate, as I mentioned above. A few bars were open, but only those that don't double as restaurants. There were more adults around than usual, so it's clear that some of the major industries (factories?) were off work today. As a result, the bars and cafes were extra crowded, even beyond normal Sunday levels.

There were more children in the playground. While the schools and daycares were operating, I think some of the striking parents decided not to take their kids in today.

At one point a police car drove down the street blaring from its speaker, "Everybody please keep to the right!", which had the effect of everyone exiting the bars and shops into the street to see what they police wanted them to avoid, but five minutes passed and no picketers or parade or anything came through so everyone shrugged and went back to what they were doing.

Found some bread!

The two or three grocery stores around that bake their own bread instead of relying upon the baking industry took advantage of the lack of competition today and had bread for sale. I was planning on relying on sliced bread (Spaniards eat a little sliced bread, for toast sandwiches, but when they say "bread", they usually mean a baguette) for lunch today, but then I saw some people walking around with baguettes they had bought, and I knew everything would be okay in the end.


So there you have it. In the end, my life wasn't affected one bit by the General Strike of September 29, 2010. It was, however, the topic of all the conversations I eavesdropped on. Whether or not its ripples will have any effect on Spanish politics remains to be seen.