Sunday, November 17, 2013

La Huelga Limpieza (The Cleaning Strike)

Hallelujah, the cleaning strike is OVER! Two weeks ago, the street cleaners of Madrid went on strike after finding out the government was planning on outsourcing them to private cleaning companies. This would cause over 1,000 of the total 6,000 street cleaners to lose their jobs.  Additionally, wages would be cut by up to 40% (some only earn 500 euros a month to begin with! That's half of what I make!). In an outrage, the street cleaners went to the streets and made the huelga (strike) known. They knocked over garbage bins, spreading trash throughout every street in Madrid (especially my street because I live across from the street cleaning headquarters).  Furthermore, they would periodically light trash on fire and cheer! This resulted in 1 million + euros of damage and 19 arrests for vandalism and property destruction.

Tensions remained high in the following days and an end to the strike seemed no where in site. On day 3 of the strike.... terror struck. It rained all night which sped up the rotting process of the garbage in the streets. Furthermore, things like vomit, urine and animal feces were not being cleaned up on a daily basis.  The result of this was a rancid smell that could be noticed throughout Madrid. On my way to work I would pass literally piles of trash next to the garbage bins that were not being emptied. The aftermath of the weekly traveling market outside my school in San Blas was atrocious. Rotting fruits and veggies were simply piled up on the side of the street rather than being cleaned up and thrown away. As someone who experienced the affects of the strike first hand, I can tell you that it was disgusting, tiring and embarrassing.  I would constantly have to look down at my feet and see where I was walking to make sure I was not stepping on rotting food, broken glass or dog poop.  I would cover my nose with a scarf as I passed the massive piles of trash. Also, it's embarrassing as someone who lives in Madrid to explain to tourists and visitors what is going on. Madrid is usually such a clean an beautiful city but it's hard to see that when the trash makes it look like a dump.

On top of everything, it was just hard to look at.

Finally today (Sunday) they reached an agreement. Only 300 cleaners will fully loose their jobs. Those who keep their jobs will have to endure furloughs (temporary layoffs) of 45 days per year for the next 4 years, which will result in an overall lower annual salary. Obviously not ideal for the workers, but a good enough compromise that the affects of the agreement can already be seen! The streets are already getting cleaner as the street cleaners get back to work. I for one could not be happier that the strike has come to an end. Now, maybe I can get back to enjoying strolling the clean(ish) streets of Madrid.

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