Spanish trade union members will take to the streets of different cities and towns today, in protest against the central government’s proposed changes to the national pension system (read article in Castilian here, La Vanguardia). It is the first time that the main unions, UGT and CCOO, have organised such a big demonstration against the socialist government; while there have been street protests in recent years, they generally didn’t specifically attack the government’s policies or talk about “a cut in rights” as the planned changes to pensions and retirement age are being described by organisers. The unions are upset by the suggestion from the government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero to raise the official retirement age from 65 to 67 as well as to extend the period of time that will be used to calculate the amount of retirement benefit that pensioners will receive. In Catalunya, demos will take place in Barcelona, Girona, Lleida, Tarragona and Tortosa.
Five members of the Grups de Recolzament d’Actuacions Forestals (GRAF) appeared yesterday before the parliamentary commission investigating the forest fire in Horta de Sant Joan last year, to deny accusations of a lack of coordination and laxity in the approach to dealing with the fire that caused the death of five firemen (read article in Castilian here, El Periodico). The five also criticised what they called a lack of respect from certain politicians who they said tried to win political profit from the tragedy. During the five and a half hours that the men were questioned by the commission, there were notable moments of tension and emotion, particularly during the introduction from Ricard Expósito, who was the coordinator of the GRAF units during the fire. He accused politicians of focusing on this year’s Generalitat elections, which he said motivated the calling of the commission more than the fire itself. At one point, Expósito lit a match to draw attention to the amount of time needed to analyse the 175 questions that supposedly should be answered when evaluating a fire.
The leader of Catalan opposition party Convergencia i Unió, Artur Mas, has indicated that he is happy to work in some measure with the governing tripartite to find ways to ease the effects of the crisis in Catalunya (read article in Catalan here, Avui). However, his party is also keeping its eyes on the Generalitat presidential elections due to take place here in the late autumn, which means that CiU will continue to stress its differences from the parties currently leading the region, especially in terms of economic policy. The move comes after Mas offered to support Spanish prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero in dealing with the crisis on a national level at the weekend; however, Mas made it clear that he would continue to attack the Catalan president José Montilla on certain issues, including his leadership skills and other perceived weaknesses. Mas’s party is working on a series of conditions that will need to be met before they agree to join an anti-crisis pact with the Catalan government—it won’t be a “blank cheque” of support according to a representative from CiU.
Also in the news: Ferran Adrià to create a private El Bulli foundation (read full article in Catalan here, Avui); Barça to face Stuttgart in Champions League this evening (read full article in Castilian here, La Vanguardia); More ETA arrests, this time in Bilbao (read full article in Castilian here, La Vanguardia)