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Spain General Strike, March 2012

flag, anarchy, spain, red, blue

29m, Huelga General.

I’m taking a politics of Spain class, and when my professor mentioned a nationwide strike, I got excited. He explained in his broken English that it had happened a couple times before with varying levels of effectiveness. As an adrenaline-seeking photojournalist, I was hoping for big things.

As most of my friends were prepping for their departures from Madrid and Spain for Semana Santa (Spring Break), I was planning how I was going to get downtown to cover the biggest protest Madrid has seen in years. Public transport was putting out notices of reduced services, flights in and out of the country were being canceled, countless businesses were closed, and at least one television station was not broadcasting regular programming.

As clocks struck midnight in downtown Madrid, there were already reports of protesters taking to the street to kick off the 24-hour strike. There were some reports of minor damage and fires, but people were definitely getting rowdy. Twitter was lighting up with hashtags of #29m and #huelgageneral.

metro, herrera oria, huelga general, commuter, passenger, madrid

A man walks through the turnstiles of the Herrera Oria Metro station.

Plaza de Castilla, Huelga General, Spain

Left: A flyer announcing a general strike throughout Madrid is displayed on a bulletin board inside the Herrera Oria Metro station around 9 a.m. Right: Afternoon commuters wait at the platform at the Plaza de Castilla Metro station. Passengers there faced some of the longest between-train wait times in the Madrid Metro system.

Classes were still on at Comillas, but I figured that I’d have an alternate day of learning. I came to learn about Spain, Madrid, culture, and people not just in the classroom but in the streets too. I was just hoping the trains were running so I could to downtown. Madrid Metro said about 30% of the trains would be running.

Police tape covers a smashed car window

Police tape covers a smashed car window on a side street off of Gran Via.

This busted window was the most destruction I saw the whole day. It was a much quieter here than in Barcelona where riots and fires broke out amid the protests.

protest, Spain, huelga, Madrid

Protesters young and old took over the streets.

The protesters went where ever they wanted. There were police officers surrounding the group. Wherever the protesters went, the police just shut down the streets or intersection. Traffic was forced to turn around and try to find another route through the city. Regarding the police, they were very well behaved. They let the protesters do their thing with minimal interference. I was glad to see them keep their cool.

Cibelles, Madrid, Spain, UGT, Protest, Huelga

Protesters gather in front of Plaza de Cibelles and the Madrid City Hall.

Young protesters march arm-in-arm to protest education cuts.

Huelga, Madrid, Spain,

Police officers line up in front of a store to protect it from protesters.

sticker, huelga, madrid, spain

Protesters walk through a street toward Puerta del Sol.

Protesters plastered what seemed to be every window and wall in the city with stickers regarding the Strike.

flag, anarchy, spain, red, blue

Protesters fly the Spanish flag and an anarchy flag in Puerta del Sol.

protest, Puerta del Sol, Madrid, Spain, Huelga, 29m

A protester pauses in Puerta del Sol in the early afternoon.

Puerta del Sol, protest, huelga, Madrid, Spain

Protesters yell at a store in Puerta del Sol that remained open during the Strike. The protesters marched throughout downtown chanting and aggressively pressuring store owners to close down their stores. With few exceptions, it worked (at least temporarily).

Left: A protester applies a sticker to the front door of a business in Puerta del Sol that told the public that the business was closed due to the Strike. Right: After pressure from the dozens of protesters chanting outside his door, a store worker pulls down the grate and closes the doors. Minutes after the crowd left his doorstep, he re-opened.

bus, autobus, Madrid, Puerta del Sol

Police talk to a bus driver whose route is blocked by a crowd of protesters outside Puerta del Sol.

tourists, Plaza Mayor, Madrid, Huelga, Argument, eating

Two tourists eating at a restaurant in Plaza Mayor are interrupted and confronted by protesters that disrupted restaurants all over downtown by stacking up chairs and tables in a mob-like fashion.

After a few hours of essentially taking a walking tour of downtown Madrid while photographing thousands of my closest friends, I went back home to unload cards, grab some food, and sit down until I head back out for the evening portion of the protests.

After I got a couple calories in me, I stumbled upon a website that had a safety advisory for Americans in Madrid. It said to stay clear of downtown because  there were going to be an estimated 250,000 protesting around 6 p.m. Wow! It was maybe 5:30 p.m. and it takes a good 45 minutes by Metro to get to the heart of downtown (and that’s with all the trains running). Needless to say, I hurriedly packed up and started for downtown.

metro, madrid, Plaza de Castilla

Commuters pack in a Metro car at the Plaza de Castilla station due to a reduced number of trains in service.

I’ve never seen more people stuff into one car than I did during the Strike. At Plaza de Castilla, wait times of 16 minutes weren’t uncommon. Normally, trains come every 4 minutes. This was the train I wanted to get on, but obviously, that wasn’t going to happen. It took me just under 1 hr and 30 mins to get downtown.

Madrid, Gran Via, Spain, Protest, Huelga

Hundreds of thousands of protesters fill Gran Via in support of the General Strike.

For people who know Madrid, this was taken in front of the Metropolis building. The crowd stretched all the way past Cibeles and started partially up the hill toward Puerta de Alcalá.

protesters, kids, ninos, Madrid, Gran Via, huelga, protest

Two young Spaniards show off their “justice” sign during the march to Puerta del Sol.

Hundreds of thousands of protesters pack into Puerta del Sol and the surrounding streets to hear speeches by union leaders.

The unions that backed the nationwide strike said approximately 900,000 people participated in the evening rally that concluded with the speeches. The media reported numbers significantly less. Regardless, trust me when I say that there were a ton of people. This was the biggest crowd I have ever witnessed or been a part of. Those people all the way down this street had no chance of getting into the main area of Puerta del Sol as it was already completely filled. At left is the famous Madrid bear and tree being used as a platform by resourceful photogs. (One of those guys is from AFP. He had a nice frame from there.) Here’s a shot from AFP that’s one of the only pictures I’ve seen of me from the day. I’m right between the A and F wearing plaid with a red backpack.

Puerta del sol, sunset

The sun set over Puerta del Sol as the union representatives were speaking to the crowd.

protesters, sign, Madrid, huelga, Spain, 29m

Eleven hours of shooting, numerous kilometers walked, half a million people or so, and over 2,600 frames later, I was done. I had a blast covering my first large-scale protest.

I emailed one of my professors the next day. He told me that out of the four groups he teaches on Thursdays, only 5 students made it (less than 1%) to class. I guess it was a good thing I didn’t go after all.

Lessons learned & keys to success for next time: 1. Bring twice the water you think you need. 2. Bring a monopod for the Hail Marys over the crowd. 3. Two camera bodies are a huge time saver. 4. Don’t forget to have someone take a picture of you in the sea of people. 5. Earplugs. Enough said. 6. If you know this is going to be history in the making, for a couple hours, rent a room in the hotel that surrounds the area to get a shot from this perspective. 7. Line up an editorial client beforehand so you can have a blast and get paid/published!

If you happen to be seeing this and want to license any of these photos or hire me in Madrid or the States, my contact info is at the top of the page.

Thanks for reading and looking! If you have comments or questions, feel free to leave them below.

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2 responses

  1. Pingback: Spain General Strike, March 2012 – by Ethan Klosterman | The Photo Brigade

  2. Lillian

    Very nice!

    May 4, 2012 at 4:59 am

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