Cleaners on strike in Spain's capital
THE paint is fresh at Creme Delacreme, a chic new restaurant on the fringes of Madrid's bustling Chueca district. But a rancid, shoulder-high pile of rubbish blocks the pavement across the narrow street as the Spanish capital buckles under the weight of a cleaners' strike that started on November 4th. Monica García, the boss, had originally planned to open days after the strike began, but is glad she did not. “Imagine having people sitting at the window tables, looking out at that filth,” she says. But when, she worries, will Madrid be clean again?
The rubbish strike has seen unions and contractors tussle over proposals to change working conditions and lay off 1,400 cleaners. The city recently renewed its cleaning contracts, boasting of a 10% saving. Now, to the dismay of a city hall headed by Ana Botella, the mayor from the centre-right Popular Party, three of the four companies involved want to fire workers. Rather than tidy up, some now prowl the city at night, emptying bins onto pavements.
The strike is a symptom of wider malaise in the city. Madrile?os are glum about losing, in September, yet another bid to host the Olympics. Since 2008, as Spain's most indebted city reined in spending, they have put up with dearer public transport, higher taxes and service cuts. And even though Spain is timidly emerging from double-dip recession, scavenging and begging are on the rise.
Madrid's attraction as a tourist destination, drawing visitors to its famous museums and nightlife, is fading. Visits were down by 10% in the summer months, whereas tourism boomed across the rest of cheap-rate Spain. Officials blame high airport fees and fewer long-haul visitors thanks to the airline mega-merger between Iberia and British Airways. But there is more underused, high-cost infrastructure, such as a network of new toll roads that is struggling as cash-strapped drivers stick to clogged-up, but free, routes into Madrid.
Officials claim Madrid is already noticing last quarter's uptick in Spain's economy. There is an increase in new firms, requests for planning permission are up and the city recently sold 128m ($172m) of housing rental units to Magic Real Estate Blackstone, a private-equity firm. Unemployment is still a shocking 20%, but below the national average of 27%. With her stringent austerity policies, Ms Botella is not popular: polls suggest that the city will swing left for the first time in 25 years in elections due in 2015.
Sheldon Adelson, an American gambling billionaire, wants to build a huge Las Vegas-style complex just outside the city. That will create welcome construction jobs. But bishops warn that becoming Europe's gambling capital will also bring organised crime and prostitution.