On Saturday, six columns of unemployed people who have been marching on Madrid from all corners of Spain for the last few weeks finally arrived in the capital. Tens of thousands of people joined them for a rally to mark the end of their "March for Dignity" against the high level of unemployment, which currently stands at a bracing 26 percent – meaning that 5.9 million people are out of work. The marchers were also joined by thousands of riot cops and the day ended in a mess of tear gas, rubber bullets and broken glass.
After hours of noisy protest, the rally held in Plaza Colón was still going strong when the cops began to yell warnings through their loudspeakers. “This is the police speaking. Please leave the square peacefully,” they said. Demonstration organisers started yelling through their loudspeakers too, asking the police not to break up the rally.
It was too late. Scuffles had already started and people were running away in a panic. Families with kids in buggies rushed to take refuge from the hail of stones and rubber bullets that were being exchanged between some of the protesters and the 1,700 riot cops that had been deployed for the event.
The police were unable to cope with the hundreds of hooded protesters who responded to the police’s attack with cobbles, sticks, flares and bangers. At times, groups of police ended up being cornered and had to resort to tear gas to fight their way out. There were makeshift barricades burning intermittently along the mile-long avenue that separates the Atocha train station and the rally point. People took the opportunity to smash the windows of banks and businesses and scrawl left-wing slogans on them.
No pasarán – “They shall not pass” – proclaimed a banner on Paseo de Recoletos, next to an "Occupy" style camp that was being hastily set up. The banner proved to be erroneous – a group of riot policemen trampled over the protesters holding it, making their way through with batons and rubber bullets. Before long, the roles were reversed. After the police had stomped another 20 metres up the road, a raging column of protesters managed to push them back by throwing sticks and stones at them.
By the end of the day, more than 100 people were injured, 67 of them police officers – some even had smashed up teeth. Twenty-nine people were arrested.
The marchers may have wanted dignity, but they also wanted to vent the rage they'd bottled up over five years of economic crisis.