On Sunday, November 13, more than 200,000 public healthcare workers and their supporters protested the state of Madrid’s healthcare system under the slogan “Madrid rises up for public health.” The protestors moved across Gran Vía to the town hall to attract attention from Madrid’s local government for this cause. Although attendance was recorded at 200,000, organizers have stated that more than 650,000 madrileños protested in the streets. Due to many protesters wearing white medical coats, the protest has been dubbed the “white tidal wave.”
According to protestors, the local government’s conservative politics is threatening the provision of affordable and quality healthcare. They claim that a gradual dismantling of the public healthcare system is taking place due to poor funding, a lack of staff, and an increase in privatization.
The protests were organized by “neighborhood associations, labor unions, and leftist political parties.” Earlier that week, partial walkouts had already begun, with a call for nearly 5,000 doctors to go on strike in Madrid on November 21. The root cause of this strike is an excess of appointments and a scarcity of time for medics to attend to patients.
In 2019, Isabel Díaz Ayuso was elected President of the Government of the Community of Madrid as a member of the People’s Party. She had previously garnered worldwide attention due to her government’s decisions during the pandemic. Against the recommendations of public health experts, Ayuso opened the city up to hospitality, gastronomy, and nightlife in mid-2020.
Ayuso and her government have been criticized for lacking funding and staff for primary healthcare centers in Madrid. Organizers of the protests have claimed that Madrid spends the least amount per capita on public health care services, although it is the region with the highest income per capita.
Madrid’s right-wing government has denied the allegations made. Ayuso argued this protest was not about the state of public healthcare, but a ploy to generate support for the left-wing parties. Ayuso responded to the public outrage in a statement saying, “this is a destabilizing strategy from an irresponsible left that is trying desperately to cling to power or to gain power – as is the case in Madrid – through confusion, agitation, and dirty tricks.”
Another spokesperson for the Madrid branch of the People’s Party described the protest as a “resounding failure” because “99%” of Madrid’s population did not support it.
In her statement, Ayuso indicated that the protest was held at a time when the Socialist Worker’s party, the party current Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez belongs to, was losing support to the further left Más Madrid party. A day after the protest, Mónica Garcia, a doctor and spokesperson for Más Madrid, commented on the regional government and stated that “[The People’s Party] think[s] that when you go to a health center and find a tablet instead of a doctor, that’s a success. And yet when 600,000 people come out to defend a right as basic as the right to health, they call that a failure.”
The protests serve as another example of the widespread political polarization within Spain. Whether the government of Madrid will make changes in its resource allocation in response to the protests is yet to be seen.
Featured image by: Manu Fernandez/AP Photo. Accessed via Aljazeera.