Spanish Journalists Refuse Proposed Lay-Offs

The Spanish national newspaper El Pais goes on strike in response to decisions to cut staff numbers by one third

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Journalists of the Spanish newspaper El Pais take part in a demonstration in front of the El Pais headquarters in Madrid on November 6, 2012.

A large number of staff from the popular left-wing Spanish newspaper, El Pais, have gone on strike for three days, protesting the decision to lay off a third of is workforce and reduce remaining salaries by 15%. It’s a massive blow to a struggling industry in a country that’s already reeling from Europe’s ongoing economic crisis; last year Spain had the worst youth unemployment rate in Europe at 46.4%.

The El Pais employees could have a slower news week to go on strike: with much of the world covering the U.S. presidential elections, the task of piecing together a print edition following Barack Obama’s victory was left to a small group of correspondents in Washington and Mexico City; journalists in the Mexican bureau are also working 20 hour shifts to keep the paper’s website up-to-date.

(MORE: Spain Plays Cat-And-Mouse Over Bailout)

El Pais was founded in 1976 following the death of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco as part of the country’s transition into democracy.  Strike organizers have been negotiating with Prisa, the Spanish media group that owns El Pais for nearly a month in a bid to head off Prisa’s attempt to cut 149 employees out of a staff of 450.

Now, they’re going on the offensive. Strike organizers are calling for Prisa CEO Juan Luis Cebrian to save jobs by giving up some of his $16.5 million salary. For the past week staff have held a moment’s silence each day in the main newsroom during which they hold a copy of the newspaper up-side-down while facing the director’s office. This is followed by a count to 149 in recognition of the number of workers that are to be dismissed. In the past three days they have taken these protests to the streets, standing under the Puerta del Sol in central Madrid. Offers by management to reduce the list to 139 names and cut remaining salaries by 13% have been rejected.

“It’s easier for organizations to fire staff under the current conservative government,” one of the striking journalist, who prefers not to be named for fear of losing his job, says to TIME. “Friday is the final day for negotiations and Prisa need to come up with better terms than what they’ve proposed. We’re determined to resolve this problem and it’s very impressive how nearly all the staff have come together to fight for the cause.”

(MORE: Spain Plays Cat-And-Mouse Over Bailout)

The strike’s official blog reports that 93% of staff members are protesting the cuts, while Reuters writes that the slightly smaller number of 79% back the strike. “The strike has been a success, the newsroom is practically empty,” a representative of the workers’ committee told Reuters. “There are only some sub directors and managers there.” The committee has sent a petition to the company’s directors stating that if management decides to go ahead with the proposed measures, it will no longer be able to maintain El Pais’ high standards of quality. Included in the letter’s signatures is that of Mario Vargas Llosa, the Peruvian author who won the Nobel prize for literature in 2010.