Meet pensioners on a 300km march to protest welfare cuts

At half past six the alarm clock rings, they get their sleeping bags, put on their trainers and before leaving someone says to them: “Don’t forget to take your antihypertensives!”

After a breakfast to recharge their batteries, this group of retirees, with an average age of 72, leaves.

It’s a 300 kilometer walk from their departure from Valencia to the Spanish capital Madrid, and that means they will have to travel up to 30 kilometers a day in ‘hellish heat’ if they are to make it in time for a big demonstration. against cuts to the welfare budget on October 15.

The epic “adventure” of the group of 22 pensioners is important, they say, to defend the right to decent wages and pensions, and to take a stand against the dismantling of Spain’s social infrastructure.

The march comes with price inflation at 9.3% in the 12 months to September, according to the latest data, down one percentage point due to lower transport prices and the slowdown electricity prices.

Madrid say €6 out of €10 in its 2023 budget plans will go to social spending, which Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez says is the most allocated for this purpose in the country’s history.

“I don’t like to walk”

After ten days of walking, physical fatigue begins to be felt, but the mood of pensioners does not weaken.

Luisa, 83, is still doing well despite the effort.

“I don’t like walking at all,” she told Euronews from a service area in Castilla-La Mancha, where the group stopped for a break.

In her hometown of Barcelona, ​​Luisa takes Pilates classes and continues to swim as much as she can in the sea, but she doesn’t care so much about the long hours of walking.

“From the moment I see the city in the distance until we get there, it takes forever, but when we get there, we rest so that fatigue doesn’t build up,” he said. she stated.

Luisa explained that she was marching for Spain’s next generation, so that young people can look forward to a pension when they retire – and for the elderly so that they have a decent pension to live on.

“The majority of pensioners don’t get €900 and in the case of women the figure drops to €600. Whatever the government, pensions must be defended and the fight is the only way forward”, he declares. -she.

Every evening, along the route of the march, retirees give talks to also raise awareness among the local public, trying to win others over to their cause.

The most recent conference was held in a secondary school with economics students to explain the public pension system; while in the town of Motilla del Palancar they convinced the mayor’s office to hire a bus for those who want to attend the protest in Madrid.

Retirees hope to increase numbers en route to Madrid

The march was not without complications: one of the first 26 walkers had to withdraw after receiving health test results.

He was in tears when he left the group in Valencia and returned home.

“The idea is to be 50 when we get to Madrid,” Amelia, 71, from Tenerife said of the group of 22.

“We are pretty well organised, we have two support vans to carry our backpacks and food for breaks along the way.

“Yesterday the sole of my foot broke after walking 5 kilometers, so I got in the van to rest for a while and then started walking again.

“We know why we came, but the good thing is that we have support.”

The group spends the nights at the sports center, sleeping on inflatable mattresses or simply with a sleeping bag and a mat.

They are fed by the locals or benefit from discounted meals at nearby restaurants.

“Many have to choose between medicine, food or heating”

Even the government’s latest proposal – that contributory and non-contributory pensions will be increased by 8.5% from next year – was not enough to stop the march of pensioners in protest.

For Luis, a 65-year-old from Alicante and one of the marching retirees, Madrid’s move was just a tactic to stop them in their tracks.

“Until the budgets are approved, we won’t know if this will go ahead,” he said. “Until you see it reflected, it seems like a siren song to us. Last year we already had a loss of purchasing power of 3% and this year we will have to add another 2%.

“The public pension system is at stake, the pay-as-you-go system which means pensions for everyone and not just those who can afford a private pension plan.”

“Under normal conditions, we already have a pittance in pensions, so imagine now with rampant inflation and skyrocketing gas prices,” Amelia said. “A pensioner has a lot of trouble. There are many who have to choose between medicine, food or heating.”

The whole group wonders how the government can say there is no money to pay pensions when it talks about increasing defense spending.

With this question on the table, the retirees rose to resume their march.

“If there’s one thing we have a lot of right now, it’s time and patience, so we’ll keep fighting until we get it.”

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