State of alarm
The situation experienced by Spanish airports on December 5th, 2010 was of total chaos and decontrol. It was triggered by air traffic controllers abandoning their workstations. More than 300,000 people were left without the possibility of travelling during a holiday that would have been economically very profitable had these events not occurred. In this context, the Spanish Government decreed State of Alarm, which meant military mobilization of the controllers.
Directing the aircraft traffic, not the citizens' life
The controllers are responsible for directing safe, ordered and fast aircraft traffic in airspace and in airports. They are also civil servants, meaning they hold public offices, and as such cannot abandon unconditionally their workstations. The reason for which this group, much-needed in the airports, left their workstations is because the government, in negotiations with AENA* and labor unions, aimed at bargaining a wage reduction and an increase in working hours for controllers, whose annual salary reach 200,000€. Since negotiations were unsuccessful, controllers decided to abandon their workstations, turning Spanish airports into a war-scenario.
Not only did they disobey article 102 of the military Criminal Code, but also annoyed hundreds of thousands of people who were planning on flying for the holiday. Without a doubt, the strike programmed by the controllers was intended to cause as much damage as possible, penalizing the tourism sector with the loss of millions or making people see that they’re beings superior to popular will. Nor are the controllers’ pay and social cuts arguable, but they enjoyed more privileges and resources than most of the workers in Spain.
A good executive measure
Although government management left much to be desired for its incompetence and the slowness in which everything was handled, the decision to decree State of Alarm was very successful. In order to approve such state, the proposal was taken to Congress and ratified by the majority of the house, which was only possible with the opposition’s support. The State of Alarm lasted 15 days and was extended for 15 days more; period during which the controllers were substituted by military personnel while an ongoing investigation looked into the causes and culprits of such abandonment, since the great majority of controllers did not attend their work stations alleging they were under stress or sick, pretexts which unfortunately some officials were using in their benefit to avoid work.
Democratic state of alarm
Many people branded this action as totalitarian and unjust, which is plainly false. According to article 116 from Title V of the Spanish Constitution, an Organic Law regulates states of alarm, exception and siege, as well as, the corresponding faculties and limitations. It refers to the Organic Law 4/81 from July 1st, which states that the government, exercising the powers granted by article 116.2 of the Constitution, can declare state of alarm in all or part of the national territory. One of the reasons for which state of alarm can be declared is the paralyzation of public services essential to the community, when there is no guarantee of the provisions made in articles 28.2 and 37.2.
In conclusion, the state of alarm was vital to prevent air travel chaos and ensure that passengers could travel freely in Spanish airspace, although the action taken by the government could have been faster and more agile, especially avoiding controllers’ strike through more negotiation and foresight.
This article deliberately presents only one of the many existing points of views of this contorversial subject. Its content is not necessarily representative of its author's personal opinion. Please have a look at Duel Amical's philosophy.
An excessive measure
Before the country’s unsustainable situation and the growing indignation of citizens trapped in airports as a result of Spanish air traffic controllers’ undercover strike, the Government declared a “State of Alarm”, the first in 32 years of democracy.
But, would it be justifiable to declare a State of Alarm, which fostered the airports to be controlled by the military while civilian controllers who didn’t show up to work were threatened with military trials that include imprisonment?
It was neither justifiable nor necessary. A democratic State cannot solve its divergences with a pressure group (in this case, the air traffic controllers) by means of threats and force, employing the army, which still arouses suspicion among certain sectors of the population due to its active collaboration during Franco’s dictatorship, acting as a fundamental pillar to the regime.
Moreover, a State of Alarm isn’t the most appropriate considering Spain’s current situation, plunged in a severe economic crisis, since it can drive off foreign investors and induce insecurity in the financial markets.
However, it is true that the controllers have formed a small group with a great pressure power, which means that they have always obtained advantages when negotiating with the Government; which, in turn, would someday have to undertake measures to avoid these recurring uneven negotiations.
The state of alarm: Possible Government manipulation?
The Government previously knew that in case that the decree was to be approved; the controllers would go on strike. Thus, it should rather question whether it was necessary to approve such a polemic decree precisely on the eve of one of the weekends with the busiest air traffic.
Many argue that the Government took advantage of the situation, using this incident as a smokescreen, since it could foresee beforehand controllers’ reaction. It mustn’t be forgotten that on the same day the controllers’ crisis started, the socialist government approved a new package of policies for the crisis, which included the withdrawal of the 420€ aid intended for those unemployed workers who had exhausted unemployment benefits.
Thus, with the State of Alarm, the Government diverted public opinion, focusing it on the undercover strike (a problem which affected only 1.2% of the citizens) and criminalizing the controllers. As a consequence, the great majority of the civil population supported the decision to militarize the airspace during the 15 day period that lasted the measure.
Therefore, as described by Noam Chomsky in his 10 strategies of manipulation by the media, we can conclude that the Spanish Executive created a problem, aiming to cause a certain reaction in the public, so that they would demand the measures that the government was already planning on using since the beginning.
Thus, the State of Alarm served the Spanish Executive, much questioned by the opposition parties for its anti-crisis measures, to step out of the situation more solid, showing itself strong before the EU and obtaining support from Spanish citizens.
But the danger of this situation is that it can be seen as an attempt by the Government to legitimize military intervention on civil strife, creating a dubious and dark precedent for the future. And now is the time to ask: could it happen again if there are cuts in spending that affect other areas of the Administration, and civil servants start another undercover strike? Or was it an exceptional measure that won’t have any impact in the future, and to which we won’t need to attribute so much importance? Time will tell.