The financial crisis of 2008 had a disastrous effect on the scale of national debt in Spain and Greece, leading to governments accepting bailouts from the European Bank and IMF in return for stringent austerity programmes cutting jobs and welfare, and privatization of public facilities. Widespread public resistance to austerity measures was launched on 15 May, 2011 in Spain, where the Real Democracy Now! campaign organized marches in cities and an impromptu protest camp was set up in the Puerta del Sol in Madrid. Thousands more came to the camp and it lasted 78 days; other camps were set up in towns and cities round the country, and the 15M movement (named after the date of the first protest) was launched. Within the broad resistance to the austerity programmes other initiatives have developed: for example to tackle the social crisis of mass evictions in Spain of people defaulting on their mortgages (the Platform of People Affected by Mortgage (PAH). The multiple crises of food and welfare in Greece have prompted numerous solidarity networks.
The political position in Greece has been particularly unstable, with widespread public anger about the corruption and incompetence of politicians, and demonstrations have quite often become violent. The growth of the Golden Dawn extreme right anti-immigrant party has also been an ominous sign. On the left Syriza, a new radical coalition of small parties, emerged as the party close to popular protest and strongly opposed to the austerity programmes. Syriza was elected in January 2015 with a mandate to renegotiate the terms of continuing IMF/EU financial aid to avoid even harsher austerity measures. Crisis point was reached in June/July 2015. Syriza called a snap referendum on the bail out terms on 5 July, and 61 per cent supported the government in voting ‘No’.
Despite this referendum win, the government led by Alexis Tsipras (faced with financial bankruptcy and unwilling and unprepared to abandon the euro) accepted the unmodified harsh EU bailout terms in July 2015. Although opposed by some Syriza members, Tsipras won parliamentary support for his policy, and went on to win (with a reduced majority) the election he called in September 2015. Continuing leftist opposition to the EU terms was dramatized by a 24 hour general strike on 12 November, 2015. Portugal received a large EU/IMF loan in 2011. The victory of a centre-right coalition in elections ensured that the government pressed ahead with austerity measures, leading to high unemployment and widespread privatization. Public sector workers went on strike in protest, but there was not a major popular movement comparable to the Indignados in Spain and Greece.
The linking of privatization measures to austerity programmes has also prompted specific campaigns, for example against water privatization in Greece and a Portuguese strike by postal workers in November 2013 against privatization of the postal service. In addition to protest there have been positive local and democratic alternatives arising from the crisis, such as the neighbourhood assemblies in Spain and imaginative experiments in Greece, for example to bypass use of money through local exchange schemes. All these issues are briefly covered in the references below, although some of these are fairly brief articles from journals sympathetic to the Indignados, such as the UK-based Red Pepper, New Internationalist and Peace News; and the Progressive in the USA.