Skip to navigationSkip to content

What happens to a city when its street cleaners go on strike

Madrid garbage street cleaner strike
Reuters/Juan Medina
The garbage truck is overdue for a visit.
By Roberto A. Ferdman
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

The city of Madrid typically conjures images of its vast plazas and royal palaces, but lately it’s looking more like a monument to trash.

Street cleaners in Spain’s capital have been on strike (link in Spanish) for a total of eight days now as part of a protest against plans laid out by the city to slash salaries and lay off thousands of workers. The move, which has proved wildly unpopular, came after the city contracted three companies to help cut its budget by 22% (link in Spanish). Some 6,000 workers have abandoned their job duties, proclaiming an indefinite strike, which they say they’re prepared to drag out for weeks. The stern response has likely been made more severe by the country’s poor economic state; unemployment in Spain is still hovering around 26%.

The dissent has prompted a good deal of commotion in the city—many of the protestors have resorted to public burnings of trash—and the streets are brimming with garbage, including litter, rotting food and dog excrement. The situation is so bad that residents have circulated a petition with 30,000 signatures (link in Spanish) for the country’s military to intervene and clean Madrid’s sidewalks.

Madrid’s residents have also taken to Twitter to vent their frustration:

Here, an image of colored garbage bags lined up to look like the Olympic emblem references both the city’s trash glut and its failed Olympic bid.

As Madrid’s street cleaner strike enters its second week, Spain’s capital is only getting dirtier, and no doubt dragging on its already feeble economy. Have a look:

Reuters/Susana Vera
National landmarks and local businesses have had their domains and storefronts stained by empty bottles, rotting fruit and mounds of garbage.
Reuters/Susana Vera
The buildup has attracted trash-diving stray dogs that scavenge the city’s sidewalks.
Reuters/Susana Vera
Some are looking to profit from the trash pile-up. Here, cardboard collectors are pictured collecting cardboard from garbage strewn on the pavement.
Reuters/Susana Vera
Spanish police have been deployed across Madrid to help control the mess. Here, officers are pictured removing recycling bins that were toppled and blocking a street.
Reuters/Juan Medina
Mass garbage burnings are becoming an increasingly popular form of protest.

📬 Kick off each morning with coffee and the Daily Brief (BYO coffee).

By providing your email, you agree to the Quartz Privacy Policy.