Along one of the windy streets of Seville’s historic Santa Cruz neighborhood, Alfonso Jose Carnerero Avila, a hotel employee, was enjoying a drink with colleagues and friends on the doorstep of a wine cellar on a recent day, trying hard to ignore the overflowing pile of trash nearby.
The plastic garbage bags were stacked chest high. Some were torn open. Many had been there for more than a week.
“This is really becoming disgusting,” Carnerero Avila said. “We’re already in an unemployment crisis and most of us here still have work thanks to the tourists, so the last thing we can afford is to scare visitors away.”
Seville is in the midst of a strike by garbage collectors that is entering its second week and threatening to turn into a health crisis. In recent days, the strike has been accompanied by a growing sense of menace, as more than 100 garbage containers have been set on fire during the night. So far the authorities have attributed the fires to random acts of vandalism.
The labor dispute started last month after the 1,600 employees of Lipasam, the municipal street cleaning company, rejected a plan to reduce their wages by 5 percent while increasing their working hours — conditions that city officials are demanding to comply with the Spanish government’s demand that local authorities balance their books.
About 4,500 tonnes of garbage have accumulated since the strike started, clogging some of the narrow streets of Seville, the capital of Andalusia. Over the past three months, similar strikes by garbage collectors also occurred in Jerez de la Frontera and Granada, two of Andalusia’s other large tourist cities.
“It’s clear that striking can have a much larger impact when it concerns something as visible to citizens as garbage,” said Angel Gallego Morales, the president of the economic and social council of Andalusia, the regional body that oversees relations among the government, companies and unions. “We can only hope that this will soon end, even if there is no sign of any willingness to compromise right now.”
More recently, the garbage problem has even taken on a criminal dimension, as containers have been set on fire. The fires have occurred mostly in the city’s southern districts, far from the historic downtown.
Antonio Bazo, the president of the workers’ committee of Lipasam, condemned the fires as criminal acts of delinquency and denied that employees of his company were responsible for any of them.
“We’re not burning containers because what we want is exactly the opposite, which is that the rubbish be seen in the streets,” Bazo told the news agency Europa Press.