This week right-wing prime minister Mariano Rajoy unveiled the biggest attack on Spain's welfare state in history in a move described by radical opposition MPs as like "pouring gasoline onto the streets."
The measures include a swathe of new taxes and spending cuts designed to reduce the budget deficit by €65 billion by 2014, in line with EU demands linked to a deal that provides a €100 billion handout to the country's banks.
Rajoy - who pretty much admitted to MPs that he'd ditched all the campaign promises that got him elected last November - proposed a three-point rise in the main rate of the regressive VAT on goods and services to 21 per cent, and outlined cuts in unemployment benefit and civil service pay and benefits.
Amid jeers and boos from the opposition he also announced new indirect taxes on energy, plans to privatise ports, airports and rail assets, and a reversal of property tax breaks that his party had restored last December. Cuts to city hall governments, closures of public companies and cuts to time off for public-sector workers for trade union duties were among the long list of measures adding misery to the general populace.
As the right-wing leader unveiled his fresh attack on welfare and workers, hundreds of coal miners marched through the capital to protest against a previous 60 per cent reduction in coal subsidies that will force pit closures, leave miners jobless and their communities devastated.
The miners - who had walked some 250 miles from the Asturias region over 44 days - were joined by thousands of supporters after receiving a hero's welcome in Madrid as they marched in with lamps lit on their helmets.
Public anger over spending cuts has escalated as school and hospital budgets have been savaged. "Without the mines we don't have anything, absolutely nothing, in our region," said miner Albano Gonsalvez.
Despite nearly a quarter of the workforce and more than half of Spanish youth on the dole queues, the government said unemployment benefit would fall to 50 per cent of previous earnings.
In short, Rajoy, who started his administration with tax and cuts measures that deepened the recession and the pain felt by the majority of Spaniards, has now added some more in spades.
Sporting a black top in solidarity with the miners, United Left leader Cayo Lara said Rajoy's policies were a sea of contradictions.
He reminded the Popular Party leader of the scathing attack he had made on former Socialist prime minister Jose Luis Rodríguez Zapatero when he increased the sales tax as part of a series of austerity packages that have turned Spain's economic and public finance mess into a veritable catastrophe.
Similarly, then opposition leader Rajoy had attacked the socialist administration's cuts to the wages of public-sector workers.
Turning his fire on Finance Minister Cristobal Montoro, Lara said it was grotesque that the government could be justifying VAT rises while there were so many wealthy individuals and corporations who paid little or no tax at all, something that had been encouraged by the government's "unseemly and unfair tax amnesty" that was passed in April.
And he renewed calls for a progressive tax reform to raise corporate taxes and for the government to back a Robin Hood-style tax on financial transactions.
Once again, argued Lara, the government's approach was "kid gloves for the strong and an iron fist for the weak."
Lara also tackled the most sensitive issue of all - the scandalous bailout of Spain's banks whose out of control speculation on the housing market sparked the country's fall into disgrace.
A €30 billion tranche of a €100 billion banking welfare cheque has just been agreed with EU leaders, but strings are attached.
Despite contrary claims by Rajoy, Lara said the bailout deal had stripped the country of its sovereignty and democracy as the EU was now imposing strict conditions and a full-scale intervention in the government's key economic and budgetary decisions.
Meanwhile Goldman Sachs is working up a tidy little plan to profit from the misery of Spain's miners.
In the Asturian port of El Musel rest hundreds of thousands of tonnes of Colombian coal.
Goldman Sachs paid for the black stuff in cash and intends to sell it in the futures market to make astronomical gains.
Coal in Europe currently costs around $89 per tonne, while futures on the range from $90 per tonne for one month to $97 per tonne for a year, so the New York company is ensured of a handsome return with its stockpile in the Gijon port.
Already 156,300 tonnes have been brought ashore, and another similar sized cargo is expected, bringing the total to 600,000 tonnes.
With Spain's local coal industry facing accelerated closure there'll be a large ready market on the doorstep.
The only cloud on Goldman Sachs' sunny horizon is a change in political control in the area from the right-wing Popular Party to the socialists. As a result the management of the port has changed.
"I cannot support a speculative operation like this when my countrymen are walking 400 kilometres to fight for a sector upon which my land depends," a socialist councillor told El Publico newspaper.
The former port management team was appointed by ex-president of the Asturias principality Francisco Alvarez-Cascos. He negotiated the Colombian coal storage operation.
But the remaining shipment must now be confirmed by the team appointed by his successor, socialist Javier Fernandez, who is much closer politically to the General Union of Workers (UGT) and the Workers' Commission (CCOO).
These are the trade union centres that have been organising the Marcha Negra - Black March - of the miners against cuts to subsidies to the local coal industry that will wipe out thousands of jobs and devastate coal mining communities.
The coexistence of cheaply acquired imported coal with indigenous mineral - for which power stations must pay a price fixed by law to help support the regions that depend on mining activities - is common in Asturias and elsewhere in Spain.
But which coal is which has not traditionally been made clear and the authorities have turned a blind eye.
Coal is traded in hundreds of thousands of tonnes and nobody knows how much foriegn coal has been surreptitiously introduced into the market.
This is not legal, but it is profitable - although not quite as profitable as it was in the past.
In the '90s a tonne of Spanish coal cost three times as much as foreign coal, which made the undeclared mixing and matching very profitable.
The reduction in staff in coal mining and other cost-cutting measures have reduced the price of Spanish coal to a level that has made this fraud less profitable.
Meanwhile the authorities, pressed by the miners' UGT and CCOO unions, have simultaneously clamped down on such activities.
Along with banks and other international speculators, the coal-mining companies have been raking it in too, in particular the Hulleras Norte corporation and Victorino Alonso, president of the coal employers' association Carbounion and owner of most of the mines in Spain.
Alonso is now by far the largest coal impresario in the country, but he was insolvent three decades ago.
How did he get to fly so high? It's a question nobody can answer, least of all the judicial authorities.
Alonso's been investigated several times, including in the High Courts of Castile and Leon and the Supreme Court.
The 59-year-old owns a web of companies, of which judges have identified 14. They are sure there are more. They know he owns Union Minera del Norte and Coto Minero Cantabrico, the top two Spanish companies in the sector.
But even when asked in court Alonso says he doesn't know where his money comes from.
At stake is the future of many thousands of miners, hundreds of thousands of people in the coal-producing regions of Asturias, Leon, Palencia and Teruel, and tens of thousands of merchants whose sales face collapse without the subsidies.
In their five-week-long strike, Spain's miners have forgone their wages. They may in a few months have no jobs.
But some people will keep making money, lots of it, speculating on the misery of the Spain's coalminers and the product of their labours - that black stuff extracted from the ground.
Tom Gill blogs at Revolting Europe
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