Income Inequality in Spain: The 15-M Housing Crisis Protests Favorite 


Mar 19 2013


Barcelona Spain

In May of 2011, tens of thousands of people crowded Puerta del Sol in the center of Madrid in the most visible manifestation of sit-in protests against austerity and corruption. 15-M was an expression of the devastating effects of the 2008 recession, which harshly affected the middle class and condemned millions of people to poverty because of the crash of the housing bubble (Altares, 2021). A multitude of facets came out of the recession, including a housing crisis and labor crisis. The country saw increasing unemployment rates, welfare cuts, and political corruption (Snyder, 2015). Protestors took to the streets in Spanish cities to display various methods of peaceful demonstration, through means of online activism, protest camp occupations, and most famously, sit-ins.
Protestors created banners, posters, and slogans contesting neoliberalism policies in particular, as these policies broadly shape inequalities and exclusions from public access. Neoliberalism is one possible explanation for the rise in income inequality, which is the implementation of policies meant to privatize public healthcare, education, and welfare services. One particularly powerful artistic intervention was one in protest of the housing crisis. For example, banners read, “España, un país de gente sin casa y casas sin gente” (Spain, a country of people without houses and houses without people), (Snyder, 2015). This refers to the effects of the Spanish property bubble due to the long term price increase of Spanish real estate prices.
The right to decent housing is systematically dismantled in Spain. According to the Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca (PAH), there are still currently over four million empty houses, evictions are rampant, and public housing is about 1% of total housing and even that may be privatized. The PAH activists mobilized with the goals of halting evictions or allowing the option of paying in kind. Members took to the public with the slogan, “The Crisis that Pays the Rich,” gaining visibility from the public and addressing the helplessness that thousands of Spanish families faced (Delclós, 2015).
In 2013, members of the PAH organized an intervention in which protestors occupied a bank branch in Barcelona as a way to support neighbors facing eviction in the city (Morenatti, 2013). This act of performance activism demonstrated to the banks in Barcelona, and around the country, that if the bank can take away people’s spaces and disrupt lives, then activists can also occupy their space and disrupt their lives. PAH representative Ada Colau states, “we wanted to put an end to this violence that is leaving thousands of families on the streets while financial institutions with serious responsibility for the current crisis accumulate thousands of empty flats, waiting to be able to speculate with them again," (Rashid, 2015). The protests were not intended to be a long-term solution to Spain’s income inequality problems, but rather to start to change the perception and dynamic between the Spanish society, policymakers, and economic interests.

Altares, Guillermo. “15-M: How Spain's 'Outraged' Movement Spawned Political Change.” EL PAÍS English Edition, Ediciones El Pais, 14 May 2021,
Delclós, Carlos. “Victims No Longer: Spain's Anti-Eviction Movement.” OpenDemocracy, OpenDemocracy, 17 Dec. 2013,
Morenatti, Emilio. “Mortgage Protesters Occupy Bank in Barcelona.”, NBCUniversal News Group, 19 Mar. 2013,
Rashid, Jasmine. “Spanish Homeowners and Activists Blockade and Occupy to Protest Home Evictions, 2009-2013.” The Global Nonviolent Action Database, 20 Mar. 2015, Accessed 14 Dec. 2022.
Snyder, Jonathan. Poetics of Opposition: Politics and the Work of Culture in Contemporary Spain. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.

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The 15-M protests affected Spain's two-party system and brought attention about the housing crisis and other issues to Spanish society and policymakers.