Street cleaners of Madrid went on strike as a measure to stop the dismissal of 1134 workers, about 20% of the staff. Below three Madrid-based photographers discuss their experience covering the strike.

By Susana Vera

Madrileños express their love for their city with the local saying, “From Madrid to heaven, and in heaven a little window from which to see it.” For 13 days, though, no one in Madrid seemed to be paying much attention to the sky above their heads, it was the ground they were most concerned about.

For almost a fortnight litter overflowed many of the city’s bins, turning pavements into obstacle courses. Pedestrians watched every step they took, fearful that food waste might make them slip and fall. Drivers competed with garbage bags for parking space for their vehicles. For once, the ever-present weather conversation was replaced by rubbish disgust as the city’s number one small talk topic.

The street cleaners’ strike was a dirty business for Madrid’s residents, but many of them were understanding of the workers’ demands. Citizens grew accustomed to the sight of garbage decomposing outside their doorsteps. Some even benefited from it. Scrap dealers and paper collectors were able to sell many of the discarded items they found amid the trash piled up throughout the city. But the fact that many residents would throw any kind of litter on the ground as opposed to the recycling bins destined for that purpose made for bigger mountains of rubbish taking over the public space. Picketers also contributed to enhancing this gloomy picture by spreading garbage around and setting some trash containers on fire. That worried quite a few merchants, who were afraid of the effect such an unpleasant sight would have on tourists and possible customers.

The ones who welcomed the street cleaners’ work stoppage with no reservations, though, were the city’s pets. The strike was paradise on earth for Madrid’s dogs. Each daily walk turned into a treasure hunt for them and a headache for their owners, who couldn’t stop them from scavenging.