April 2012        


Spanish workers fight back

In a country in which unemployment is 23 per cent, and rising, equal to more than 5 million workers, recent labour reforms instituted by the right-wing Partido Popular (heirs of Franco) government of Mariano Rajoy were the straw that broke the camel’s back.
     These reforms, designed to make hiring and firing easier and cheaper for employers, were formulated without any consultation whatsoever with Spain’s major trade unions, the Workers’ Commissions (CO) and General Union of Workers (UGT), which had called repeatedly for talks. The response of the trade union movement to this refusal to negotiate was to call for a general strike, which took effect on 29 March.
     Striking workers effectually shut down all Spanish industry and port services for that day, minimal health and transport services being maintained as agreed with the unions.
     An estimated 77 per cent of workers supported the strike (97 per cent in industry); put in round figures, this amounted to 10.4 million workers—a significant increase on figures for previous general strikes in 2002 and 2010.
     This impressive display of labour militancy culminated in massive demonstrations of 800,000 workers in more than a hundred cities and towns, the largest being in Barcelona, where 275,000 workers took to the streets, followed by Valencia (250,000) and Madrid (170,000), headed by the general secretary of the CO, Ignacio Fernández Toxo, the general secretary of the UGT, Cándido Méndez, and leaders of Spain’s left-wing parties.
     Participants vociferously expressed their anger with the government’s anti-working-class measures. Toxo condemned the heavy intimidatory police presence at these demonstrations, alleging that it was an attempt by the government to make a peaceful workers’ protest seem like a threat to public order.
     The response of ministerial spokespersons to this clear rejection by workers of policies designed to reduce their salaries and make their employment precarious was that the government is willing to explain its policies to the unions but that repeal or modification of the labour reforms will not be on the table.
     The minister for employment and social security, Fátima Báñez, went so far as to assert that the parliament was the only valid forum for such dialogue. In other words, as far as the government is concerned, these unilaterally decided reforms are non-negotiable.
     Clearly buoyed up by the success of the strike, trade unions have appealed to workers to maintain their militancy until the government is willing to talk to them. This, given the anti-working-class nature of the hairshirt budget whose outlines were introduced by the government the day after the strike, is like pushing on an open door.
     The unions have given the government until May Day to change its stance and enter into meaningful negotiations. If it refuses to do so it will have to face the consequences of renewed intense industrial action.
     Seems like a clear case of an irresistible force meeting an immoveable object, resulting in a long summer (at least) of discontent. For, added to the hated labour reforms, the Spanish working class has woken up to the fact that it will be expected to pay for strictures that are being placed by Brussels on Spain to reduce its public deficit of 8.51 per cent of GDP in 2011 to 5.3 per cent by the end of this year, meaning cuts to the value of €27.3 billion.

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