July 2012        

Spanish miners show the way!

Day after day, Spanish television news programmes show columns of hundreds of helmeted miners marching in the broiling heat from north-west Spain along the country’s highways towards Madrid. As they pass through the rural villages the plainly supportive populations turn out to cheer them on and join in enthusiastic clenched-fist renderings of “La Camisa Roja” (the Red Shirt) and other revolutionary songs.
     The womenfolk of these miners disrupted a session of the Spanish Senate on 16 June and had to be ejected from the public gallery after having made a loud and effective protest that was witnessed by the entire nation.
     These miners have been on strike for more than four weeks at the time of writing. The protest began when eight thousand workers in Asturias went on indefinite strike, protesting against the 63 per cent cuts to the coalmining industry. This will not only result in thousands of job losses but will destroy the economy of the local mining communities.
     The news of the cuts comes at the same time as the €100 billion bank bail-out, the details of which are still being negotiated. The general secretary of the UGT (General Workers’ Union), Cándido Méndez, points out that the mining industry could be bailed out for €260 million, a tiny fraction of that granted to the banks.
     The strikes have spread to nearby mining areas, such as León, Aragón, Palencia, and Ciudad Real, and have had massive support from their communities. The right-wing Partido Popular (People’s Party) government of Mariano Rajoy, however, has reacted to the strikes by deploying riot police in the mining communities. The heavy-handed state violence seen earlier in the year during the general strike has been replicated, with rubber bullets and tear gas being used on the strikers.
     The workers, however, have retaliated with militant force. Roads, motorways and train lines were blocked, and when attacked by the police the workers have fought back. They answered rubber bullets with rockets, police batons with clubs.
     The disruptive measures used by the strikers have been criticised by the media and by union leaders. But the reality is that the mining workers are desperate, standing with their backs to the wall against the complete destruction of their livelihood and communities.
     The resistance spread to all the regions of Asturias, León, and Palencia, which were paralysed on Monday 18 June by a general strike in solidarity with the miners. The unions announced that there was “complete participation” throughout the mining areas. There have also been clashes with the police in other parts of Spain, such as Madrid and Gran Canarias, as demonstrations in support of the miners’ strike have taken place.
     Further action was taken by the workers at the end of June in the form of a march from all mining areas to the capital. Workers from each mining area left on Friday the 29th in their overalls and helmets. The march is due to culminate on 11 July in front of the Ministry of Industry, and thousands will take part in a demonstration on their arrival. However, the minister for Industry, José Manuel Soria, is obdurate. He says that the government’s decision to withdraw subventions to the energy industry is non-negotiable.
     There have already been changes to the labour laws in Spain, making it easier and cheaper for employers to fire workers and reducing workers’ rights and benefits. In a country with almost a quarter of the work force (and more than half of those under twenty-five) unemployed, this has had the effect of massively mobilising workers from many areas of the economy.
     Yet more painful austerity cuts are in the pipeline, promises the prime minister. Social welfare and the health service have been marked for trimming. No wonder the inhabitants of the villages along the route of the march turn out in force to support the miners!
     The example of these miners fighting not only for their jobs but for their future and for the future of their communities is an example to all workers everywhere, whose historical gains will be made to vanish in the interests of an increasingly combative capitalism unless they make a determined stand in defence of their rights.

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