Spain: Miners light up Madrid and show workers the way to struggle!

For a 48 hour general strike to bring down Rajoy government

John Hird, CWI Spain

Thousands of coal miners arrived in Madrid, last week, completing another march on the capital as part of the struggle to defend their jobs. They were greeted by thousands of workers and youth from Madrid who poured onto the streets to express their solidarity. Fire-fighters escorted the miners through Madrid, stripping off in front of the parliament to show their solidarity.

On the same day that the miners arrived, Rajoy and the right wing PP government announced a revised budget. According to commentators, this will include the worst cuts since 1956 when Spain was under Franco’s fascist dictatorship.

The cover of the Spanish satirical magazine, EL JUEVES ( shows President Mariano Rajoy giving a massive wet sloppy kiss to the national soccer goalkeeper Iker Casillas, reprising a famous kiss Iker planted on his interviewer/girlfriend when Spain won the World Cup two years ago. Rajoy has tried to milk everything he can from the Spain’s recent Euro Cup win, attending Spain’s matches and being pictured celebrating next to the Prince of Asturias. Before the tournament Rajoy even appealed to the coach Vincente Del Bosque to “win the cup for Spain to help us forget the crisis”. Del Bosque said his team would do their best but victory would not solve the socio-economic problems of the country. Wise man and great coach that Del Bosque is!

The miners of Asturias and other regions brought the class struggle to Rajoy’s door and cut short his ’Euro Cup’ feel good factor. Indeed, David Villa, Barcelona and Spanish footballer striker is tweeting his support for the miners and their struggle.

As the miners marched past the President’s Palace, Madrid workers chanted: “Esta es nuestra selección” (“This is our team”.) A miner commented that he had expected a great reception in Madrid but with the incredible reception he truly felt like ’La selección’.

The arrival of the miners in Madrid has been like a catharsis for other groups of workers under attack, like fire fighters, teachers and local government workers. “Miners, you are the dog’s bollocks! Our pride!” The shouts of encouragement by these workers show that this miner’s movement is acting as a catalyst in Spain. The miners themselves chanted; “Fix it or its war, war, war…” They sang their adopted hymn “Santa Barbara” from the civil war.

Even El Pais admits that the idea of “lucha obrera” (worker’s struggle) is taking hold. But generally the Spanish media continues to play a lamentable role. Posters on social media complained that as thousands of workers demonstrated in Madrid the TV served up its usual turgid menu of sport, US films and TV shows and scandalous gossip shows.

Lies and misinformation

The government press publishes lies and misinformation about the miners. According to ABC, the mines are so safe that female miners can go to work in high heels and that miners have salaries of €2,100 a month! They have also wasted the millions in subsidies they have received and, of course, the old chestnut, the miners are violent.

In fact, miners receive an average salary of between €1,000 and €1,500 a month for what is still very dangerous job. The police get about €1,900.

All industry is subsidised in Spain, including transport and agriculture. Why single out the miners whose industry has only received about 1% of the total paid out in subsidies? Spanish banks recently got €100,000 – where is that money now? The subsidies paid to the mining industry have been misspent by the private mining companies and local and regional governments. They should have been investing in improved infrastructure and job creation. No-one can really account for where the money has gone although undoubtedly some of it has been syphoned-off corruptly.

The miners are precisely being singled out for what they represent, including their history and tradition, as many Spanish workers instinctively understand.

As far as violence is concerned, what is more violent than the destruction of 8,000 direct mining jobs and another 30,000 indirectly and whole communities destroyed?

Rajoy’s only response to the demands of the miners has been to mobilise National Police and Civil Guard which is a provocation to the mining communities. Miners and their families have already suffered brutal repression. In Ciñera, León, rubber bullets have been used by police and school playgrounds tear gassed.

Women miners also marched from Asturias to Madrid. Miners’ wives have also started to get organised. Thousands took part in the massive demonstration outside the Ministry of Industry; miners, their families and all sectors of workers in Madrid, including the ’Green Tide’ of Madrid education workers.

The demonstrations passed off mainly peacefully despite a provocative show of strength by the police. Riot police provoked the miners when they filmed the miners’ columns as the protesters reached the Ministry of Industry. Pitched battles took place. The PP HQ was protected by 11 armed police vehicles.

The politicians are living in denial. Esperanza Aguirre, the President of Madrid, denied the miner’s march was large! Rajoy has not said anything about the miners. In Los Cortes, only the IU (United Left) leader reflected a little of the anger in the country, saying that the budget measures were ’throwing petrol onto the streets of Spain.’

Battle lines

As the miners were demonstrating, Rajoy announced an increase in VAT of 3% and a reduction in unemployment pay to 50% of what unemployed workers have paid into the social security system. Rajoy said this should “encourage” the unemployed to find work! Some hope with 5 million on the dole. The overall cuts are a further €65,000 million on top of previous cuts. The pro-big business government is also proposing to reduce the number of full time union officials in an attempt to make it more difficult for unions to defend workers. Spontaneous protests from workers in the public sector including civil servants, teachers, street cleaners, police and even sections of the civil guard have taken to the streets. According to El Pais, at one point some of the riot police took off their helmets! This is an anticipation of the massive social explosion and struggle which is now likely to erupt in Spain in the coming months.

Last Saturday, Rajoy had to cancel public appearances due to protests. Former prime ministers, such as Aznar and Zapatero, have had the same experience. However, as El Pais pointed out, they faced this after 5 years in power. Rajoy has to limit his appearances in public after 6 months!

The battle lines are now clearer. The government is acting exclusively for big business. Their only policy is to make the poor and working class pay for the capitalist crisis. Yesterday many workers were angry at this prospect but did not have the confidence or know the way to fight back. That was yesterday. Today the Spanish miners have shone a light and shown the whole of the working class the way to struggle.

The trade unions were compelled to called national protests on Thursday 19th July. However, this will not be enough. A general strike of 48 hours needs to be convened, as the next step in the struggle to bring down the Rajoy government and fight for a workers’ alternative.