SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Socialism Today 157 - April 2012

Spanish workers gear up for general strike

LESS THAN 100 days since the formation of the People’s Party (PP) government, which promised to bring stability to crisis-ridden Spain, the country is convulsed in an intense period of protests. On 11 March, up to 1.5 million marched in 60 cities. Trade unions claimed 500,000 in Madrid and 450,000 in Barcelona. In smaller towns and cities, tens of thousands took to the streets. In the region of Andalucia, over 220,000 are said to have turned out.

These marches followed a massive day of protest on 19 February, which saw similar numbers mobilise, and the spontaneous explosion of solidarity with the Valencian spring, with tens of thousands protesting around the country. Far from representing the culmination of the process, these mobilisations are just the build-up to a one-day general strike on 29 March.

The focal point in this upturn in struggle is the recently announced, unprecedented attacks on the gains made by the Spanish working class since the end of General Franco’s regime three decades ago. These measures make sacking workers significantly cheaper and easier, and seriously erode their collective bargaining rights. It is predicted that they will usher in 630,000 job losses in 2012.

At a time when over five million people are unemployed, this has provoked disgust and outrage. It has crystallised the anger at the austerity offensive, which has become more brutal and accelerated since the PP’s victory. And this response comes even before the announcement of the bulk of other anti-worker measures which will come in the budget at the end of March.

Since the announcement of the strike, a concerted anti-union campaign has been launched, spearheaded by PP leaders and their cronies in the pro-capitalist press. It has been labelled a ‘strike against Spain’, with appeals to ‘patriotism’, meaning the acceptance of decades of misery and mass unemployment to pay for the government debt and ‘solve’ the crisis of the international and Spanish market system. Duran Lleida, leader of the Catalan’s governing CiU (Convergence and Unity) party, which voted for the labour ‘reform’ bill in parliament, even called for the strengthening of anti-union legislation to further impede the right to strike.

This recent spate of demonstrations is a fitting initial answer to this latest dose of austerity, and the general strike is sure to be massive. In reality, the PP and media propaganda reflects weakness more than strength, and a fear of the entry of the organised working class into battle. In the context of such a rabid anti-union campaign, a correct approach on behalf of the anti-capitalist left and social movements is particularly important.

The leaders of the main Spanish trade unions, the CCOO (Workers’ Commissions) and UGT (General Workers’ Union), far from responding to the announcement of these attacks with a determined resolve to lead the working class into a battle to win, were pushed from below into calling the general strike. Even when prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, told his counterparts at an EU summit that the labour reform would "cost him a general strike", weeks passed before the union leaders were prepared to even contemplate calling it!

It was the rank-and-file pressure that compelled them to act, especially that exercised by the massive 19 February demonstrations, after which even the capitalist press was forced to comment on the mass clamour for a general strike. This was then reinforced by the students’ revolt and the determined demand for serious action being transmitted from below through the unions’ structures. It was just a few days after ruling out any general strike action until after May, that the top bureaucrats found themselves without any other option but to announce the 29 March strike.

The experience of the one-day general strike in September 2010 has also had an impact on the consciousness of broad sections of workers and trade unionists. Then, over ten million workers downed tools, only to have the union leaders sign a sell-out pact agreeing to the increase of the retirement age, among other things. The next step must consist in further developing the struggle from below, to ensure that 29 March is the beginning of a serious struggle, and is not simply symbolic action.

Members of Socialismo Revolucionario (CWI Spain) emphasise the need for a sustained programme of action, democratically discussed and decided upon by workplace and community assemblies and strike committees, and open to members of all unions and non-unionised workers. The date should be named for a 48-hour strike, with the threat of further strikes of longer duration if necessary. That could be the basis to begin a movement capable of facing down the government’s cuts and counter-reforms.

The left-wing organisations, social movements and trade union rank and file should organise from below to fight for such a programme linked to a political alternative to the austerity consensus. This could point the way forward to the only viable road out of the current quagmire: the socialist transformation of society through public democratic ownership and control of the economy, on a national and international scale.

Danny Byrne


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