Like other governments in Europe, Spain’s right-wing Popular Party (PP) government is trying to make workers pay for the deepening international economic crisis. This strike will coincide with the latest meeting of the pampered European Union (EU) leaders in Seville on 20-21 June and the mass protests against capitalism and globalisation.
Jose Mar’a Aznar, PP leader, has already told other EU leaders not to bother to arrive for the first day of their meeting because of the strike. Presumably, they can plan out the next phase of their attacks on the living standards of workers throughout Europe in one day instead of two.
These new unemployment benefit measures represent a savage attack on workers and their communities. Unemployment in Spain has increased by 10% in the last year and is now the highest in Europe at 11.47%.
At the end of last year, and the beginning of 2002, massive demonstrations took place against attacks on education. This year already, miners have struck in Andalucia, and bus drivers in Madrid and Barcelona are now on strike.
Five thousand national police officers recently marched in Madrid to demand higher wages and one hundred and fifty prisoners rioted in the Quatre Camins prison in Barcelona to demand wages for the work they do!
Clearly, the conditions exist for a massive show of strength on the 20 June but this is not guaranteed because of the role of the union ’leaders’ of the two major unions, the UGT and CCOO.
In response to the new measures, the leaderships initially threatened the government with a general strike. Later, they reconsidered and waited to gauge the mood of the May Day demonstrations. Despite the support in favour of a strike, the union leaders delayed a decision until 23 May.
Clearly, the UGT and CCOO tops fear a failure of the strike because of the level of mistrust the workers now have in them. But, if anything, going by past workers’ struggles, the strike is likely to go beyond the limits established by the conservative leaderships.
It cannot just be left to the leaders of the UGT and CCOO to use this day as a pressure valve and then to continue their policy of signing agreements with the government and the bosses that trample on workers’ rights and conditions.
Members of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) in Spain are building support for the strike but we are also campaigning for workers to set up factory defence committees against this new law, against closures, ’rubbish’ contracts, and privatisation and all other attacks as a result of the policies of globalisation and neo-liberalism.
During this strike, and the period ahead, Spanish workers will increasingly see the need to recover the idea of genuine workers’ organisation. Representatives democratically elected and accountable at all levels, and living on the average wage of the workers - these are essential conditions for the development of new mass workers’ organisations.