Spain: Millions of public sector workers strike against austerity attacks

General strike beckons…

On 8 June, almost 2 million public sector workers went on strike in opposition to Spain’s PSOE government’s austerity programme, which, among other brutal attacks on public spending, social welfare and pensions, involves a 5% across the board pay cut for public sector workers. The strike came as the first general, organized response by the working class in Spain, to the government’s turn towards vicious austerity. The Zapatero government has shown its true colours, kneeling before the “gods” of the international market, credit ratings’ agencies and the IMF, whose austerity diktats have piled up recently, revealing deep-rooted fears about the stability of the Spanish economy and the prospect of a Greek-style collapse.

The strike had a powerful impact, with demonstrations in the Spanish state’s main cities totalling hundreds of thousands of people, and with trade unions reporting 75% participation. In Barcelona, a reported 150,000 took to the streets in a militant display of the anger and determination of Spain’s public sector workers, who were joined, significantly, by large numbers of youths and pensioners.

However, in the aftermath of the strike, despite its resounding success, all eyes now lie on the country’s main trade union leaders, from the UGT and CC.OO. The onslaught on living conditions brought about by Spanish capitalism’s deep crisis, and its attempt to force working people to foot the bill, has caused a profound ground-swelling of anger. The majority of Spain’s trade union members have, for quite a while, been clear on what response they feel is necessary – a general strike! On the mass demonstrations which forced the Zapatero government to withdraw its plans to raise the retirement age to 67 last February, this demand was overwhelming.

Catalan banner reads: "General strike now!"

Now, with the government’s new round of vicious austerity, which represents the biggest attack on the Spanish working class since the fall of the Franco regime, and the government’s plans to unilaterally impose “profound” labour reform, which will cheapen sackings (in a country where over 20% of the population are already unemployed!) and attack the hard-fought gains of the organised working class, the chorus from below for a general strike has finally found its way into the speeches of the trade union leaders. Fernando Toxo, the leader of CC.OO (Workers’ Commissions) announced that his union has “already begun to prepare” for a general strike, in opposition to the government’s imposition of labour reform. The development of a general strike in Spain, following on from the successful strike of 8 June, would represent the decisive movement of the working class onto the stage of struggle. It would be the beginning of an almighty class showdown which could shake the foundations of Spanish capitalism. The Zapatero government is already extremely weak, having only managed to pass its latest round of attacks through parliament by one vote!

CWI members participated in the mass protests on 8 June, in a number of cities throughout the Spanish state. We presented a clear programme and perspective to take the movement forward, while posing the urgent need for the building of a genuinely socialist alternative to the attacks, chaos and crisis of capitalism and the dictatorship of the international financial markets. The next step must be the immediate organisation of a 24 hour general strike of the whole Spanish state. But, as the courageous struggle of the Greek workers has shown, one general strike alone will not be sufficient to force back the government, which is intent on hammering workers and youth to save the profit system and to satisfy their masters; the capitalist markets. A mass, united, militant movement is necessary, for which the CWI proposes the formation of democratically elected committees of action in workplaces, universities, schools and communities, to organise an immediate 24 hour general strike and discuss and debate the way forward for the struggle, and the alternative to capitalist crisis and misery.

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June 2010