Spain/Basque country: General strike shows workers’ strength

All out on 29 September to defeat the attacks!

There was a General Strike in Euskadi (the Basque country) on 29 June. The strike was in protest at the PSOE government’s proposed austerity programme which includes cuts in salaries for civil servants, attacks on pension rights and a rolling back of worker’s rights. PSOE want to make it easier for employers to sack workers and cut back drastically on the 45 days per year redundancy pay.

This is a direct attack on the Spanish working class and challenge for the unions and their leaders. When the proposals were published, there was shock and anger amongst the workers as the two main unions CCOO and UGT had been negotiating with the government. Calls for a General Strike immediately were heard and CCOO and UGT held joint talks to fix a date. When they came up with September 29th for a state-wide General Strike, some workers expressed disappointment expressed in the phrase: ’It’s now or never!’

Meanwhile in Euskadi, the two leading Basque unions, ELA and LAB, immediately and correctly called for a General Strike on 29 June in Euskadi and Navarra. Normally there is no co-operation between Basque unions and unions in the rest of the Spanish state but CC.OO (workers’ commissions) held a quick and intense debate in all their locals in Euskadi, and voted by 91% to support the strike. The UGT which has been traditionally closer to PSOE refused to support the strike.

Despite the political differences between Basque and Spanish unions this development has to be seen as a step forward for the working class, entering into a period of struggle against unprecedented attacks against the workers of all sectors and nationalities.

However, there are still major political disagreements between unions in the Basque Country and confusion as to the best way forward.

At a CCOO pre-strike meeting of workers in education in Gasteiz some of these differences were expressed. Older activists, who prefaced their contributions by stating they were “anti-Basque nationalist”, asked why we were supporting the strike? Others said there would be little support for the strike in their workplaces. The CC.OO officials argued that it was matter of pride, and that a response had to be given to Zapatero and that it would be wrong to “allow the Basque unions to take the initiative.”

However, another contribution to the meeting, which underlined the importance of united action in Euskadi, despite our differences, was well received as were points which stressed that this is just the beginning of the fightback.

On 29 June as with all strikes there was a battle of statistics. The Basque Government and bosses’ associations claimed it was failure while the unions saw it as a success.

The strike was not 100% solid (organisers later claimed 80% participation), but did serve as show of strength by the unions and served notice that workers are prepared to fight.

The strike was somewhat less successful in the public sector, mainly because civil servants have already had two strikes recently and there may be a feeling among some that they have already lost, as the government took 5% from their pay packets at the end of last month.

Pickets were out in all the Basque capitals, Gasteiz, Bilbao and Donosti, early in the morning of 29 June. The strike was actually more successful amongst industrial workers and in transport, which shows that the traditionally militant sectors of the Basque working class are moving into action. Even the government admitted that energy consumption in industry was down 31% on strike day.

As usual, the press tried to play up “violence” in the strike, but for an action of such proportions there was little trouble. Only three people were arrested, although the Ertzaintza (Basque police) were heavy handed and provocative. They had pickets up against the walls while searching them in Bilbao and they charged a few lines. In Gasteiz they beat up and arrested a long time CC.OO activist. This caused a lot of anger against the Ertzaintza.

All out on 29 September!

The CC.OO’s support for the General Strike has been entirely positive and must be built upon in the future.

The march in Gasteiz was large and lively and workers turned up with their families to protest.

However, unfortunately, in Gasteiz alone there were three separate marches. At one point a CGT (small anarcho-syndicalist union) demo marched near to the CCOO demo and there was little or no mutual recognition.

As in the rest of the Basque Country, the Basque unions’ demos, called by ELA and LAB, in Gasteiz were several times larger than the CC.OO demos, more militant and made up in the main of much younger forces.

The General Strike in Euskadi is the first stirring in the battle to defeat PSOE’s anti-working class policies. Our next General Strike will be in the whole of the Spanish state on 29 September. The CWI is working to pull together activists who want a fighting socialist programme which can defeat these attacks. Watch this space!

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July 2010