Spain 29/9: 10 million workers paralyze industry in general strike

The first step!

On 29 September, 10 million workers and 1.4 million angry demonstrators set the record straight against the propaganda from the Spanish government and bosses’ media, who in the last weeks have moved mountains to assure Spanish society of the "inevitable failure" of the general strike. The day after the strike, all but the most rancidly right-wing newspapers were forced to admit that the strike had shaken Spanish capitalism. Spain’s main daily newspaper ’El Pais’ compared its scale and impact to the massive general strike against the PP government of Jose Maria Aznar in 2002. 29 September saw the mobilisation of millions in the first general strike against the PSOE ("socialist") government of Zapatero, whose brutal austerity agenda of cuts and labour reform to cheapen sackings in a country suffering endemic unemployment, has opened up a new period of mighty class battles. The general strike marked the entrance of the Spanish working class onto the stage of struggle with all its weight and power. But it represents only the first shots in what will be an epic showdown between the protagonists of 29 September and the Spanish capitalists, determined to slash and burn the living standards and prospects of the majority in service to the faceless markets and bondholders who, it seems, currently hold the real power.

Foto from Madrid

The CEOE bosses’ federation has been eager to paint the strike as ineffective in its aftermath, citing figures of between 3% and 10% participation (against the trade unions’ figures of over 70%!). But the real indicators of participation in the strike paint a clear picture. Electricity consumption for the day was down to levels typical of weekend or holiday consumption, which reveals the shutdown of industry. Reports of the impact of the strike on public transport and education also give an account of the paralysis of the country. Union figures indicate that in the northern region of Asturias, which has been at the centre of the struggle of mine workers against the destruction of thousands of jobs, a whopping 84% of workers participated in the strike, with the figure also at over 80% in Catalunya, Galicia and Castilla de la Mancha.

1.4 million on the streets

Demonstration in Cordoba

“Se nota, se siente, la huelga esta presente!” ("It is noticed, it is felt, the strike is here!") chanted workers and youth on “flying pickets”, which roamed through city and town centres from the early morning. On these pickets, hundreds of strikers made sure that the multi-national corporations, such as the ‘el Corte Ingles’ shopping mall chain, whose viciously anti-union management compelled workers to work during the strike, did not enjoy “business as usual”.

Enormous demonstrations froze city centres across the country. As the day progressed, figures of participation from the various cities, where demonstrations took place at different times, surpassed all expectations. 50,000 in Sevilla, 100,000 in Asturias… Then, evening demonstrations in Barcelona and Madrid amassed an amazing 400,000 and half a million respectively. These demonstrations were full of life and determination. Workers from all sectors, students in organised contingents, even McDonalds’ workers and taxi drivers were represented on the demonstration in Barcelona!

These marches conveyed a clear and unquestionable message to all who could see: the working class is here, and not just for a day out, but to paralyze the attacks of the government and capitalism. The labour reform forced through by the government will mean, if implemented, a blank cheque to bosses to make more mass sackings, with less redundancy pay, subsidised by the tax payer! All of the government’s plans, including the imminent raising of the retirement age to 67 and freezing of state pensions, represent a determined attempt to slash living standards and conditions, and make mass unemployment, precariousness, misery and the struggle to meet the end of the month the norm in “post-crisis” Spain. As in Greece, faced with such an attack on their future, Spanish workers and youth have no chance but to fight!

No to “minimum services” blackmail!

Protest in Madrid

In the immediate build up to the strike, the question of “minimum services” dominated the news headlines. Anti-democratic legislation in Spain requires that trade unions agree with the government and bosses in advance of strike action, that minimum services are maintained during strikes. This legislation serves as a tool to facilitate attacks on the right to take effective strike action, with the government and employers’ organisations demanding ridiculous levels of “minimum services”, such as would completely negate the impact of strike action. The government’s demands in the run up to 29 September included that public transport and international flights be maintained at 40-50% during the general strike! In number of regions, including Madrid, trade unions correctly refused to agree to such abusive regulations, thereby breaking the government’s anti-trade union laws. This follows on from the heroic example of the Metro workers of Madrid, who during their strike against a 5% wage cut in June, defied the rulings of the regional government and implemented an effective strike, which saw their proposed pay cut reduced to 1%. All workers recognise the need to maintain some essential minimum services, such as in healthcare, during strikes, even general strikes. But the provision of these services should be decided by trade unions and striking workers democratically. Trade union leaders should refuse to allow the workers’ movement to be blackmailed. The CWI in Spain stands for a decisive break with this anti-democratic legislation, and the setting of minimum services democratically by the workers’ movement, without the involvement of the government and bosses.

In Barcelona, the general strike was tarnished by the actions of a small group of “anarchist” demonstrators, who during an afternoon demonstration of about 5,000 workers and students, took advantage of the assembled crowd to engage in pointless clashes with riot police, which included the burning of police cars and endangering of the safety of peaceful protestors. Although the involvement of agent provocateurs in these actions is suspected, even those “anarchists” who participated in these clashes motivated by a genuine anger and desire to change the world, have fallen into a counter-productive trap. On what was a successful day of fighting back against the offensive of capitalism, this was the one bright spot for Zapatero and the CEOE, providing them with images which were predictably used to paint the whole strike and its participants as violent saboteurs. It also provided the police with a pretext for the brutal baton charging of a crowd outside a successfully occupied bank building in Barcelona’s Plaza de Catalunya, and the evacuation of the bank. In the coming struggles, success in breaking the austerity agenda of the Spanish ruling class will not come from the petrol bombs of a few “weekend warriors”, but from the collective action of the mass of the working class and youth, linked to the fight for alternative, genuinely socialist policies to those of the establishment political parties.

The crying need for mass and effective political representation for the working class throughout the Spanish state was reflected by the fact that, while, according to the unions, 70% of workers went on strike, only 6 MPs joined the action, while the rest spent the day issuing statements to undermine it! Izquierda Unida (United Left), a broad left formation, played a commendable role in building support for the strike, assigning itself the role of “motor de la huelga”, and organising preparatory assemblies in recent weeks. However, the development of IU as a mass political voice of workers and youth will require that this approach be built upon further, and linked to a alternative, genuinely socialist political programme, for the nationalisation of the banks and financial sector and the key sectors of the economy under the democratic control and management of the working class, and for the breaking of the power of the markets. These policies are capable of attracting the new layers of workers and youth into political activity.

The first step!

The next developments in the struggle are still unclear. Trade union leaders, who have been dragged into struggle kicking and screaming after over one year of overwhelming demands for a general strike in the ranks of the unions, ended 29 September with an appeal to the government to re-convene negotiations, and a warned that mobilisations will continue until the government changes course, including the withdrawal of its planned attacks on pensions and the retirement age, which were withdrawn in Spring after mass demonstrations around the country. However, the determination of the government to continue to satisfy its masters in the stock exchanges and credit ratings agencies, will require an equally determined and consistent programme of struggle by the working class, not more months of pointless negotiations with a government and ruling class intent ploughing ahead with its attacks.

The very day after the strike, the markets took revenge, with Spain’s credit rating again being downgraded by Moodys

What is clear is that to stop them in their tracks a sustained mass movement will be needed. Greece, where workers have undertaken 6 general strike this year, gives a glimpse of the kind of struggle that will be necessary in Spain.

CWI members and supporters participated in the general strike pickets and demonstrations in Barcelona, Sevilla, Murica, Salamanca and Vittoria, selling their paper, Socialismo Revolucionario, with the main headline “General strike: the first step!“. We call for the building of a sustained mass movement, including a series of general strikes over the next months, with the formation of democratic committees of action and assemblies to decide the next steps of the struggle. We fight to build support for the ideas of genuine revolutionary socialism, and for the adoption by the workers movement of an alternative economic and political programme, linked to the fight to transform society, end the dictatorship of the vulture markets and establish democratic socialism in the Spanish state and internationally.

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