Spanish coal miners, located mainly in the northern region of Asturias, went on indefinite strike against the austerity measures of Spanish prime Minister Mariano Rajoy at the end of May.
Fuelled by massive property speculation — a bubble which has now well and truly burst — the dictates of the IMF and the deteriorating capitalist crisis, the Spanish economy nosedived into recession in the second half of 2008 and since then millions of jobs have been lost. With 30 billion euros of cuts, as well as huge tax increases, Spain also now has one of the highest unemployment rates in the EU.
The miners responded angrily to the news that government subsidies to the mining industry are to be cut by over 60%. This will almost certainly destroy the industry and leave communities dependent on coal utterly destitute. About 8,000 jobs are at stake, with unions estimating that another 30,000 will be affected indirectly.
Miners from the two major trade union federations, the Comisiones Obreras (CCOO) and the Unión General de Trabajadores (UGT), are united in their opposition to the government measures and the strike has drawn 100% support. Many other unions across the country have pledged support; already transport workers have taken action alongside the miners and a one-day general strike is planned.
Roadblocks and railblocks have been set up in the area. A number of miners have staged “stay-down” strikes. On 31 May miners demonstrated on the streets of Madrid, where they were attacked by riot police using tear gas while in other clashes police have used rubber bullets. Some of the reports filtering through the media blackout suggest that in some areas of Asturias there is almost a state of civil war.
Clearly this is a dispute which has the potential to run for a long time.
Asturias, the main mining region, has a long history of industrial militancy. “Red Asturias” was one of the main oppositional areas to General Franco. During the British miners’ strike of 1984-5 Spanish miners were generous in their support for their overseas comrades.
In the same way that the British miners were once considered the vanguard of the labour movement, the Spanish miners are seen by many to be giving a lead to the rest of the Spanish trade union movement. This strike could provide the spark to ignite the whole Iberian peninsula.
Solidarity committee set up
Former miners and trade union supporters in the UK have set up the Spanish Miners’ Solidarity Committee.
Initially based in Sheffield, the Committee has pledged itself to campaign nationally in the UK labour and trade union movement and in the mining community for solidarity with the striking miners and their families in the Spanish Asturias, Aragon and Léon coalfields.
UK supporters of the Spanish coal miners know only too well the consequences — economic, social and political — of butchering the coal industry.
Today there are just a handful of deep mines in the UK. This is all that remains of an industry that even 30 years ago employed more 200,000 men.
In its place, there is only mass unemployment, poverty and social deprivation and decay. That future faces the Spanish miners if they are defeated
The Committee wants to raise funds for the families of the striking miners. They have already won the support of socialist film-maker Ken Loach who has said, “Not for the first time, it is miners who fight on behalf of all working people. This crisis causes such misery through mass unemployment and attacks on working conditions and the social wage. The responsibility lies with the ruling class and those who defend an intolerable, unjust system. Good wishes and solidarity.”
Two representatives of the committee will travel soon to Spain for discussions with Spanish miners and their families.
• More information: Spanishminerssolidarity@hotmail.co.uk