Miners in the north west of Spain have been on strike for over 3 weeks now. At the end of last month approximately 8,000 workers in Asturias went on strike indefinitely, protesting the 63% cuts to the coal mining industry, which will not only result in thousands of job losses but will destroy the economy of the local mining communities. The news of the cuts comes at the time of the €100,000 million bank bailout. The UGT (General Workers’ Union) has stated that the mining industry needs €260 million, a fraction of that granted to the banks.
The strikes have spread to near-by mining areas such as León, Aragón, Palencia and Ciudad Real and have had massive support from their local communities. The conservative government, however, has reacted to the strikes by deploying the Guardia Civil. The heavy-handed, state violence seen earlier on in the year during the general strike has been replicated, with rubber bullets and tear gas being used on the strikers. The workers have retaliated with militant force; roads, motorways and train lines have been blocked and when attacked by police the workers have fought back. The disruptive measures used by the strikers have been criticised by the press and by union leaders but the reality is that workers are standing against the complete destruction of their livelihoods and communities.
The resistance has spread; the regions of Asturias, León and Palencia were paralysed on Monday 18th June by a general strike in solidarity with the miners. The unions announced that there was “complete participation” throughout the mining areas. There have also been clashes with police in other parts of Spain, such as Madrid and Gran Canarias, as demonstrations in support of the miners’ strike have taken place.
Further action is to be taken by the workers at the end of the week in the form of a march from the mining areas to the capital. Workers from each town are due to leave on Friday in their overalls and helmets, in what will be the 3rd march of its kind. The march is due to finish on the 11th July in front of the ministry of industry and a demonstration will take place on their arrival.
There have already been changes to the labour laws in Spain making it easier and cheaper for employers to fire workers and reducing workers rights and benefits. In a country with an unemployment rate of 24% (over 50% for those under 25) and more and more cuts being made to health and education services it is encouraging to see the miners fighting not only for their jobs but for their future and for the future of their communities. The government is unlikely to concede easily as, given its weak economy and failing austerity measures, it must appear to the rest of Europe to be in control of its people and unions. A win for the miners would be a strong blow against austerity in Europe but it will not come without a fight. The indefinite, militant actions we have seen up to now are a must.