1.5 million March As Workers Gear Up For General Strike
Less than 100 days since the formation of the PP (People’s Party) government, which was to bring “stability” to crisis-ridden Spain, we see the country convulsed in an intense period of protests and mobilisations. On Sunday 11 March, up to 1.5 million marched in 60 cities, with unions claiming attendances of 500,000 in Madrid and 450,000 in Barcelona. In smaller towns and cities, tens of thousands took the streets. In the region of Andalucia alone, over 220,000 are said to have turned out. These marches followed a massive day of protest on 19 February which was similar numbers take to the streets, and the spontaneous explosion of solidarity with the Valencian spring, which saw tens of thousands protest around the country. And far from representing the culmination of the process, these mobilisations represent only the build up to a general strike on 29 March.
The focal point in this upturn in struggle is the recently announced labour reform, which represents an historic attack on the gains of the Spanish working class, without precedents in the three decades since the fall of the Franco regime. This reform, which massively cheapens and facilitates sackings and seriously erodes the collective bargaining rights of workers, is predicted to usher in 630,000 job losses in 2012. At a time when over 5 million people are unemployed already, this has provoked massive disgust and outrage. It has crystallised the anger at the austerity offensive, which has become more brutal and accelerated since the PP’s victory. And this response comes even before the announcement of the bulk of their anti-worker measures which will come in the budget at the end of March.
Anti-union campaign reflects bosses’ fear of general strike
Since the announcement of the strike, a concerted anti-union campaign has been launched, spearheaded by PP leaders and their cronies in the pro-capitalist press. The general strike has been labelled a “strike against Spain” with an appeal to “patriotism” (i.e. the acceptance of decades of misery and mass unemployment to pay for the debts and “solve” the crisis of the international and Spanish market system). Duran Lleida, leader of the governing Catalan CiU party (which backed up the PP in voting through the labour reform bill in parliament) even called for the strengthening of anti-union legislation to further impede the right to strike. This has been supplemented with a media and government offensive to undermine the impact of the general strike, and the mobilising power of the trade union movement. These demonstrations are a fitting initial answer to this campaign, as will be the general strike which is sure to be of massive proportions. In reality, this campaign reflects weakness more than strength, and a fear of the entry of the organised working class into battle. In the context of such a rabid anti-union campaign, a correct approach on behalf of the anti-capitalist left and social movements, to clearly distinguish the necessary opposition to the right-wing leadership from opposition to the trade union movement generally, is of special importance.
General strike is a first victory in the struggle from below for combative trade unionism
The leaders of the main Spanish trade unions, the CCOO and the UGT, far from responding to the announcement of these attacks with a determined resolve to lead the working class into a battle to win, were pushed from below into calling the general strike. Even when the Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, told his counterparts at an EU summit that the labour reform would “cost him a general strike”, weeks passed before the union leaders were prepared to even contemplate it! It was the pressure from below, especially that exercised by the massive demonstrations on 19 February, after which even the capitalist press was forced to comment on the extent to which there was a clamour from below for a general strike. This was then reinforced by the students’ revolt and the determined demand for serious action being transmitted from below through the unions’ structures. It was just a few days after ruling out any general strike action until after May, that the top bureaucrats found themselves without any other option but to announce a strike for 29 March.
The experience of the general strike in September 2010, in which over 10 million workers downed tools, only to have the union leaders signing a sell-out pact agreeing to the increase of the retirement age, among other things, has also had an impact on the consciousness of broad sections of workers and trade unionists. The next step must consist in further developing the struggle from below, to ensure that ‘29-M’ is the beginning of a serious struggle, and is not simply a symbolic strike but part of a strategy to win.
Members of Socialismo Revolucionario (CWI in Spain) participated in Sunday’s mass demonstrations, emphasising the need for a sustained programme of action, democratically discussed and decided upon by workplace and community assemblies and strike committees and open to members of all unions (and none). The naming of a date for a 48 hour strike to follow 29-M, with the threat of further strikes of even longer duration if necessary, could be the basis to begin a movement capable of facing down the government’s cuts and counter-reforms. The left organisations, social movements and trade union rank and file could organise from below to fight for such a programme linked to a political alternative to the austerity consensus. This could point the way forward to the only viable road out of the current quagmire – the socialist transformation of society through public democratic ownership and control of the economy, on a national and international scale.
[The following is a translation of statement by Socialismo Revolucionario (CWI in Spain) following the announcement of the general strike on 29 March]
The government’s labour reform is the biggest attack on the conquests of the working class in terms of workers’ rights since the Franco era. It cheapens sackings at a time when over 5 million are unemployed and over half of young people are out of work. It further facilitates collective sackings, and for those still in work worsens the nightmare of precarious jobs.
But this reform only represents the beginning. It is part of an agenda of misery, of the destruction of the welfare state, which the capitalists are very conscious of, both in Spain and internationally. Rajoy (Prime Minister), Rubalcaba (PSOE leader), Merkel and Sarkozy, along with the capitalist media say that this is the only way possible, that the debt must be paid and the markets must be pacified. They have built a consensus around these policies and this approach.
But we know that it is lies. The austerity of Zapatero and now of Rajoy has not in any way succeeded in improving the situation. The debt continues to climb and the markets continue to demand more ’sacrifices’. Like the Aztecs, they demand more and more blood from society, to please their “gods” - the markets, bosses and big business. It is becoming clearer and clearer to more and more working people that there is no alternative but to struggle for a different path.
General strike as the first step to kick off a sustained struggle
The general strike on 29-M will be an important first step. It will show the power of the working class through the paralysis of the economy, and the massive demonstrations. This strike has only been possible due to the pressure from the mass of workers, especially in the base of the major trade unions, CC.OO and UGT, which forced their ’leaders’ into action. These leaders tried all they could to put off a strike, and only a week or so ago, ruled out a general strike until after May, unsurprisingly attempting to walk the line of least resistance and keep ’social peace’ intact.
This general strike is thus a first victory for the workers and fighting trade unionists, a result of their struggles, and of the energy and shining example of the youth and students in the Valencian Spring. But, unfortunately, this first victory will not be enough. We must continue to organise from below, to make sure that that the union leaders do not follow the strike with a sell-out pact, as was the case following the general strike of 29 September 2010.
This strike must be built for by workers, the unemployed and young people, with the formation of assemblies in the workplaces and communities and in schools and universities. Strike committees, open to members of all unions and non-unionised workers, should be established to debate the strategy for the struggle and the way forward after 29M. What we know for sure is that to be able to halt the offensive of the government and the system, one strike will not be enough. We have seen the heroic resistance of the Greek working class, with 18 individual general strikes. Without a sustained plan of struggle, with an escalating series of strikes, we will be incapable of stopping the government from passing its anti-worker measures. It is necessary to name the date for a general strike of 48 hours to follow 29M, with the threat of more strikes, of an even longer duration should they be necessary, to smash this reform. Linked to this is the need to transform the trade union movement into a democratic fighting instrument of struggle.
The international crisis of capitalism also poses the need for coordinated international struggle. The need for a general strike is posed in a whole number of countries, with one taking place in Portugal on 22 March. But, unfortunately, there is no strategy or plan to link these mobilisations together. The next general strikes in the Iberian Peninsula, and beyond in the ’peripheral’ countries of Europe, should be coordinated and simultaneous.
We must also arm ourselves with political alternatives, which DO exist. In this respect, the left now has an historic responsibility, to demand and popularise genuine alternative policies to the crisis and austerity. These include a rejection of the payment of the debt, which is not ours but that of bankers and speculators, and the nationalisation of the banks and strategic sectors of the economy under democratic workers’ control. This would allow for the implementation of an offensive policy of massive public investment in jobs, production and public services. Based on such policies we could fight for a genuinely democratic system which gives participation to the mass of working people, as an alternative to the dictatorship of the markets and capital. Only on this basis can the movements of workers and youth advance towards the transformation of society and the economy to resolve the fundamental problems facing the majority of people.