Spain’s workers take on cuts—and their union leaders

January 27 marked yet another day of strikes and demonstrations in Spain. This time, workers were not only calling for an end to the Spanish government’s cuts: they were also shaming the actions of Spain’s two biggest unions, the UGT and CC OO, who have signed an agreement with the government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero to support pension reforms.

The Spanish government’s solution to its debt crisis is to make the working class pay. The pension reforms will delay the age of retirement from 65 to 67 and reduce pensions by an estimated 5.5 per cent. They have cut social spending, including the unemployment benefit, increased prices on basic goods and transport, privatised public companies and made it easier for employers to sack workers.
But instead of organising workers’ widespread anger, the main unions have capitulated in favour of maintaining what they call “social peace”. Adolfo Muñoz, general secretary of ELA, a radical union in the Basque country, said, “not one union in Europe has given [left] cover to cuts of such neo-liberal dimensions”.

The demonstrations and strikes on January 27 provided a glimpse of what will be needed to reverse the unions’ shameful stance and beat back the cuts.

Tens of thousands of workers, students and retirees demonstrated en masse in all major towns and cities, chanting their familiar calls for “not one step back, general strike”, and “they call it democracy, but it’s not!” In some places workers took up chants like “it’s not time to negotiate, its time to fight” and “here we are [in the street], and we don’t make pacts!”

The southern city of Murcia was rocked by a demonstration of 60,000 people. There were strikes in Catalonia and Galicia led by the radical unions.

In Basque country, 80 per cent of public sector workers struck, alongside nearly 100 per cent of administrative and industrial workers. Militant picket lines at bus depots and train stations prevented the government’s mandatory “minimal services” from functioning, and barricades on the main highways around stopped traffic entering. Strikers plastered walls with pro-strike stickers and closed down open shops.

The government is determined to force through their reforms—and we need to be just as determined to beat them. Just across the Mediterranean, the populations of Tunisia and Egypt have shown us what it takes.

Daisy Farnham, in Madrid


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