Tuesday, June 08, 2010


As to the title, well maybe yes and maybe no. The general strike of the public sector in Spain yesterday was essentially "plotted" by the largest unions, the UGT (tied umbilically to the governing Socialist Party of Zapatero) and the CCOO (semi-reformed Stalinists who have forgotten everything about socialism but remember everything about bureaucratic manoeuvre). The general opinion in the mass media is that the public sector one day strike was a "test" to see if the idea of a real general strike would fly. The public workers of Spain face a general 5% cut in their pay in addition to other "austerity measures" such as a freeze in 2011, freezing pensions and an end to the Spanish equivalent of the "child bonus". If this was a test the bird didn't fly. This is in the face of an unemployment rate of 20%, the highest in the Euro zone.

Needless to say estimates of strike participation varies wildly. Union (CCOO and UGT) estimates gave numbers as high as 75% while government statements varied but hovered around the 11% range (see Irish Times, Earth Times ). Now long experience has taught me a method of "estimating" the truth in such contradictory claims, and I hold to it even when I am more in favour of one side than another. Double the low number...11% = 22%. Half the high number 75% = 37.5%. Average the two numbers. The probable participation rate by these numbers was 29.75% ie about a little less than 1/3rd of the public sector workers of Spain. This may overestimate the actual participation or at least the enthusiastic participation of public sector workers (ie those who didn't simply adjourn to home or the bar for the day). In Madrid the official CCOO/UGT rally at the end of the day gathered less than 4,000 participants.
I actually dreaded looking this up from the websites of the Spanish anarchosyndicalist organizations, the larger CGT and the much smaller CNT. Given my experience with North American anarchism, which all too often mirrors the idiocy of North American leftism in general I expected a great amount of flag waving and declarations of "victory" like the Communist and Socialist unions are claiming. I was pleasantly surprised.

Both Spanish anarchosyndicalist organizations were actually quite divided about the advisability of the public sector strike with the CNT actually taking pride of place for mentioning "reality" in their debates prior to the event ie mentioning how little support amongst the general Spanish population such a strike would have (or amongst public employees judging from the real participation). The CGT (and the CNT) have long campaigned for a real general strike encompassing both public and private sectors and a strike that was not just a one day symbolic demonstration. The CNT Andalucia joined with CGT Andalucia in reluctant support of the public sector strike. On the other hand the CNT of Badaloz (western Spain) rejected the idea entirely. Within the CGT there was a similar difference of opinion. This was especially prominent in the aftermath of the strike where the CGT of Zaragoza in Aragon republished the statement of the CNT of Aragon denouncing the CCOO and the UGT. the reason for this was the successful attempt of the UGT to exclude the CGT from the official demonstrations and speeches. In most of Spain the anarchists deliberately separated themselves from the official union demonstrations and presented themselves in separate contingents. probably a very wise idea when you are big enough.

The attitude of the CNT and CGT, despite the internal differences in their organizations, had generally two different "tones", connected no doubt to the different situation of the two organizations. The CGT is an organization of perhaps 100,000 members with the support of up to 2 million people in union elections in Spain. As such it is a "real union" and is more inclined to 'realpolitik' than the CNT which has perhaps 5,000 members and doesn't participate in the union elections. The CNT is more inclined to "denounce" the larger unions while the CGT is more inclined to both "pressure" them and present an alternative viewpoint which they hope will serve them in the future. Both organizations were united in saying that a real general strike was what was needed. They differed in how to get to it.

The point may be less than moot now. The underlying subtext of both the CGT and the CNT was that the CCOO and the UGT wanted no such thing as a real general strike. It would upset their cozy bargaining relationship with the socialist government. My brief browsing of the general public opinion in Spain (unconnected to anarchist opinion) is that this was a realistic estimate. Opinions such as "the unions were half-hearted" or "it was merely a show" come up over and over. The bottom line...the play has been acted out. Whatever the CCOO and the UGT claim they will hesitate to try and call a real general strike in Spain for fear of exposing their weakness even more. The government's plans will be carried out, and the great public shows (like in Greece) will give way to the usual backroom dealing - where the participants are more than slightly friendly with each other.

What this means is that even in Spain where perhaps 5% of the population has a favourable long term opinion of anarchism (contrasted to maybe 0.1% in Greece and 0.00001% in North America) that there is a very long term struggle ahead. There will be no magical "rebellion" to pull the country away from the austerity measures. Interestingly there is a little piece of truth in all this controversy about numbers, and it comes from the CGT who report the turnout for the public service sector strike in Barcelona which varied from a low of 20% to a high of 70% (interestingly enough the percentages were generally higher in the sectors where the CGT was strongest). These numbers seem to correlate with my own estimate of about 1/3rd. See here for the CGtT report. It does my heart good to see that my own comrades have a regard for truth.

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