Thursday, July 01, 2010


The workers on the Madrid Metro have called a temporary truce with management for the weekend. This follows on the heels of a strike that had practically 100% participation unlike the largely symbolic "general strike" in early June. The workers are due to meet again on Monday to vote on whether the strike will be resumed. Being as anywhere from half a million to two million commuters depend upon the 7,500 Metro workers for public transit this strike is an actual real challenge to the Spanish government's austerity plans. The strike is basically about a 5% pay cut that was imposed on the workers without consultation as part of this austerity program, but it is even more about the way in which this cut was implimented in that the right wing local government took the Spanish federal government announce of cuts as a signal to attack their own workers. At a general meeting the workers voted to ignore a regulation that would require them to maintain 50% of normal service so the strike became total. Management has threatened retaliation because of this action, and there is talk of trying to have the army run the trains, a fundamentally unsafe idea if there ever was one. Here's a brief story from the PressTV site about the strike.
Transport strike continues in Madrid
Wed, 30 Jun 2010 16:18:13 GMT

Spanish subway workers have continued their walkout for the third consecutive day, forcing the closure of metro stations and prompting traffic jams.

The strike began on Monday with public transportation workers demanding the government to scrap a planned 5 percent pay cut as part of its fiscal austerity measures.

Meanwhile, strike committee spokesman Vicente Rodriguez said on Wednesday that it was still unclear when the strike would end.

"We haven't changed anything. We still have the same sole aim. No Metro worker is to lose so much as a euro," he added.

The ongoing strike is estimated to have affected more than two million travelers a day at a time when the country is approaching its peak holiday season.

In defiance of a government ruling that workers should run 50 percent of the scheduled trains, on Wednesday on-strike personnel refused to return to work.

Madrid mayor Alberto Ruiz Gallardon criticized trade unions for the inconvenience, saying that "they do not have the right to do what they are doing to all the people of Madrid. I think we are in an emergency situation now in Madrid."

Spain is struggling with a budget deficit of 11.2 percent of its gross domestic product. The government has announced it needs to save EUR 15 billion (USD 18 billion) to weather the crisis.

The trade unions are disappointed with the Madrid government plan, saying that public sector workers are the ones who are paying the heavy price of budget cuts.
As has been mentioned before Solidaridad Obrera, the smallest of Spain's three anarchosyndicalist union federations is particularly strong in the Madrid Metro. Here from their website is their statement made before the beginning of the strike. The original in Spanish is at said site.

The Madrid Metro workers are going to declare a strike, and moreover they will do so in defense of one of those fundamental established legal rights supported by the whole of the universal declarations of human rights, over which so many of our supposed political representatives cackle as long as nobody exercises them : the right to freedom of association.

For what is at stake in the subway strike is nothing more and nothing less than a constitutional right explicitly recognized in Article 37 of the Constitution: the right to collective bargaining and the binding force of agreements. An ancillary and basic right of any minimally democratic system of industrial relations. The right of workers to negotiate freely with the the bosses about working conditions . And to reach agreements that are binding for both parties. Because what this strike is not about airing a greater or lesser reduction of the wages of a particular group, but the immunity of one of the signatories of a collective agreement for its total failure . The workers and the company reached an agreement last year. Now the company does not comply with it and throws against the workers the whole media herd media accusing them of being "privileged." This is a strange world in which to enjoy a constitutional right is a "privilege." We should ask why there are so few "privileged" in this supposedly "lawful" state.

But we said that the Madrid subway workers are defending a fundamental right, not just their own direct collective bargaining . And that is that our Constitutional Court has consistently ruled to uphold that the right to collective bargaining is part of the substance of another constitutional right one protected in all international declarations of human rights: the right to freedom of association, of Article 28 of the Constitution. And this itself is fundamental. There is, therefore, no right to union freedom if the right to collective bargaining is not respected. For what use would it be if a union that could not negotiate binding agreements with the employer? Without agreements there are no unions, no one to protect and defend the work force in the hostile environment of wild and unbridled capitalism; therefore, any pretense that we live (as our monarchical Magna Carta says) in a "social state with the democratic rule of law "is just talk.

Thus, the Madrid subway workers are defending a fundamental right. In a massive breach of it, besides. In a breach for thousands of workers. But not only that. They are also defending the very essence of any democracy worthy of the name (and for you, reader, it's often often debated whether we deserve it): that the right of the weak are not trampled by the strong, nothing more. To enable workers to defend themselves against exploitation and misery. And the rules that protect them are respected.

For those who have declared war on the welfare state and the European working classes (those bankers and financiers who were rescued with public money last year) also have declared against all the fundamental rights and notions of law and democracy .

It is in defense of all of us , therefore, that workers in Madrid Metro are now going to strike in defense of a fundamental right, and they will tell you this whatever they say from the media in the pay of the employers .

José Luis Carretero

As has been mentioned all three of the libertarian union federations in Spain recognize the importance of this strike, as a direct political challenge to the government's austerity plans. Thus, unlike the half hearted "general strike" in June their support is unanimous and enthusiastic. Here's a statement from the CNT Madrid in solidarity with the strike. I personally think that it is not properly politically worded, but more on that later. It should be noted that of the three federations only Solidaridad Obrera has any number of members directly involved in the dispute.
CNT- workers support the Madrid Metro strike (Local Federation of Unions of Madrid - 01.07.2010 )
Faced with strikes in the Madrid metro , workers affiliated to the Federación Local de Sindicatos de Madrid express our total solidarity with the demands and note that we do not care about the little problems that we can generate to the users of public transport. Especially since we understand that this strike is essential to prepare the way of resistance against anti-labor measures from the Government.

Therefore, we not only offer our support for Metro workers but we encourage the entire working class of Madrid not only to understand and respect it , but to actively support it .

Local Federation of Unions of CNT -Madrid
As I said all three of the Spanish anarchosyndicalist union federations are enthusiastic in their support of the Metro strike. The following article is from the Rojo Y Negro newspaper site of the Spanish CGT, the largest of the federations. It's a call to join a "users' group" support blog for users of the Madrid Metro. The following has also been reprinted in its Spanish original at the Anarkismo site. As has been said this shows the unanimity of the Spanish anarchosyndicalists on the issues raised by this strike. The only "disturbing" thing that I find in the following is that it is presented "as if" it could be interpreted as the sole initiative of the CGT. I say this as a "general supporter" of the way that the CGT has decided to act in Spain today. If I were hazard a guess I would say that Solidaridad Obrera is the main mover behind this initiative. All the same it is more "productive" than showing one's "militancy" by saying that one doesn't care about the inconvenience to commuters (see the CNT statement above). Any strike in the public sector necessarily has to reach out to the public if it is to succeed. Here's the article.
Join the " Usuari@s solidarity with the Metro strike blog "
In Solidarity with the Madrid Metro Strike has opened a blog to express the support of groups and individuals with the striking subway workers .

Needless to say, this is the first major strike against the crisis , and the factor of radicalism and its significance is that it is the first concrete struggle and confrontation against the rhetoric of crisis. We say deal with all your goddamn crisis; we are not guilty and not going to pay your crisis .

We have therefore opened a blog in solidarity with the strike from which to influence opinion, and provide support materials : .

It is important that you leave comments of individual and collective support , as the trump card that the politicians are playing is the lack of sympathy for the workers in the Metro and leaving them isolated with the excuse that no one supports them .

If this strike is won it will be a giant step towards having a more eventful autumn , if it is lost it will be another missed opportunity and the cutback politicians will have an easier road -cutting salaries , pensions, the domestic deficit ( health, education , precarious employment ...)
We welcome you with a smile

Metro Users in solidarity with the strike of Metro we understand that :

1. The strike At Metro represents all the workers who have been affected by measures taken under the guise of the crisis (lower wages, loss of our rights , raising of the retirement age, precariousness)

2. We feel great solidarity against these measures, which now affect Metro workers and are imposed on us under the pretext of scarcity, when in these recent years there have never failed to be missed billions of euros to rescue the banks , financial institutions and big business.

3. Because Metro workers are embodying the slogan " we will not pay the crisis " with which we identify .

4. That the Metro has been the cornerstone of land prices in the territory of Madrid ( Metro has never existed to sell tickets , but to reclassify land where placing a stop makes a new neighbourhood) and that this has made multimillionaires of developers and construction companies .

5. That as these great benefits were never distributed and accumulated in large bank accounts, excessive assets and tax havens we can now ask that we have the minimal support to save a system that shared wealth across the world.

6. To lower wages in times in which the great fortunes not only do not decay but grow under the guise of the crisis is an insult to intelligence.

7. That subway workers have every right to a general strike that many workers and casual workers look on with envy is an ability to fight that we wish all could bring before the boss and tell him no, that's enough , I will not have lower wages !

8. We encourage everyone precarious workers, domestic workers , workers from all parts of the world that inhabit Madrid and those who have less to worry about how to join and fight with us so that they will not take away what is ours , to cry: We will not pay your crisis!

9. We call for support this strike because it is a strike that defends the rights of workers in the Metro and defends the dignity of all of us.

10. We hope the strength, courage and solidarity shown by subway workers is contagious , if so ... we welcome you with a smile.
Let's conclude with opinion (note I'm trying to avoid the leftist buzzword "analysis") from a source that can hardly be accused of sympathy for the anarchist unions in Spain. The Trotskyist 'Axis of Logic' blog actually manages to avoid any mention of the anarchosyndicalist unions in Spain, a considerable feat as they are the only realistic opposition to the socialist and ex(more or less) communist unions that have the adherence of the majority of the Spanish working class. No doubt the 500 trots in Spain constitute a "realistic" way to impose a Leninist dictatorship on the Spaniards. Whatever my opinion of the general ideas of this sort of site that features google translations from the collected "wisdom" of Fidel Castro (an infallible way to distinguish right wing from left wing Trots is to see how much they worship Stalinist dictatorships who murder their own comrades as long as total government ownership of the economy and the inevitable police state are put in place) this site says it all as to the perfidy of both the socialists and the communists (though they would be of another opinion if the communists took power and killed hundreds of thousands of people). So with this reservation as to the goals of the following here is the opinion (leftist "analysis" cough cough) of the Axis of Logic.
Spain: Striking Metro workers face military intervention and union betrayal
By Paul Mitchell
1 July 2010
The vice-chair of the Popular Party-run Madrid regional government, Ignacio González, has warned that he is “not going to discard the option” of the military taking control of Madrid’s Metro system, which has been brought to a standstill by striking workers and brought chaos to the streets of the capital.

Metro workers walked out on June 28 on a three-day strike, incensed by the Madrid regional government passing an “Urgent Measures Law” that cuts the salary of employees of public companies like Madrid Metro by 5 percent. They voted almost unanimously at a mass meeting to ignore legal minimum service rules, which force workers to maintain 50 percent of normal service, greatly reducing the effectiveness of industrial action.

González called the strike an “an attack on the rights of citizens” and thanked the Socialist Party (PSOE) government’s interior minister, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, who would have to authorise the use of the army, for “his willingness to cooperate.” The last time the military was used in such circumstances was in 1976 in the dying days of the Franco Fascist dictatorship.

Madrid’s chief transport officer, José Ignacio Echevarria warned that “Metro will not negotiate as long as basic services are not respected, will not negotiate with whoever breaks the law.”

Members of the PSOE government, led by Prime Minister José Rodriguez Zapatero, declared their opposition to the strike. Labour Minister Celestino Corbacho insisted that “the right to strike must be put in relation with the mobility rights of other citizens.”

Economy Minister Elena Salgado demanded adherence to minimum service rules.

The action of the 7,500 Metro workers is a sign of the rising opposition to austerity policies and places them in opposition to the unions—the General Union of Workers (Unión General de Trabajadores, UGT), which is traditionally affiliated to the PSOE, and the Workers Commissions (Comisiones Obreras, CC.OO), which is politically close to Izquierda Unida (United Left), an umbrella group including the Communist Party that is sympathetic to the PSOE.

Leaders of both unions have made it clear they are deeply hostile to any political struggle against the PSOE government. UGT leader Candido Méndez declared, “Social peace is everyone’s asset and responsibility.... We are not going to break it and we don’t want to do so in the future,” whilst CC.OO General Secretary Ignacio Toxo said the aim of the unions “is not to change the government,” but to make it change direction. Similarly, Vicente Rodríguez, the Conductors Union secretary leading the Metro strike committee, said, “The Metro workers never have wanted to mix politics with the trade-union movement.”

To prevent a political struggle against the PSOE, the unions are hell-bent on reining in the Metro workers and preventing them from linking up with other workers such as those participating in Tuesday’s general strike in the Basque region of northern Spain, which shut down steel, car and other manufacturing industries.

The government is doing all it can to boost the authority of the unions. Deputy Prime Minister María Teresa Fernández de la Vega ordered the chair of the Madrid regional government, Esperanza Aguirre, to “exercise her responsibilities” and begin talks with the unions in an attempt to “channel the conflict”. She made an appeal to the trade unions to make sure that minimal services are provided and warned that the government is making contingency plans to guarantee them during the September 29 general strike.

Fernández de la Vega praised the unions for their “constructive attitude during the economic crisis”. They have been involved in secret talks with the government and employers and paved the way for the government to bring in a series of austerity measures including pay cuts aimed at reducing the budget deficit from 11.4 percent to 3 percent of GDP in the next three years.

The unions are emphasising that the Metro strike is not even against the central government’s decision to cut 5 percent of the salaries of civil servants, but against the Madrid government’s unilateral decision to extend it to employees of public companies in the region—i.e., without the agreement of the unions. What they want is for the Madrid government to “sit down with the strike committee to negotiate.”

UGT general secretary on the Metro, Teodoro Piñuelas, insists that the solution lies in “respecting” the collective contract that was only negotiated a year ago. “Now the ball is in the employers’ court. We have demonstrated that we can do what we say,” Piñuelas added.

Union officials persuaded Metro workers at a mass meeting yesterday to resume minimal services today and Friday and call off the strike for the weekend “to give the people of Madrid a rest.” A union official said, “We will respect tomorrow and Friday the minimal services for the citizens, not for the politicians or the management which is not qualified to negotiate. And if we have to blow up [Madrid] again, we will do it.”

One unnamed official declared that if there is no solution by Monday, “we are going to the death and if we have to go to the kill we will go to the kill.” Another stated that “We can again produce a total strike, let them know that you can’t play with the workers” and promised that “this gesture [the end of the all-out strike] will end the moment that a single worker is presented with a disciplinary notice.”

Metro’s directors have warned that striking workers will face disciplinary action or be fired.

The bureaucracy’s demagogy is purely for show, while the media, government and trade unions increase pressure on the Metro workers before a vote on indefinite strike action takes place at the next mass meeting on Monday, July 5, at 10 a.m.

At mass meetings, workers have been regaled with bombastic speeches from trade union bureaucrats demanding “unity” at the same time as they are organising a sellout along the lines of that imposed on Madrid garbage workers a couple of weeks ago. After workers protested a May 26 announcement that Madrid authorities would slash their conditions—including cutting 200 jobs, an unspecified wage cut and modifying work patterns—the UGT and CC.OO called for an indefinite strike starting on June 21. The unions then negotiated a last-minute sellout to avert the strike, which included a wage freeze and postponing the job losses for two years.
This strike is important because it is the first direct challenge to the austerity programs in Europe (which we will be seeing in the rest of the world and are already seeing in Canada) that actually has economic power behind it. If the strike succeeds then the governments of Europe (or at least of Spain) will be forced to compromise with ordinary people. If it fails then it will be a major setback for ordinary people in Europe in terms of who exactly is to pay for the present crisis. Is such a compromise possible ? Your guess is as good as mine. Greece, Spain, France, Italy...all of the strikes have been symbolic. This is the first real confrontation.
To follow the course of this strike Molly recommends the following Spanish links (unfortunately all in Spanish) :
1) A Las Barricades http://www.alasbarricades,org
3)Kaos En La Red

1 comment:

Brian said...

Excellent post. Great connections made between the struggles of workers in Madrid and with those of workers in many other countries that are about to be pummelled with austerity measures. Thank you.