Wednesday, September 15, 2010


There was a time when the might of Britain’s shipbuilders, dock workers, boilermakers and miners would have led resistance to the Con-Dem coalition’s merciless cuts.

That roll call of proud union names has passed into history, the jobs sent to low-wage economies overseas. Mining, which once employed hundreds of thousands, fell victim to a relentless politically motivated onslaught which has left the country with a tiny handful of working pits.

Today their Spanish counterparts are fighting a similar battle.

Any veteran National Union of Mineworkers activist will have heard of the Spanish regions of Asturias, Palencia, Leon and Tereul. It is here that the latest struggle for survival is being played out.

Miners, many of whom haven’t been paid for weeks, have taken to the streets to save their industry and livelihoods. Both are mortally threatened by a European Union plan to ban state subsidies which would shut the pits for good.

Trade unionists have responded with strikes and civil disobedience, but not all the action is taking place above ground.

Some have staged lock-ins in the hot, humid shafts beneath the surface in a brave bid to defend their livelihoods.

Miners sealed underground at the Velilla del Rio Carrion pit say that the condensation in the air makes it difficult to breathe and the poor prospects for survival of their industry saps their morale, but they continue to fight.

They face the loss of their jobs, their industry and the dignity of their communities. They fight on.

And their struggle has swelled a rising tide which will crash across the country on September 29, the day of a general strike called by the two biggest unions CC.OO and UGT against Spain’s massive, brutal cuts package.

It was the reckless and even criminal behaviour of bankers, speculators and financiers that sparked the banking collapse. It is ordinary people who are being made to pay the price.

Pensioners and future pensioners are having their payments frozen and their retirement age extended. The unemployed are having their benefits slashed despite spiralling joblessness which makes finding work near impossible.

Workers who do have a job are being forced to sign new contracts making it easier to sack them.

The poor, the low paid, the old, and the vulnerable will be hit in Spain as they will be in Britain, while the financiers laugh all the way to the bank with their bonuses intact.

Action by millions of workers in Spain may prove fruitless. The chances of the “Socialist” government in Madrid going back on its planned programme are slim - it answers to the world financial markets and the EU rather than Spanish voters.

Resistance to the cuts is also more likely to deliver a right-of-centre Partido Popular government at the next election that would cut harder and hit the vulnerable more ruthlessly.

The unions, greens and the United Left are striking against a socialist government which is already odds on to lose in 2012.

Yet strike we will, with a heavy heart and sense of foreboding. And we will take inspiration from the miners, because at the end of the day we are fighting for their dignity and ours.

No government, be it socialist or centre-right, has the mandate or the power to take that dignity away.

(The above article appeared in The Morning Star on September 15)