Spanish unions are trying to strangle the growing wave of strikes
Spain’s trade union bureaucracies are scrambling to end a wave of strikes amid growing working class opposition to the Socialist Party (PSOE)-Podemos government and the US-NATO war on Russia in Ukraine.
Last week, the USO union called off its baggage handlers’ strike, demanding better conditions, against low-cost airline Ryanair at 22 Spanish airports. The USO claimed that the minimum service requirements of the PSOE-Podemos Department of Transport “made it impossible for workers to carry out the strike”, adding that they are “abusive and clearly detrimental to the exercise of the right to strike. , making it absolutely unfeasible”. .”
Accepting the decision of Spain’s major union bureaucracies to isolate the strike and bring in other sections of workers to defend the baggage handlers, the USO offered to challenge only the minimum service demands in court. The USO’s capitulation comes amid a wave of struggles that have rocked the European airline industry this year, including Ryanair, Iberia Express, EasyJet, Lufthansa, Air France and SAS. He also worked to prevent the link between the baggage handlers’ struggle and the flight attendants’ strike called by the STAVLA union.
Flight attendant strikes are scheduled for every Friday, Sunday and Monday between November 1 and January 31. Workers are demanding a 13.4% wage increase for this year. Previously, the Stalinist Workers’ Commissions (CCOO) tried to end the strike by agreeing to a 6.5% increase in August, despite inflation already at 9% or more.
Growing anger forced STAVLA to refuse to sign and to call a strike. Once again, the PSOE-Podemos government has imposed a minimum service requirement that workers must work 50-80% of normal hours to break the strike. STAVLA has not yet denounced these measures and will most likely accept them as USO.
The UGT, CCOO and SEMAF unions also called off a strike by 15,000 railway workers on Spain’s rail network, Renfe, which was due to start on Friday. A strike has been called over the company’s offer of a 2% pay rise, the lack of trains, the lack of drivers and fears that Renfe will transfer its powers to regions of the country, opening up the way to a further deterioration of the public rail system.
The unions called off the strike after Renfe agreed to wage increases announced in the latest PSOE-Podemos budget. The budget includes below-inflation increases for civil servants like railway workers of 3.5% for 2022 and 2023 and 2.5% in 2024. This was cynically celebrated as a “victory” by unions, as this actually means that 3.5 million civil servants will see a collapse in real wages and purchasing power.
In the Basque Country, 52,000 metalworkers were called to a two-day strike on Thursday and Friday, with another one-day stoppage scheduled for Wednesday, demanding a pay rise in line with inflation. The workers reject the employer’s proposal for a metalworkers increase of only 10% spread over the next three years. With inflation of 10% per year, this would represent a massive attack on the standard of living.
The CCOO, the UGT and the Basque separatist unions ELA and LAB do not mobilize the full force of the metalworkers, around 1 million throughout Spain. On the contrary, they intervene to prevent any unified action, calling on their members from the same sector to strike on different dates depending on the region.
Strikes have been breaking out in the metalworking sector for more than a year, since the powerful week-long strike of 22,000 metalworkers in Cádiz last November. The strikers occupied their workplaces and thwarted attempts by the PSOE-Podemos government’s riot police to retake the factories. The unions then imposed wage increases below inflation.
This was followed by a strike in Cantabria in June by 20,000 metalworkers against the employers’ blocking of a collective agreement and a wage agreement below inflation. Then, on different days, the unions called 16,000 metalworkers to Galicia. Both struggles have resulted in wage increases well below inflation – in Galicia 5.5% this year and 4.5% in 2023, and in Cantabria 4.5% increases this year and 3% in 2023 and 2024.
In the province of Barcelona, the CCOO and the UGT did not even call nominal strikes. They signed a pre-agreement in the metalworking sector last week affecting 160,000 workers, which includes wage increases of 4.2% this year, followed by 3.9% in 2023 and 2024.
Today, 12,000 workers are called to a three-day strike by CCOO, UGT and ATP in the eight factories of the aircraft manufacturer Airbus in Spain, Madrid, Castilla-La Mancha and Andalusia. Airbus profits have soared amid the massive ramp up of industrial war production for the war against Russia. The company’s net profit rose 65% year-on-year between July and September to 667 million euros. Its turnover rose by 27% to 13.3 billion euros over the same period.
Anger mounted when Airbus announced last week that its 120,000 employees worldwide would receive a cash bonus of €1,500, which is not enough to cope with the loss of purchasing power of the past year.
Unions have not disclosed their wage increase demands, but CCOO has made it clear that wage increases above inflation are not on the table. As Javier Pacheco, General Secretary of the CCOO of Catalonia, said: “I don’t think we are able to agree on collective agreements with wage increases at today’s inflation levels. .
In the Madrid region, unions have ended last week’s indefinite strike. Anger among doctors and nurses has exploded over working conditions after the right-wing People’s Party-led regional government announced it would reopen 80 24-hour health centers with staff at nearly 100%. half of pre-pandemic levels. The previous weekend, more than 23,000 protesters took to the streets of Madrid to support health workers and defend the public health system.
In an eleventh-hour agreement, the SATSE, CCOO and UGT unions agreed to PP’s plan. However, massive anger erupted over an agreement signed behind the workers’ backs. The regional government reported 40% work stoppages among health professionals during the implementation of the plan, a percentage which rose to 60% of doctors. The Amyts doctors’ union rejected the agreement and called a strike on 7 November.
The growing social opposition in Spain is part of a wave of global strikes, which is turning into an open political conflict with capitalist governments internationally. In the United States, the cockpit of global imperialism, 120,000 railroad workers are voting against a national contract negotiated by the Biden administration and union negotiators, which sought to prevent a national strike while failing to address any of the workers’ demands. In the UK, strikes by railway and dockworkers were a major factor in the downfall of Prime Minister Liz Truss after just six weeks.
In France, a national refinery strike has been met with a savage police crackdown by the government of multi-millionaire President Emmanuel Macron.
The suppression of strikes by union bureaucracies and their open sabotage of their own strikes underscore the need for the working class to organize independently, in rank-and-file committees. Union bureaucracies are not instruments of class struggle, but tools of the capitalist state and its policy of war. They are the main enablers enabling their respective capitalist states to wage war abroad and class war at home, acting as a police of domestic work, holding back the rising tide of social opposition.
Only the construction of base committees can unite workers in Spain and internationally in the fight against war and inflation. Building and maintaining such organizations requires a political break, not only with the union bureaucracies, but also against middle-class pseudo-left parties like Podemos, whose role in government in threatening and crushing strikes testifies to its total hostility towards the working class.