The class struggle breaks out in Spain. Strikes by tens of thousands of workers have broken out industry by industry demanding higher wages amid soaring inflation, better working conditions and the replacement of temporary work with full-time jobs.
The strikes come after talks on the Fifth Collective Bargaining and Employment Agreement (AENC) between trade unions, Podemos-linked workers’ commissions (CCOO) and the General Union of Social Democratic Workers (UGT) and the Confederation of Spanish Employers Organizations (CEOE) collapsed.
The ENAC is a sort of “collective bargaining agreement” setting a national framework for contracts and wage increases. Currently, the unions and the CEOE agree that wages should increase less than the current inflation level of 8.3%. The unions are demanding increases of 3.5% in 2022, 2.5% in 2023 and 2% in 2024, while the CEOE is asking workers to let inflation eat away at their purchasing power even faster. This means that the unions are in effect negotiating the amount of real wage reduction they can impose on their members without causing a social explosion.
The unions have since been threatening strikes and “company by company” demonstrations to “fight” for these cuts in their purchasing power. Currently, 9 million workers in Spain work without or under an expired collective agreement on working hours, schedule and pay.
The “company by company” strategy, however, effectively sabotages any attempt to unite labor struggles across different industries, regions and wage scales. This is clear from the strikes that have already broken out.
In a province of La Coruña, 16,000 metalworkers went on strike on May 5, 12 and 18-19, authorized by the CCOO and UGT unions. They demand the recovery of purchasing power, wage review clauses to protect purchasing power, the extension of these rights to workers in subcontracting companies, the limitation of temporary work and the regulation of toxic work , painful and dangerous.
The UGT and CCOO have called 20,000 metalworkers to an indefinite strike in neighboring Cantabria from June 2. They do not attempt to unite the metalworkers of La Coruña and Cantabria. In Cantabria, say the unions, the aim is to “put pressure” on Pymetal, the region’s major trade association in the metalworking sector. Pymetal wants a pay rise of 2% in 2021, 2% in 2022 and 2.25% in 2023, well below current inflation levels of 8.3.
The unions are demanding wage increases equal to inflation, but qualify their own policy as “extreme” and are preparing to betray it as soon as possible. They claim that the long delay of the strike in Cantabria, intended to avoid it intersecting with the strike in Corunna, gives Pymetal “more than 15 days of margin” to remedy the “injustice” of the industry .
On May 13, unions called for a nationwide strike by call center workers for wage increases, in an industry where the average monthly wage is €800 ($845) for a 30-hour week. According to the unions, nearly 85% of the 120,000 workers went on strike. Over the past three years, workers in the sector have lost about 16% of their purchasing power. After that, the unions said they would call a one-day strike one day a month until a new collective agreement is signed, but they are only asking for a token wage increase.
On the same day, approximately 11,000 workers in the textile, general and leather and footwear sectors of the Basque Country went on strike at the call of the Basque nationalist trade unions. Hundreds of demonstrators marched through Bilbao, the region’s capital. Collective agreements have not been concluded since 2015 for the textile sector, 2018 for leather and 2007 for footwear.
Last Wednesday in Barcelona, hundreds of taxi drivers took to the streets in one of the most important demonstrations in the history of the carpooling sector in Catalonia. The demonstration brought together nearly 4,000 vehicles. Taxi unions and associations want the ratio of taxis to ride-sharing services set at 30 to 1. Dozens of taxis filled the three central lanes in the heart of Barcelona’s Gran Via, then slowly made their way to the Parliament of Catalonia. .
Also in Catalonia, teachers have carried out weekly shutdowns against decades of austerity in the public education system by successive Catalan nationalist regional governments and the latest reactionary Supreme Court ruling requiring 25% of lessons to be held in Spanish.
In the Madrid region, 11,000 doctors ended a 10-day strike against interim contracts, which exceed 50% of total employment. CCOO and UGT had already betrayed the strike, but other unions and medical associations continued the strike to demand 3,000 fixed-term contracts. Ultimately, the strike was sold out after the region accepted 2,500, amid massive anger among striking doctors who wanted to continue the strike until their demands were won.
In recent weeks, small strikes have broken out across the country, involving hundreds of workers. This includes workers at hospitals and mental health clinics in Osakidetza in the Basque Country, retirement homes in Navarre, cleaning workers in Biscay, public transport workers in Terrassa and Ourense and workers at the LGC factory. in Cordoba. In Barcelona, 200 workers at clothing retailer H&M have called several strikes to demand a pay bonus for languages.
Calls for new strikes are increasing. Ryanair pilots and cabin crew could go on strike this summer, in Spain and other European countries.
At Correos, the Spanish public postal service company, CCOO and UGT called a strike on 1, 2 and 3 June against the dismantling of the public postal service.
The rise of the class struggle in Spain is part of an emerging international movement of the working class against inflation and rising inequality, accelerated by the NATO-EU war against Russia and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. . In the United States, a series of powerful strikes and social protests have broken out in different industries against the intolerable social conditions and breathtaking levels of social inequality. In Sri Lanka, mass anti-government protests and strikes are calling for the overthrow of the country’s repressive executive presidency.
As the WSWS notes:[W]Workers around the world face not only bosses or corporations, but also powerful global financial institutions backed by governments, police and armies around the world.
In Spain, workers are facing the Socialist Party (PSOE)-Podemos government, which is violently repressing strikes. During last year’s strike of 22,000 metalworkers in Cadiz, the government sent in riot police and armored vehicles. Against last month’s drivers’ strike, the government launched a brutal crackdown, arresting and fining hundreds of strikers and deploying more than 23,000 police, the largest ever deployment against a strike in Spain.
But besides the police and the army, the main weapon of the PSOE-Podemos against the class struggle are the unions, which isolate strikes, accept real wage cuts and maintain production.
To break out of union-imposed isolation, workers must be mobilized independently of union bureaucracies and Podemos. At the same time, the bankruptcy of the unions and the cruelty of the ruling class demonstrate the need for workers to unite internationally. The alternative, as the International Committee of the Fourth International has explained, is to build the International Alliance of workers of the rank and file committees, mobilized in a struggle for socialist policies against exploitation and imperialist war.