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Spain - 10 Million Strike For Workers' Rights
"CERRADA" - SHUT down - was the only way to describe Sevilla on 20 June, day of the first general strike in Spain since 1994. The city was at a standstill.
It wasn't just the factories and major workplaces that were shut. There were no buses, no taxis and even the small bars and shops were closed.
At eight o'clock in the morning, government Minister Pio Cabanillas announced to the world, "There has not been a general strike." A few hours later, Minister of the Interior Mariano Rajoy, tried to qualify this, saying "The strike has been partial, generally fairly small." As the day unfolded, the Spanish working class gave its own verdict on events, shattering the complacency and arrogance of Aznar's right wing Popular Party (PP) government.
Half a million took to the streets of Madrid, the biggest workers' demo since the death of Franco in 1975. Riot police in vans were forced to back away from angry workers. Some banners called Aznar a "bastard", others said: "We are poor, not stupid".
Another half a million marched in Barcelona, 150,000 in Vigo, 100,000 in Zaragoza, 80,000 in Castilla y Leon, 50,000 in both the Canary Islands and in Coruna and 120,000 in Valencia. According to the Spanish newspaper, El Pais, there were 88 major demos taking place.
In all, over 2 million workers took to the streets. The two main trade union federations, UGT and CCOO claim 10 million workers were on strike, 84% of the Spanish workforce.
El Pais reported that industry, construction and transport were at a standstill. This in a country where only two million workers are organised in trade unions.
The government figures were laughable. They said that only 17% participated in the strike. In Sevilla, they estimated only 9,300 people demonstrated, when in fact nearly 200,000 marched to the Plaza de Espana.
Spain's electricity consumption was officially down 20.5%. At lunchtime the consumption level was equal to that of a Sunday. The government claimed that this was less than the previous general strike in 1994. What they omitted to say, was that the previous general strike took place in January!
El Pais called the government statistics "provocative", insulting the intelligence of ordinary Spaniards. As they explained, the Spanish workforce has increased from 12.6 million to 16 million since 1996. The government arrogantly thought that it could take on the workers in the interests of the bosses and win.
Several banners on the demo in Sevilla read: "Spaniards, Franco has returned". The PP originally had its roots in the Franco dictatorship. Now Aznar is behaving like an arrogant dictator in his attitude towards the Spanish working class.
Aznar didn't believe that the unions would be capable of mobilising opposition to his plans. 10 million workers proved him wrong.
THE "DECRETAZO" which sparked the general strike is a major attack on workers' rights. It is an unemployment law, which if passed, would drastically cut unemployment benefit and penalise workers who refused to take any kind of job within a certain radius of their home.
The "decretazo" has become symbolic of the right-wing, anti-working class agenda of the PP government in Spain, in the same way that article 18 on labour reform was a catalyst for the 13 million strong general strike in Italy earlier this year.
As Josť, a college lecturer in Sevilla explained: "This law is about rolling back all the gains which workers have won in the past 100 years. That's why the strike has been so solid. Its part of the neo-liberal offensive that's taking place throughout Europe by right-wing governments such as Berlusconi in Italy, Blair in Britain and now Chirac in France".
It's not clear what will happen next. The government has said that amendments can now be put to the law through parliament and has hinted that it might be prepared to talk to the unions.
The union leaders have said that it is the framework of the law that is at issue, not the detail. Initially they refused to say whether they would call another general strike. At the end of the demonstration in Sevilla, union speakers made agitational speeches but gave no way forward for the thousands of workers present.
However, under pressure they have now said they will call a second general strike in the autumn.
PSOE leaders (the opposition party, which has socialist in its name but also supports a pro-market, anti-working class agenda) are hoping to benefit politically from the situation.
PSOE leaders marched in Madrid and other areas, the first time they had been present on a workers' demonstration for 20 years. In Andalucia, they have said that they will not implement the unemployment law, if it is passed.
CWI members are calling for a 48-hour general strike as part of a plan for further mobilisation in preparation for an indefinite general strike to defeat the "decretazo" and the PP government.
Committees of action need to be organised in the workplaces to build for such action and to fight for a workers' government on a socialist programme.
Portugal - National Action Day
ON THE same day as the general strike that rocked Spain, Portuguese workers took to the streets all over the country saying, "No to attacks on our class".
Postal workers, transport workers, public sector workers, teachers, nurses, metal workers, textile and garment workers, pensioners, disabled people - hundreds of thousands went to the demos, rallies and others activities on the 'National Action Day', called by the CGTP trade union federation.
This was a huge response to the vicious attacks that the right wing government started after the collapse of the social democrat government of Antonio Guterres.
The new government has increased the IVA (VAT) to 19%, housing subsidies to young people, and are set to give insurance companies the cream of welfare contributions. They are also preparing to approve a new discriminatory anti-immigration law, want to change the labour and union laws to the detriment of working class people, fire around 50,000 public servants and privatise public services and utilities.
The National Action Day was an impressive response by the working class to these attacks. It was far beyond the expectations of the trade union leaderships. They argued that mobilising workers is very difficult to organise. For the first time in years, the CGTP and UGT union federations are talking about a joint action against the privatisation of welfare services.
But it is obvious that we need more. Alternativa Socialista (CWI section in Portugal), in a statement and leaflet sent to the trade unions and Left parties in Lisbon, called on the unions and the rank and file of workers' organisations to set up a 'United Commission' to build for a general strike to stop the bosses and the government's offensive.
A Socialist World Is Possible
AFTER THE hugely successful general strike of 20 June, nobody quite knew what was going to happen at the anti-EU summit protest on the 22nd in Sevilla.
We couldn't see very many posters advertising the demo and nobody seemed to know where it was going to start from. The campsite organised by the Social Forum, had less campers than the organisers were expecting and there was very little interest in the Social Forum discussions.
But Spanish workers and young people have a history of spontaneity. As if from nowhere 250,000 protesters assembled at 8pm in temperatures of 40 degrees! It was so hot that local people responded to protesters pleas for water by turning on hoses and throwing water out of their flats to try and cool everyone down.
Despite the gruelling heat, the demo was lively and spectacular throughout the 3 km route. Demonstrators included environmental protesters, youth groups, anarchists and workers. It was clear that many workers who had been on the general strike demo on the Thursday also came back to protest on the Saturday.
One of the main issues ministers were discussing at the EU summit was a crackdown on illegal immigrants. "No person is illegal" declared several banners on the march.
The main theme of the demo was "Another world is possible". Members of the CWI contingent chanted "A socialist world is possible". With a samba band in front of us we had one of the liveliest contingents, shouting slogans in several different languages.
At one point, our part of the demo was turning into an impromptu street party with hundreds of passers-by joining in.
We completely ran out of leaflets and bulletins and had to rely on slogans and our banners to explain who we were and what we stood for.
The size of this demonstration, coming just two days after the general strike, shows the potential that exists to unite workers, youth and social protesters in a new mass party which could offer a socialist alternative to the anti-working class policies of the main political parties in Spain.
Struggle, Solidarity, Socialism
THIRTY-FIVE CWI members from seven different countries made their way to Sevilla to protest at the EU summit and to help our Spanish comrades intervene in the general strike of 20 June.
We had a great response to our material, selling out of every leaflet and bulletin we had. On the general strike demo in Sevilla alone, 50 people were interested in joining the CWI.
The campsite where ourselves and several thousand other protesters were staying, was swarming with TV, radio and newspaper reporters. CWI members did countless interviews appearing in the local press and on TV.
Our banners with the slogans "Against capitalism, war and terrorism - for a socialist world" and "For workers' unity" had an impact on both the general strike demonstration and the anti-globalisation/anti-EU protest on 22 June, corresponding with the mood of the best workers and young people.
Eye-Witness Reports From CWI Members
Sharon, Pete and Andy, travelled from Stoke to Sevilla to take part in the massive strike demonstration.
"I was really impressed by the vast size of the demo and by how many had come from other countries to show their support. It was also good to see banners from many campaigns which are currently being fought in Spain. "
"The demo was predominantly local working class Sevillians.
Many smaller towns and villages in outlying areas were having their own demos and marches. There was a sea of UGT and CCOO flags and banners. Whole families came to protest together." -
Els from Belgium commented
"On the streets there was clearly a very political mood. There were discussions about politics and the Saturday protest against the EU summit and the right-wing policies of the Aznar government"
"I was amazed to see many UGT and CCOO members together in one place in spite of the weak union leadership."
In The Socialist 28 June 2002: