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From The Socialist newspaper, 16 June 2010

Spain: Millions of public sector workers strike over brutal cuts

Prepare the workers' movement for a general strike

ON 8 June, almost two million public sector workers went on strike in opposition to Spain's PSOE government's austerity programme, which, among other brutal attacks on public spending, social welfare and pensions, involves a 5% across the board pay cut for public sector workers.

Danny Byrne

The Zapatero government has shown its true colours, kneeling before the 'gods' of the international market, credit rating agencies and the International Monetary Fund, whose austerity diktats reveal deep-rooted fears about the stability of the Spanish economy and the prospect of a Greek-style collapse.

The strike had a powerful impact, with demonstrations in Spain's main cities totalling hundreds of thousands of people, and with trade unions reporting 75% participation.

In Barcelona, a reported 150,000 took to the streets in a militant display of the anger and determination of Spain's public sector workers, who were joined, significantly, by large numbers of youth and pensioners.

Despite the strike's resounding success, all eyes now lie on the country's main trade union leaders from the UGT and CC.OO federations and what their next moves will be.

The majority of Spain's trade union members have, for quite a while, been clear on what response they feel is necessary - a general strike! On the mass demonstrations last February which forced the Zapatero government to withdraw its plans to raise the retirement age to 67, this demand was overwhelming.

General strike

The government's new round of vicious austerity represents the biggest attack on the Spanish working class since the fall of the Franco regime in 1975. It plans to unilaterally impose "profound" labour reforms, which will cheapen sackings (in a country where over 20% of the population are already unemployed) and attack the hard-fought gains of the organised working class.

The proposals also include the creation of a new type of contract for all workers under 30, without even the most minimal redundancy entitlements or workers' rights.

This has fuelled a groundswell of anger from below for a general strike, which has finally found its way into the speeches of the trade union leaders. Fernando Toxo, the leader of CC.OO (Workers' Commissions) announced that his union has "already begun to prepare" for a general strike, in opposition to the government's imposition of labour reform.

Trade unions in the Basque country, where 'nationalist' trade unions organise the majority of workers, announced that a Basque general strike will take place on 29 June, in an attempt to put pressure on the UGT and CC.OO to translate their words into action and set a date for a general strike.

Toxo responded with the announcement that the date for a general strike will be 29 September. By putting off the action for four months, some officials may hope that this delay will dissipate the head of steam building inside the workers' movement.

Weak government

The collapse of negotiations on labour reform has made crystal clear the irreconcilable gulf between the interests of the government and employers, determined to cheapen sackings, and the working class, determined to fight to stop the onslaught.

This shows where the Spanish trade union leadership's approach of social partnership or social "dialogue", tried and tested during the country's economic boom years has led; an approach which will soon be counted as another casualty of the crisis, in the period of struggle and battles which is before us.

A general strike in Spain, following on from the successful strike of 8 June, would represent the decisive movement of the working class onto the stage of struggle.

It would be the beginning of a mighty class showdown which could shake the foundations of Spanish capitalism. The Zapatero government, thats collapse in the opinion polls continues, is already extremely weak, having only managed to pass its latest round of attacks through parliament by one vote!

Committee for a Workers' International (CWI) members participated in the mass protests on 8 June in a number of cities.

The CWI presented a clear programme and perspective to take the movement forward, while posing the urgent need for the building of a genuinely socialist alternative to the attacks, chaos and crisis of capitalism and the dictatorship of the international financial markets.

The next step should be a well prepared 24-hour general strike of the whole of the Spanish working class. Even then, as the courageous struggle of the Greek workers has shown, one general strike alone will not be sufficient to force back the government.

A mass, united, militant movement is necessary, for which the CWI proposes the formation of democratically elected committees of action in workplaces, universities, schools and communities, to organise and prepare for a 24-hour general strike and discuss and debate the way forward for the struggle, and the alternative to capitalist crisis and misery.

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