Spain’s miners are fighting for their jobs and the future of their communities
Their campaign kicked off last week and has seen strikes, road blockades, and mine sit-ins involving up to 8,000 mineworkers from 40 coal mines in northern Spain.
Backed by mining unions within both of Spain’s major labour federations — Confederación Sindical de Comisiones Obreras (CCOO) and Unión General de Trabajadores (UGT) – the action by the workers is over government action to cut coal subsidies. The grants are the life-blood of some small mining communities.
Talks with employers and the government were held on 29 May but led nowhere. The unions had hoped those negotiations would at least partially rescind the 64% subsidy cuts contained in the government’s budget. But after six hours of futile negotiations that lasted into the evening of May 29, mineworkers’ unions of both federations announced the resumption of strikes in and around the cities of Aragon, Asturias, and Castilla y León, and a major demonstration planed in Madrid.
Before talks took place industrial action that started 23-24 May saw 100% participation among the miners. The miners also blocked major road arteries linking northern cities, and ten miners began sit-ins late Monday evening after their shifts ended at the Candín mine in Oviedo. This action was spontaneous and not authorised by the unions, but the protests showed the deep frustration felt by Spanish miners to the proposed subsidy cuts.
On Thursday miners took to the streets of Madrid. The UGT and Comisiones Obreras said 10,000 mainly from northern Spain travelled by bus to the Spanish capital.
Carlos Verdiell, told NTD TV: ‘The cuts will paralyze business in all of Spain. This means the closure of the mining sector. We are talking about some seven or eight thousand direct jobs. If we add the indirect jobs, we are talking about 30,000 people joining the strike.’
Many of the protesting miners, friends and families said people would be driven out of mining communities.
Adrian Marmeleiro, said: ‘If we don’t get what is being asked for, we will all end up on the street. If we all end up on the street, there will be no one left (living) in mining communities. Because everyone will leave to look for work elsewhere. It will be a disaster for the region.’
Later Thursday clashes broke out between protesters and police. Police fired rubber bullets and protesting miners threw firecrackers. There were two arrests and twelve wounded, including two journalists and eight policemen.
The Socialists have called for the head of the national police Ignacio Cosidó to explain to parliament the ‘brutal police charge’ against the protesting miners and United Left and its allies in the Plural Left parliamentary group have demanded that the interior minister, Jorge Fernandez Diaz, explain the police actions to MPs.
The rightwing government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has cut coal subsidies this year to €111 million, down from €301 million last year. Spanish coal communities receive aid nationally and from the EU in order to compete with coal from abroad and to re-train people when mines are closed.
Encouraged by the EU, the Spanish government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy says it is adamant to enforce the 64% subsidy reduction in order to reduce the public deficit, even as it is planning to increase it by billions with a new mega bailout of Spanish banks.
For their part, miners and their unions feel such a drastic cutback will be the death knell to coal-mining in Spain, a country that has shed 40,000 jobs in the sector over the past 20 years due to pit closures.