Demonstrations were held in the streets of Madrid this weekend.
Woman from Asturias, Leon and Aragon marched and sang on Saturday to remind politicians and the public of the plight of their mining communities and call for action. The marchers were wives, mothers and sisters of miners whose jobs will go in two years time, along with thousands of others whose depend on the coal mining industry for their livelihoods,
The march by the ‘Coal Women’ came a year after miners walked as much as 450km to Madrid from their mining towns in northern Spain in what became known as the March Negra (black march) protest.
Last year, on the demand of the EU, subsidies were cut by 63% and while the definitive closure of the mines isn’t expected before 2019, some further cuts to aid to the industry will be implemented from 2015.
In a country where banking crisis and austerity has seen unemployment soar to 27% (with 57 per cent jobless under the age of 25), these measures involve the loss 5,000 direct jobs with 3,000 jobs in Asturias alone. But including related employment there’s some 40,000 jobs at stake.
‘In Spain there no industry that sustains as many direct and indirect jobs such as mining. We are not speaking of only miners, but drivers of buses that go to the mine, people carrying explosives, the people who work with wood and so on,’ Raquel Balbuena, a miner’s wife told El Publico newspaper.
Raquel and other women were accompanied on the march part of the way by neighbourhood groups and members of the indignados movement, who stopped to sing outside of the Madrid regional government the ‘Song of the People’ from the musical Les Miserables.
Madrilenos waved banners and placards stating ‘Here they are – the Coal Women’ and ‘We are all Miners in Madrid.’
‘A year later, things have got worse, and that’s why we’re here. We want to pay tribute to those miners who came last year, walking from the coalfields, and who went on strike for more than a month. Those who were also at the barricades, those who locked themselves in the mines, and take turns to watch the machinery and prevent the mining companies selling it off,’ said Raquel Balbuena, as spokesperson for the group of women from Leon.
The conditions imposed by the government for 2015 do not leave much room for manoeuvre: all the mines that have received subsidies will have to return them if they keep producing. If production is stopped, they will not have to pay anything and close. However, the Ministry of Industry has presented no alternatives for the future economic development of the coalfields to close the farms.
No money for coal, loads for the banks
Why? Its priorities lie elsewhere. A year ago, at the same time that the government was putting the finishing touches to its EU-backed plan to shutdown the coal industry, saving 400 million euros in total, it secured support from the EU for a deal worth a colossal 100 billion euros to bail out the banks. So far the banks, which kicked off Spain’s economic crisis by speculating on property, leading to a housing bubble that burst, have pocketed 41 billion euros.
‘There are no other job opportunities. The coal basins are very small and we all live exclusively from the mines. What will happen to these people? Will they be forced to leave? asks Raquel. Her husband has spent his entire working life as a miner. ‘Where will someone who has been work for 40 years doing the same thing find work? Who will give him a job?’
The Coal Women, who in June 2012 also came to Madrid to take their message to the Spanish Senate, want the plans to close the loss-making mines stopped, and are demanding a national plan for the industry to enable coalfields to remain in operation.