It is a year since Spanish miners made their epic 450 km march from the mines of the north to Madrid to fight for a future for their communities. Asturian communist leader Francisco De Asís Fernández maps out the prospects for the coal miners’ struggle.
On the night of July 10, 2012 columns from various mining regions of the country arrived on foot in Madrid in a courageous and united industrial action: It was the Black March. The workers and the ordinary people of the capital were gave them to most tremendous welcome. A human tide accompanied the miners from their entry into city to the Puerta del Sol. It was a spectacular show of class solidarity and, at the same time, popular recognition of the exemplary courage and fighting spirit of workers who, once more in history, stood at the forefront of social struggles.
Behind them were already many gruelling days of a strike that would last up to 67 days. They also established roadblocks, burning ad hoc barricades, confined themselves to mineshafts, mounted mass demonstrations and held a general strike on June 18 in the mining regions.
In Asturias, the centre of the country’s mining industry, the mobilization coincided with the 50th anniversary of the great miners’ strike of 1962, a historical reference point of the labour movement and the anti-Franco resistance in their struggle for freedom.
Half a century later, repression was unleashed on the miners, with baton charges, rubber balls, arrests and abuse of anti-terrorism measures. That was the sole response of the bipartisan regime, the faithful gendarme of the interests of the banks and the big bourgeoisie.
The EU and Spanish industry’s demise
What happened? Why did Spain see such a sustained mobilization, so combative and yet with such recognition in society?
The story goes back a long time ago. Spain’s entry into the EU led it to compete on unequal terms with much stronger economies. The consequence was that while powerful economies, such as Germany, were strengthened further, the EU resulted in a gradual productive desertification in less developed countries, including Spain.
Industrial restructuring – implemented with zeal by the governments of socialist prime minister Felipe González – was ruining a range of productive sectors, including coal mining. Of the 45,000 miners in 1991 in 2012 there remained just 8,000, including subcontractors. The struggles of the workers in the past two decades did achieve the creation of “mining funds” to subsidize supposedly productive alternatives, avoiding the collapse of the mining regions, addressing the social consequences of the closure of the mines and ensuring the maintenance of a small part of the sector.
However, the projections on paper did not match the reality on the ground. The State, within the logic of the EU rejected the creation of publicly run mines and most of the funds were channelled to private companies, further enriching their owners who, once the subsidies were pocketed, carried out layoffs and busily engaged in offshoring.
Role of the Popular Party government
At the end of this process of dismantling the industry, the Popular Party government is carrying through the liquidator’s final act, cutting back by 64% the 2012 Budget Plan for Coal, reducing it from 703 million euros to 253 million euros.
This hits subsidies for mining companies, to build infrastructure, provide training grants and the creation of new businesses. It is a mortal blow to the regions and, of course, the closure of the mines. And it is against this aggression, which also involved the flagrant breach of legal commitments made by previous governments, that the workers mobilised.
Today, a year later, we know that specific claims of the miners’ campaign were not achieved, the Government has become even more intransigent, blocking further early retirements, and is also now trying to accelerate the closure of the sector. So the mining unions, after a winter retreat induced by exhaustion of the workers, resumed their campaign and mobilization with the big demonstration on April 17 in Mieres, Asturia.
Meanwhile, the Communist Party of Asturias, who from the outset actively participated and organized in last year’s mining struggle – in all its forms – continues today to encourage mobilisation.
No to speculation and imports – produce local!
We denounce coal imports, especially from Colombia, which have been accumulated in the port of Gijon in the tens of thousands of tonnes, owned by US bank Goldman Sachs, extracted at a pittance by super-exploited and brutally oppressed workers, and purchased by large utility companies, Iberdrola, Endesa, Fenosa, etc. which have earned 6.3 billion euros in 2011 while caring nothing for the collapse of entire regions in Spain.
The Communist Party of Asturias believes that no future for the Spanish coal, in a global context in which its use will grow by 65% by 2035, overtaking the oil in the global energy “mix”. Therefore we call for coal to be considered a strategic sector, and that the state invests in R & D to produce cleaner energy, as it will continue to be needed for a long time. Meanwhile we need to be developing renewable energies in sufficient quantities.
We need a plan to ensure the viability of coal mining until 2018 and beyond. We must defend the coal sector, nationalising it (a call recently made by the Workers’ Commissions union) and the adoption of measures that would force electricity producers to purchase Spanish coal.
None of this will be possible without the struggle of workers, without mobilizing unions, without the solidarity of the social majority that has been so badly battered by government cuts and the “Troika”. Now, a year after the massive demonstrations of 2012, is a good time to remember. And in this effort coal workers should know they can count on the Communist Party, whether it’s around the arguments, or at the barricades.
Francisco De Asís Fernández is General Secretary of the Communist Party of Asturias
Translated/edited by Revolting Europe