From Socialist Review, No. 173, March 1994.
Copyright © Socialist Review.
Copied with thanks from the Socialist Review Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
The measures being taken to deal with the crisis by the so-called Socialist government of Felipe Gonzalez in Spain have been much more brutal than in many other countries in Europe.
Gonzalez has introduced a series of measures designed to undermine any gains which have been made by the working class since the death of Franco.
For example, he has introduced new ‘apprenticeship’ schemes for young people between the ages of 16 and 25, with short term contracts and pay which is well below the minimum wage – less than £200 per month. It is called the ‘father and son law’ – firms sack the father and take on the son for a third of the wage!
Other plans include short term contracts of even a few days, deregulation of working conditions, abolition of overtime rates, no limit on the working day, the right of employers to move workers to other factories – even to other cities – without notice and the abolition of health and safety controls. Most importantly, the law gives employers the right to sack a proportion of the workforce every month without having to give either reason or compensation!
Recent student demonstrations, occupations, protests and strikes against a 40 percent rise in fees were enormously popular and well attended.
But the leadership of the students’ unions put the brakes on the action and meekly accepted all the ‘advice’ they were given by the police, politicians and university authorities.
The students’ unions are run and funded to a large extent by political parties. Many of the leaders see themselves as ‘apprentice’ politicians, and use the union as a training ground for their future career.
The one day general strike last month was a great success. The government and press lied in claiming that it was only supported by 30 percent. The union’s figure of 90 percent is probably much nearer the mark.
Before the strike the authorities cancelled all police leave and broadcast pre-prepared programmes on television.
The atmosphere of the strike was magnificent – you could almost touch the anger in the streets. Flying pickets made sure all the workplaces closed down. There were lots of cases of sabotage of factories, locks on doors damaged, bus windows smashed, glue in padlocks on the factory gates, and especially lots of demonstrations, even in relatively small towns.
The cases of strike breaking were mainly in the service sector. The industrial belts around the big cities were solidly in favour of the strike. However, the idiosyncrasies of each region of Spain meant that the anger was reflected differently.
In the Basque Country, where there is also a strong independence movement, there were violent confrontations with the police. But the level of support was high everywhere, and not a single national daily paper was published
However, there was competition between the two main unions. The UGT (which has close ties with the Socialist Party) has had huge problems as a result of its involvement in a failed housing cooperative. The press has made all sorts of allegations of corruption and malpractice by the UGT leadership and tried to use this as a means of discrediting the unions and undermining the strike.
It hasn’t been successful, but many thousands of workers who had put their faith and their savings in the UGT have found themselves on the street.
The UGT’s weak position has been exploited by the Workers’ Commissions to try to poach members, though the end result tends to be even more scepticism about trade unions in a country where only 17 percent of the workforce is in a union.
There is an enormous political vacuum in Spain. Militants regard all talk of revolution as old fashioned.
I belong to a tiny group of people on the left. We are trying to build a point of reference for the many, many people who are dissatisfied with the system and who are looking for a more coherent explanation.
Last updated: 8 March 2017