Workers Vanguard No. 1007
31 August 2012
Spanish Miners Strike Betrayed
Down With the Capitalist EU! For a Workers Europe!
After 67 days of bitter struggle by Spanish miners to defend their jobs, union leaders called off the strike on August 3. Centered on the northwestern region of Asturias, the strike was sparked by government plans to slash subsidies to the coal mining industry. The miners built barricades at the entrance of mines and used logs and burning tires to cut off road and rail transport. When riot police and the Guardia Civil descended on the mining towns, firing rubber bullets and tear gas, miners fought back with improvised rocket launchers and homemade shields. Other strikers occupied the mines deep underground.
The ending of the coal subsidy, part of the savage austerity demanded by the European Union (EU) to cut the country’s fiscal deficit, threatens the very future of coal mining in Spain. In addition to the 8,000 jobs of the miners, the cuts threaten an additional 30,000 jobs dependent on the industry. The country already has the highest rate of unemployment in Europe—just under 25 percent, with youth unemployment over 50 percent. A 24-year-old miner declared: “Without mining, and with the current economic situation, I have no future” (El País, 11 July).
Spain is now at the center of the economic storm tearing apart the euro zone. In July this year, Spain was forced to seek a bailout of up to 100 billion euros for its banking system, which has been hit by the collapse of a housing and construction bubble. At the same time, the right-wing Popular Party (PP) government of Mariano Rajoy announced sweeping budget cuts and tax increases totaling 65 billion euros to meet EU diktats.
Rajoy’s measures are a continuation and expansion of the austerity imposed by the previous administration headed by José Luis Zapatero of the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE). During his seven years in office, Zapatero slashed spending on social services and the salaries of public employees. He also introduced draconian legislation to increase labor “flexibility” by generalizing temporary contracts, by making it easier for bosses to lay off workers and by raising the retirement age to 67. But the savage attacks on the jobs and living standards of Spanish workers have only exacerbated the crisis, with the country in the grip of a double-dip recession and a sovereign debt crisis. The Spanish bourgeoisie and EU leaders are terrified that the euro zone crisis, which has already resulted in bailouts for heavily indebted Greece, Portugal and Ireland, is now threatening to bring down Spain, a country whose economy is larger than that of those three countries combined.
The decimation of mining communities in Spain, like the devastation wreaked on the working class in Greece, illustrates again that workers throughout Europe have a common interest in opposing the EU as a component of the struggle against their own capitalist rulers. As proletarian revolutionary internationalists, we are opposed on principle to the EU, a mechanism by which the combined capitalist powers impose austerity on their own working classes, and the dominant powers, led by Germany, subordinate the weaker ones. Our opposition to the EU flows from the basic standpoint of opposing capitalism and imperialism. To the bosses’ EU, we counterpose the call for the expropriation of the capitalist exploiters through workers revolution and the establishment of a Socialist United States of Europe.
Union Tops Squander Workers’ Militancy
The Asturian miners have historically played a vanguard role in the Spanish working class. Their strike galvanized support among workers around the country and internationally and could have been the springboard for generalized working-class struggle against capitalist austerity. To bring their protest to the Spanish government, miners marched more than 250 miles to Madrid. When they arrived in the capital on July 10, they were greeted by hundreds of thousands of people chanting: “Working-class Madrid supports the miners!” At a massive demonstration the next day in Madrid, the police charged demonstrators, arresting eight people and wounding 42. Delegations of miners from Chile, Poland, Germany and Britain visited their Spanish class brothers to solidarize with their struggle. British miners, veterans of the bitter strike of 1984-85, and others launched the Spanish Miners’ Solidarity Committee, raising several thousand pounds.
There is no shortage of working-class militancy in Spain, as evidenced by numerous union-centered mass demonstrations, a one-day general strike last March, work stoppages by Iberia pilots and other strike actions across the country. But officials of the two main union federations—the PSOE-led General Workers Union (UGT) and the Workers Commissions (CC.OO.), in which the Spanish Communist Party (PCE) has influence—worked overtime to keep the miners strike isolated in the remote coal mining regions of Asturias, León and Aragón.
In early June, an effective transport strike in Asturias briefly coincided with the miners’ struggle, producing a situation that the bourgeois newspaper El País (8 June) described as “social revolt.” However, the UGT/CC.OO. bureaucrats, committed to the defense of the interests of their “own” capitalist rulers, moved quickly to settle separately with the transport bosses. They agreed to a wage freeze this year and a pathetic 1.1 percent increase over the next two years while leaving the miners hanging. Characteristically, right after selling out the miners, the heads of the two federations went groveling to the royal palace in Madrid to “pass on their concern” to King Juan Carlos.
By calling off the miners strike with nothing to show for it, the trade-union bureaucrats squandered the hard class battle waged by the workers, which will further embolden the bourgeoisie to carry out new attacks on the Spanish proletariat. During the strike, police arrested dozens of miners and their supporters. We say: Drop all charges! Free all those still detained now!
When the PSOE was trounced in the November 2011 elections, the United Left coalition (Izquierda Unida—IU), which is dominated by the reformist PCE and supported by the bulk of the Spanish left, was among the beneficiaries. The thoroughly parliamentarist IU, which postures as a “left” alternative to the PSOE, is a classic popular-frontist alliance. It encompasses the Communist Party, an array of bourgeois Republicans and nationalists and petty-bourgeois Greens.
The Spanish bourgeoisie’s current attacks on the working class were facilitated by the prior betrayals of the trade-union bureaucrats and their reformist tails, most notably during the December 2010 work stoppage by air traffic controllers in the USCA union (see “Defend Air Traffic Controllers!” WV No. 971, 7 January 2011). When USCA members brought the airports to a halt by staging a mass sick-out, the PSOE government invoked martial law measures not used since the end of the Franco military dictatorship in the mid 1970s. Air traffic controllers were forced back to work by armed police and threatened with charges of sedition. This outrage should have been met by massive protests by the unions. Instead, the UGT and CC.OO. bureaucrats denounced the air traffic controllers, justifying their class treason with the claim that USCA is not a union and that its members are pampered and highly paid. The United Left’s parliamentary deputy Gaspar Llamazares denounced the controllers’ action as “an abuse of power.” Today, Llamazares pleads with the Rajoy government for “dialogue” with the miners.
Revolutionary Struggle and Popular-Front Betrayal
Today’s reformist misleaders of the Spanish working class are the political heirs of the social-democratic and Stalinist class traitors who rallied to the defense of the bourgeois order during the Spanish Civil War, liquidating a proletarian revolution and opening the road to the bloody 40-year reign of General Francisco Franco. With the January 1930 fall of the Primo de Rivera dictatorship and of the monarchy a year later, a period of revolutionary turmoil opened up in Spain.
Only proletarian revolution could begin to address the problems facing the country—such as the wretched conditions of the peasantry, the domination of the state by the Catholic church, the hideous oppression of women and the national subjugation of Catalonia and the Basque country. The bourgeois Republicans who took over from Primo de Rivera and Alfonso XIII launched ferocious attacks on the working class. In this, they were aided by the social democrats of the PSOE who joined the government in 1931, with “left” PSOE leader Largo Caballero serving as minister of labor.
In October 1934, enraged by the entry of a clerical-fascist party into the Republican government, workers in Asturias, led by the miners, staged an insurrectionary general strike, routing the state forces. The workers soon established themselves as masters of the region, organizing and controlling production and distribution of consumer goods. Barracks were stormed and arms were distributed to the workers. General strikes followed in Madrid, led by the PSOE/UGT under immense pressure from the working class, and in Barcelona. However, these insurrectionary strikes were betrayed, and the Asturias uprising remained isolated. The role of the anarcho-syndicalists was particularly grotesque: the refusal of the CNT labor federation to join the general strike in Catalonia was one of the main reasons for the defeat. The Asturias insurrection was eventually crushed by troops sent by the Republican government under the command of General Franco.
The 1934 uprising was a harbinger of the Civil War, which erupted in July 1936. When Franco placed himself at the head of a military coup aimed at crushing the Spanish proletariat, workers commandeered weapons from barracks, arrested military officers and seized factories. This incipient proletarian revolution was ultimately defeated, not by Franco’s troops and the small bands of fascist hoodlums, but by the treachery of the workers’ own leaders. The social democrats, Stalinists and anarchists joined with bourgeois Republicans in popular-front governments in Madrid and in the Catalan Generalitat in Barcelona. The popular front killed insurgent workers, disarmed militants and gave the factories back to the bourgeoisie and the land back to the landowners, liquidating the proletarian revolution in the name of defense of bourgeois “democracy.”
Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky, summing up the experience of the Spanish Civil War, noted:
“Two irreconcilable programs thus confronted each other on the territory of republican Spain. On the one hand, the program of saving at any cost private property from the proletariat, and saving as far as possible democracy from Franco; on the other hand, the program of abolishing private property through the conquest of power by the proletariat. The first program expressed the interests of capitalism through the medium of the labor aristocracy, the top petty-bourgeois circles, and especially the Soviet bureaucracy. The second program translated into the language of Marxism the tendencies of the revolutionary mass movement, not fully conscious but powerful. Unfortunately for the revolution, between the handful of Bolsheviks and the revolutionary proletariat stood the counterrevolutionary wall of the Popular Front.”
—“The Lessons of Spain: The Last Warning,” 17 December 1937
What was missing in Spain in 1936 was a revolutionary workers party like Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolshevik Party, which led the proletarian revolution of October 1917 in Russia. That there was no such party was conditioned by the political capitulation of Andrés Nin and Juan Andrade, who broke with the Trotskyist Left Opposition in Spain in the 1930s in order to pursue unprincipled blocs and maneuvers, finally fusing with the right-centrist Workers and Peasants Bloc to form the POUM. The POUM joined the bourgeois popular front and the capitalist Catalan government in 1936 (see “Trotskyism vs. Popular Frontism in the Spanish Civil War,” Spartacist [English edition] No. 61, Spring 2009).
When workers in Spain began to stir in the 1960s, the Asturian miners again were in the vanguard, launching in 1962 a general strike that would be the Franco regime’s first defeat by the proletariat. After Franco’s death in November 1975, the reformists again rode to the rescue of the capitalists when a powerful wave of strikes threatened to shake the bourgeois order to its foundation. The PSOE and the PCE once again formed popular-frontist alliances with bourgeois forces in the name of a “transition” to (bourgeois) democracy, presided over by King Juan Carlos. The forging of a revolutionary party in Spain, as part of a reforged Fourth International, will require learning the lessons of the 1930s and completely breaking with the popular front, including its most “left-wing” expression.
The “Left” Tails of PSOE/IU
Since the death of Franco and the re-establishment of bourgeois parliamentarism in Spain in the late 1970s, the Spanish left has acted as a tail, either of the PSOE or of the United Left, or sometimes of both. A case in point is Corriente Marxista Internacional, which supports the late Ted Grant and which recently split from Alan Woods’ International Marxist Tendency. The Grantites are doing what they can to keep the proletariat in the embrace of the discredited social democracy, urging in their newspaper El Militante (February 2012) “a real turn to the left” by the PSOE to “recover the trust of the millions of workers who turned their backs on us in the last elections.” They further advise the PSOE to “distance itself clearly from antisocial policies such as those which the PP has been implementing,” as if it was not the PSOE itself which had launched the austerity drive against the working class.
While seeking to revive the fortunes of the PSOE, the Grantites also tail after the United Left. One follower of El Militante, Santiago Jiménez, is also the IU mayor of Villaverde del Río (Sevilla). As such, he is in charge of administering capitalism at the municipal level—its repressive apparatus as well as its sewers, i.e., he is a “sewer socialist.” This activity is entirely consistent with the Grantite program, which is defined by the pursuit of reforms within the framework of bourgeois democracy and electoralism.
En Lucha/En Lluita, Spanish associates of the British Socialist Workers Party, enthuse over the petty-bourgeois “Indignados” movement and call to “strengthen the bridges between the workers’ and the social movements” with the Indignados “at the head” (En Lucha, 16 July). However, at least a section of the Indignados movement, which is hostile to the organized working class, has come out in opposition to the miners strike on the grounds that coal mining is bad for the environment and “generates noise” (madrid.tomalaplaza.net, 31 May). En Lucha also tails after the United Left. In the November 2011 general election, En Lucha ran a few candidates on an “Anticapitalist” ticket, while calling for a vote to the IU elsewhere (i.e., almost everywhere).
Similarly, their cothinkers in the Greek Socialist Workers Party ran candidates as part of the leftist Antarsya coalition in the June elections in Greece. At the same time, they supported Syriza, the larger left coalition, which is for the imperialist EU, the euro and NATO. In contrast, our comrades of the Trotskyist Group of Greece gave critical support to the Stalinist Communist Party (KKE). While sharply exposing the KKE’s reformist program and history of betrayals, our comrades noted that the Greek Stalinists at least stood for exit from the EU—a key question in the election—and refused to enter any coalition with bourgeois parties, resisting enormous pressure to join a “unity of the left” coalition with Syriza (see “Greek Elections: Workers Face More Austerity,” WV No. 1005, 6 July).
The global economic crisis starkly poses the need to do away with the boom-bust cycles of capitalism. That requires new October Revolutions that expropriate the super-rich exploiters and reorganize production to meet human need. Such would lay the basis for a real international division of labor in a planned economy, opening the road to an egalitarian socialist society. It is for this goal that the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist) fights.