The Spanish miners' labour war

Submitted by Matthew on 20 June, 2012 - 10:20

On Monday 18 June tens of thousands of people marched through the northern Spanish towns of Léon and Langrero in solidarity with the month long miners’ strike.

The marches were organised for a one-day general strike in the Austurias region.

The miners’ strike, over a 64% cut in government subsidies to the industry, is spreading and become a highly-charged regional class struggle. There have been clashes with police; miners have set up road and rail blocks and attacked the offices of the national ruling party. Teachers, transport workers, and shipbuilders have also been in strike in the area.

40,000 jobs have been lost in coal mining the last 20 years; these cuts will mean the end of the industry and a decimation of mining communities. Spain has a 23% unemployment rate.

The recent EU bailout for Spanish banks has, inevitably, inflamed the situation. As one retired miner put it: “The crisis is a useful excuse for taking money from workers and giving it to the banks.”

The crisis has also been a useful excuse for the Spanish government — elected in December 2011 — to implement a €27 billion cuts programme.

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Asturian miners: a revolutionary past

On 4 October 1934, the Asturian miners rose up against the inclusion of far-right ministers in the reactionary government of Radical Prime Minister Alejandro Lerroux.

Meeting the call from the Socialist UGT for a general strike against the presence of the Spanish Confederation of the Autonomous Right (CEDA) in government, the Asturian miners embarked on an armed insurrection because they were aware of the crushing of the workers’ movement by Engelbert Dolfuss in Austria in February 1934 and the threat posed by fascism across Europe. The strike soon took on a revolutionary character, with the formation of workers’ councils and the capture of industrial centres such as La Felguera.

There was a history of intense class struggle in the region. As the Spanish Trotskyist Grandizo Munis recalled, because “the miners were well removed from the bureaucratic brake of the major cities they were able to act on their own account and present the leadership with the fait accompli of the revolution.”

The workers battled the government for a further two weeks, in skirmishes which saw some 3,000 miners killed and 30-40,000 taken prisoner. To suppress the rising the Government used the brutal colonial Spanish Legion, led by the future Spanish dictator Francisco Franco.

Its repression was brutal. Isolated, the Asturian uprising went down in tragic but heroic failure. As the historian Adrian Shubert has written, the rising “represents one of the great revolutionary moments in modern European history, one of the rare occasions in which an industrial working class — in this case some 25,000 coal miners and metalworkers — threw itself into a total, frontal and armed assault on the State and the organization of society.”

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