As the Spanish government teeters on the brink of a bailout, the Spanish working class has responded with a spectacular burst of militancy that sets the tone for a fightback against Europe-wide austerity.
The right-wing government of Mariano Rajoy is imposing vicious cuts in welfare and social spending. This includes £50 billion of austerity measures: a VAT hike, cuts to unemployment benefit, a 7% cut in public sector wages and the privatisation of ports, airports and railways.
But the militant Spanish workers’ movement is fighting back. They are led by the magnificent miners, the first major group of workers in Europe to go on indefinite strike against neoliberal austerity measures.
But other workers are also being drawn into struggle. The trade union day of action on 19 July in response to the austerity vote in the Spanish parliament saw 800,000 march in Madrid, 400,000 in Barcelona and action in 80 cities across Spain.
Civil servants engaged in walk outs in the week leading up the vote.
Madrid firefighters have their own struggles, and formed an honour guard for the miners “black march” when it arrived in Madrid on 10 July.
Cracks have even appeared in the apparatus of coercion, with police officers taking part in some protests (although this did not prevent brutal attacks on demonstrators on the day of action).
The demonstrations have been called by the two trade union federations, the CCOO and the UGT. Both claim around one million members each, with some other smaller and nationalist unions — but this is only around 10% union density. The UGT traces its roots back over century and was for many years close to the social democratic party (PSOE). The CCOO emerged as a rank and file movement underground under Franco’s rule in the 1960s, and was associated with the Spanish Communist Party (PCE). Both these political links weakened in recent decades, particularly as the PSOE has supported neoliberal policies and austerity.
The biggest left formation is the United Left (Izquierda Unida, IU), which received 6% of the vote in November 2011. The IU now has around 12% in the polls and following the parliamentary vote called for rebellion against the cuts. However it is compromised in some regions by joining coalitions to govern with the socialists. The IU joined the government in Andalucia but they were rebuffed by their own supporters in Asturias when they attempted the same tactic.
A general strike may be called for the autumn — though union bureaucrats are dragging their heels. Some 10 million turned out for a general strike day in March. However such strike action will need to be longer than a day to seriously rock Spanish capital.
A united front of workers organisations should demand the nationalisation of the banks under workers’ control as part of an emergency plan counterposed to austerity. The labour movement needs to fight for a workers’ government, based on working class organisations. Although there are small Marxist groups, a mass revolutionary party is a vital missing ingredient which could propel the workers’ struggle forward.