basque Trade Unions Square Up To The Spanish State
Monday July 05, 2010 03:46 by Cormac Mac Gall - None
basque TRADE UNIONS CARRY OUT SUCCESSFUL ONE-DAY GENERAL STRIKE
basque trade unions claim a successful one-day general strike as speakers at strike rallies say this is the beginning of a long, hard struggle and also condemn “social partnership". Police attacked pickets in some areas and made several arrests.
Scenes from the Basque general strike
The basque trade unions held a general strike on Tuesday (29th June) and claimed a successful action with over 80% overall closure of businesses and public services throughout the southern basque Country (i.e. that part controlled by Spain).
The call for a general strike was given by ELA and the left-wing LAB, basque trade unions which between them represent a clear majority of elected representatives on the workers’ councils and an even bigger majority of union membership in the basque Country (in recent years LAB has also been making big strides in recruitment and representation in the northern part of their country -- i.e. that part controlled by France). The strike call was quickly supported by the other basque unions, ESK, STEE-EILAS, EHNE and Hiru, between them and LAB and ELA representing about 80% of the southern basque workers.
The action was against new legislation passed by the PSOE (social democratic) government in Madrid which is widely seen as an attack on workers’ conditions within the state, giving employers a much freer hand to hire and fire and reducing statutory redundancy payments to employees.
In their call for a general strike, LAB and ELA not only condemned the legislation but placed it in the context of the financial crisis in the Spanish state and the capitalist system’s clear intention of making the workers pay for the crisis. They also pointed out that the southern basque workers and society are subjected to decisions made in Madrid over which they have little or no influence.
Rallies were held in the afternoon in the capital cities of four basque southern provinces, with 65,000 attending. While criticising the exclusion of the basque unions from consultations on the legislation (in which Spanish unions had taken part), at the same time speakers from both trade unions and from basque pro-Independence left-wing parties on attacked social partnership as a means by which the capitalist class undermines workers’ resistance and coopts trade union leaders.
Such statements imply an indictment of the two main Spanish unions, Commisiones Obreras and the Unión General de Trabajadores, which have embraced social partership with the PSOE Government. Despite a particularly severe financial crisis in the Spanish state neither of the Spanish unions has yet organised a general strike. The basque unions organised one in May last year and another one in the public services in recent months. While in previous strikes the main Spanish trade union there, the Commisiones Obreras, called on its members in the basque Country to work normally, it belatedly called on its members there to support the strike last Tuesday.
POLICE ATTACK PICKETS
Although police harassment, arrest and torture of political activists is endemic in the basque Country, since the death of Franco activists have usually not been impeded in their trade union activities although they are kept under surveillance and monitored. Last October Spanish police raided the Donosti/ San Sebastian office of LAB in order to arrest political leaders of the pro-basque independence Left movement who were meeting there. Those included the ex-General Secretary of the union, Rafa Diez.
That police action led not only to the usual strong response of the basque pro-independence Left movement but also to trade union protests at home and abroad and messages of support from trade unions in other parts of the Spanish state (excluding the CO and UGT). A protest demonstration of at least 37,000 filled the whole bay area in Donosti/ San Sebastian, led by LAB and the other basque trade unions. They called not only for the release of the ten arrested political activists (five in the LAB HQ and five elsewhere) but also for the repeal of the Spanish Law of (political) Parties, which is regularly used to exclude the basque pro-independence Left from elections, and for solidarity with basque political prisoners (over which there are over 750 spread over Spanish and French territories).
The attacks on strike pickets on Tuesday (see link) were carried out by the Ertzainza, the police force nominally under the control of the Euskadi Government (consisting of three of the four southern provinces of the basque Country, one of two‘Autonomous’ basque governments). This force, with their red-and-black uniforms, their hoods and riot gear, have clashed with the pro-independence Left, especially the youth, on many occasions. Lately too they have been accused of torturing detainees, a frequent accusation which a few years ago would only have been directed at the Guardia Civil and the Policia Nacional forces.
With increasing industrial action against the Spanish government in the basque Country, it seems likely that confrontations with the Ertzainza will become more frequent, with one result being a deepening of the bonds between the basque pro-Independence Left and the basque trade unions and conversely the isolation of the Ertzainza. The ‘Autonomous’ basque governments are also likely to face increasing isolation. The majority party in the Euskadi administration is the conservative-nationalist Partido Nacional Vasco, often criticised by the Left as being a party not only of Catholic conservatism but also of basque big business, with attendant clientism and corruption.
Already, the basque trade unions have called on the basque ‘autonomous’ governments to “choose sides – either with the Spanish Government or with the basque workers and people”. Ironically, last year the press reported the basque organisation of the PSOE (social democrats) also asking the PNV to choose sides, after they had felt obliged to send their executive to support the Donosti demonstration.
Although siding with the basque workers in general and the Left in particular will not come naturally to the PNV, they lost control of the Euskadi government to the combined forces of two other major players, the organisations of the Spanish PSOE (social democrats) and the PP (conservatives) in the basque Country. With the Spanish state’s exclusion of of the pro-independence Left from elections, the PSOE and the PP were able to combine their forces and to outvote the majority PNV and small basque parties -- thereby taking control of the government, the basque TVstation ETB and other perks of power.
If the PNV side with the basque trade unions and the Left they can perhaps hurt not only the Spanish Government but also the PSOE and the PP who deprived them of political power and its attendant benefits. On the other hand, will they want to strengthen the hand of their Left-nationalist rivals, with their talk of revolutionary socialism? But if they stand instead with the Spanish Government, they will be seen even by many of their own voters as supporting the imperial government against the people of their own nation.
Future events will mature these contradictions and will also reveal whether the trade unions specific to other nations within the Spanish state, e.g. Catalunya and Galicia, will follow the basque example. It may also be that in other parts of the Spanish state such as Asturias, Castillia, Andalucia and Canarias, strikes will break out against the austerity dictates of the domestic and international capitalist elites. Many will observe the development of these situations in the future with fear and others with excitement.
Some more videos of the strike: http://www.gara.net/bideoak/greba-29J/index.php