Metalworkers’ strike in the Gulf of Cadiz:
The bosses and the bourgeoisie demand sacrifices and reconciliation, the proletariat responds with the struggle!
(«Proletarian»; Nr. 18; Winter 2021-2022)
For two days, a general strike has been underway in the metalworking enterprises of the Gulf of Cadiz, located mainly in Cadiz itself, Puerto Real, San Fernando and Campo de Gibraltar; it was called by the big trade unions UGT, CC.OO. and the CGT and other minority unions, which thus expressed their support for the demands emerging from the negotiations for a regional collective agreement in the metalworking industry.
This strike comes after several weeks of mobilisation, initially by the workers of the supplier companies, which eventually prompted the unions to launch a massive call to action. Although most of the media tried to keep the news of these mobilizations and the September 16 and 17 strike under wraps, with the exception of a few local newspapers in the Bay Area for whom the facts could not be kept secret, eventually the extent to which the pickets, demonstrations, and clashes with the police reached caused even the major national newspapers to suspend their policy of silence about any proletarian mobilization in the country and report on what happened.
According to press reports, on 17 September workers in Cadiz blocked the access bridge to the city, erected barricades on the main avenues near the shipyards and even managed to blockade the railway station, all amid fierce clashes with the police that were reminiscent of the tough strikes of the shipbuilding industry restructuring era.
In Puerto Real, the main companies (Navantia, Dragados and Alestis) remained closed for two days of the strike, shutting down the industrial areas of Río San Pedro and El Trocadero. Some companies simply decided to have their administrative staff work remotely, thinking that all the workers would go on strike and the pickets would again completely close the areas. It should be noted that the strike was not attended by the workers of Airbus Puerto Real, which is subject to its own collective agreement: this company is seriously threatened by the plans to relocate production and the unwillingness of the metalworking employers to negotiate, but the long struggle waged by the workers against the closure of the plant has been isolated by the union from the mobilization of the entire sector. A great example of the disorganization and sabotage of class unity that these organizations specialized in ensuring cooperation between the classes always carry out.
In San Fernando, workers clashed with the police for several hours and even set fire to a car that apparently belonged to the General Intelligence Commissariat (secret police). They also blocked the entrances to the military docks, set fire to barricades and completely stopped the operations of the local metalworking companies.
After these two days of strike, the situation remains much the same as it was a few weeks ago. The Andalusian Employment Council has called on the CC.OO. and UGT to negotiate with the employers for the final signing of a new collective agreement. The main demand of the unions is that the current agreement expires in 2021 and that in 2022 there is a wage increase to be paid in line with inflation “in negotiable tranches” . The employers, on the other hand, are seeking to extend the agreement until 2023, with wage increases of 0.5% and 1.5% over the next two years, the abolition of two overtime premiums and other organisational measures.
The unions, led by the UGT, condemned the “violence” by the workers and called for calm. In the press, the union leaders stressed that they were on the side of the workers, thus trying to justify leaving the proletarians of the subcontracting industries to their fate in recent months, as denounced by organisations such as the “Coordinadora de trabajadores del metal” (Metal Workers’ Coordination), an autonomous current that has participated to some extent in the mobilisation in recent weeks by organising a significant number of proletarians dissatisfied with the traditional policies of CC.OO and UGT.
The struggle of the metalworkers of the Gulf of Cadiz has a significance that goes beyond their specific labour demands. Before the pandemic and the initiation of measures restricting movement, closures, etc., the crisis in the metalworking industry was an increasingly urgent reality. Almost two years later, the situation has not changed dramatically: the metalworking industry, and in particular the automotive companies, have launched a plan to restructure their factories worldwide, supported by all states and governments, and are liquidating excess production capacity, both excess constant capital invested and excess labour. This has led to a real offensive by the employers to close down all the plants considered surplus and to worsen the working conditions of the proletarians who have kept their jobs. This is the case of Alcoa in Asturias, Nissan in Barcelona’s Zona Franca, Tubacex in the Basque Country and Airbus in Puerto Real. In all of these companies, employers sought to close, dismiss or worsen the working conditions of workers. This is also the case for hundreds of companies which, like the large companies in the automotive industry, are taking advantage of the measures made possible by the PSOE-Podemos government to temporarily lay off labour that is not needed at the moment.
The struggle of the proletarian metalworkers in Cádiz, San Fernando and Puerto Real, although born around the demand for a minimum wage, has a much greater significance: it is a response to the anti-working class measures that the metalworking bosses intend to introduce throughout the country. It takes the form of a local and piecemeal confrontation, but it is an example for all the sectors for which the companies concerned will seek to adopt similar measures in the coming year.
The workers of Cadiz, who have responded forcefully to the employers’ demands, have set an example of struggle, especially since their determination has succeeded in bringing the CC.OO and the UGT unions, the historical saboteurs of this type of struggle, to take its side, at least outwardly, and not be bypassed.
But the struggle of the proletarians of the Bay Area is not only an example for the metalworkers. If the measures taken against the workers by the bosses in this sector are particularly harsh, it is because the metalworking industry is a key point for the entire bourgeoisie: around these industries lives a large part of the proletariat in Spain , and thanks to this fact it drags behind it the proletarians of many other sectors. In many regions of the country, metalworkers are the determining factor in the living conditions of the entire local proletariat. For example, in Cadiz, the region of Spain with the highest unemployment, a large part of the wage income depends on this sector. By attacking them, the bourgeoisie wants to hit the whole proletariat. That is why it has simultaneously launched this offensive. It is looking for the best moment to unleash it, at the very end of the pandemic, but in a situation where the measures of social control imposed by the State are still in force and it is gathering all the forces at its disposal (press, political organisations, etc.) to promote the objectives of its struggle.
Nobody today can have the slightest doubt that the coming months will bring a series of legislative changes aimed at significantly worsening the living conditions of the proletariat: a labour reform that will normalise the Employment Regulation File on Temporary Employment (ERTE) in all sectors, a pension reform that will extend the period of compulsory contributions, etc. are already on the table of the Spanish bourgeoisie, which is counting on their enforcement thanks to the invaluable efforts that the PSOE and Podemos are making from the highest levels of government to prevent even the slightest reaction from the workers. Alongside these changes to the legislative framework that regulates the conditions of existence of the proletariat, the companies will undoubtedly implement a series of wage cuts and worsening working conditions that are very similar to those that followed the 2008 crisis. And it is in this sense that the steel bosses are in the forefront, seeking to counter any resistance and thus weaken the proletarian class as a whole. And that is why the response of the Bay Area metalworkers has a significance that goes beyond the local, just like the victorious struggle of the Tubacex workers: both are examples of the fact that if proletarians overcome their resignation and their credulity in the organizations of political and trade union collaborationism, if they tend to go beyond the democratic confines that the bourgeoisie has set up for the workers’ struggle and try to stand, even if very limited, on the ground of real class struggle, fight with genuinely class means and methods, break the local or sectoral isolation of their struggle, etc. etc. , they can win.
In Cadiz these days, as in Tubacex a few weeks ago, the proletarians are reacting to the offensive of the employers (who, in the case of the company in the Basque Country, have even offered to pay wages without work in exchange for an end to the struggle: such is the fear the employers have of the proletarian class when it acts this way!), and although their struggles seem to be a mere drop of water in a sea of total social peace, in the next few years virtually all proletarians will have to follow the same path to face a very serious deterioration in their living conditions. For this to happen, the proletarians must be able to put an end to the traditional politics of collaboration between the classes, to the subordination to the bourgeoisie that the opportunist organizations in the trade union sphere (e.g. the CC.OO. and the UGT) and in the political sphere (PSOE and Unidas Podemos; the two left government parties) want to preserve at all costs in order to prevent the power of the proletarian class from going beyond the limits of the submission imposed on it.
For the renewal of the class struggle of the proletariat!
For the class solidarity of all proletarians!
For the rebirth of proletarian organisations of struggle independent of the practices of inter-class collaborationism!
November, 17th 2021
International Communist Party