Miners’ Protest Revives Anti-Austerity Movement in Spain
The struggle against austerity policies and the undermining of civil rights in Spain continues, and it is gaining strength. In the past month, Spanish miners have joined the efforts of other workers in other sectors, including education and health care, marking a new turning point: They have the support of most of Spanish society, and their fight has thereby served as a major boost to the broader mobilization.
Miners in Spain have a long history of struggle. Fifty years ago, miners confronted Franco’s dictatorship with a five-month strike demanding better pay and working conditions. Despite being harshly repressed by security forces through torture, deportations and months in a state of emergency, the miners finally achieved their goals. That struggle had wide support across the country, and it even crossed borders with solidarity demonstrations in Europe and the Americas.
Now, miners are opposing a 65 percent cut in the subsidy of the coal sector, which puts thousands of jobs in danger in Asturias, Aragón, Castilla-La Mancha and León. A month and a half ago, miners began a strike in Asturias, and dozens organized a sit-in in the mines, demanding that the government maintain the subsidies. Since then, roadblocks have been continuous, as has police repression. Police have besieged coal towns in Asturias, and Ciñera, where they enter citizens’ homes and subject protests to almost daily tear gas attacks.
“We are not outraged, we are very pissed,” shout the miners in their demonstrations. Compared to the strategies of the 15M movement, which has showed itself to be nonviolent from the beginning when facing the violence of the police repression, the miners have fought back with barricades of burning tires. The mass media has used this against the miners, and some Spanish newspapers have printed headlines like “A Child Injured in the Miners’ War,” despite the article’s subsequent explanation that the child in question was actually injured by police.
Nevertheless, Spaniards continue to show their support for the miners. On June 22, 150 miners marched from Asturias to Madrid. A few days later, miners from Leon, Aragón and others Spanish cities joined the march, and when they arrived in Madrid last Tuesday, there were more than 300 of them in total. That night in Madrid, nearly 20,000 people marched with them from the city’s main gateway from the north to Sol square, where they arrived at 2 a.m. singing the Santa Barbara hymn, a song traditionally associated with the miners’ struggle during Franco dictatorship. Workers from other sectors that are also fighting against cuts, like teachers and firefighters, formed a security chain around the miners to protect them. People from all over the country came to Madrid to participate.
“I was a miner, but now I am retired. I came here from Asturias to support my colleagues,” said a man who came with his entire family in one of the 500 buses that arrived last Tuesday in Madrid for the march.
Tuesday night’s march, called #nocheminera (“miners night”) on social media networks, revealed another turning point: For the first time, members of the 15M movement and the unions were together in a demonstration. The 15M movement has attempted to strengthen its ties with the miners since the beginning of their fight. On May 31, when the miners came for their first demonstration in Madrid, hundreds of people from 15M supported them and offered to hold an assembly together — though, according to a member of 15M’s Assembly of Madrid, “it was not possible because just after the demonstrations they boarded the buses to go back to Asturias.” Since then, members of 15M’s audiovisual committee have traveled to Asturias to lend the miners communications support.
Last Wednesday, there was a new demonstration at the Ministry of Industry, where miners attempted to enter into talks with the minister about their demands. Members of 15M and the unions were again together in support, despite refusing to associate with each other directly. The demonstration ended with a police charge that injured more than 70, but people returned to the streets again that evening for a demonstration organized by 15M.
There are now even more reasons to go out to the streets: The government announced last Wednesday that it would increase taxes and cut the unemployment benefits and working conditions of civil servants. Again, thousands of people went to Sol, but police evicted them with rubber bullets, and for hours afterward demonstrators were chased through the streets.
“The miners have shown us the path, and we have to fight together,” said Maria, one of the demonstrators in Wednesday’s protest. Then, last Friday, people from all around the country were protesting: health care workers began sit-ins in several hospitals, the railroads are blocked in many cities near Madrid and even police have announced mobilizations on their own behalf.
People’s patience is beginning to run out. One legislator, Andrea Fabra, said “fuck them” about the workers when cuts on unemployment benefits were announced, and it spread through social media networks last Wednesday. Nearly 131,000 people signed a petition in less than 24 hours to demand her resignation, and that night thousands went to the headquarters of the ruling party, Partido Popular, in several cities. In Madrid, police charged demonstrators again when they tried to reach the congress, but this time demonstrators didn’t disperse. Police charged one side of the demonstration, while other demonstrators blocked the road in the other side, causing a traffic jam. Police gave up, and the demonstration continued to Sol square.
Among civil servants, police, firefighters and other sectors, an anonymous call circulated to camp at the congress on July 15, when the new cuts took effect, imitating the camps of the 15M movement. Thousands of civil servants — including police, firefighters, teachers and health care workers — took part and attempted to spend the night, but they were evicted at 3 a.m. with three arrests. Protests there, however, continued throughout the following day.
Calls for mobilization like this are becoming more common, and the slogan “Mariano resignation,” referring to President Mariano Rajoy, is spreading. With this new twist for the movement in Spain, momentum seems to be building.