What lessons can we draw from the Madrid Metro workers strike?
We are publishing a statement written by the comrades of the CREE (Coletivo Revolucionario Espartaquista Estudiantil) about the Madrid Metro workers’ strike at the end of June, in response to wage cuts and tax increases imposed by the local authority.
The CREE’s statement on the metro strike, we believe should encourage other comrades and proletarian collectives to discuss this question in order to prepare new struggles and find confidence in their own strength. There are two precisions that we want to make in order to help stimulate the discussion:
1. The strength of a struggle does not necessarily reside in how radical the strike is, whether it paralyses production and services or not, but in its capacity to push forward the unity of the class through extension and solidarity, and the development of a balance of forces against the bourgeois state. In the present period, with the accumulation of unsold stocks, the stopping of production in this or that factory does not threaten the bourgeoisie, above all if it is not accompanied by class solidarity and unity. Public service strikes, as we have seen with the Madrid Metro strike, even if they totally paralyse services, can be turned against the workers if the struggle remains isolated. The refusal to maintain a minimum service in this struggle expressed the will to try and break out of the prison of legal and union rules aimed at imprisoning and isolating the struggles. Nevertheless the workers’ search to wage an effective struggle that had enough strength to impose their demands was undermined by the fixation on the demand about not respecting minimum services, on the call for the total strike (in isolation). Rather than being a strength this fixation was a weakness. A weakness that allowed the bourgeoisie's propaganda to set the rest of the proletariat and the population against the Metro workers in order to isolate them.
2. Another thing that we need to clarify is that the comrades of the CREE call for a Proletarian United Front. Although we understand what the comrades mean by this - they are calling for the unity of the class - from our point of view the concept of the “United Front” traditionally refers to a unity that is constructed through agreements between organisations, in this case the unions. The unity of the working class in struggle however is the product of its solidarity, its class nature, where there are no divergent interests; while union unity is the product of machinations and negotiations in order to share out privileges, for the distribution of “posts” etc, and generally with the aim of impeding the building of a true unity through open assemblies and the revocable organs that arise from them.
ICC 16th August 2010
The Greek coffers received a far from negligible sum of billions of Euros from the IMF and European Central Bank a few months in order to palliate the fiscal crisis that this country developed at a time of heightened economic activity. It was not the most powerful, nor the most rich, nor the most noticeable of the countries of the European Union; but it was on the edge of bankruptcy and had to be saved in order to stop the Euro entering into a profound coma. From this moment, a castle of cards was constructed with trembling hands, as the other countries began to fall. The alarm was sounded in Hungary: it appeared to be suffocating. The Spanish state has been in the sights of the speculators, who had already been assaulting it for months. Italy has not been able to do anything about its hyper-indebtedness. We are in a new period of the crisis marked by the fiscal debt of different national states, overwhelmed by the payment of credits accumulated over many years and which they appear not to be able to pay. The capitalist state is running short of resources and now it is the working class (since it is “all our fault”) that is acting as the guarantor of its debts. The different austerity plans that are being developed throughout the planet follow the same logic.
In France on the 24th June more than 2 million people took to the streets to protest about the reforms initiated by the Sarkozy government through its Austerity Plan. On the 25th June in Italy hundreds of thousands mobilised against the proposed cuts in public spending, a wage freeze and pension reform. In Greece the 29th June another general strike began on the same day as negotiations commenced in Parliament on the necessity to impose new measures aimed at allowing the country to comply with the credit terms set by the IMF months before. On the same day, an assembly of Madrid metro workers called an all-out strike which did not agree to maintain the minimal service demanded by the Madrid municipality.
Overturning the Collective Agreement that had been legally in force until 2012, the Madrid local government imposed a 5% wage cut on the Metro workers, which was in line with that imposed by the Zapatero government on all civil servants (so much for the difference between the ‘Left’ and the right which so many talk about). Independently of whether the wage cut was large or small, the struggle arose, precisely, from the unilateral breaking of the Collective Agreement, which meant breaking the traditional collective negotiations over working conditions, and replacing it with case by case negotiations. When it was decided to call the strike, the Municipality tried to limit the strike by obliging the strikers to maintain 50% of the Metro services. The workers, in an act of unprecedented courage, took the decision in their assembly not to respect the demand for minimum service. On the 29th and 30th June Madrid was without a Metro. Although the Ministry of the Interior deployed thousands of police, the pickets were successful, despite the traps of the bosses and Madrid municipality, in ensuring that no trains ran.
Today the only way that we can get close to reality is through the media. Thousands of people throughout Spain felt that this legitimate defense of the working class faced with a new “decree” that undermined its historical conquests was an aggression. The mass media unanimously condemned the evils of the “privileged” metro workers, in order to criminalise their demands in every way possible. In the first place, by ignoring the necessity to go into the causes of this social conflict in order to give a more complete and complex vision of the situation. The efforts made by Metro passengers to find other means of transport were given more prominence than the workers’ assemblies. The voices of the disgruntled passengers were more important than those of the discounted workers who were seeing their rights trampled on. It was not a question of the Collective Agreement, but the 5% pay cut which left the Madrid Metro workers looking inconsiderate and stamping their feet despite their privileged working conditions. There was no hesitation in trying to create divisions between workers in the private sector and those in the public. Endlessly they repeated that those in the public sector have to accept the same measures as the rest, that any struggle would be unjustified. These are the standards of the informationsociety. Their aim was to spread vile lies aimed at stopping this example spreading.
Secondly, there was no hesitation about manufacturing an image of the strike as absolutely uncontrolled, calling it a “wildcat”. Pretty soon however somebody informed the newsrooms that “wildcat” means the workers spreading a strike without (and often against) the unions. A strike is not a wildcat because it does not have minimum services. A strike is a mere hoax if there is a minimum services.
The campaign of harassment and wrecking by both the media and the different bourgeois organisations and parties spread demoralisation amongst the striking workers, leading to their submission to the pressure exerted by the government departments and media. This explains why the latest mobilisations have respected the unfair minimum services. The bosses did sit down at the negotiating table on the 10th July but there is still no agreement and 2000 disciplinary proceedings are in place due to breach of minimum service during the 29th and 30th June. The 5% pay cut has been reduced to 1.5%, but the reprimanded workers will stay reprimanded and the Collective Agreement will be a thing of the past.
What conclusions can we draw?
The Madrid workers strike was an example. An example for workers throughout Spain. The consciousness of class unity and solidarity were stronger than the symbols of the unions, allowing the creation of organs of collective struggle despite the confluence of conflicting tendencies. It reappropriated the method par excellence of workers' organisation: sovereign assemblies, germs of the future workers' councils; where the workers expressed themselves and took decisions, real organs of workers' democracy. It also directly confronted the attack on workers’ right to strike, going beyond maintaining a minimum service and expressing the real nature of a strike, which can only have an impact when economic activity or services are paralysed.
However, we have to be aware that the solidarity of the working class, the sin qua non for achieving workers' demands and confronting the isolation imposed by the forces of the bourgeoisie, was weak and insufficient. The absolute necessity to take to the streets and to combat the lies was of the utmost importance in this conflict, but this did not happen and, due to this, the strike was not able to gain the real support of the wider working class. If this weakness had been overcome, perhaps today we would be talking about the workers having a strong hand at the negotiating table or even something much bigger.
Just for the moment. Because there was not this support and solidarity strikes did not happen, the Metro workers were left feeling guilty and real criminals and soon bowed to the demand for minimum service which only served to stifle the protests and leave them with no impact. Due to this the movement lost strength and was not able to regain the initial conditions of the Collective Agreement. We can see that the movement in Madrid came to nothing, but we must not be discouraged. Madrid is only a small step in recovering the best traditions of workers' struggle in this new period of the resurgence of proletarian combativity. The United Workers' Front defended by the CREE has found expression in this struggle without the need to call for it. This encourages us to continue working because we are going in the right direction. Here we give our support to the workers of the Madrid Metro, who have given a first and very important lesson to the working class about how one day to confront the bourgeois social order.