Struggles in Spain: Why do the unions always lead us to defeat?
The article we are publishing below appeared in Acción Proletaria, the paper of the section of the ICC in Spain.
In September 2011, the education sector workers in Madrid reacted to 3000 layoffs and the lengthening of the working day with mass general assemblies that united teachers, students and all the workers in the education sector. The five unions in the field of education did their best to stifle the initiative and to control the struggle. What was the outcome? The mass assemblies were replaced with "inquiries" and with meetings of union committees, keeping the teachers isolated, and successive demonstrations got progressively smaller. In the end, the struggle was terminated and the measures of the regional government eventually prevailed.
In February 2012, the students of Valencia, who had experienced brutal repression, went out onto the streets each day and called for workers' solidarity. This movement spread across Spain and the central government had to withdraw its repressive measures. The unions were quick to take control of the struggle against repression and against reform of the Labour Code. They organised a one-day "general strike"- to let off steam – for March 29th, which was a huge con. Deceiving many workers, they promised new mobilisations. They limited themselves to calling for demonstrations at the end of April and on May 1st. The result: the state introduced the reform of the Labour Code with all its dramatic consequences.
On July 11th, the government of Rajoy adopted the worst austerity program for over fifty years. The unions remained silent. But on the same day spontaneous demonstrations broke out, especially in Madrid. After this, the unions "woke up" and offered their "loyal services": they called for demonstrations across Spain on July 19th. But in view of the support and the rage inside the population, the unions - once again - postponed the action to a later date, and as far away as possible: a march on Madrid for September 15th, a referendum for October, a new one-day "general strike" scheduled for who knows when. This amounted to throwing a bucket of cold water over the struggle and the workers' anger!
Secret meetings between the unions and the government
A few days after the (postponed?) demonstration on July 19th, we learned that the leaders of the CCOO and the UGT had met Mrs Merkel in early July. This visit was combined with another one to the Moncloa Palace to discuss with Rajoy. We are left in no doubt about the purpose of these secret meetings: Merkel, the Spanish government and the unions in all probability agreed on a strategy against the workers.
And, before the March 29th strike, Rajoy had met separately with each union leader. The Vice-President of the Government even acknowledged holding 33 "technical meetings" between government representatives and the unions!
This is nothing new. Throughout history, many blows have been struck against workers through secret meetings between its enemies (governments) and its false friends (the unions and left parties). In 1980-81 when Poland was hit by a massive strike, at the time of the supposedly "Communist" regime, the trade union Solidarity gradually demobilised the workers to make the coup de grace possible: the martial law declared by General Jaruselski, the then Head of State, on December 13th 1981. However, two days before the coup, a secret meeting was held between the general, the Cardinal Primate of Poland and Solidarity leader Lech Walesa! You don't have to be especially clairvoyant to see that this cabal prepared the repression, sending hundreds of workers to their deaths and thousands of others to prison, with the army flooding the mines with the miners trapped inside!
Unions mobilise in order to... demobilise
We know perfectly well what the governments and employers do. Nobody has any illusions where they are concerned. They don't even attempt to hide their desire to impose the worst sacrifices on workers. But what do the unions do? What is their role?
A first task of trade unions is to organise mobilisations which, in reality, only demobilise and divide workers. The "struggles" led by the CCOO and UGT only serve to dampen their spirits. The union appeals are systematically inopportune: when people are eager to struggle, the unions demobilise and make no appeals, whereas when people are tired and disoriented, they want to step up the "militant activity". Many people are sick of the posturing with the "general strike days", the "protest marches", the isolated struggles confined to one particular sector or to one particular company.
This is the problem that the miners' strike had to face. The miners were trapped in a struggle to "save the nation's mines". All the combativity and all the anger were channelled into sterile confrontations with the police to block the rail lines or highways. However, on July 11th during the miners' march on Madrid, many workers in the capital joined the demonstration in solidarity and entered the struggle on their own account. The unions then hastily sent the miners back to where they had come from, cancelled the appeals for support and promised some future mobilisations but on dates far into the future.
The nationalist trap
The unions called for the demonstration on July 19th with the slogan: "They want the country to fail!" They say that Merkel wants to see Spain suffer and the Rajoy government behaves like a willing servant. The aim of the struggle should be to "save the country" from Merkel and Rajoy.
Machiavelli, the philosopher who inspired governments of successive generations since the sixteenth century, said that a good statesman should make the state appear to defend its subjects. One of the best lies the exploiting minority uses to establish its domination is the assertion that the nation belongs to all of us, that the exploiters and the exploited are part of a community that share a common interest and a common bond. This "common interest" is the disguise for the specific and selfish interests of the capitalists.
What is the nation? The nation is the private property of a group of capitalists who conduct their operations from within a country. Defending the nation means defending private property. In other words, we, the workers, set aside our own interests and the future of all mankind to serve as pawns of the capitalists, and sometimes as cannon fodder in their wars against other capitalist states.
Rajoy continues repeating the claim that the austerity measures are being taken "for the good of all Spaniards." Each time, fewer people believe this lie. So, how is it possible to further credit the mystification that the national interest is "everyone's interest"? This is where unions play their part by deflecting the workers towards inter-classist demands, alongside the police, the "honest" politicians, the business leaders, the "entrepreneurs", etc.., demands which are based on saving the country.
Struggling in defence of the national interest is the best way to submit to austerity, layoffs, unemployment, evictions, and what is the ultimate sacrifice, war.
Just as they bind us to the national capital, the unions divide us from and oppose us to workers the world over, the only people on whom we can rely, the only people with whom we can forge a united front and solidarity against capital with a view to creating a new society, free of classes, states and national borders, a global human community.
The referendum trap
Before the budgetary cuts, the unions proposed an alternative: a referendum on the Rajoy government. They argued that Rajoy has committed a fraud on the voters, he was elected on one programme and once in government, he adopted another. They are right, but this is what all governments do, not just Spain's, but in every country of the world! Elections are always a fraud because all parties promise things and are quick to do the opposite when they are in power. When they are in opposition, they claim they will do what nobody else will do, and when they are in government, they do what nobody else says they would do. This is the essence of the democratic state: the party that wins continues the work of its predecessor, just as the one that succeeds it will do too... And the alternative offered by the unions is a referendum to topple Rajoy for the fraud of the new government and for a new fraud! That would mean we are drawn into a permanent fraud! How can we break this endless chain of fraud?
Firstly we should break with the union proposal and refuse to participate in the referendum and in elections. The vote is always a trap and always a con. It is based on a supposed “free vote" exercised by a sum of supposed sovereign citizens. But it is a deception! Because we are subjected to alienating and atomising living conditions that put us in competition with one another; because we suffer from the intoxicating daily media and propaganda that condition our thinking; because the dominant ideology produces conflicts amongst us, which mean fighting for the interests of a minority instead of struggling for our own interests. Under such conditions, there is no other choice but to elect those that capital and the state have chosen for us. The vote given to one party or another will, no matter who is elected, only serve the needs of capital.
Also, voting only consists in delegating the management of our affairs to a minority of professional politicians and union leaders who are given a blank check to "defend us", when what they always do - and it can't be otherwise - is to defend the interests of capital and the state.
By setting the referendum as the goal of the struggle, the unions divide us and sabotage what would be the source of a solution to the serious problems facing workers and humanity: the general assemblies and the united, direct and massive struggle. These assemblies rely on the strength that comes from association: building unity on the basis of solidarity and empathy so that everyone can give the best of themselves for a common goal, debating, taking joint decisions and taking responsibility for all those decisions. The alternatives are clear: the struggle inside the unions, with its demobilisation and its traps, or the autonomous struggle of the exploited class.
Acción Proletaria, 31/08/12.
 We should also point out that Mr Walesa eventually went from being boss of the union to head of state in the 1990s.