A contribution towards a balance sheet of the technicians' strike at Movistar in Spain

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We are publishing an appreciation of the recent telephone technicians' struggle at Movistar. This arose out of a widespread discussion amongst comrades close to the ICC. This debate was started with the contribution of one comrade; this provided the bones for this article, and others added contributions and they were incorporated into the final draft.


The role of the immediate struggles of the proletariat

The immediate struggles to defend the living conditions of the workers are one of the factors in the process of the coming to consciousness, of developing solidarity, unity and determination within the proletariat. Revolutionaries follow very closely these struggles and participate in them as far as they are able. They put lots of work into supporting them and are never dismissive of economic gains they achieve, because these are necessary for the daily survival of workers; because they result from the courage and the spirit of initiative of proletarians in asserting themselves against capital; and because they are a declaration of war against the logic of the market and the national capital.

This logic tells us we should sacrifice ourselves on the altar of the imperatives of capitalist accumulation and, therefore, that we should work harder, with less pay, agree to lay-offs, worsening conditions, the loss of social benefits and so on, so that capitalist profits can prosper and especially so that the nation – whether it be Spanish, Greek, German or Catalan - is respected in the international arena and is "recognised" for its "seal of quality".

Against such logic, in struggling to defend their living conditions, the workers highlight implicitly that human life is not for production - this is the logic of capital - but that production of use values is part of human life – that is the logic of the new communist society that the proletariat carries within itself. [1]
But to restrict ourselves to such an implicit response is not sufficient, since most of these struggles will not get results. Their main contribution comes from the lessons - often negative - linked to the historical struggle for a new society. Also, we have to consider these struggles critically to be able to develop and deepen the theoretical, organisational and moral acquisitions of the proletariat.

The role of strikes

The strike is the traditional starting point for the coming to consciousness of the workers about the reality of their situation, because it throws light on all the elements of the class struggle and the diametrically opposed interests that underpin it: the struggle against the economic attacks of capital, the perception, or at least the immediate intuition, that all employees must defend themselves and, sooner or later, begin to fight against the social relations imposed by capitalist production.

But what is the essential meaning of a strike? Formerly, during the ascendant phase of capitalism, with the whole world to conquer, there could be real and more or less lasting economic improvements for the proletariat. But even at that time, the revolutionaries insisted on the need to understand what strikes really meant, that workers learn from them, examine all the questions they raise, gain from the experience they provide in fighting together and in the strengthening of political consciousness.

Today, for a mode of production in decomposition, there is little margin for a real and lasting improvement in the situation of the workers, if any. If revolutionaries defend the self-organised strike, it is because it brings into play the best conditions for building solidarity and confidence between workers and because no other action pushes this forward as much as the widest debate, as organised mass assemblies in which every aspect of this society is subject to scrutiny through criticism and discussion.
So it is not a matter of defending the strike because it is "harmful" to this or that capitalist, because it impedes production and prevent the capitalists from filling their own pockets. For us, what is important is the debate, the assemblies, being politically independent of the state and capital, the fact that the strike pushes the workers forward, into taking control of their struggle, breaking with their individual atomisation and reconnecting with the historical methods of struggle outside of the influence of the bourgeois politics of the State.

The strike is a part of the whole of the means available to the proletarian class struggle. It combines economic struggle, political struggle and ideological struggle, all three forming a unity that nourishes proletarian consciousness.

An attempt at self-organisation

The Movistar technicians' strike, of indefinite duration, had two sides almost from the beginning: the most negative was, from what we know about it, that the strike was called by the unions, the Workers’ Commissions (CCOO) and the UGT, which have been able to reinforce a strong tendency to corporatism that was very present in this strike.

However, its most encouraging and promising side was the notable effort by the workers to hold assemblies outside and separate from these major unions and to organise themselves to try to move forward. That's why we can say that the struggle had, for some time, a real prospect of self-organised proletarian struggle and a certain potential.

These assemblies express, firstly, a tendency towards unification within the working class; secondly, a battle to take control of the struggle and to wrench it free from the hands of the capitalist state organisations which, in controlling it, can only bring defeat. Thirdly, it heralds a new mode of social organisation – communism - based on the associated decisions of humanity freed from all forms of exploitation. We have been able to see that such general assemblies constituted one of the most prominent vital and dynamic elements at the time of the Indignados movement and also in the struggle at Gamonal.[2]

Every struggle should be seen in its historical and international context, because otherwise, we would be looking at them with opera glasses distorted by empiricism and immediatism, which would prevent us from seeing the broader picture. Thus, we should take into account that the struggle at Movistar comes at a historic time of great weakness of the proletariat with a loss of its class identity, characterised by a significant lack of confidence in itself as an independent social force.

This struggle is part of a series of struggles which, despite what they bring, are well below what the gravity of the situation imposed by capitalism demands. In recent years, there have only been, on the one hand, some relatively important strike movements in some companies in the Asturias (2012), in Bangladesh, China, South Africa, Vietnam, and more recently in Turkey. On the other hand, there have been occupations in the centres of some towns and cities or mass assemblies, notably with the anti-CPE movement in France (2006) and with the Indignados movement in Spain (2011), also in the course of more recent examples, but these have had weaker international echoes, in Brazil and Turkey (2013) and Peru (2015).[3]

The political and trade union forces of the bourgeoisie, in their desire to divide and counter the proletarians in struggle, oppose these two types of movement, whereas, even with their differences, they are driven by a profound unity. It is this unity, especially the effort of self-organisation, that is expressed in the struggle at Movistar.

Attempts at solidarity

We have seen attempts at solidarity. There is a strong sense of solidarity among the workers... but it does not extend to being a class expression, that is, solidarity "going outside" to workers in other sectors, and is not expressed as a practical recognition of being part of the same struggle, but as sympathy and support (which is still sincerely welcomed); so there is a significant lack of consciousness of belonging to the same world-wide class struggling for the same interests. Leftists, who in their verbiage gladly borrow the language of the workers, promote this distorted view highlighting "immediate action" by making an appeal to good old "common sense" that claims it should deal only with what is "urgent" in the narrowest and most trifling sense of the term.

The struggle itself has nonetheless revealed a remarkable effort of unification, even more commendable in the case of Movistar, a company where the nature of the work of the technicians is atomised, with no concentration in work centres, with a fragmented workforce and where many of them do not appear, on legal grounds, as workers, "working on behalf of someone", but are falsely considered to be "self-employed".[4]

The danger of the entrapment of the struggles

But the struggle has shown that the main trap was corporatism, resistance expressed in an isolated and desperate manner: this is what happened to Coca-Cola workers but also those at Panrico. There is a reaction against the major unions on close examination, but this reaction does not necessarily challenge the union logic. There has been and there is still a strong tendency in the struggles, not towards explicitly seeking unification, extension and debate inside the assemblies, but retreating and taking a stand inside the company or the industry until a judicial verdict or a hypothetical favourable agreement has been reached.

These reactions, that lead everyone to be a prisoner in his hole, his sector, his company or his corporation, have several causes. The first is clear, we just raised it: the loss of class identity that fuels a sense of emptiness, not knowing who to contact to seek solidarity, a desire to desperately cling to the imagined protective refuge of the small space and alleged "intimacy" of the company, corporation and "work mates" ...

It bears the stamp of a historical situation that we characterise as that of the decomposition of capitalism, which marks all components of society with a dangerous tendency to dislocation,  to "every man for himself ", to dispersion. As we have said in our Theses on Decomposition: “"every man for himself ", marginalisation, the atomisation of individuals, the destruction of family relationships, the exclusion of older people, the destruction of emotions and their replacement with pornography, commercialised sport and media coverage, mass gatherings of young people in the collective hysteria of song and dance, a sinister substitute for solidarity, with the social ties completely absent. All these manifestations of social putrefaction today, on a scale unknown in history, invade every pore of human society, expressing only one thing: not just the dislocation of bourgeois society, but the annihilation of every principle of collective life within a society that is deprived of any project, from any perspective, even in the short term, even the most illusory".[5]

This is fertile ground for the penetration of trade union and leftist organisations, always ready to bring workers' struggles to the "safe area" of bourgeois legality "for their own good" or "for the struggle" as a pure abstraction. In an atmosphere of isolation, of lack of reflection and debate, of lack of contact between strikers and the workers of other sectors, union and reformist logic finds its breeding ground that opens the way for organisations who seek only to control the workers and to attract their votes.
These organisations say they defend the workers, but we could see, with Syriza for example, what they do when they take on government responsibilities. But we must also understand their nature when they are not in government, when they do not stop pressing for solutions from the legal institutions of the exploiters, from the State, and above all try to prevent workers from learning, from reflecting, from debating in the heat of the struggle, and instead try to get us to entrust the solution to conflicts to the very forces that represent the mode of production that every day and everywhere lies behind these same conflicts. A significant example is that of the Trotskyist tendency 'El Militante' that wildly applauded the fact that the workers of Coca-Cola had ended the struggle by appealing to the Supreme Court to demand suspension of the closure of the plant in Fuenlabrada, chanting slogans such as ''Make the courts see justice.''

In the case of Movistar, the suspension of the strike for "other forms of struggle" was a clear statement that the struggle was over. For several weeks now, we have seen that the loss of a desire to unify and to extend the struggle has created disarray, with the entry onto the scene of 'new players' such as Cayo Lara, leader of Izquierda Unida, or Pablo Iglesias, of Podemos, although we did see a small group of workers expressing dissent through ironic interjections of the word “Presidente” during one of his speeches to a demonstration of strikers.

Perspectives

It is clear that the current struggles are still far away from achieving some key elements: what appears almost intuitively (solidarity and self-organisation) demands further elaboration to deepen what is essential: class identity, class consciousness (historical and international), the extension of the struggle, which help us to move towards the re-appropriation of revolutionary theory by the masses themselves.
The intervention against every effort to give credibility to the bourgeois state is a first requirement, against its democracy and its representative bodies that act to overcome the conflicts between the workers and their exploiters, and against trade unionist notions, which are openly reformist and belong to a bygone period, and which the leftist organisations instil into workers continually. This work is particularly pernicious in countries where the bourgeoisie has been able to equip itself with a well-oiled democratic system, with a long and deep political experience facing situations like this kind of struggle. The intervention of revolutionaries in these strikes and participation as an active factor in the coming to consciousness means a struggle against reformist conceptions and their representatives, democratic or not, which always will have an influence and a presence in the struggles of the proletariat, and which are themselves an active factor in the opposite sense – towards disintegration, dislocation and demoralisation, physical or ideological.

It is important to develop criticisms and balance sheets and to publicise them inside the struggles in expressing our solidarity, not as outside groups, but as part of the same class struggle. It is important to be present in these movements because they express the living reality of the class struggle in its immediate level; they bring us elements for deepening our theoretical work; they help us to put the immediate struggles in the context of the revolutionary struggle and to highlight the historical perspective of our class.

 



[1]     It goes without saying, though it is better said, that communism is nothing to do with the capitalist society of the state and of work-camps that existed in the old USSR and which, today, continue to exist in some countries where capitalist exploitation rules such as North Korea, Cuba and China.

 

[2]               http://en.internationalism.org/icconline/201409/10310/lessons-spanish-assemblies

 

[3]               For all the struggles and movements mentioned here, there are some analyses on our website:  http://en.internationalism.org

 

[4]              For readers outside Spain, you should know that in this country there are workers allegedly "self-employed" who work for a company. Legally they are considered "independent" and even as "small entrepreneurs": they are the workers who typically carry out the work of a hired worker but each in his own corner and, as highly skilled technicians, they are required to manage  their schedules and their work more "freely" and in a falsely "autonomous" manner. This legal and social situation that provides a confused sociological categorisation is indicative of an ideological tendency that generally leads the proletariat to the loss of view of its class identity.

 

[5]       http://en.internationalism.org/ir/107_decomposition