The tragedy in Valencia
Introduction by World Revolution
The death of 41 people and serious injuring of 40 more on the 3rd July due to a metro accident in Valencia Spain will not be well known to many reading this. In Britain, on the day it happened, this terrible disaster did not receive headline attention on news programmes on the TV or radio on the day. If it was mentioned it was the 3rd or 4th item, in some cases coming after items about a horse racing betting scandal. On the next day it was not front page news in any national newspaper. Such incredible disregard for the loss of human life is what we are used to from the ‘humanitarian’ and ‘democratic' press when it comes to the 3rd world, but when it comes to Europe or the US such a disaster is usually given headline coverage. For example, the flooding of the Danube in the spring was given prominent coverage, as was the collapse of the roof of a skating ring in Germany in the winter. So why this frankly incredible decision to relegate this disaster to the inside pages and give it lesser importance on the TV news?
Such a disaster on a relatively new (18 year old) metro system highlights the level of degradation of the mass transport systems. It can only serve to remind those who have to endure the London underground and its archaic infrastructure of the daily danger they are in.
It also happened in the same week as the first anniversary of the London bombings. The lack of any expression of concern by Blair or his ministers faced with such a disaster in a fellow EU country is certainly linked to the degradation of human relations in this rotting society, particularly as a result of deepening imperialist tensions. The Spanish state’s withdrawal of troops from Iraq and its moves towards Berlin and Paris left Blair and the British bourgeois looking weak. Thus the dead and wounded in Valencia are of no interest given that they offer no means for influencing Spanish imperialist policy.
This cold indifference to suffering expresses the real moral priorities of the ruling class. The England team gets knocked out of the world cup and it is headline news; a major disaster happens and it is of secondary importance. The nationalistic carnival that has accompanied the World Cup is more important than basic human solidarity.
The tragedy in Valencia
On the 3rd of July, the worst metro accident in the history of Spain and one of the most serious in Europe claimed the lives of 41 people in Valencia and left more than 40 seriously injured.
The strength of solidarity
A spontaneous solidarity rapidly developed in response to this catastrophe: instead of stampeding in order “to save themselves”, the victims helped each other; workers and those living nearby came to help, there was a magnificent mobilisation by fire fighters, health workers gave their help freely, there were massive donations of blood...This solidarity which expressed a profound concern for others is in stark contrast to the individualism and the dog eat dog attitude that oozes from every pore of the present society. A solidarity that roundly refutes the image peddled by the media, politicians and ideologues, that we are a horde of egotists who are only out for ourselves and who are only concerned with selfish and irresponsible consumerism.
This human, social solidarity is the first thing we want to express to the victims and their families. A solidarity marked by pain and indignation.
Pain, because once again -as has already happen with the accident on the London Underground 3 years ago or as happened with the Atocha bomb attack in Madrid – its is the workers who were the victims of this catastrophe. They were the majority of the victims at Torrente, a dormitory town near Valencia.
Indignation due to the shameless lies about the causes of the accident. All politicians -from the PP to the ‘Socialist’ PSOE- along with the media, have said it was due to the train going too fast, throwing the blame on the driver, who was killed in the accident.
The message is clear: the cause was HUMAN ERROR, the irresponsibility and guilt of the worker. How bad and irresponsible human are! This is not the first time this has happened: the investigation of the railway accident at Almansa three years ago, where there was serious evidence of deficiencies in the infra-structure, signalling and security systems, ended up throwing all the blame on a rail worker, who was jailed for three years.
By means of this policy, capitalism and its state washes its hands, claiming that it has absolutely no responsibility for what happened, and spreading the idea within the population that it is the workers who are guilty.
It is clear that the train was going at 80 kilometres an hour, which is double the speed at this point. This has been shown by the train's black box. However, this has been presented as a truth by the media, pushing to one side a whole series of very important considerations whose analysis will allow us to understand that there is ANOTHER TRUTH about the causes of the accident.
A tragic consequence of the crisis of capitalism
First of all there has been silence about that fact that the driver had a temporary contract; he had not been hired as a driver but as a station worker and had received no training: “His work contract with FGV was organised through an external business which has a new form of contracted known as temporary appointment. However, Jorge Álvarez, from the independent railway union, reported that the driver had worked as a train driver since May although he did not have a permanent job. His job was as a station worker and had an adjusted temporary employment contract as a train driver. ’They told him that he needed 14 days training, when previously he would have had at least a year as an assistant driver’’” (El Mundo 4-7-06).
A temporary worker, without training, is put in charge of driving a train all day. This was a very heavy responsibility, a source of undoubted tensions, stress and suffering. But, at the same time, it meant every day putting the lives of hundreds of thousands of travellers in danger.
It has been said that it is possible that the driver may have fainted. This leads us to the second serious irresponsibility of the authorities who boast so much about their “solidarity”. For years, as a consequence of the policy of massive lay-offs and reduction in personnel, trains are now only driven by one driver. There is no longer a duo -a driver and assistant. If something happens to the driver and the situation cannot be controlled, the passengers are abandoned to their fate.
These 41 deaths are the result of two policies carried out by all governments and businesses: CASUALISATION AND MASSIVE LAY-OFFS
The abandoning and decomposition of the infrastructure
Another very important element of the problem is the disastrous state of Line 1, where this accident took place. A year ago there was an accident on the same line due to problems of insecurity, material deterioration, the lack of maintenance, about which absolutely nothing was done! Concretely, “The section in which the accident happened is a bend in very bad condition. It is very narrow and at the entrance to it there is a small pothole, what is called a garrotte where the track moves and which causes a small zigzag” (Testimony of trade unionist reported in Levante 4-7-06)
But “this bend, already bad, has had nothing done to it to modify its track, because it would have meant the temporary closure of a transport route which is vital for the daily running of the system of a large city. Line 1 is the main prop of great success of the metro in Valencia, which in a year has more than 60 million journeys” (Levante 4-7-06). The Valencia metro is public property, managed as much by the PSOE (until 1995) as by the PP; and according to the sacrosanct laws of capitalist profitability they had not corrected a very serious problem, putting the lives of hundreds of thousands people at risk daily.
In order to swell profitability, in order to impose the policy of the permanent reduction of costs because of the crisis, the infrastructure is increasingly abandoned. This lack of renovation and investment in maintenance lays the conditions that led to disasters such at the one in Valencia. Both in the industrialised and the peripheral countries, these conditions are going to produce more such tragedies: in aviation, boats, trains, or through floods, storms and other effects of climate change.
Capitalism is a permanent catastrophe
This abandoning of the infrastructure, which is accompanied by the deterioration of working class neighbourhoods, and even the middle class ones, is in stark contrast to the multi-million investments in emblematic building and complexes, or in prestige events like the Olympics and the World Cup. In the case of Valencia, it was the visit of the Pope, and in 2007 it will be the Americas Cup.
The press of the “left” upbraid the regional government of the PP for its waste and propose “spending more on public services”. But this suicidal policy of pompous, pharaoh-like constructions, of mad housing speculation, is the only one that capital can have in order to try and maintain its economic machine afloat, faced with the increasing storms of the global crisis. The reality is that this type of thing is being practised just as much by the central government of Mr Zapatero, who has promised to put an end to housing speculation when in reality it has been even more rampant than under his predecessor. It is practised too by Zapatero’s municipal barons (Zaragoza and Barcelona, governed by the “Socialists”, without forgetting the incredible waste of the Seville Expo, the mirror in which the PP in Valencia is looking). We see the same policy in places such as London, Dubai, Shanghai or Athens, with governments of the most varied ideological colouration.
The tragedy in Valencia is part of a long list of catastrophes. On the one hand the more spectacular: massive floods, train bombings, blocks of flats and other buildings collapsing; and on the other hand, the daily suffering caused by millions of silent and invisible tragedies – the effects of casualisation, of poverty, unemployment, work accidents. At the same time, there is the deterioration of social and human relations that pours forth from all the pores of this social system, which is condemned by history and whose survival is the root cause of this terrible situation.
The only answer is to rebel, to struggle. The international working class has begun to understand that this is the only road it can follow, as demonstrated by the movements of the students in France in March, the metal workers of Vigo in May, the textile workers of Bangladesh in June. Only the development of this struggle, which is going to cost much effort and will have to overcome enormous obstacles, can eradicate the causes of such catastrophes, barbarity and suffering.
International Communist Current 4-7-06