Strike at Seat in Spain: Our intervention against union sabotage

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Printer-friendly versionSend by email We are publishing an account of our intervention in the SEAT workers’ struggle against redundancies. The central axis of this intervention was to support the beginning of an authentic workers’ struggle and to denounce the union sabotage of this expression of workers’ militancy and solidarity. We are publishing a report of what our organisation defended at the gates of the SEAT factories, at the assemblies, in the demonstrations, precisely to show the alternative to the false choice of either accepting what the unions organise, or remaining demoralised and feeling impotent. The idea that a revolutionary organisation is nothing but a club organising sterile and distant debates is also false. Our interventions at SEAT showed that our political positions, the fruit of the lessons of more than 200 years of workers’ struggles against exploitation, can and must be concretised as proposals and orientations to strengthen workers’ struggle, today and in the future, warning them against traps laid by their enemies. We went to the workers to say: “Hold assemblies to direct the struggle yourselves”, “Don’t let yourselves be divided”, “Don’t let your militancy be broken by mobilisations which weaken and isolate you, and through which those who want to betray you aim to regain your confidence”,…

So we have been saying, at the top of our voices, what a good number of SEAT workers of whatever sector and whatever country think but don’t dare express openly. And we will continue to do so because these are the bases of real workers’ struggle - on 23 December at SEAT, in the car industry in Germany in 2004, in Argentina a year earlier… It’s the only way for the exploited class to gain in solidarity, in strength, in self-confidence.

Here is what we put forward from the start of our intervention as expressed in our first communiqué, written in the beginning of January and from which we are taking certain extracts:

The intervention of the ICC in solidarity with the workers of SEAT

With our limited forces we mobilised to support the workers at SEAT. On Monday 2nd January, at 5:30 in the morning, the first day after the holiday, we went to the gates of SEAT to distribute our leaflet “To struggle we need to confront union sabotage”.[1]

This was in continuity with our active presence in the struggle at SEAT: at the factory gates above all since October, in demonstrations afterwards (see our leaflet: ‘SEAT: To save the enterprise means redundancies and binning the contract. The response is workers’ struggle![2]) and on 23 December when the spontaneous struggle broke out.

At the factory gates we found a group of workers sacked from SEAT. This showed a very positive initiative to avoid staying at home, to go to their class brothers who could, sooner or later, also become victims of redundancy. They chanted: “No to redundancy”, “Today it’s us, tomorrow it could be you”, they denounced the unions for signing the agreement for 660 redundancies. Unity is necessary, and this action went towards defending it. Workers made redundant must not remain isolated, they must firmly reject all measures to isolate and divide them, such as going to the tribunal to examine redundancies individually, case by case.

We supported the comrades’ slogans: REINTEGRATION OF REDUNDANT WORKERS! NO REDUNDANCIES! One idea that could be useful is to organise delegations to other factories, neighbourhoods, other workplaces, to raise the problem of redundancies at SEAT, demanding real solidarity: today for me, tomorrow for you. To struggle against redundancies at SEAT today is to develop the strength to struggle against future redundancies in other enterprises, other sectors. Many workers followed what their class brothers did at SEAT closely and felt inspired by their struggle.

Others join our intervention

We have received letters of support from comrades who wished to help us in our intervention of solidarity. Some comrades collaborated with us in distributing leaflets at factories and neighbourhoods. One comrade sent us the following position:

Dear comrades, I have just received, today, 28 [December] your letter and leaflet on SEAT and want to respond, briefly, straight away:

The leaflet summarises, in my opinion, in depth, the events at SEAT. The analysis is perfectly correct, above all concerning the qualitative importance of the workers’ attempt to struggle autonomously by breaking the chains of the unions, and the rest of the state apparatus and employers who stand behind the unions. So I welcome your intervention, solidarise with its content and with the workers who, despite the union police, have gone on strike spontaneously, and that is truly significant. I think that the CGT[3] has drawn on this balance of forces, strengthened by certain claims, given that illusions not only in the unions but also in trade unionism are collapsing among workers. To belong to a union does not even guarantee being included in the latest ‘social plan’. Workers will reflect on this aspect. It is necessary to denounce radical unionism most particularly, even proposing to workers that delegates should leave the enterprise committee and negotiation table etc. Signed, German.

This mobilisation by our comrades is a source of great satisfaction and reinforces our determination to continue the struggle.

We took position on the ‘Letter’ that those made redundant from SEAT sent to the managing director:

Comrades,

First of all we want to express our unfailing solidarity and add our voice to your call for the “reintegration of redundant workers, no more redundancies” so it can be heard as loudly as possible.

Secondly, we propose: why not write a letter addressed to all workers? This was done by workers made redundant in the 1970s, a good tradition that we must take up again. A letter showing that the redundancies at SEAT are the latest of many others which happened previously: for example at Gearbox, or at Unidad Hermetica or in Papelera etc, and the announcement of many others at many other enterprises, SEAT included, as the managing director announced himself, with such hypocritical arrogance, once the shameful agreement of 15 December was signed. A letter to say that today it is you, but tomorrow it could perhaps be the turn of many others. A letter demanding solidarity, real solidarity: today for you, tomorrow for me, today for the comrades at SEAT in order that tomorrow they have the strength to face up to new redundancies. This solidarity could be shown in the calling of a demonstration in the centre of Barcelona where workers from all enterprises, no matter what sector, sex or nationality, could participate. A unitary demonstration to say clearly, to the bosses, the government and the two majority unions, that the workers have had enough, that they will not let themselves be attacked any more, a demonstration to feel in practice the power of the workers.

In your letter we find the idea “…leave SEAT [addressed to the MD] to continue to be what it always has been, a Spanish enterprise, truly competitive, with problems but without redundancies.” We live in a society where competition is the law. Nations are in competition to the death for their share of the world market. Hitler’s slogan “export or die” could be theirs. In the same way, enterprises are in ferocious competition in their branch of industry. In this competition there are states that gain and those that lose, enterprises which impose themselves at the expense of others. However, among those that win as much as those that lose, there are those who always lose: the workers and the majority of human beings. This applies to workers at the ‘winning’ firms - because to be competitive there must be lay offs, more short-term and precarious work, lower pay, working hours from hell, with things like ‘annualised hours’. And it applies to workers at the ‘losing’ firms - because when factories are closed, they lay off to keep their heads a little above water. Competition is at the basis of lay-offs, of casualisation, of the attack on our living conditions. We, the workers, like other human beings, need to eat, to have clothes, a roof over our heads, a worthwhile future for our children, necessities which we cannot make depend on the fact that Spain, or the enterprise, is competitive. Capitalism is a system where life is sacrificed to production, when the society to which workers aspire is a society where production is at the service of life. We must oppose their competition with our solidarity.

Greetings, comrades. Solidarity and struggle!

In another article, “Lessons of the struggle at SEAT…[4], we argued that the unions have done all they can to slow down and avoid the real struggle since September, counting on the demobilisation of the Christmas holiday for the indignation and militancy of 23 December to be diluted. The CGT, which played ‘godfather’ to those who’d been laid off, arranged that only one meeting of SEAT workers should take place in the 10 days following 23 December. And yet it was a meeting a long way from the factory where only those laid off could participate. We went anyway; we distributed our leaflets, we discussed with those present, and we then wrote a second communiqué on our intervention which we summarise below.

The assembly on 3 January

This short text does not pretend to make an analysis but simply to provide information on how we continued our intervention in the situation that started with the redundancies at SEAT.

An assembly of those laid off from SEAT was called for 3 January. It was organised by the CGT and was seen in the following way: “The CGT has informed us yesterday that it will be those laid off who will attend the assembly and that they will decide what sort of action to take. Other comrades of the CGT or other unions and anti-capitalist organisations understand that we must be present outside the meeting, to show our support to these comrades and to show that, while it is they who must make this struggle, they are not alone… The majority of the comrades consulted thought that once the assembly had decided on the actions to be taken, we could show our solidarity” (Kaosenlared 2.1.06[5]). On the Alasbarricadas one person signing “Cegetero” (CGT-ist) pointed out: “Warning: the SEAT assembly is not clear. On the poster in the heading and round the picture is written: against the lay offs at SEAT, come! But on the head of the new Rojo y negro[6] it says : Assembly for those redundant from SEAT. In other words, those working at SEAT have not been called, but only those laid off. Further down it says that CGT members not belonging to SEAT will not be allowed in.

It is necessary for workers to decide for themselves. That does not mean that they should not count on the participation, the help and support of other sectors. They should also recognise what organised militants can bring. The presence of other sectors of the working class is encouraging, it enables us to dare to undertake actions that we would not be capable of if we were isolated. Furthermore, the business of one sector of the working class is the business of the whole working class, because these are problems affecting the whole world: redundancy, casualisation, low wages, etc.

And here even SEAT workers who haven’t been laid off are not allowed in! What unity can develop in such conditions? And besides, even those union members from other branches and other enterprises are not authorised to enter.

The argument may appear very ‘democratic’: only those directly affected must decide. But can’t the workers judge which proposals are the best? Why must they be ‘protected from outside influence’?

This whole process can only lead to the isolation of those who have been made redundant, their separation from the rest of the working class, starting with their comrades at SEAT. This must lead them to a feeling of impotence, abandonment, and towards the idea so widespread in this individualistic and competitive society, according to which each must ‘do what he can’, to distrust the ‘rest of the world’ which ‘shouldn’t interfere’.

Our militants distributed our leaflet outside the hall, and in the various places where workers were meeting, to explain that the only possibility for developing the struggle was for all those laid off to go, together as a body, to the factory gates and explain to other workers (who may also suffer from unemployment tomorrow) that necessity for a common struggle with the objective of “Reintegration of those made redundant. No redundancies.” This was the point of departure for the 23 December strike and it’s the only way possible to continue the struggle.

How were the issues posed in the assembly? “In the second part there was a legal presentation of the situation and how, from a legal point of view, it was necessary to struggle to defend jobs” (post relating to the assembly on Kaosenlared 3.1.06). What does this mean? The best response was given by a comrade who signed himself “SEAT worker” in responding to this post: “And now the CGT holds an assembly and brings a lawyer (who must be paid, like everyone else, which is correct since lawyers also have to eat), accepts the conditions signed up to by the UGT and the CO[7](even if they are bad), and advises us to put our names down for re-employment which, according to the CGT, isn’t possible. In this incoherence they want to make us swallow the poison. The only alternative is permanent mobilisation” (Kaosenlared 3.1.06).

What was proposed to the assembly was not to struggle together at all, but to save what you can! This was expressed very clearly, in capital letters, on an internet forum post: “FOR SHAME!!! THIS IS NOTHING BUT A MANIPULATION. MARRIED TO A REDUNDANT WORKER, I HAVE ONLY ONE THING TO SAY: SHAME ON ALL THE UNIONS, UGT, CCOO AND CGT. MY HUSBAND IS A MEMBER OF THE LATTER AND NOW HE IS IN THE STREET BECAUSE HE IS IN THE CGT. I WOULD LIKE TO SEE MORE ACTIONS FROM THE UNION, BECAUSE YESTERDAY’S MEETING SEEMED LIKE ONE MORE LIE. THE TRUTH IS THAT THERE ARE 660 PEOPLE IN THE STREET AND THE OTHERS ON THE INSIDE AND IT IS VERY EASY TO TALK FROM THE INSIDE, AND IT IS VERY SAD WHEN ONE THROWS SOMEONE OUT FOR SO-CALLED LACK OF ‘MULTISKILLING’ - LIES!!! AND NOW SEAT IS CALLING FOR JOB INTERVIEWS. IF YOU CAN UNDERSTAND THAT CAN YOU EXPLAIN IT TO ME? STOP PROFITING FROM LAY OFFS, STOP YOUR PUBLICITY AND REALLY STRUGGLE FOR THOSE IN THE STREET” (Kaosenlared 3.1.06).

This comrade is completely right when she says things loud and clear. Because, apart from the legal demands, what sort of mobilisation was proposed? The post quoted before says that “The third part was devoted to preparing the mobilisation; the discussion was profound and it was decided to continue on the 12 January, in the same place. The proposals were very varied, very stimulating and determined. They will be made public at the appropriate time” (Kaosenlared 3.1.06). In other words, nothing. Come back on 12 January. And if by chance you still want to do something “we decided to participate in the demonstration and day of action for European workers in the car industry to be held in Saragossa on 20 January”.

They tell us about pushing forward an alternative to the treacherous unionism of the CO and UGT. But is this really an “alternative”? Isn’t it just the same?

Workers must draw a clear lesson from this experience: no union is going to defend us, neither the yellow CO-UGT type nor the more or less pink CGT, nor any other. The only alternative is to organise the struggle ourselves with assemblies, committees and revocable delegates. If we leave our affairs in the hands of these ‘specialists’ we will be demobilised and defeated.

Our intervention, which made concrete proposals for the struggle, seems to have disturbed a small circle of unionists who advanced on one of our comrades, took our leaflets and threw them away saying that he had “sold out to the bosses”. Faced with the comrade’s calm, failing to fall for their provocation, they turned on another comrade. She didn’t fall for their little game and demanded their reasons for the disturbance and an explanation of how our leaflets, our propositions, showed that we have sold out to the bosses. In the end they preferred to slip away.

We are in total solidarity with out comrades and denounce this gross provocation. We are not going to back off, we are not scared. We are open to discussion with comrades who do not agree with out positions, but we respond firmly to all attempt at insult, slander, or those who want to shut us up[8].

The January 3 ‘assembly’ was a mortal blow to the struggle. Those made redundant had been robbed of their real strength, that is to say the united mobilisation of workers against the redundancies. Instead they were dragged onto a merry-go-round of ‘actions’, more showy than effective, which would allow the CGT and its accomplices to present themselves as the champions of the struggle, when, in fact, they have devoted their time to sabotaging it. For that reason, our organisation decided not to intervene in the assembly called for the 12 January, really the definitive ‘liquidation’ of the struggle. The reasons are explained in a third communiqué:

Why we didn’t intervene in the “Assembly of the redundant” on 12 January?

We were at the demonstrations in November, we were with you on the 23 December when you were told of the 660 redundancies and you walked out spontaneously (no-one summoned you, no-one ‘organised’ you) in solidarity with those laid off and in revolt against the agreement signed by the UGT, the CO and the boss. *** We were present on 2 January to see if it was possible to continue the same dynamic of struggle. We also went to the 3 January assembly in a Hostafranchs[9] local. The same week we went to the gates of the Zona Franca of Barcelona and Martorell[10] to show our solidarity with you faced with the attack on your living conditions which affects us all, and to explain what, in our opinion, has made this hatchet job on the workers possible. We were present at all the concentrations and meetings where there could be any dynamic of collective workers’ struggle, with the aim of encouraging it as can be seen from our earlier communiqués. On the other hand, we do not want to become accomplices in a meeting whose aim is to reinforce the defeat and burial of the struggle imposed on 3 January.

Trade unionism acts in such a way that, when the workers’ militant strength is present, every excuse is made to delay the struggle, to dilute the militancy, to weaken it in the final analysis. When the struggle has ended, when the workers are defeated and feel the reality of their defeat, then the unions become ‘radical’, put forward ultra-combative proposals with the sole purpose, in reality, of increasing the workers’ demoralisation and humiliation.

On 23 December, there was an explosion of solidarity and militancy among workers against the 660 redundancies. What did the unions do? Don’t look to the UGT and CO, who had disappeared. But the CGT itself, which pretends to be ‘committed’ to the struggle against redundancies, could see nothing but the difficulties: stopping work is illegal, we can’t do anything till 3 January, and so on and so forth…

On 2 January there was still a mood of not knowing whether workers would take up what they left off on 23rd, or if, on the contrary, they would be weighed down by the Christmas demobilisation organised with the complicity of the unions which, evidently, were careful to call the very minimum of action during those days. And what did the workers at SEAT find? The CGT called a meeting, not at the factory gates, but in a neighbourhood of Barcelona. The unions affirmed that they are necessary for our struggle since they can ‘issue a call’, they have a local building, and organisational means for workers. At the time of the struggle at SEAT we saw, one more time, that the union apparatus is not at the disposal of the workers, but is there, above all, to impede the real struggle.

The 3 January assembly was a brutal blow. Those who’d been made laid off had to go to the offices of the enterprise to sign to acknowledge receipt of their redundancy notices. Meanwhile, the new call to unity would be… ten days later! On 12 January… And in that time? Nothing, not a thing, but the CGT presents all this with great cynicism, as “a strong mood in favour of struggle”.

From 3 to 12 January we went down the dead-end road to misery. On 12 January, one month after the agreement to throw 660 class brothers on the scarp heap was signed by the boss, the unions (CO and UGT) and the tripartite Catalan government[11], with the support of the leftist organisations, they made a huge show of solidarity with those made redundant. They set up a Solidarity Committee for SEAT lay-offs: “united, open to networks, platforms, organisations, movements and social, union or citizen groups, with the aim of organising solidarity for the redundant SEAT workers, to mobilise for them to be re-employed and to oppose the bosses offensive which aims to make employment even more precarious and redundancies easier (posted on Kaosenlared). To this were added proposals for action that were as ridiculous as they were sterile, such as ‘actions’ against SEAT showrooms…

In short, to extinguish with all the means at their disposal all that might remain from the real, massive and united workers’ response, and to try and bury the real lessons of the struggle at SEAT. Workers can see from the 660 redundancy notices on 23 December that the ‘mobilisations’ (the demonstrations in November) to win public opinion did absolutely nothing. Well, now they propose a little more of the same. On 23 December or 2 January, workers were answerable to themselves, they could only count on themselves, on their struggle, on their class solidarity first of all. And now they want to sell them the same junk, adulterated with the mediation of citizens, political organisations and unions, to get them re-employed. And they have the nerve to pretend that they have been at the heart of the struggle of the workers at SEAT against the redundancies.

The difference between the workers’ struggle of the 23rd and the posturing of the Solidarity Committee is like the difference between night and day. The first is the authentic solidarity of workers towards their redundant class brothers, the second is a cynical joke against class solidarity.

For this reason we did not want to participate in this sham solidarity. Because we insist that real solidarity with those made redundant at SEAT consists of showing that workers can draw the real lessons of this defeat. These lessons will prepare us for new struggles, because we must have no illusions: redundancies will rain down in the textile industry, in the auto industry and, among others, in SEAT again; job insecurity is increased in the new ‘reform’ of work. We will have to struggle forcefully and above all against union sabotage.   ICC, 14.1.06



[1] See ‘Strike at SEAT, Spain: The need to confront union sabotage’ in WR 291, Feb 06.

[2] For Spanish readers the leaflet is available on http://es.internationalism,org/AP/185_SEAT.htm.

[3] The CGT (Confederation Generale du Travail) is a “revolutionary syndicalist” resulting from a “moderate” split from the CNT (Confederation Nationale du Travail).

[4] This article was published in the same issue of AP as this balance-sheet of the struggle (Accion Proletaria 187, Jan-March 2006) as ‘Lecciones del huelga de SEAT: No a las “movilizaciones” sindicales, Si a la lucha obrera’ and ‘Balance de nuestra intervencion en SEAT’.

[5] Kaosenlared and Alasbarricadas are alternative internet forums.

[6] Rojo y negro is the CGT paper.

[7] The Union Generale de Travailleurs is the “socialist” union and the CO (Workers Commissions) is the union historically linked to the CP and its variants and successors.

[8] We want to thank those who sent important expressions of solidarity, such as that expressed by someone who is known as “German”. “Solidarity with the militants and sympathisers of the ‘International Communist Current’ (ICC) and against the provocations and threats from the ‘union octopus’.

Today I was informed through the internet of the provocations of ICC militants by unionist elements trying to suppress the distribution of their leaflet on the SEAT conflict by force and further boycotting these comrades’ oral interventions. I have been able to read this leaflet and I agree with it because it gives a good framework for many things.

It’s shameful that these union ‘special forces’ should resort to these vile methods to silence militant workers. They want to solidarise with those laid off and to discuss how to struggle with them against the redundancies and so contribute to the necessary clarity to allow workers to become conscious that we cannot do it with representatives and those whose power is based on union elections called and regulated by the capitalist state. On the contrary, we can only count on our own strength, or self-organisation, on the extension of the struggle, given that isolation always means defeat and the triumph of the bosses and their faithful servants, the unions, even those who pretend to be ultra-revolutionary. What do these little gentlemen think? That they have the exclusive monopoly on the mobilisation? Not at all! On the contrary, it is the specialists skilled in anaesthetising struggles, in imprisoning them in a legality imposed by capitalists and their totalitarian state and whose first objective is to create a feeling of impotence among workers, and, at the same time, of dependence on the unions. I have no certain knowledge that the provocateurs were leaders of the CGT or any other union, but I think that workers in general, including those who are trade unionists, are beginning to form the impression that unionism is no longer a weapon for workers but for the bosses. That’s why the union bigwigs become nervous when comrades not only do not try to avoid discussion but, on the contrary, seek it out, because open discussion is a working class weapon. The union bigwigs, like the system as a whole, are scared of workers thinking. Why are union bosses frightened to talk publicly about trade unionism? From not on, and following the struggle at SEAT, I propose a debate on all the forums on the nature of the unions today, that means: are they organs of the working class or of the capitalist state?

Excuse the brevity of my intervention. I wanted to take position rapidly because of my irritation at the behaviour of the union chiefs towards the militants who faced these provocations. That said, in passing, has anyone seen the same ‘courage’ from the union bosses to defend workers in the face of the bosses?

I send my warm solidarity to all the comrades of SEAT who have been laid off and to all the militants and sympathisers of the ICC who were provoked and/or threatened.

Barcelona, 5.1.2006. German.

[9] Neighbourhood in Barcelona.

[10] SEAT factories.

[11] The Catalan government is run by a “left” coalition of the SP, CP (with a more “modern” and regionalist face) and the ER (Catalan independent left).

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