We want to welcome and express our solidarity with the struggle that the metal workers of Vigo in NW Spain have been waging since 3 May. The official media, union websites and those of so-called ‘radical’ groups maintain almost total silence about this strike. It is important that we discuss this experience, draw its lessons with a critical spirit, and put them into practice, since all workers are affected by the same problems: precarious working, increasingly unbearable working conditions, sky high prices, lay-offs, the announcement of yet more cuts in pensions…
One struggle against ‘Labour Reform’
At the same time as the infernal trio of the government, bosses and unions were signing a new ‘Labour Reform’ with the excuse of the ‘struggle against precarious working’ – a ‘reform’ which makes it even cheaper to lay people off and proposes fixing the period of temporary contracts to two years - a massive struggle has broken out in Vigo. Its central concern is precisely the struggle against precarious working conditions, in a sector where up to 70% of workers suffer from them.
The real struggle against the new Labour Reform cannot be waged through the numerous mobilisations or protest actions by the ‘radical’ unions. The only effective way of struggling against precariousness is the workers’ direct struggle: strikes that come from collective decisions, strikes that spread from one enterprise to another, and can thus unite the forces necessary for standing up to the constant attacks of capital
The strength of the assemblies
The metal workers’ strike in Vigo has been massive and has adopted the street public assembly as its form of organisation. An assembly that the workers decided should be open to those who wanted to express their opinion, to express their support or to pose their problems or complaints. More than 10,000 workers took part in its meeting each day in order to organise the struggle, to decide on what actions to take, to see which enterprises to go to in order to ask for solidarity from the workers, to listen to what was said about the strike on the radio, to the comments of people and so on. It is significant that the workers in Vigo have developed the same methods as the recent movement of the students in France. There the assemblies were also open to workers, the retired, and the parents of students. There the assemblies were also the lungs of the movement. It is significant that now in 2006 the workers of Vigo have recuperated the practice of the great strike in 1972 when general assemblies of the city were held daily. The working class is an international and historic class and that is its strength.
The strength of solidarity
From the beginning the workers posed the necessity to gain the solidarity of other workers, principally those in the large engineering factories that have a special contract, and who, therefore ‘are not affected’. They have sent massive delegations to the shipyards, to Citroen and other large enterprises. In the shipyards the workers have unanimously been on strike since 4 May. To the cold and egotistical calculation inculcated by bourgeois ideology, according to which everyone must look after his own interests, this action is ‘mad’. But from the point of view of the working class it is the best response to the present attacks and those being prepared for the future. Faced with the present situation, each sector of workers will only be strong if it can count on the common struggle of the whole of the class.
On the 5th, some 15,000 metal workers surrounded the Citroen factory in order to try and call on their comrades to join the strike. However, there were divisions amongst them: some wanted to unite with the strike, whilst others wanted to work. In the end, they decided to go into work united. However, it appears that the seeds sown by the massive delegation on the 5th have begun to germinate: on Tuesday the 9th, there were stoppages at Citroen and other large enterprises.Solidarity and the spreading of the struggle were also powerful aspects of the students’ movement in France. In fact, at the beginning of April, when spontaneous strikes took place in large enterprises such as Snecma and Citroen in solidarity with the students, the French government withdrew the CPE. Moreover, solidarity and the extension of the struggle dominated the general strike of the whole of Vigo in 1971, and they made it possible to hold back the murderous hand of the Franco dictatorship. Here again we see the international and historical strength of the working class.
Armed repression: a policy of the bourgeoisie
On 8 May, following the street assembly, some 10,000 workers made their way to the railway station with the aim of discussing with travellers. The police attacked them from all sides with outrageous violence. The police charges were brutal; the workers were dispersed into small groups which were surrounded by the police and attacked without pity. There were many injured and 13 arrests.
This repression says a lot about so-called ‘democracy’ and the beautiful words about ‘negotiation’, ‘freedom to demonstrate’, ‘representation for all’. When workers struggle on their own terrain, capital does not hesitate for one moment to unleash repression. Here we see the true colours of the cynical champion of ‘dialogue’, Mr Zapatero, Spain’s Socialist Prime Minister. And he certainly had some teachers! His Socialist predecessor, Mr González, Prime Minister in the 1980s and 90s, was responsible for the death of a worker during the struggle at the navel dockyards in Gijón (1984) and that of a worker during the struggle in Reinosa in 1987. Another illustration is the republican Azaña (president of the 2nd Spanish Republic in the early 1930s), quoted a lot by Aznar: he gave direct instructions “to shoot in the guts” the day labourers during the massacre at Casas Viejas in 1933.The brutal repression at the railway station was a foretaste of the policy to come, which was to trap the workers into an exhausting confrontation with the forces of repression, pushing them to replace massive actions (demonstrations, general assemblies) with dispersal through confrontations with the forces of the state. They want to trap them in pointless battles which will have the effect of making them lose the sympathy of other workers.This is the same policy that the French government used against the students’ movement: “The depth of the students’ movement is also expressed by its ability to avoid falling into the trap of violence which the bourgeoisie set for it on several occasions, including the use and manipulation of the ‘wreckers’: at the occupation of the Sorbonne, at the end of the 16th March demo, the police charge at the end of the 18th March demo, the violence by the ‘wreckers’ against the demonstrators on 23rd March. Even if a small minority of students, especially those influenced by anarchistic ideologies, allowed themselves to be pulled into the confrontations with the police, the great majority of them were well aware of the need not to allow the movement to get dragged into repetitive confrontations with the forces of repression” (‘Theses on the students movement in France’, point 14, International Review 125).The workers have massively mobilised to free those who have been arrested. More than 10,000 demonstrated on the 9th for their release, which was finally granted.It is very telling that until now the national means of ‘communication’ (El Pais, El Mondo, TVE etc) have maintained a deadly silence about this struggle, and that, above all, they have said absolutely nothing about the assemblies, the massive demonstrations and solidarity. Now however they are making a song and dance about the violent clashes of the 8th. The message that they want to give us is very clear: ‘if you want to get noticed and to do something, mount violent clashes.’ It is of the utmost importance to capital that workers become caught up in and exhausted in a series of sterile confrontations.
Union delays and manoeuvres
It is a long time since the unions stopped being a weapon of the proletariat and became a shield protecting capital, as we can see from their participation in the ‘labour reforms’ of 1988, 1992, 1994, 1997 and 2006. The three unions (CCOO, UGT and CIG) have gone along with the Vigo strike in order not to lose control and in order to be able to undermine it from within. Thus, they have opposed the sending of mass delegations to other enterprises. Instead they called for a general strike of metal workers on 11 May. However, the workers have not waited and, above all, they have not accepted the union methods of a one-day strike. They have developed genuine workers’ methods: the sending of mass delegations, making direct contact with other workers, collective and mass action.
However, on 10 May, after 20 hours of negotiations, the unions reached an agreement which, though it is not clear, represents an underhand blow against the workers, making some of their main demands disappear. A large section of the workers showed their indignation and the vote was postponed until the morning of 11 May.Workers must draw clear lessons from this manoeuvre: We cannot leave negotiations in the hands of the unions. Negotiations must be totally controlled by the assembly. The assembly must nominate the negotiating commission and every day this has to give an account of its actions to the assembly. This is what happened in the struggles in the 1970s and we must re-appropriate this practice to prevent the unions from blindfolding us.
We do not know what is going to happen with the struggle. Nevertheless, it has provided us with a vital experience. Capital in crisis will give no quarter. For more than 20 years every country has seen terrible falls in workers’ living conditions and ever worsening attacks. Therefore, we have to struggle, we have to affirm the strength of the working class, and in the struggles such as Vigo we are given a fundamental lesson: the union methods of struggle gain us nothing and they will grind us down through demoralisation and impotence. The proletarian methods of struggle that we have seen in Vigo and which we saw before on a bigger and more profound scale in the student movement in France give us the strength and unity that we need. We have to stop being numbers in the hands of the union leaders and turn ourselves into a force that thinks, decides and struggles on the foundations of unity and solidarity.
International Communist Current 10.5.06