First of all because they have shown that massive and determined struggle is the only answer that the exploited have against the criminal attacks that our exploiters want to impose. In this case a 5% cut in wages. An anti-working class attack that is completely illegal even from the point of view of bourgeois legality, since it is a unilateral violation of the Collective Agreement signed by the authorities. Yet they still dare to call the Metro workers “criminals”!
Solidarity also faced with the campaign of lies aiming at the “social lynching” of these comrades. The right wing politicians and media have carried out a rancid campaign which tries to present the strikes as the pawns in a campaign by the Socialist Party against the “leader” of the PP (Esperanza Aguirre), and made the most rabid calls for sanctions and sackings. However, we should not forget the left’s energetic collaboration with this campaign aimed at isolating and disparaging the workers. Aguirre or Rajoy called for a firm hand against these “vandals”, the minister for development carried out a massive mobilisation of other means of transport in order to break the strike and the interior minister placed nearly 4500 police at Aguirre’s disposal! Whilst the ‘left’ media was less odious it was more hypocritical, reinforcing the idea of “a strike with hostages” as El Pais headlined on the 30th June. These “Red” lackeys of the capitalist system know which side to choose between Aguirre and striking workers.
What they have been most indignant about has not been the problems faced by passengers. It is enough to see the conditions they have to endure on ‘normal’ days and the growing chaos caused by the increasing deterioration of public transport. Nor are they particularly irritated by the loses incurred as a result of delays or employee absences. It takes some nerve to accuse the striking Madrid Metro workers of violating the “right to work” when Spanish capital has deprived nearly 5 million workers of this “right”!
No, what really worries and preoccupies them about the struggle of the Madrid Metro workers is that they have refused to accept the sacrifices and attacks that have rained down on them from all sides, that they have tried to push back these attacks. These workers have not be willing to accept sterile parades like the civil servants’ strike on the 8th June, but instead have given an example of unity and determination. As the aforementioned editorial of El Pais recognised “The works committee claims that there is an Agreement in place until 2012 and that the Madrid Municipality has unilaterally broken it. But this was the case for the Civil Servants (‘and they were satisfied with the pantomime of the 8th June’ is the paper’s subliminal message). It is possible that it is necessary to have a more pedagogic explanation of the seriousness of the situation which demands such sacrifices in exchange for job security (and they have the gall to brand the strikers as blackmailers!) and a greater clarity in order to explain how to square a 5% pay reduction with a later guarantee to maintain purchasing power...”
As an expression of the response of the working class, the struggle of the comrades of the Madrid metro is full of vital lessons for all workers. Today the struggle has entered a kind of lull and it is difficult to know how it will develop, so it is too soon to make an exhaustive balance sheet of all of these lessons. Here we will take up the most striking ones.
Assemblies: the head and heart of workers’ struggle
One of the characteristics of the struggle of the comrades of the Madrid metro has been the holding of truly mass assemblies. On the 29th June when the assembly decided not to accept the minimum service, most people could not get into the room; on the 30th, despite the campaign of lies about the struggle, even more took part than the day before. Why? As the metro workers said themselves “In order to show that we are united as one”.
During these assemblies there was an effort to avoid the habitual tricks of the unions. For example, dispersal and confusion around the calling of the strike. Thus the assembly of the 30th June agreed to implement the minimum service on the 1st and 2nd July in order to avoid the struggle being squeezed between the union which was for a total strike and those that were not. This assembly also drew back from the radical verbiage of the former spokesman for the committee, whose declaration “We are going to shut down Madrid” served the interests of the enemies of the struggle in their campaign of disinformation aimed at isolating the metro workers.
The assemblies not only served to temper this phony radicalism and avoid being dragged into provocations. Above all they acted to encourage the workers, to support their determination and militancy. Thus, for example, instead of the usual secret ballots and individual union votes, the metro strike was decided upon and organised by raised hands, which allowed the determination of some comrades to help stimulate those who were more undecided. Of course the media wanted to raise the ghost of some metro workers being ‘pressurised’ by the pickets, but what has really animated the workers to take part in the stoppage is the fact that it is the result of a conscious decision taken after open and frank discussion, where it was possible to express fears as well as give reasons for the struggle. On one of the websites that served to express the solidarity with this strike (www.usuariossolidarious.wordpress.com) a young Metro worker said frankly that he had attended the assembly of 29th June “in order to lose his fear of the struggle”.
The trap of the “minimum service”
In the case of the metro strike, the decree on minimum service has served as the basis for battering the strikers and trying to intimidate them in order to undermine the struggle.
As much as Ms Esperanza Aguirre would like to presented herself as a damsel in distress in the evil clutches of ruthless strikers, the truth is that the decree allows the authorities (the bosses for public sector workers) to set the minimum service. Knowing from experience the margin of maneuver provided by this law and, above all, having the support of Sexta, President of the Madrid local authority, she made a really provocative move by dictating that 50% of the workforce maintain a minimum service.
This trap placed the workers between a rock and a hard place. If they accepted it they would break their hard won commitment not to bend to management dictates. If they didn’t provide a service they would give a gift to their adversaries who would blame them for the suffering of their class comrades who are the main users of the metro... Furthermore this strike law, which according to all the defenders of bourgeois order needs “to be toughened”, allowed the employer, which in this case we have to insist is the government, to impose sanctions against those who do not provide a minimum service, giving it another bargaining tool. Two days after the metro workers agreed to put in place a minimum service, management increased the number of those sanctioned from 900 to 2800 comrades.
The only way to escape this trap is by seeking the solidarity of the rest of the working class.
Class solidarity is the foundation for the growth of workers’ militancy and strength
The strength of workers’ struggles does not reside in their capacity to causes losses for capitalist firms. As the Madrid metro experience has shown, the managers of these firms are more than capable of doing that. Neither does it lie in their ability to paralyse a city or a sector. There again it’s difficult to outdo the bourgeois state on that score.
The strength of the workers’ struggles is fundamentally that they put forwards, more or less explicitly, a universally valid principle for all of the exploited: that human needs should not be sacrificed on the altar of the law of profit and capitalist competition.
No matter how radical the confrontation between this or that sector of workers and their bosses may be, if the bourgeoisie can present it as something specific or particular, it will be able to defeat it and inflict a demoralising blow against the whole working class. On the other hand, if workers can win the solidarity of other workers, if they can convince them that their demands are not a threat to the other exploited, but an expression of the same class interests, if they can form their assemblies and hold demonstrations in order to draw in other workers, they will be able to strengthen themselves and the whole of the working class.
For the struggle of the comrades of the Madrid Metro, what was important was not to dedicate pickets to stopping the movement of trains – though of course the assemblies had to ensure its decisions were carried out – but to explain to their comrades working for the EMT or Telemadrid, or the other public sector workers, the cause of the struggle. Moreover, the future of the struggle will not be determined by this or that percentage of a minimum service, although the majority of workers will have to be freed up in order to be able to attend the assemblies, man the pickets, attend demonstrations etc; the most important thing will be to gain the confidence and solidarity of other sectors of workers, to go to the workers’ neighborhoods to explain their demands in order to show that the Madrid metro workers are not privileged nor a threat to other workers, but are responding to the attacks caused by capitalism’s crisis.
These attacks are going to affect the working class internationally, whatever their conditions or jobs. If the bourgeoisie are able to play off one group of workers against another, or to keep struggles isolated, even if they are radical but trapped in their own corner, they will be able to impose the needs of their system of exploitation. If, on the other hand, workers’ struggles begin to spread and unite against these criminal attacks we will be able to impede the imposition of new and more brutal sacrifices. This will be an important step in the development of a proletarian alternative to capitalist poverty and barbarism. Accion Proletaria, 12th July 2010.
Letter of solidarity from a group of Madrid postal workers
The writers of this text are from district 43 of the Madrid Post Office. As postal workers we are in the streets daily; as workers we live several kilometers from our place of work as do others (a relocation imposed precisely by our employers). As public sector workers we are paying for the feast that the government invited the bankers to, we are being privatised, packaged up and contracted out, and like you we are no longer civil servants. We just want to give you our full support. We want to tell you that we are taking the long displacement bus journeys with smiles on our faces, because you have shown us WHAT CAN BE DONE, that we do not have to be indefinitely fucked over by this world, that we can have a little of the dignity that has been lost for some time.
We want you to know that daily we talk with hundreds of people through our job, we know that reality is not what the media shows us, there is anger and excitement, that there are discussions on buses, in squares and bars…
We are with you because you give us hope. In our district whilst we are working we hear comments: “We are the ones who have to pay” and “This strike has balls”, there are those who say that “this is a real strike and not another dead-end one day strike”.
We are being given lessons. Lessons such as when a strike is called by a show of hands by workers they are not lost before they start. We are very tired of our unions, we are sick and tired of the thousand and one times that we have been sold out.
Therefore we end this letter by telling you that our hearts have been beating quicker since Monday, that we are with you in the defense of your strike.
Don’t be cowed, we already know that Aguirre or Zapatero, the COPE1 or Prisa have different interests than ours. That they are used to being against us. They know that thousands of workers are watching you because you are the FUTURE, and not the dull future offered by them.
If you need us you know we are here, in the meantime we will continue to defend you against anyone who dares to denigrate you.
Post men and women of District 43,
1 July 2010
1. COPE is a right wing radio station and Prisa is a left wing media enterprise.