Coalminers in north-west Spain have maintained a large-scale strike against government plans to cut subsidies to the industry. The cuts could result in thousands of job losses and the destruction of communities.
The strike began on May 29 when the Asturias region's 8000 miners voted to walk off the job indefinitely. A small number of miners locked themselves underground for weeks, while many others occupied public spaces.
Miners have come under intense attack by police and civil guard, who used tear gas, rubber bullets and batons to break up the strike.
Miners responded using homemade weapons such as slingshots, handmade shields, fireworks launchers and a potato cannon. They also created blockades of burning tyres. Miners and their families also blockaded busy highways and rail lines.
Miner Segundo Menendez Collar told SocialistWorker.co.uk on June 26: “We have miners occupying several mines as well as the town hall of Cangas and the Provincial Government building in Leon.
“Those who are occupying have a disciplined schedule ― rest time, visiting hours, [rosters] for work that needs doing, and so on. But we need most people to be on the barricades. We began with small blockades of roads. The intensity increases as each day goes by.”
A general strike took place on June 18 in Asturias and nearby mining areas such as Leon, Aragon, Palencia and Ciudad Real, Counterfire.org said on June 23. The strike completely closed many towns in the area, with communities aware of the importance of the struggle to their future.
SocialistWorker.co.uk said 50,000 people rallied in La Felguera during the general strike.
About 160 miners met in Robla on June 25 for a 400 kilometre protest march to Madrid, Focus News Agency said that day. The march was due to arrive on July 11, after picking up 60 more miners in Aragon.
In Madrid, the marchers are due to join up with thousands from the mining areas for a march into the city.
The 63% cuts to mining industry subsidies are part of the Popular Party government's austerity regime, imposed after the government took on the debts of the country's failing banks.
With no alternative employment or transition plan for the mining region provided by the government, it is feared entire communities will be decimated by the job losses.
Menendez Collar told SocialistWorker.co.uk: “Everyone depends on the mines ― 50 percent of the local population work in them. The other half depends on them for their employment.”
The flow-on job losses have been estimated in the tens of thousands.
Counterfire.org said: “There have already been changes to the labour laws in Spain making it easier and cheaper for employers to fire workers and reducing workers rights and benefits.” Spain's official unemployment is at 24%, with the unemployment rate for people under 25 at 50%.
The cuts come alongside 100 billion euro bailout for Spain's biggest banks, rubbing salt into the wounds of the mining communities.
A letter from a retired Asturias miner Juan Jose Fernandez, published at Solfed.org.uk, said: “the struggle which the miners are carrying out at the moment isn’t to ask for money. It is that they respect the agreement that was signed last year between the Ministry of Industry and the miners’ unions, and which had subsidies designated until 2018.
“This money was from the European Community and not from the Spanish government. It isn’t money that came from any Spanish people to help us as many people who are criticising us so much seem to think.”
Menendez Collar said: “We have always shown support for other sectors. Now we need solidarity. We are a target for the government because of our strength and our history. It’s a high-stakes battle.
“If the miners are defeated, the government can move forward to break everyone else. If the miners win, the government is stuffed.”